Cameras as art. Operation as a function of good design.

We love to trot out the idea that visual and industrial design is very secondary to the metrics of the camera's performance as measured in tests and comparison images. That the only acceptable rationale for buying or upgrading to a new camera is for some sort of measurable performance boost. Trading in weaker performance for strengths that you can see on a gauge.

But if you really ponder the whole jungle of available camera models and then look at who is buying what it becomes obvious that a number of people are making their primary buying decisions based on the creativity and expression of modern design as represented by various expressions from different camera makers.

As with cars, jeans, shoes and food, the market for cameras encompasses a big tent.

On one side you have traditionalists who are still buying the "jelly bean" (1980's Ford Taurus) styled cameras from Nikon and Canon. In another corner of the tent is


The Importance of Having Fun.

I was reminded of something last Thursday that is sometimes (too often) missing from a lot of work these days. It seems that we all know how to get the work done correctly, and efficiently, and diligently but many have forgotten how to have fun with the work. I mentioned last Thursday because having a lot of fun that day reminded me of many of the projects I end up doing over the course of a year in collaboration with people who are obviously stressed and under the gun to perform. And who are obviously NOT having fun. And seem not to want to have fun.

Business has gotten so busy, and at the same time so chancy these days, that more and more people approach each task in their crowded purview with a mix of iron control and blindered tunnel vision. They worry through every step and, sometimes, their stress is contagious. They worry about time management. They worry about budget. They worry about the tiers of committees within their companies who will dissect every decision made and who will, collectively, relish the role of "monday morning quarterback." They worry that the project might go overtime which causes worry about things like traffic and child care. Deep down they worry that their marketing concept or their campaign really isn't as brilliant as they wish is was and they obsess about the impact a failed foray might have on their company's bottom line. But most of all, they've just worked so hard for so long that they've had the fun sucked right out of their work lives. At least that's the way it looks from outside. (And of course we call what I have written just above 'hyperbole'). 

I understand the feeling that one needs to be in total control of each tiny piece of a project but, in reality, no project ever goes exactly the way people imagine it will. There is never "complete control." There are bumps in the road but at the same time there are pleasant surprises and wonderful coincidences. But it requires ratcheting the stress down far enough so that people are able to weather the glitches and harvest the great things that can happen unexpectedly. 

I think the best way to do that is to prepare for as much as you can. Why did Thursday's shoot end up being so much fun for me? First of all no one had to be completely in charge. I trusted that the client would know what shots they needed and come prepared to help work through a rational schedule. I trusted that the models were professional and wouldn't need to be  obsessively coached or highly directed. Instead of having one person who would sternly look at images on the monitor and give a "thumbs up" or a "thumbs down" we quickly fell into a dynamic where everyone's opinion was considered valuable and where give and take was the rule of the day. If we saw something that wasn't "on the list" we gifted ourselves with the leeway to spend time experimenting and playing with the concept. The client, in turn, extended me the same. He believed I knew what I was doing and had his best interests in mind.

No one was overly obsessed with details that would not be visible in the final photos. A frontal shot of a person wearing a belt is not "ruined" if there is a clothespin behind their back, pulling a shirt tighter. If we are dropping out a background a small ding in the white seamless backdrop isn't a show stopper. Without a "supreme boss" who ruled with an iron fist, we could shoot in a relaxed way and enjoy the process. A shoot at which everyone is happy and well fed is a wonderfully productive project. A shoot where everyone feels that they are on the verge of being fired by a relentless bully is like a broken car that lurches forward in painful lunges and spews noxious fumes into the immediate environment. In those situations you're never sure you'll reach your destination.

So, here is my short list of how to have fun on a photo shoot: 

1. Be clear on the concept and make sure the client is clear as well on the same concept. You both want to be pulling the wagon along in the same direction. 

2. Clients and photographers should treat each other as equal partners in the project at hand. Laugh together, learn together and have fun getting stuff done. When one person tries to rule the hierarchy the good feelings dribble away and the time seems to go on forever. 

3. Treat models, assistants and support people with as much respect and kindness as you would like to receive from them. When everyone works happily more stuff gets done and everyone puts more of their energy into the success of the project.

4. Make sure the schedule is reasonable. Photo shoots should not be desperate races to complete unreasonable amounts of work by sheer determination. Projects should be planned with a do-able pace in mind. One that allows for bits of happy experimentation, breaks for proper, good meals, and lots of ongoing collaboration. If you are racing an imaginary (or real) clock you and everyone on the team will cut corners and conserve their energy and output to try to make it to the finish line alive. The worst clients (the ones who suck the air out of what could be fun jobs) are the ones who want to pull three days worth of images out of a single day. It never works out the way they intended...

5. Have a nice, relaxed lunch and take the full "lunch hour" to make a break from what you just got done in the morning. It allows you to start with renewed energy in the afternoon. Everyone I know with a real job gets an hour for lunch; the "event" of having a photo shoot shouldn't prevent living well. 

6. Be professional about your part. If you are the photographer it goes without saying that you should know exactly how to do your job. You should have your batteries (and their back-ups) charged and ready to go. Lights set up and well planned. A clean and well stocked environment to work in. A client shoot is NOT the time to try out shooting 4x5 sheet film for the first time. Practice makes for a smooth shoot and that smoothness translates as confidence. Confidence in your expertise and professionalism will go a long way toward helping a stressed client unclench a bit and have more fun as well. It's a virtuous spiral. Don't make excuses for your gear. Use the right stuff and be sure you know how to use it. You should be able to do a custom white balance on your shooting camera almost with your eyes closed. Same with all the other functions. 

7. If something isn't going right stop and fix it. Don't try to ignore or power through an issue. It will come back and bite you on the ass. And that causes stress and ignites the un-virtuous spiral of blame and recrimination. An ancillary subject to this one is the need to practice your craft safely. No models in swimming pools with alternating current electronic flash heads strapped to their backs.....no shooting on rail road tracks. 

8. Have a targeted finish time. If you've planned well you'll have gotten everything you need to accomplished. We called it a "wrap" at 4:30 pm last Thurs. No one complained about not working longer. The truth is that we all run out of energy by the end of the day and everything starts to fall apart. The work suffers. Emotions start to fray. People start to take everything too seriously. If you are still working at the end of a twelve hour day you might want to think long and hard about how you are scheduling. Clients can ask you to schedule too much in one day but you don't have to accommodate them. You can always explain your reality. You are an expert in your field after all, right? If you have clients who don't understand what constitutes a "day" of work in your profession then you have done a poor job communicating. 

It's eight hours. Everything else is over time. Price overtime fees high because you'll know you are not working in your optimum fashion once you crest the eight hour mark....

9. Invite input from everyone when it's appropriate. The client may be the final arbiter but you might find some really good ideas from lots of people on the team. They will enjoy being asked. 

10. It's a worn out saying in the corporate world but I really mean this: You should celebrate your successful jobs (and they should mostly be successful if you plan them out right). Wrap the shoot and then spring for the first round at happy hour. High five each other. Shoot some group shots to share on the web. Talk up the high points of the day. Ignore the little glitches or poorly thought out remarks made during times of stress. Talk up everyone's contributions and you'll have a future team that looks forward to working together on projects. Include the client in every step of this team celebration!

Learning to have fun at work is work too. You need to be diligent about pushing back against bad practices because, in the end, you as the photographer have real power on every shoot. You can say, "No" to unrealistic pre-planning. You can make clear how you work and what you require. You set the stage for the way everyone works on the set. You are the example of positive relationships and productive work. You can either make your jobs fun or you can suffer through twenty or thirty years of personal hell trying to work in this industry. It's something to consider. 

We're into the 21st century and we're making our livings as artists. Life isn't that rough. Plan your projects so that everyone has a good time while getting good work done. Isn't that the worklife we should all be aiming for?

Finally, forget the cowboy boots or five inch heels. Wear some really comfortable shoes. That's a good start....

Make making money fun.

Wear the right shoes. 

Make sure you know how to work your cameras. And don't forget to bring along a back up. Or two.

When it snows take a minute to lay down and make some snow angels. 

Laugh and play together and you'll get just as much done but it will seem like you did it all in the blink of an eye. Happy teams pitch in together to get stuff done.

Craft service is important. It's fun to bring donuts (or Cronuts(tm)) but be sure to bring some protein to the set as well. You don't want everyone sugar crashing right after the coffee break.

Keep your pencils sharp and your filters clean. 

Most crews run on good coffee. A well stocked Keurig set up is the absolute minimum standard. Don't invite me to your set and let me see a jar of instant coffee anywhere. Just don't. 

With a great team that's having fun, and all on the same wavelength you can accomplish almost anything. Getting good photos under those conditions should be child's play. 

I have no caption for this. I included it for the silly reference to hipsterism. 

When we play we try out lots of different styles and methods. Some (filters) might look a bit embarrassing a year or two later while some might become the next big thing. You'll never know if everything you shoot is done to a plain vanilla formula. Play harder.

When you find the fun clients nurture the hell out of your relationships, and remember the value they bring to your life every single time you work with them. If you aren't paying off a desperate loan to a malevolent mob loan shark you'll be smart to turn down toxic and untrainable clients. Life is too short to live as though every photoshoot is a dire emergency with no good outcome....

Bad clients? Screw em. Go swimming instead.


Last Week's Workhorse Camera. At least it's the one I used the most....

I was excited by the idea of getting a Sony A7R2 but I'm finding that the little a6300 is the camera I'm pulling out of the bag most often to use in day to day projects. Right off the bat I'll admit that the reality of shooting, storing, editing and re-storing the 42 megapixel raw files generated by the A7R2 (especially in an uncompressed RAW format) just takes the intrinsic thrill of shooting a top rated camera down more than a few notches. I'm sure computers are getting faster and drives are getting more capacious but the reality is that we live in the "now" and are using a decent 27 inch i7 processor iMac and a bunch of 4-6 terabyte, USB3 drives to do our day to day processing and storage duties. I'm not about to upgrade an otherwise nicely usable system for the sake of one camera....

Owners of Nikon D810s, Sony A7R2s and the new Canon 5DRs certainly have bragging rights when it comes to pulling out all of the stops (intended) and generating files that no other (cost effective) cameras can touch for absolute detail; but it all begs the question: "How many times during the course of the year do your commercial projects require the absolute measure in terms of pixel resolution?" If you are like most of us you love having the horsepower under the hood but you rarely use it to your advantage.

A lot of photographers are like young adult (male) car buyers. The lure of big engines and lots of horsepower, and torque, switch on some acquisition hormone generation system (AHGS) that makes our purchase of showy performance machines almost inevitable. Most men would love to own a Shelby Cobra or an Aston Martin Lagonda but our opportunities to drive 150 mph are scant or none. A more practical car, like a four cylinder Honda or a six cylinder Ford pick-up truck will take care of our transportation needs at a fraction of the cost (and maintenance). Yes, every once in a while a poor Honda or Ford driver will be unable to outrun a flying saucer filled with extraterrestrials, and will have to endure painful probing and other indignities, but these encounters actually happen far less than we might be led to believe by the likes of Fox News....

I think it's largely the same with cameras. We imagine that when the curator of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC calls us to arrange the shows we so richly deserve that he will toss in the proviso that the Museum can only accept enormous prints made from the files of cameras sporting 36 megapixels or more. We also dream of the time that we'll take delivery of our own Epson 10000 printers and wrap the exteriors of our homes with enormous panoramic prints which our neighbors can come over and admire with magnifying glasses. Doesn't happen much around here....

I've been getting a lot of use out of 24 megapixel, full frame sensor cameras for my commercial jobs (Nikon D750, Nikon D610, Sony a850, Sony s99, etc) and I haven't heard a squawk of complaint from a single client or printer. No one has been demanding the issue from a D810 or its brethren. In fact, since we graduated from the barren realm of smaller, 12 megapixel imagers critiques about technical quality shortcomings have dried up completely.

At any rate, either because photographers don't have endless budgets (or schedules) for storage and file massage I like to shoot in a "Ming Envelope" of sufficiency for the job(s) at hand. In 90% of the situations I encounter a file from an APS-C camera; either 16 or 24 megapixels of resolving power, is more than adequate to both fill the "Ming Envelope" of sufficiency and cover the postage to boot.

So, in the flurry of camera buying I knew that the Sony flagship body (the A7R2) would cover the needs of my commercial photographer's ego as well as those times when clients actually do need as much pure resolution as I can cost effectively provide. But I also knew that I'd be happier, day to day, if I had a second tier camera to press into service for everything else. For that 95% of jobs which just need to be content perfect and technically adequate (or better) instead of aiming for perfectionism. In harmony with the A7 series, the e cameras, such as the a6000 and the a6300, are right in the sweet spot. This doesn't mean there aren't things about the form factors of these cameras I would gleefully change if I had the power to do so but it does mean that when I press them into service, photographing models for websites and tech equipment for multiple applications, that nobody is getting short-changed by my "downmarket" selection.

On Tues. of last week I used the a6300, along with various lenses, to photograph black boxes on a white table top set. I chose the a6300 over the A7R2 because the smaller sensor in that camera provided an edge in depth of field for the same angle of view. The smaller camera (used on a tripod) also yielded a more compact set of raw files. Since our deliverables needed to NOT exceed 6,000 pixels on a long edge (tiffs and jpegs) the files from the a6300 were just right while files from the A7R2, if I had used that camera, would have had to suffer the indignities of being much reduced in size. Another step in the process.

Later in the week I had fun photographing models with belts. Again I weighed my equipment options and settled on the a6300. In the studio the same arguments I made above applied. There's a limit to how many jobs are handled effectively by nearly infinite resolution. Especially when every file generated is intended solely for a web site or a web catalog. With the a6300 I was able to shoot all day long with the 18-105mm f4.0 G lens. While I am certain that more biting and contrasty lenses exist I am happy to say that this lens, coupled with the range of tools in my post processing applications, leaves absolutely nothing to be desired for whatever commercial work falls within its generous focal length ranges.

I'd love to say that I took advantage of the lens's and camera body's joint image stabilization and that this feature made all the difference in the world but....I'd be lying. We had the camera on a tripod with a fluid head in the studio (I.S. off) and in the exterior work I was happily shooting at shutter speeds like 1/1,000th, which also obviated the need to let the camera conscientiously jiggle the sensor around to compensate for my decades long coffee habits. High shutter speeds are their own reward.

While fans of alternate camera systems are quick to the debating stage with negative points to share about the ubiquitous Sony npw50 batteries I will again say that the a6300 was downright parsimonious on Thurs., allowing me to knock out some 2,000+ images with two batteries (charge remaining on the second one...). If you love to chimp I doubt you'll do as well on power management. My flaw as a shooter is that I seem to fire off far too many nearly identical frames in the hopes that somehow the imaging gods will intercede and bless me with an (accidental but no less valuable) keeper selection of images, based on my repeated and diligent use of the shutter button. This leads to more quantity of shots per battery than a slow motion flurry of highly considered, individual shots; well and thoroughly examined.

I can't begin to tell you the pleasure in holding just the a6300 and the 18-105mm f4.0 G lens for the afternoon versus the alternative of holding onto the A7R2 and the matching 70-200mm f4.0 G lens; or, even worse, the Nikon D810 paired with an 80-200mm f2.8. Just a different world of happiness. No aching biceps the next day. No neck pain from the strap of a heavy camera and lens at rest.

The a6300 is also a faster camera to use than the A7R2. I don't usually think about stuff like frame rates since I rarely shoot sports but even with the talent paddle boarding or jogging, the eight frames per second of shooting, with full on live view, makes working with the slower frame rate of the higher res cameras seem plodding. For pure, productive laziness nothing really beats an 8 frame per second, live view-enabled, camera with an EVF and face detection AF. I could shoot this way ensconced in my lakeside cabana while lying on my side eating grapes, being fanned by comely assistants, and still come out with a respectable number of winning photographs.

Now, remember, I am not singing the praises of the a6300 because I am impoverished, under equipped, and jealous. I actually own an A7R2 and a nice group of lenses for the camera. But sometimes it's just not the right tool to grab.

There are just two situations in which I reflexively grab for the bigger camera. The first is when I want to pop an 85mm or 105mm on the front of the full frame sensor and test the limits of narrow depth of field. The second, and most obvious, is when I need or want enormous RAW files---filled to the brim with resolution/data points. The a6300 (and the a6000 before it) do such a nice job on everything else. The flexibility and performance made the a6300 my "go to" camera all week long last week.

There were two "use" exceptions. On one hand I brought along the RX10 (classic version) to my belt wielding model shoot just for video. The 1080p video in that camera is really superb and I've shot with that camera enough in video mode to make the operation more or less seamless for me. The other exception was my use of the A7R2 to shoot a "family" shot of four communication server boxes together, on white seamless background paper. I didn't really need the singular attributes of that camera for the shot but I was curious to see how much of a difference the higher resolution and the logo-enhanced performance of the Zeiss lens would deliver.

If you peeped at the pixels at 100% you could see a small difference between the 24 and the 42 megapixel sensors. In real life? At the size of the deliverables? Any difference would have fallen into the placebo category, for sure.

So, my camera of the week, for my commercial business, was the a6300. Does that mean it's the best camera for everyone to use all the time? Hardly. It has its faults and they mostly revolve around the ergonomics of the body design. They made the body too small! The finder could use more eye relief/stand off as well. But the sensor is really good, and I've already mastered the menus so I feel at home making the camera do my bidding.

I could have easily done the same work with an Olympus EM5.2 or a Fuji XT-1 or Pro-2 and some of those juicy Fuji or Olympus lenses. But, the ego needs of the A7R2 saddled me with my current selection of APS-C cameras by dint of wanting to rationalize the lens choices over a complete family of bodies.

I wish that Sony would just take an RX10ii body and put an APS-C sensor in it. Same focal length selections and speed. The body might have to be just a bit bigger to accommodate the geometry of it all but I wouldn't care, I'd be happy as a clam. At least for a while.

I'm cycling back into the movie mode next week but the schedule isn't as furious and overwhelming as last week. I am happy to announce that, while I missed getting new blogs out, I was able to maintain a reasonable swim schedule and I have also added an improvement to my freestyle stroke which I will talk about at length in a future column that is certain to rivet the attention of the non-swimmers in the crowd (implied sarcastic happy face emoticon). It's all about accelerating the last half of each arm pull.....

What a glorious time to be alive and near a perfect swimming pool. Oh yeah, and to have cameras.


Stabilized video camera rig at Eeyore's Birthday Party, in Pease Park. Getting technical and meeting woman at 24 fps...

Eeyore's Birthday Party has been around for a good, long while and though the drumming and face painting continues a lot of things have changed. In years long past one saw lots of Nikon and Canon cameras over peoples' shoulders, now they've been replaced mostly by phones and new school videography. As the drummers get older they have started erecting tents to ward off the sun; unfortunately, they crowd together under the tents and this takes away any inner circle area for free spirited dancing. This year there were two drum tents and no dancers. First time ever.

There were still Austin hippies of various ages, smoking dope on the hills. There was still a Maypole with children spinning around underneath. Lots and lots of tie-dye,  but the ever growing sea of vendor stalls (which sell food, beer and lemonade to raise funds for local charities) is spreading like tacky suburbs around a once hip city core, and trampling the inherent coolness of the festival.

All at once it felt like just an open field with a whole lot of disassociated people all trying to act as those they were doing something really, really fun, alone together. But mostly the crowd just spent time milling around with a beer in one hand and a phone in the other.

I guess it's the way of all city expansions. Something lost and, maybe, something gained...

Little more to photograph here. All done.

Film Cameras in the wild. Extra points for dragging around a 6x7cm medium format camera AND a spot meter!!!

Photographer at the Graffiti Wall. Austin, Texas

I was walking back to my car from Eeyore's Birthday Party today and I made a slight detour just to see what might be happening at the Hope Outdoor Gallery (aka: the Graffiti Wall). Attendance was sparse but there was one person who caught my eye. She was grappling with a medium format Mamiya camera and had a spot meter tucked under her left arm. I remember those cameras well. I don't know anything about the photographer but I'll say this, she must have an above average level of determination to continue working on location with all six pounds of camera, and ten shots on a roll...

Fun with belts. A video that our talent thought up during our still shoot for Klikbelts. Go to Vimeo to see the video in 1080p. It's just 800 pixels wide here....

klikbelts 2K Final from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.
This video is about klikbelts 2K

Here's the client's site: https://www.klikbelts.com


Fun with cameras. Shooting belts all day yesterday for Klikbelt. Stills with a Sony a6300, video with an RX10.

Yesterday I had fun shoot with a company called, Klikbelt. They make belts that incorporate an Austrian made, quick release buckle originally designed for military use. The belt is selling well as a fashion item and also in hot demand from people who need, well, quick release belts. Our assignment was to show off the range of belt and buckle colors. You can combine silver, brown, and black belts with silver and black buckles. We spent the first part of the day in the studio. 

I set up my usual studio lighting for situations in which I'll be shooting both stills images and video. I'm using a 6x6 foot diffusion scrim over on the left side of the frame and filling with a 24 by 36 inch softbox on the opposite side. The big diffusion scrim is powered by three of the CooLED 100 watt units while the softbox is lit up with another 100 watt unit. Our basic exposure for the subject position (single person, standing) was ISO 400, 1/50th of a second, f4.0. The light was even, soft and still directional. 

The very first shooting task was to shoot "how to video" about how to actually put the belt together. You need to loop the belt through your belt loops before attaching the unattached part of the buckle. It's hare to explain but very easy to understand if you are watching a step by step run through. Since the lighting was set for video as well as stills we were able to interchange cameras on the fluid head on top a big Benro tripod and immediately start shooting. I used a Sony RX10 for video because the new XAVC codec looks really good in 1080p and we would not need anything larger since the videos will be used exclusively on the client's website. 

Twenty minutes later we switched cameras to a Sony a6300 with an 18-105mm f4.0 G lens and got busy shooting all the endless variations of belts and buckles on both our male model and our female model. We alternated models for efficient wardrobe changes and were able to get a huge number of shots down by lunch time. I think the secret to working fast in the studio is good preproduction and that's something the guys at Klikbelt really delivered on. They has their shot list narrowed down, the wardrobe sized, prepped and ready and they hired two great models who've done this kind of work professionally. I made good, solid meter readings and put marks on the floor of the studio to designate exact exposures for people standing in those spots. I also set a custom white balance, reading the light color at the subject position, before we got started. 

In my daily business I try to make sure that the studio is completely set and lit the night before we start a shoot. There's no sense wasting a client's time and the time of their talent while I set up diffusion panels, tweak lights and generally arrange stuff. I also make sure we have plenty of snacks, bottled water and a Keurig coffee machine with good K-cups. Nothing fancy but enough fuel to keep everyone rolling through. I spent Monday and Tues. working on a product shoot, and all day Weds. knocking out the post production for that shoot so the set up for the belt shoot got done Wednesday night, after dinner. 

The client checked images on the monitor as we went along so, no surprises for anyone at any point in the studio shoot. Once we'd gotten all the studio work done everyone packed up the wardrobe, I tossed the necessary gear I'd need for the afternoon into my car, and we all headed out for lunch. 

After lunch we headed over to the Austin Rowing Dock for some paddle boarding and then hit some locations in Zilker Park. We finished up the day with a spur of the moment video that was creatively sourced from our talents. Shot handheld with the Sony RX10 and a Zomei VND filter. It's hilarious and fun, and all about the belts. I'll try to get a working copy up in the next few days. 

The folks at Klikbelt are really into the advantages of extensive social media so, for a change, I was allowed to post whatever I wanted from our shoot; immediately. None of the images here have been retouched or highly corrected. That will come after the client and I have narrowed down the large number of files to a small bucket of just the good ones. I did take a few minutes during the day to shoot some behind the scenes shots of a simple set up we used on the dock of the rowing facility. (See below). 

Our model, Chase, kinda fishing. The half tucked shirt is absolutely intentional and if it doesn't appeal to us we may not be in the audience the client was targeting with this series...

A scrim can be a handful when the wind kicks up but having a four foot by six foot, white diffusion scrim is a wonderful thing when you find yourself shooting in full sun. (Same set up for the image just below).

Our model, Stephanie, fishing on the dock. Lady Bird Lake in the background. 

A Summer passtime in Austin is just hanging out down at the lake. There was quite a stir just down the bank from us as a large group of people hustled to get out of the water, quickly. Seems a six or seven foot long (dubious/dangerous looking) snake glided in from one side of the water and wiggled across to the other shore... 

It was a good, fun day of shooting stills and video. A change from the earlier part of the week when I was working alone, shooting black box technology. 

A quick few thoughts about tools: The LED lights are wonderful to work with in the studio. I love being able to put a softbox on a fixture or, fashion a snoot for some hard light using some black wrap foil. There is a speed and fluidity that comes with working in a purely WYSIWYG mode. It makes moving lights around, looking for the right reflection on a black face panel, so much easier. 

In our "fashion" shoot, the LED lighting helped me switch back and forth between video and stills almost instantly. If we saw some action we liked during a still series we could stop and reprise it in video with a quick change of our cameras. It required no complex thinking, only a bit of direction. Even the shooting (video) camera was preset for exposure and white balance. Shooting quick inserts was a matter of putting the camera on a tripod with a quick mount and then pushing the red button and yelling, "action." (But, in real life, I don't really yell "action"...). 

The RX10 worked well as a quick video camera indoors and, with addition of a variable neutral density filter, outdoors; even in direct sun. Right now, for fun, loose, unconventional video the two RX10s (the "classic" and the type 2) are my favorite cameras. I am consistently amazed at how great the images are out of those cameras for video (and for stills). 

The Manfrotto, hybrid Still/Video fluid head (which I've written about before) has gone from "ho-hum" to my favorite tripod head lately. It functions quite well as a fluid head video tripod but the big ball head has a switch on the base that allows you to free it from its horizontal constraints and work as a well mannered and well damped, conventional ball head. I've long since put the panning arm in a drawer. It gets in the way for still shooting and, I find that I mostly just grab the head and pan it with both hands when shooting with these smaller "video" cameras. Love that I can take just one unit and have it do dual duty, with precision and grace. 

The a6300 was my camera of choice. I've tested it a lot recently and (blasphemy!!!) find the super fine Jpegs to be really, really good. Especially if you take the time to manually set exposure and color balance. I didn't need the enormous raw files of the A7R2 and I was also anxious to lean on the smaller camera for very fast focus, fast frame rates and very good face detection AF. Over the course of the day yesterday I shot nearly 2,000 images using just two batteries. I have the "review" set to off, which saves battery power. And who needs review when you are able to "pre-chimp" every shot you make? The 18-105mm f4.0 G stayed glued on the front of the camera because it's a nice range of focal lengths, has really good image stabilization and the optical performance is totally satisfactory for all but the most demanding applications. It's a balancing act between that last 3-5% of performance versus smooth and efficient usability. 

Why didn't I use the a6300 for both stills and video? Simple answer is that I like to keep the cameras preset for their dominant tasks. Shooting outside with the a6300 I wanted to leave the camera set at a high shutter speed and I wanted to use DRO to open up the shadows a bit. I didn't want to use that combination for video and I didn't want to make mistakes by having to dive into the menu to make changes while we had talent in front of the camera. Having two cameras, each preset to their dedicated tasks, is easier for me, mentally; and results in fewer user errors on a shoot. 

The nice thing about using the RX10 is that it makes a great back up camera in a pinch. 

The final device that I want to talk about is the simple diffusion disk. It's so wonderful to be able to stick a piece of material between the sun and my subject and watch the light open up and get pretty. It's the cheapest lighting tool I know of and I seem to use these collapsible disk reflectors on every shoot, for pretty much everything. From blocking the light from ugly sodium vapor fixtures, to taming sunlight, to providing UV protection for the photographer. I'm partial to the "five in one" variety of collapsible diffuser/reflectors that allow you to have translucent, black, white and silver surfaces just by changing around (or removing ) the covers. I have one here in the studio from Chimera that just celebrated it's 30th birthday. I have another specialty version from Westcott that is a one half stop silk on a collapsible ring. I use it often and keep looking for more at lower strengths than the typical, low cost versions (they use thicker diffusion materials = not as sexy but...lasts longer and is probably cheaper to source and use in manufacturing). 

We are heading down the rabbit hole with our video shoot for a utility company so we'll see how an assortment of late nights chasing storms effects blog productivity. I already know that it's not conducive to a good swim schedule...... sigh.


My last re-post of older columns this week. Something controversial from 2013. Looking back three years to see how accurate my assessment of the market was....


The graying of traditional photography and why everything is getting re-invented in a form we don't understand.

Gloria. Cropped image from Samsung Galaxy NX camera. 60mm macro lens.

On the last day of the PhotoPlus Expo I finally got why the camera industry has hit the wall and may never come back again in the same way. The folks who love cameras for the sake of cameras, and all the nostalgic feelings they evoke of Life Magazine, National Geographic, 1980's fashion, and 1990's celebrity portraiture, and other iconic showcases that made us sit up and really look at photography, are graying, getting old, and steadily shrinking in numbers.

I can profile the average camera buyer in the U.S. right now without looking at the numbers. The people driving the market are predominately over 50 years old and at least 90% of them are men. We're the ones who are driving the romantic re-entanglement with faux rangefinder styles. We're the ones at whom the retro design of the OMD series camera are aimed. We're the ones who remember when battleship Nikons and Canons were actually needed to get great shots and we're the ones who believe in the primacy of the still image as a wonderful means of communication and even art. But we're a small part of the consumer economy now and we're walking one path while the generations that are coming behind us are walking another path. And it's one we're willfully trying not to understand because we never want to admit that what we thought of as the "golden age of photography" is coming to an end as surely as the kingdom of Middle Earth fades away in the last book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

This is not to say that photography is dying. Or that the generations coming behind us are doomed to failure and despair; far from it. They are living the golden age of photography from their perspective, and their heroes in the field are names we don't even know. This is a generation that values a personal vision that arrives as quickly as a phone call and has a much shorter half life than the one we experienced for our work, but then again, what doesn't move faster these days?

As I photographed in the booth for Samsung I looked out at the waves of people who were exploring the various products on the showroom floor and I became aware that most of them were well over 50 years old and the elders were carrying their big Nikons and Canons as badges of honor and with a smug attitude that their equipment choice was the one that would persevere through the ages.

But the very thing that makes a ruling party or a ruling generation is the same thing that will kill its paradigm. Our version of the market is almost a completely closed loop. At this Expo we worshipped at the altar of the same basic roster of speakers and presenters who've been speaking and presenting for the last ten years. We've closed the loop and the choice offered to younger photographers is to sit and listen to people old enough to be their grandmothers or grandfathers wax on about how we used to do it in the old days or to not come at all.

When I listen to lectures about how the market has changed what I hear from my generation is how to take the tools we programmed ourselves to love and try to apply them to our ideas of what might be popular with end users today. So we buy D4's and 1DSmkIV's to shoot video on giant Red Rock Micro rigs and we rush to buy Zeiss cinema lenses because we want the control and the idea of ultimate quality in our offerings while the stuff that the current generation is thinking about is more concerned with intimacy, immediacy and verisimilitude rather than "production value." To the new generations the idea of veracity and authenticity always trumps metrics of low noise or high resolution. And that need for perfection is our disconnection from the creative process, not theirs.

Our generation's fight with digital, early on, was to tame the high noise, the weird colors, the slow buffers and the old technology which saddled us with wildly inaccurate and tiny viewfinders and batteries that barely lasted through a sneeze. We pride ourselves on the mastery but the market moved on and now those parameters are taken for granted. Like turning on a television and assuming it will work. We are still staring at the technical landscape which rigidly disconnects us from the emotional interface of the craft. If we don't jump that shark then we're relegated to being like the photographer who makes those precious black and white landscapes which utilize every ounce of his PhotoShop skills but  which, in the end, become works that are devoid of any emotional context. In fact, they are just endless revisions of work that Ansel Adams did better, and with more soul, fifty years ago. Technique as schtick. Mastery for mastery's sake with no hook to pull in a new generation. Of course we like technically difficult work. It was hard for us to master all the processes a decade ago. Now it's a canned commodity, a pervasive reality, and what the market of smart and wired in kids are looking for is an emotional connection with their images that goes beyond the mechanical construct.

It's no longer enough to get something in focus, well exposed and color correct. It's no longer good enough to fix all the "flaws" in Photoshop. What the important audience wants now is the narrative, the story, the "why" and not the "how." The love, not the schematic.

So, what does this mean for the camera industry? It means that incremental improvements in quality no longer mean shit to a huge and restless younger market. They don't care if the image is 99% perfect if the content is exhilarating and captivating. No one cared if the Hobbit was available at 48 fps as long as the story was strong in 24 fps. No one cares if a landscape is perfect if there's a reason for the image of a landscape to exist. No one cares if a model is perfect if the model is beguiling.

My generation has long been fixated on "getting it right" and that presumes that our point of view is the one that is objectively right. But it's always been true that "your focus determines your reality."

What it really means for the camera industry is that the tools they offer the new generation must be more intuitively integrated and less about "ultimate." In this world a powerful camera that's small enough and light enough to go with you anywhere (phone or small camera) trumps the huge camera that may generate better billboards but the quality of which is irrelevant for web use and social media. The accessible camera trumps the one that needs a sherpa for transport and a banker for acquisition.

I look at the video industry and I see our generation drawn toward the ultimate production cameras. Cameras like the Red Epic or the Alexa. But I see the next generation making more intimate and compelling work with GH3's and Canon 5D2's and 3's. Or even cameras with less pedigrees. The cheaper cameras mean that today's younger film makers can pull the trigger on projects now instead of waiting for all the right stuff to line up. Cheaper good cameras mean more projects get made. More experience gets logged. More storytelling gets done. My generation is busy testing the "aspirational" cameras to see just how perfect perfect can be. And we're loosing ground day by day to a generation that realizes that everyone must "seize the day" in order to do their art while it's fresh.

If I ran the one of the big camera companies I would forget the traditional practitioners and rush headlong toward the youth culture with offerings that allowed them to get to work now with the budgets they have. Ready to do a video project? Can't afford a Red One or even a big Canon? How about a $600 Panasonic G6 and some cheap lenses? Ready to go out and shoot landscapes? Will a Nikon D800 really knock everyone's socks off compared to an Olympus OMD when you look at the images side by side on the web? No? Well, that's the litmus test. It's no longer the 16x20 gallery print because we don't support physical galleries any more.

So, there we were at the trade show and the majority of the attendees were guys wearing their photo jackets with a camera bag over one shoulder and a big "iron" on a strap over the other shoulder. And they had their most impressive lenses attached. And they walked through the crowd with pride because they were packing cool gear. And the pecking order of the old-cognescenti was: film Leica's, then digital Leica M's, followed by Mamiya 6 or 7 rangefinders, followed by Fuji Pro-1's, followed by big, pro Nikons or Canons and so on. While the few young people there zipped through the exhibits and took notes of interesting products with their phones.

The next generations aren't adapting to "hybrid photography" they invented it in a very natural way. We're the ones trying to label the intersection of video and stills and the co-opt it. But we keep overlaying our own preconditions to the genre.

If we understand that our focus determines our reality then we can try to change our focus and better understand where photography is headed, outside the parameters of our own little, private club. And that understanding will help us swim back into the  current of current of photographic culture instead of swimming against the tide trying to get back to a place to which we can really never return.

Yes, some people will still use "ultimate" cameras to create "ultimately sharp and detailed" landscapes, cityscapes and artsy assemblages but their audiences will be constrained to other groups of aging practitioners. Art is a moving target. To understand the target requires a constant re-computation of the factors involved.

It's a hoary stereotype but we need to look to the music industry. The delivery systems have changed profoundly and the music along with it. We can cling to Stan Getz and The Girl from Ipanema  but we certainly won't connect with the current market. I'm not saying we need to love hip hop or Daft Punk but we need to understand where the market is now. It's wonderful that you enjoy waltz music or polkas but if you want to swim in current culture you probably won't find those genres conducive to gaining general acceptance.

Cameras are and will get smaller and lighter. The lenses will get smaller and lighter and easier to carry around. The gear will get easier and easier to use. And why shouldn't it? The gear will get more and more connected. Maybe the cameras don't need to master the entire internet on their own but it will get easier and easier to move images from camera to phone or camera to tablet. And why shouldn't it get easier? Making the process harder for the sake of artisanal martyrdom doesn't move the art along its way. And why should it?

Where is photography going? Where it always gone. It's going along for the ride with popular culture. It's the traditionalists that feel a sense of loss but the sense of loss is from the constant evolution of tastes and styles. If you look at photo history you'll see generational warfare at every junction. Resistance to smaller camera formats! Resistance to color film! Resistant to SLR cameras! Resistance to automation!

And in the art you see Robert Frank as the foil to the arch perfectionism of Group 64. You see William Klein as the antidote to the preciousness of Elliott Porter. You see Guy Bourdin as the antithetical anti hero to Snowdon and Scuvallo. Each move forward was contentious and cathartic. Just as Josef Koudelka was the revolutionary to Walker Evans.

The camera market is in the doldrums now because it is conflicted. Go with the aging money? Or go with the maturing new markets? Go with a shrinking but loyal market or blaze a new trail based on new cultural parameters? The spoils will go to the companies that get it right.

What do I see as "must haves" for the industry to resonate with the new markets?

Cameras must be smaller, lighter and more accessible. 

Cameras need to work with less nit picky intervention on the part of the operators.

Whole systems must be smaller, lighter and more financially accessible.

Cameras should be interconnected with phones and tablets in an almost mindless way.

Cameras must no longer be precious and coveted. They need to be more like phones. A commodity that gets replaced as new stuff comes out with feature sets more conducive to the mission.

Apple has it just right. Make things that are simple to own and simple to use. Make menus easier and not harder. Eliminate the need to make unnecessary decisions. Make design more important and ultimacy less important. Change the focus of consumers in order to own the markets.

Is my advice any good? Naw. I'm as trapped into my generation as anyone else. But I do know that the first step to freedom is to throw off the resistance to change. You'll never change the momentum of the overall market but you can always change your own focus. And then you may open new doors of perception that allow you to do your own work....but in a new way. Like a bridge.

Continue to tell your story. But make sure you are delivering it in a way that people will be able to understand. Change is inevitable and fighting it is the first step to failure.

For a while my markets drove me back into full frame cameras. But those markets have changed so much that it no longer seems to matter. Now I'm just looking for cameras that are fun and easy to embrace. They all take good enough images now. Ultimate quality is now taking a back seat to intimacy and immediacy. A big camera is no longer a prerequisite for a place at the table.

Edit: go see what Michael Reichmann has to say about all this: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/pdn_photoplus_2013.shtml

Edit: Just read this at the NYTimes and found it .... familiar: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/27/opinion/sunday/slaves-of-the-internet-unite.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20131027&_r=0

(EZ reader translation for people who have forgotten how to read long stuff....

All cameras now good. Technical Mastery not as important as in year's past. Old guys love technical mastery. New guys like making different style images and don't care about image perfection. Aesthetic pendulum swings from perfect to emotive. Some camera makers evolve. Some not.  Cameras getting smaller and easier to use. Old styles of shooting fading. New styles emerging. Good time to be a photographer. Change is inevitable. Change is good for young people. Change harder for some old people. Kirk is happy and now goes off swimming. May toss all old gear and just get better phone. short enough?)

Studio Portrait Lighting

in other news: Belinda and I finished working on, The Lisbon Portfolio. The photo/action novel I started back in 2002. I humbly think it is the perfect Summer vacation read. And the perfect, "oh crap, I have to fly across the country" read. It's in a Kindle version right now at Amazon. The Lisbon Portfolio. Action. Adventure. Photography.  See how our hero, Henry White, blows up a Range Rover with a Leica rangefinder.....

Remember, you can download the free Kindle Reader app for just about any table or OS out there....

Edit: Added 11/6: Here's another one that will make you gnash your teeth: http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2013/08/has-bubble-burst-is-that-why-camera.html

Family Photography: Candid Moments & Storytelling

Since my schedule is uncooperative for writing this week I've been posting some favorite, older posts. Here's one about making more interesting photos. From 2012.


How to shoot far more interesting photographs...

(consumer camera.  consumer lens.  continuous light.)

The only way to shoot more interesting photographs is to become a more interesting person.

And, how do you do that?

Listen more, talk less.

Travel more.

Eat stuff you never tried before.

Go some place scary.

Make friends with people who are smarter than you.

Make friends with people who are actors, artist and musicians.

Change your habits.

Read more novels.

Read more poems.  (Try Billy Collins...or Wallace Stevens.)

Go to museums. Look at the art.

Go to  art galleries.

Go to a mosque.  Go to a church or go to a synagog.  Go to a house of worship that's not your current brand.  

Learn new stuff from your kids.

Pick a place that's one tank of gas away and go there.

Go on a life threatening adventure.

Spend a month on a cargo ship.  Or a fishing boat.

Take naps in the middle of the day and stay up all night.

Try your hand at abstract painting.

Date your wife.  Or husband.

Change political parties for a while.

Put down your cameras until you really learn how to tell interesting stories.

Become a more interesting person and you'll take more interesting photographs.  Really.