The Industry is changing day by day and minute by minute. A thought about staying relevant in 2016 and beyond.

The studio is always in flux.
What will come through the door tomorrow?

I get a lot of grief from fellow photographers when I buy and sell gear. They seem to feel that we should be wedded to camera systems and individual gear choices no matter what changes there are in our markets, and with our clients. The recent switch I made, from Nikon to Sony, is par for the course. I've heard it already. "Sony obviously paid Tuck to switch systems!" No, Nikon helped push the big button for change. And I'll tell you why. I was waiting patiently with my gaggle of Nikon bodies and lenses; waiting to see what Nikon would bring out this year to help photographers shoot 4K video.

If you are not working in the corporate commercial photography space the topic may seem like a tempest in a teacup. After all, who needs 4K? Where are you going to show it? Most people don't even have 4K TVs? Right?

No. Wrong. We're working on a project right now that will be projected at a trade show with state of the art, 4K projectors. Many of our major technology clients here in Austin have had 4K televisions in board rooms and meeting rooms for a good long while. I think what the naysayers meant to say is that there are very few middle class brides and grooms who are demanding 4K wedding videos along with their photographs. It's two profoundly different markets. Insanely different.

So, I was waiting to see what Nikon would introduce this year for photographers whose businesses have changed


Strange combinations at the end of the camera strap today...

It was one of those strange days when everything seemed a little...out of phase. I worked on a consulting project for a while, after swim practice and lunch, and eventually I ran out of productive steam and decided to go for a walk in the lovely Spring weather.

I looked around the office, vacillating about which camera to take when I spied the old Rokinon 14mm f2.8 cine lens which survived the Great Nikon Purge of 2016. I gently placed it on an adapter and then onto the front of the Sony a6300. Why not the A7R2? Because 14mm is way too wide for a narrow minded photographer like me. I generally like my lenses long and my naps longer. The 14mm on the APS-C frame of the a6300 would give me an effective focal length of 21mm; which is fine; I was looking to work outside my generous comfort zone.

Man! Even at 21mm, with the corners and edges cropped off, that lens has some serious distortion. Nothing Lightroom can't handle (with a little too much work) but more than you'd like to think about. Love it for the sharpness and contrast; less fond of it for the need for correction.

With my new found lens snobbishness it seems I'd better look to expand my envelope and buy some better wide angle glass. I have my eye on that Zeiss 18mm f2.8 Batis lens. Does anyone here have experience with it yet? Is it even out on the market now? Inquiring minds want to know (but are too lazy today to look it up). 


Ancient work on film. Former Austin mayor, current Texas state senator, all around smart, nice guy: Kirk Watson.

I photographed Kirk Watson a number of years ago at his law offices on Congress Ave. in downtown Austin, Texas. Those were the days of Profoto Strobes in big soft boxes and lots of Polaroid tests. Once we flash fried the assistant by making her "stand in" for the "hero" and shooting lots and lots of Polaroids, we substituted Mr. Watson and got just what we wanted in the first twelve frames. We used a Hasselblad camera and a 180mm f4.0 Zeiss lens. Shot on transparency film. All very nice and straightforward....

I still prefer to do portraits over any other kind of work I do. 

Magic Hour at the Waste Treatment Plant in Biloxi.

It's interesting to me that we are constantly investigating and researching new cameras and lenses when, at the same time, we can look back over twenty or thirty years and see that we did good, timeless work with whatever tools were at hand. I understand the (marketing) compulsion to make sure that the cameras we use in the service of client projects are perceived to be state-of-the-art but whether or not the underlying reality of the upgrade cycle is true is a whole other subject....


A quick test of the Sony RX10iii video capabilities. Shooting available light, indoors, in 4K (UHD).

Untitled Project from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.
This video is about Untitled Project

 A short minute of video so you can see the video imaging and hear the sound. The content is part of a program aimed for a new, video oriented blog. Coming soon. ...

I started writing about the Sony RX10iii yesterday and most of what I wrote had to do with the camera's abilities as a photographer's tool. Today I set up the camera and started to put it through its paces for video. Why? Well, because I have video project coming up that would really benefit from this camera's capabilities. So, how did my tests work out?

I'll start with the one downside and work my way up from there.

The camera's files have visible noise in the shadows at ISO 800. There, I've said it. If it was a still camera I'd have whipped those files into PhotoShop or Lightroom and dealt with them in a few slider pulls. But it's video and I can't seem to find the noise reduction menu in Final Cut Pro.

The second caveat isn't really a "downside" it more of a "geez, all these cameras are great at video why aren't they equally great at audio" kind of a thing. I plugged my Sennheiser receiver directly into the camera input and listened through a nice set of headphones to the wireless lavaliere microphone I'd incorporated into the test. The camera's pre-amps are a bit noisy. It's not a deal killer but the noise floor is definitely there and it's higher than I'd like. I'll be running the audio through a mixer with better microphone pre-amps from now on before I send it to the camera. But, of course, I was shooting in the studio where there was very little ambient sound to cover for the camera. For really critical work I'll send the signal to a digital audio recorder and sync up sound in post production.

The video upsides are much more numerous. The range of video profiles is very good and the various gamma presets are highly usable if you are willing to take some time in post to grade your completed footage, and do some contrast corrections.

It's simple to map your audio levels menu item to one of the function button slots so you can access audio level control quickly while shooting.

The continuous focus, when also set to face detection AF and wide area AF is pretty darn good. Not a lot of hunting, even though the model was swaying back and forth. And what re-focusing was done was done gracefully and without drama.

All in all it was a good video performance by the camera. Having now tested it I can refine the way I use it a bit more.

First, I'll always want to do a custom white balance. Every shift I make in color or exposure introduces noise or in some way degrades the overall image quality. I think this is the way of all cameras but we've had the luxury of shooting 14 bit, uncompressed RAW for quite a while and we're used to a more forgiving and information rich file set.

Second, for important (read: "paying") work I'll want to get the exposure right on the money instead of depending on my third party, external monitor, which is exuberantly bright, for validation. This is where a hand held meter comes in handy. Nailing the exposure more exactly will also help to ameliorate some of the shadow area noise too.

Next time on the tripod I'll try shooting more stuff with manual focusing, which means I need to map "image magnification" to one of the function display slots, right next to the audio levels.

Overall, I thought the imaging performance was exactly where it should be. If you have acres of light and can use ISO 100 or 200 I think you'll be rewarded with saturated and relatively noise free image files. The detail out of the files is very good and the tonality is fairly accurate and more layered and nuanced than ACVHD files I've gotten out of previous generations of Sony cameras.

The real test will be outside in bright sunlight. How will the AF stand up to a variable neutral density filter?  We'll find out in a few days.

For now I am praising both the sharpness, detail and color of the files. The first outing is a success in my book. Thanks. 

I like photographs about which I can tell stories. Some people like photographs that tell stories.

Many years ago, on a hot Summer day here in Austin, Ben, Belinda and I went out for lunch. We went to a burger joint called, Hillbert's, that had been on Lamar Blvd. for decades. It was toasty warm outside, the kind of weather where sandals and shorts are the order of the day. Inside Hillbert's two big window AC units blew icy air across the main counter and the row of swivel stools that line the front window.

Ben has always been an adventurous eater and loves the process of going out anywhere for food. I took along my camera, as I have for nearly thirty years now. At the time it was a Leica R8 fitted with a 50mm Summilux lens.

I took two or three snapshots during lunch and this is one of them.

I've always liked this image for a number of reasons. There is Ben's expression, of course; and the wonderful way the image falls out of focus in the middle distance and the background. I enjoy the flow of soft light coming in from the floor-to-ceiling window at the left of the frame, and I like the warm, not totally corrected, color that mixes yellow and red on skin with magneta and blue on the floor behind Ben and Belinda.  But the one attribute I love best about this image is the twinkle and energy in Ben's eyes.

The image stayed with me and, when I wrote my novel (The Lisbon Portfolio) the image prodded me to write a few pages of reminiscence for my character, Henry White, who was in a foreign country, having a trying interpersonal experience, and missing his own child...

The image informed three or four pages of writing and provided a richer texture to Henry White's feeling of being unanchored and apart. I could extrapolate entire stories from visual reminders like the one above. And, in fact, many of the descriptions in the novel are verbalizations of images that tend to stay hooked in my mind, signifying something unfinished, yet not transient.

For some people photographs tell stories. For me I like to tell stories about the feelings and ideas that photographs can spark. I think there is a difference. It's not always one way or the other but sometimes it really is. Interesting to think about the links between our different creative processes...


Sony RX10iii. It's better than I expected, and I expected it to be quite good. This blog is about my first afternoon with the camera.

This is a wide angle shot of my kitchen shot at the 24mm equivalent. It's my first frame out of the camera. (You can always click on the pix to make them bigger). 

Just by way of background; I have owned the original Sony RX10 twice now and that, of course, led me to buy the RX10ii when it came out. The 2 is a beautiful camera, like the original (which I will call the classic) and I bought it because Sony increased the EVF resolution and also gave it useful and well implemented 4K video. When the RX10iii came out (released into distribution today) I rushed out and got one so that I would be able to take advantage of the new, long lens. I did not do this blindfolded. I knew the camera would be bigger, heavier and also more pricey. 

One of the reasons I decided to go ahead and grab one is that two of my current corporate video clients have both decided that the projects we're starting need to be shot in 4K. The newer two Sony RX10s both feature UHD 4K and all the trim needed to make nice video; including: microphone and headphone jacks, time code, fine-tunable profiles, S-Log (if I ever master grading...), focus peaking, customizable zebras and, most importantly, they share the same basic menu structure with the A7R2 and the a6300, which are also 4K ready video cameras. 

Why not a different camera? Why not just default to the A7r2? Hmm. The RX10iii shoots video at 6K and down samples to 4K. The files (if they are like the RX10ii) should be perfectly sharp and detailed. The camera is built with video in mind which influences handling in a very positive way.
The two models (rx10-2 and 3 and the A7R2) are a nice complement to each other. Handling and robust operation from the smaller sensor cameras and narrow depth of field and lower noise from the bigger camera. What a flexible set of tools for the kind of work I like to do. 

In order to justify the purchase I liquidated the classic, and the two Panasonic fz 1000 cameras I've been using. The Sony RX10 classic found a new home because it doesn't do 4K. The Panasonics found new homes because, dammit, they don't have headphone jacks. Now I can go out on projects and shoot multiple cameras which all share both a common color family, 4K capabilities and the same batteries. 

I killed two test birds with one stone while sitting at the kitchen table after sticking a newly charged battery and a clean SDXC card in the new camera. I did a wide shot to look for vignetting and distortion and then, from the same position, I zoomed all the way out to the 600mm equivalent focal length to test the image stabilization and focus acquisition. So far so good. But I also inadvertently tested one more performance parameter; the high ISO. I'd left the camera in Auto ISO and the image of the dish soap (which you can see on the left side of the sink in the photo just above) was shot by the camera at ISO 6400. Oh, and the image stabilization at 1/60th of a second seems to be working well. 

It's my first day with the camera but it didn't require that much practice to become comfortable with. The focus and zoom rings take a little bit of getting used to but by the end of a 75 image stroll through town I was grabbing the right controls about 90% of the time....

I have not shot video yet with the new camera so that will get covered in another post. I do have some initial observations about the camera just in passing. First, it is bigger than the previous RX10s. The grip is also bigger and deeper. The camera is heavier as well. Do not buy this camera sight unseen if you are one of those folks who love small cameras you think you might like to carry one around in a pocket. You will be disappointed. This is a big and solid camera. It feels much bigger than any of the Olympus cameras and even bigger and beefier than its sibling, the A7R2. Really. It's big. And heavy(er). 

Handheld at the longest focal length in a kitchen dark enough to call for ISO 6400 at 1/60th, f4.0.

While my primary intention in acquiring this camera is to use it in video productions of all kinds I am certain I'll find lots of alternate uses for it. A few come to mind: Shooting from the middle of the house at Zach Theatre during dress rehearsals when there is an audience in attendance. Photographing keynote speakers, on stage, at corporate conferences where low/no audible noise,, and much discretion is called for. And for those rare times when I really do want to use a long lens for compression. As a daily, carry around shooting tool I am partial to the a6300 which is much, much smaller and lighter. It's perfect with a small, 38mm f1.8 lens on the front.....

Compared to the RX10ii the 3 seems to have been tweaked in at least two discernible ways. The first is that the Jpegs out of cameras seem to be better. They have more coherence and feel more solid. And second, the EVF image is sharper and brighter, and seems more accurate. 

As a disclaimer to the forum chum who will immediately start calling me a Sony fanboy I rush to say that I have had no communication or commerce with Sony, and paid the full ongoing U.S.A. price of $1499 for the camera ------ no discount from Precision Camera --- even though they profess to "really appreciate me" as a customer. (And my rejoinder to them, which all sales people hate to hear, is: "Thank you for your time.").

Some random test shots, all done in Jpeg Super Fine, from this afternoon...

24mm eq. is looking really good. Really good. 

So, this is a 24mm eq. frame. Note the star near the top center of the red brick building.....

This is the 600mm eq. from the same shooting position. And it's sharp at f5.6...

Always keeping an eye out for linear distortion.... But not seeing much at the  wide end. 

That's all for now. Having too much fun playing with the new camera. I'll let you know what I think of the video shortly. Should be an interesting week as my video mentor, James, is picking up a new Sony FS7 tomorrow. Maybe we can do a few side-by-side tests.....


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.