And what was I writing about in 2009? A bit of light reading for the holidays. Or, "Damn, a re-run."

Looking for Independence on a walk around Austin.

One of the many things I like about Austin is the willingness of people here to come outside in all kinds of weather. It was hot today. The "heat index" hovered around 106 or 107. The air was still and moist, but people still came out. There was a crowd down near the Convention Center and, at the other end of downtown, the Graffiti Wall was packed with people posing and spraying. 

I walked for a long time today, looking for fun stuff to see and photograph. I thought I would see lots more evidence of Americana given the big holiday tomorrow, but no. I usually make my passagio a non-stop circuit but it was so hot today that I stopped at LaVazza Cafe on Congress Ave. for a glass of hibiscus mint iced tea, a prosciutto and brie panini, and a really fine cappuccino. It was a good midpoint on a three hour tour. I wore a hat, applied my sunscreen and wore a long sleeve, tech fabric shirt that blocks UV while wicking away moisture to facilitate evaporative cooling. But one must drink enough fluid to fuel the evaporation... 

At the "Wall" I was looking for scenes that fit into the constraints of the lens I'd brought. Nothing too wildly wide and nothing too surreptitiously long. Just 28-85mm. I was also on a search for images that were layered. By layered I mean that you can see things on multiple planes. I'm practicing trying to see those situations quickly enough so that I can capture them before they dissolve...

I am currently being mystified by the food truck culture of Austin. I get that it's a bootstrap way to start a food service business around a new concept or new foods but I don't understand the economics of paying the same amount for food off a truck as one would in a restaurant. If the food is equivalent you are giving up a nicely air conditioned environment, bath rooms and, in some cases, good atmosphere for the privilege of eating food with your dirty hands while squatting on a rock wall or drain pipe on one of the muggiest and most uncomfortable days I can imagine on which to eat anything. But then I also came across two of my good friends having lunch at an outdoor table at a downtown restaurant. What the heck? 105 degrees and fifteen feet from a busy street. Did they imagine they were on the Via Veneto in the Spring? At least this truck is product logical. Cold drinks for a hot day. And at least the product is actually meant to be portable.

When I finally got back to the house I was sweaty and parched. Now that I've had some Gatorade, another glass of iced tea, some water and a IPA beer I am most happy and comfortable to be sitting in front of the computer looking at images and having fun writing about photography. Hope your day is also interesting and satisfying. We are officially deep into Summer in Austin.

Painted patriotism at the Graffiti Wall. Just in time for the 4th of July!

Flag at the Graffiti Wall. Austin, Texas. July 3rd. 2016
Camera: Sony A7ii
Lens: Contax 28-85mm
©2016 Kirk Tuck

This is a pink house. Very pink.

In the Clarksville neighborhood of Austin. Just minutes from downtown. 

A re-test of the Contax 28-85mm f3.3-85mm without using Super Steady Shot. Oh my goodness...

I sure liked the color I was getting out of my new, old, used but "like new" Contax C/Y 28-85mm f3.3-4, Zeiss Vario Sonnar zoom lens the other day, but I wasn't too thrilled with the apparent sharpness (or subtle lack thereof) when I really dove in and examined the frames at 1:1 in Lightroom. Even though I am just a humble artist I tried real hard to figure out what an engineer or other technically adept person might do by way of more rigorous testing. I wanted to see if the lens was at fault or if I had mis-set something on the camera to cause an issue. But gosh golly! That kind of analytical thinking comes hard to flighty arts and crafts people so I called to see if there was a "genius bar" at the local camera store, you know, to see if any one had some ideas about, you know, sharpness. 

That didn't work out but I was lucky enough to meet some young geniuses up at the swimming pool when the lifeguards cleared the pool of kids at the top of the hour (to do a body count? To let adult swim laps for ten minutes?) I turned to a couple of the five year old dudes who were sitting next to me on the deck and asked their opinions about the whole lens sharpness issue. One of the kids told me he just didn't keep up with the mirrorless products but the other kid, right off the bat, asked me if I'd had the Super Steady Shot feature of the A7ii engaged. I told him that I had. He just shook his head and chuckled. "Look." he said, "I know everyone loves Image Stabilization but it's really a mixed blessing with those old legacy lenses. Especially zooms." 

"But why?" I asked. 

"Well, because you can't lock in a single appropriate focal length setting for the zooms in the camera menu and that means you are always either over compensating or under compensating with lenses that have no data sharing." The kid adjusted his goggles and snuck another look at the Rolex Submariner Jr. on his wrist. He was anxious to get back in the water.

His friend chimed in: "You also have to consider that with the 4x size of the sensor, compared to smaller sensor cameras, the mass of the moving assembly is harder to control. You'll never get the same results as you would with a smaller format camera; especially one with 5 axis image stabilization." The kids started fidgeting as the clock counted down the seconds till the pool re-opened. I was about to ask about nano acuity (always puzzling for artists but never for engineers and the technically blessed) but the lifeguard blew his whistle and the two kids jumped back into the swimming pool and sped away. 

I got up to leave and the lifeguard leaned down toward me from his perch on the lifeguard chair and said, "Sir, I really wouldn't worry about the idea of perfect sharpness, it's an oversold idea in photography, and so much more depends on your focusing technique anyway..." I nodded and grabbed my towel, and I looked for my flip flops because the deck had gotten hot. 

As I walked away one of the mom's supervising some of the smaller children in the kiddie pool walked over and said, "I'm sorry to eavesdrop but I had the same problem with a Noctilux and an adapter on an A7sii. You really can't fully trust focus peaking either. Especially with higher res files. Be sure to try punching in the magnification and fine focusing at 10X or more. Then you'll know if it's the lens or your technique. But really, the kids were right about the compromises with legacy lenses and Super Steady Shot. Sometimes I'm just tempted to go back to my Mamiya RZ67..."  She gave a little laugh and turned back to smear sunscreen on one of her kiddos. 

I'm a bit slow to understand lofty technical ideas so I sat in my car in the parking lot for a few minutes and wrote down what I thought I had learned on an index card. When I got back to the studio I asked a teenager to Google the owner's manual for my camera and read, several times, about how to turn on and off the SSShot. Then I got the teenager to help me set the control to "off" on the camera. 

I went out today and tried my whole test over again and I was amazed. The five year old swimmers were right. Turning off the Super Steady Shot was just the ticket. When I look at these images on my monitor, even at 100%, they are just as sharp as they can be.

I hope those two kids are at the pool again some time this week, I have some tax questions I want to run by them.

The relentless pursuit of making things easier for consumers. Manufacturer tyranny.

I wrote a piece yesterday concerning the loss of hands-on craft in our commercial business of photography and what I think we have lost as a result of pulling back from a real immersion in the pursuit of our art. After talking to an old friend yesterday, who works in the retail camera industry, I thought I would turn my ire toward one more pernicious aspect of "modern" photography, and that is the desire on the part of camera makers, and perhaps their target audiences, to make everything easier.

There are two things that camera makers like to add to their cameras to increase their appeal to the mass market: One is any gizmo or techie sounding feature that promises to do something that might otherwise require, taste, skill, time, discipline etc. Over the years these "improvements" have included all kinds of crap that most people use once or twice before going right back to the way they have been using cameras for many years. I include in this list: Scene modes (fireworks, baby's first vomit, sports, sunsets, autumn, kaleidoscope and countless others), the much despised auto HDR mode and the even more hated, Effects (miniature trains, grunge, super vivid, fractal-ated, ultra-grainy, old fashioned and, my favorite, the boring picture setting). I would also include the "features" that one percent or fewer of people use on their cameras such as wi-fi and GPS. (Yes, I know you can control your camera via wi-fi, save yourself a lot of aggravation and get a $25 remote...works every time).

The other stuff that cameras makers tout and camera buyers buy is anything that reduces the customer's need for any kind of skill or discipline, or learning of the actual craft. Fool proof auto focus modes, fool proof exposure modes and faster and faster frame rates. The idea being that if one just holds down that shutter button long enough.....

There are camera trends I can't really argue with. Those would include anything that gives the user the potential to exceed the image quality of previous generations of cameras with meaningful improvements like increased dynamic range, more bit depth and lower noise.

One trend I am ambivalent about is size and weight. And the orientation or flexibility of rear screens.

My friend's pet peeve, especially acute when he teaches photo classes, is that everyone is looking for the quickest and easiest way to do something. Along the lines of: "I saw this photo by Richard Avedon that was really cool. Is there a filter on my Canon Rebel that will get me the same look?"
The current state of the industry is such that almost every camera buyer believes that it is no longer necessary at all to have a learning curve beyond finding out where the button lies that will automatically do Scavllo, Penn, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, or even the Joel Grimes or Joey Lawrence looks. The customer belief is that the difference between what they've been able to achieve and what famous photographers have been able to achieve lies solely in a filter that can be enabled on demand.

I'm amazed at regression toward apathy but even more amazed at people's sense of automatic technology entitlement. A case in point, some moron was going on and on, in a photography forum, about the Sony RX10iii. He was complaining about the sorry state of that camera's image stabilization when shooting 4K video, handheld at 600mm PLUS the full digital zoom. He was blaming the camera for not being rock solid while hand held at 1200mm.  In video! Because, with the right button, no one should ever need to buy a tripod  again. Right? (The reality is that most competing cameras don't even offer real (non-electronic) image stabilization in 4k and, if image stabilization is critical, dropping into 1080p will allow RX10ii and iii users some of the very best video image stabilization on the market today). I was stunned at the writer's misguided assumptions.

The magic filter. The infallible camera. The automated settings for volcano eruptions or pub crawling. They all exist so camera makers can convince most consumers that ANY knowledge is absolutely unnecessary in the making of "great" photographs....and videos.

The end result of all this is very, very interesting. By eliminating the need, the want, or the chance to make meaningful use of good cameras' underlying strengths (bigger sensors, high speed shutters, low noise, fast apertures, etc.) the camera makers, by relentlessly pushing simplification and automation, are pushing potential buyers right into the waiting and gloriously uncluttered arms of the iPhones, Galaxy Phones, iPads and Surface tablets as the preferred imaging tools of choice. And why not? If you convince a consumer that simplicity and/or automation is the name of the game then what could be simpler than using the phone? It makes life easy. It eliminates the need to make choices. And you can apply all the filters you might ever want, after the fact, right there on the phone. (I guess that's another bonus...).

Is it any wonder that sales of traditional cameras have fallen from a high of nearly 10 million per year in 2010 to barely more than 2 million, per year, this year?

If our own writing (the photo blogger community) constantly emphasizes the ease with which a new camera can be used, and we emphasize as important the ability of a camera to fit into one's pockets, and we emphasize in our writing how "retro" a camera is, and we talk about how cool it is to have NFC, GPS and filter modes, then it's little wonder that the camera makers bend over backwards to make those features universally available. And little wonder the makers don't feel the need to make real strides in parameters that actually make pictures better.

The boys at DP Review aren't doing anyone favors by focusing on trivial crap like touch screens and in-camera raw processing instead of a camera's core performance. They are essentially signaling to a whole generation of buyers that gimmicks trump performance in the camera market. The analogy being the way minivans are sold: How many cup holders and how many DVD screens for the kids? Not gas mileage, safety, resale value, or even necessary performance to drive on the highway.

I buy cameras in spite of the gimmicks and not because of them. I think most of my readers do the same. But eventually, if the camera makers follow Apple down the rabbit hole of design and features we'll all be left with nothing to shoot with but our phones ---- or weak imitations of the phones. And that would be sad.

Finally, can we just stop using the phrase: "It's a deal killer for me." As in the nearly universal: Well, it had the highest resolution sensor, the best high ISO noise numbers, the best optics, the best AF system, and the best dynamic range, but....the screen on the back of the camera only rotates through 180 degrees; not 360 degrees, and that's just a deal killer for me.

Another variation: "I needed a camera with perfect 4K video, super high resolutions, Zeiss lenses, microphone input, headphone jack, phase detection on the sensor, great still image performance, lightweight, great handling and an EVF. I looked at the XXXXX, and the YYYYY but they both had only one SD card slot and that was a deal killer for me..."  Must have been that guy who learned how to load two rolls of film in the same camera at the same time to shoot back up film in the film days. Critical. Right? (Slow film goes first in the film gate and then the faster film fits in behind it....).

In my mind there are only two "deal killers." One is that you just can't afford the tool you want to buy. The second is that the camera lacks a integral imaging feature you desperately need to do your work. Everything else is just a dilettante's way of saying, "Since I don't really use my camera for anything meaningful I can wait forever for all the stars to line up and the camera makers to exhaust every possible combination of good and bad crap until I see just what I want."

I don't think people who are immersed in their art have the luxury of waiting around for "the perfect list of features." They need a camera that is close enough right now...

Spinning rims, cupholders, voice activated tray tables, etc. Yawn. Panorama mode, auto HDR, Smile detection, etc. Yuck.


Do you miss your craft?

Almost every day for the past sixteen years I've gone to swim practice at the same pool. I get in the water and swim the workout that the masters coaches put up on the white board.  Sometimes it's sets I'm not fond of but I trudge through it. Sometimes there are sprint sets that are just a joy. It doesn't matter. All that matters is how good the practice of swimming and hour or an hour and a half each day makes me feel. You would think with all this practice I would have the goal of competing in swim meets, racing other swimmers, racking up trophies.

I share the lanes with like-minded swimmers. John has been swimming in the program as long as I can remember. He's a great swimmer and he loves being in the water, and being good at swimming. But as long as I've known John he's never gone to a swim meet. There is something about the practice and the continuity he enjoys. Maybe it's just the idea of having more or less total control over one aspect of life for an hour or so each day.

We were having coffee after practice with our usual group of swimmer friends. John and I were at one end of the table and we were talking about business. Out of the blue he asked me if I liked the way my business was now, because of digital. He was pretty sure I would say that I liked it better because it was so much easier to know when you got a good shot, or because I had to spend less time doing things like buying film, developing, making prints and all the rest.

I thought about it and I asked him, in return, if you knew you could get up on the starting blocks on any given day and bang out a 100 meter freestyle in a minute or less, without coming to daily practice would you stop coming to swim practice? Of course not. We love the process. We love the feel of the cool water on our skin. We love the way camaraderie continually pushes us to come to the pool and stay in shape. We love the feeling of mastery. We love the feeling of being in the water.

As I thought more about our conversation I realized that the thing that has frustrated me most about our business since our transition to digital is that there is no more in-depth process. We trade real process for "researching techniques on the web." When digital eliminated the uncertainty of whether or not we'd gotten the shot it stole from us the comfort and practice of process. Gone were the necessary trips out to the store to buy film and Polaroid, replaced with guilty trips to look at the latest gear. Gone were the quiet hours in the darkroom and the boisterous bonhomie of running into peers at the processing lab.

And, most grievous, the quickness of getting the shots robbed us of spending time getting the shots; and that time represented part of the richness of being immersed in photography.

There was a joy in problem solving in the camera. There was a mission to get everything perfect. It required higher levels of craft; of skill. Now, craft is quaint and post processing for improvement is the norm.

Do I miss the craft aspect of my profession? As much as I would miss my daily swims.

You may color this line of thought as sentiment or nostalgia but I would refer you to a book called, Art and Fear. It's a wonderful book about the life of artists. There is one story in the book that sums up the loss in a different way for me.

There was an experiment in a University ceramics class. The professor divided up the class into two halves. One half was told that they needed only make one perfect piece in order to get an A in the class. The other half was told that they would be graded solely on the sheer weight of the ceramics they created in the semester. More pounds of ceramics made for a higher grade.

One would conjecture that the people who had time to research and ponder and plan for the perfect final piece would obviously come up with the best work. But the reality, semester after semester, was that the class charged with producing sheer quantity of work, consistently, also did the best work. It seems that being enmeshed and immersed in the flow of process led to quicker feedback loops, learning, and finally comfort with the methods and techniques. A fluidity. With that in mind is it any wonder that we can't think of any real, single titan of photography that has emerged since the days of film? No new Avedons, no new Penns, no new Elliott Erwitts, No soaring replacement for Henri Cartier Bresson.

Seems that time and quantity are important ingredients to creating and solidifying a real and unique vision. Today paid work comes more sporadically and it's over quicker. The average photographer works his photography as a second or third job and orbits in and out of the pursuit. The giants of yesteryear probably produced as much photographic work in a year as most new photographers will do in ten, or even twenty years time. How can they hope to rise to the top when they'll hardly be through their own, Been there, done that, what's new phase?, and be ready to embrace their own mature style? How will they make time for the daily iteration that seems so much a part of the process?

Do I miss the process we used to do our work with? Yes, the process was the fun part. Not the sharing or the showing, or the completion. The good work was the part where we had our brains and our hearts fully engaged and were hellbent on making art; not just coughing up another one to share on Instagram.

I think we get too intellectual about photography. Trying after the fact to explain why our images work. As though there is some formula more important than, "I love the way this looks through the finder."

Diagrams, color theory, golden rules, rules of third are nothing more than attempts to explain why humans like what they see. Mostly postulated by people who are unsure of their own vision. Uncertain about the relevance of their own seeing. We are an irrational species. Sometimes we just do stuff because we enjoy it.

If you need to have a manifesto in order to grapple with the promise of success I would suggest you switch to painting or performance art or conceptual art. Either that, or get brave enough to appreciate your own work without the need to dissect it.

Comedians know that there is not a joke in the world that is bettered by the need for further explanation...


Everything about photography seems to be constantly changing and yet, in the commercial world, it seems like we keep doing the same old thing. Over and over.

From the Zach Theatre production of "Alice in Wonderland." 

We've moved from sheet film to roll film, to small digital, and then to larger and larger digital, but we still tend to photograph in much the same way we always have. We're a bit more carefree now since our experimental indulgences have fewer temporal or financial consequences; but really, if you are a working photographer you are mostly doing the same stuff over and over again for decades. It just seems that in every decade we have a whole new set of tools in our hands and slightly different lights on the stands...We wear more black now but we photographers still make silly poses while we shoot and scrunch up our faces to look into the viewfinders. 

Thirty years ago we shot portraits for clients. They weren't for anyone's website, they were mostly used as prints (5x7s) that got sent around to various magazines and newspapers to be used with business articles, or business profiles. If we did a great job, and thought about our work in a wider sense, it sometimes made the jump from a couple columns in the local newspaper to inclusion in an annual report or capabilities brochure. Most of these images were shot with medium format cameras and, of course, they were done on film. The process was more involved but the holistic arc of creation was pretty much the same. If we were working for an ad agency we shot the portraits and then produced contact sheets for selection purposes. If we were working directly with clients, who were less familiar with the photography process, we'd produce 4x5 or 5x5 or 4x6 inch proof prints; depending on the camera format. It always seemed easier for corporate marketing departments to look at the bigger prints when they were working out exactly which frame would make Mr. Smith seem the most... impressive. 

Once they made a choice we'd make prints, or have prints made, which the clients would then distribute to the media channels. If one of the images made the cut to the brochure level, and we'd originally shot it on color negative film, we'd have the lab make a custom 8x10 inch print to deliver to the color separator. Most color separators back then were not happy to work with a negative (and I didn't blame them). 

The process is so very much the same now. We shoot images for portraits and then we build a web gallery for selection purposes. Agencies are competent to make their choices from web galleries but direct clients like to see a selection of images right next to each other. Corporate marketers seem to have no mental persistence of vision in their tool kits. They'll make a preliminary selection set and then we'll put all three or five or eight selected images into one canvas so they can scroll around their screens and see the images together. Once final selections are made we retouch and color correct the images and then deliver them as high res files so our clients can distribute them to the media channels, and maybe consider them for corporate websites, and advertising collateral; both electronic and traditional print.

The client needs haven't really changed. They need to have images that make their people look painless to do business with and they need to look contemporary. Whether that look is still a well tailored business suit or a black t-shirt and jeans is immaterial. 

Our overall process breaks down in the same way: Acquire the client. Create the raw product in a portrait photography session. Share the many iterations that were created during the session via some sharing method. Get the final selection(s) from the client and then scrape off the rough edges and enhance the final product for delivery.  Wake up tomorrow and do it again. 

The clients change from time to time; depending on which industries are ascendant in the moment. But oddly enough, present day mass media generates a homogeneous range of visual styles that are mostly easy to replicate or morph. The images we shoot today could have been shot with the tools from decades ago, easily. The only things that have changed are lighting styles, posing styles and color palettes.

As a portrait photographer I hear the same jokes from generation to generation. "I am so ugly I am afraid I'll break your camera!" "Can you make me look 20 pounds thinner?" "I'm ready for my close-up." "Say cheese." "Cold Blue Steel."  For some reason grown up adults in each generation think it's funny to photo bomb their colleague who is being photographed. Men love to tease each other about the idea of wearing make-up; even if we aren't doing make-up. Nobody but the OCD crew ever seems to remember that today is the day we're doing portraits and so they show up in their Daft Punk t-shirts or a dreadful golf polo with a garish logo on the front. Someone else will always chime in to assure said sartorial moron that the photographer can PhotoShop that out!" 

In the event that we're hired to do environmental portraits no one ever follows through on their promises to clean up the offices and take down the Mardi Gras beads and the My Pretty Pony stickers. The faded safety poster is just where it was pinned ten years earlier. 

In the current milieu there's a newish wrinkle to making good work for the client and their staff and that is the ease with which advertising agencies and web designers can produce look boards and example layouts with stock photographs. The agency puts together comprehensive layouts of "how your website will look" and they use gorgeous, thin, well dressed models, meeting in soaring, open plan offices with lots of groovy modern architectural touches. Across the street, the view out the window, is a gorgeous building with Corinthian columns surrounded by majestic trees; and everywhere you look inside there are curvilinear desks with a bare sliver laptop here and there and no other clutter ----- anywhere. Wildly heightened expectations in most cases.

So, the clients sign off on these architectural and casting fantasies and look forward to seeing their stuff come back in the same basic way. They expect their people and their offices to be beautiful, airy, trim, stylish and sophisticated. Worldly. But their actual offices look as though people had been tossing hand grenades into banker's boxes filled with contracts and kitsch for the better part of a week. The furniture is cheap and utilitarian. The cubicles are crammed together in the same proportion as thirty humans sharing the interior of an Airstream trailer. A small Airstream trailer. Every cube is festooned with heart warming but poorly executed family photos, stuffed, promotional animals, Christmas decorations and the mandatory one gallon, Big Gulp, plastic soda cups. With matching colored straws. 

In the early days of my career most people wore suits and ties or khakis and button downs, to work. Far fewer people were profoundly overweight. It was easier to get light to sculpt faces and easier to work in a more dramatic lighting fashion. Now, not so much. The only people impacted by dress codes today are the "customer facing" folks. Everyone else can come to work dressed "casually." And don't even get me started on poorly done tattoos...or bad hats.

One thing I am certain of is that there is an "aspirational" look and a "reality" look and it's tough for even the most gifted photographer to bridge those two worlds for our clients. Given budgets for models and locations we can make any company look impressive and hip. But, in the real world? Not so much. But it has always been this way. Even in the early days of beige computer boxes and burnt orange shag carpet covered cubicles.

I am fortunate in that most of my clients are in clean, modern industries, and we tend to catch them when their industry sectors are rising stars. Joint venture money has been lavished on the best offices (for recruiting purposes) and the people we photograph are generally from the executive suites and feel tremendous peer pressure to maintain a certain look and quality in dress.

At the end of the day, while the tools we use have changed (somewhat) and the styles we shoot in have morphed (or just cycled), human nature takes longer to evolve. Since I tend to document and interpret those humans I see the similarities, across time, to a much greater degree than I see radical change (or any change beyond hair style and dress). People have not gotten slimmer, prettier, handsomer or better dressed. We now live in a gap between our perceptions of what we should look like and what we do look like. It's driven by the use of imagery that's essentially dishonest and, frankly too desperately aspirational. 

But it was the same in the 1980's. It just wasn't as widely distributed. As avidly shared.

We, as a profession, love to talk about how much everything has changed. Looking closely we see that the core of what we do hasn't changed at all. We use digital instead of film. We love to put most of the frame out of focus now. Next year we'll love to see everything in sharp focus. We use battery powered flashes instead of flashes you plug in the wall (which may partially explain the new desire for lessened depth of field). We use PhotoShop instead of the lab to interpret and deliver what we've shot. But we still go out the door with camera bags and equipment cases. If everything needs to be sharp and in focus we still use the same basic tripods. We still use umbrellas and soft boxes to modify the lights. We still use various lenses to get various angles of view. Make up people still put powder on faces. We use cameras with no mirrors or with mirrors. We accept payments. We license rights. Video is nothing new, we did that decades ago as well; and yes, even back then we knew how to move the cameras...

The only thing (besides the transition from film to digital) that has changed is our idea or perception that somehow everything has changed. But no, the web only made delivery easier. The web is a net neutral as far as our own advertising goes. The move to digital didn't make life easier it added to our workloads and complicated our archival keeping requirements. The only real changes are that we no longer pay for film and processing, and everyone now expects to be miraculously more beautiful than they are in real life. So what's new?


Playing with a new (used) lens while I am waiting for Lightroom to chew through 750 files. Hello Contax 28-85mm f3.3-4.

Summer Haze over downtown Austin. From the south side of the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge.

I am so suggestible. On a whim, earlier this month, I bought a used Contax 50mm f1.7 lens and an inexpensive adapter. I was charmed by the lens's brightness and sharp character and I did what I would guess about 90% of my readers here would do and started looking through Amazon, KEH and the other usual suspects to see what other C/Y (Contax/Yashica) Zeiss lenses might still be circulating out there in the wild. That led me to a "Like New" Contax 28-85mm f3.3-4.0 Vario Sonnar. But I resisted the lure for a few casts....   I went into the research mode (because it's kind of fun, while tinged with anxiety) and started reading whatever I could about the lens. 

According to the wisdom of the web the lens is somewhere on a continuum of "pretty decent" to "omigod!!! If you are even considering it rush out and get it. It will change your life!!!." So, we discount the hysteria at one end and the "meh-ism" at the other end and try to analyze the median results. I was given to believe that the lens (at least a good copy) is sharp throughout the focal range, with a bit (3.5%) of distortion at the wide angle end (simple barrel) and a bit less sharpness at the long end. But then the cosmic marketers conspired with the web writers and I read some stuff about the lens on a site dedicated to people who use Red video cameras. They seem to really like this lens because ---- wait for it ---- it is less contrasty and more organic in its rendering that the current "state of the art lenses."  The Red user writing the review conjectured that the lower contrast goes a long way to providing more usable dynamic range and a softer/gentler roll off to white in the highlights. 

And the hook was set. As I am currently in the mode of getting rid of clutter and useless junk I was torn by my weakness and desire, on one hand, and my downsizing minimalism streak on the other. I vacillated for a while. Finally, one of my friends pointed out the low price and the general parsimonious bent I'd been on lately, vis-a-vis gear, and I pushed the button to make it mine. 

Things rarely work out the way you might want and so the lens did not come in time for yesterday's big shoot, where it would have been tossed right into the deep end of shooting without the due diligence that every professional should practice. (And so I guess things did work out in terms of protecting me from myself...). The lens was sitting at the front door, nicely packed in cardboard and puffy plastic and just waiting for me to excavate it. 

Ben and I unloaded the car, got the mail and, in general wrapped up the working day, and then I sat down at my desk to open the box. The lens was well packed and the camera store that sent it also packed in a lens cleaning cloth and a lollipop. The lens was as advertising and looked brand new. No use marks were visible anywhere and the glass was perfect. How disappointing to get any great new toy at the end of a long working day. There's little or no chance of rushing out to play with it before the euphoria of unpacking wears off....

As a compromise I worked on the image files from yesterday until about ten p.m. last night in order to buy myself so down time this morning. I still needed to get a gallery uploaded and online by the end of the day today but at least I had a running start...

After breakfast I rubbed some sun screen on my face, found a big hat and headed downtown with my latest treasure. Funny, the lens is about 1.5 times as heavy as the camera body I was using; a Sony A7ii. I worried about the lens mount and so, instead of hanging the camera over my shoulder I just left the strap in the car and carried the camera around by the lens. Kinda comfy. 

It's hot and hazy in Austin these days. The sky blues up quickly until mid-afternoon when the clouds build up and threaten rain. I was out on the streets by 8:30am and once again noticed that Austin is an extreme car culture and that our downtown streets look as vacant as the day after the apocalypse, when it comes to pedestrians. It's just not like a real big city where people lope along with their coffee in one hand and their satchels in the other, weaving in and out of a crowd. There's nothing to weave through on our sidewalks and all of the coffees are in the drink holders of the cars stuck in long lines, anxiously trying to get into parking garages and lots. The nice thing is that, unlike NYC, you don't need to pull out of the walking traffic to stop and take a photograph. 

On the other hand you are more or less out of luck if you are hoping to photograph someone interesting on the street. A few midwestern tourists and some homeless guys. But both those sub-genres went out of style years and years ago. I looked in vein for super models, or just regular models and when they never appeared I thought I could even be content photographing someone wearing black and sporting an interesting hat. No luck. So I went back on my promise not to shoot architecture downtown because of my pent up desire to --- play with the new lens.

I was happy and underwhelmed at the same time. The color handling of the lens is superb. Love it. But it's harder to focus accurately than is the 50mm from the same maker. I thought, when first viewing the files on my 27 inch screen that the lens was unsharp. But it's really just my old eyes and my misplaced reliance on in camera focus peaking. All of the images on which I took my time to punch in with focus magnification and really rivet in are gloriously sharp. I guess even the ones that were haphazardly focused with focus peaking are acceptable if I don't peak at 1:1. If I nail focus though I get a lot more excited about it. 

Accurately focused with focus magnification. 

This lens also brought up another subject for me, and that's the indiscriminate use of image stabilization. The Sony A7x cameras with built-in image stabilization do a good job with dedicated lenses. They do a superb job with combinations of image stabilized lens working in tandem with the image stabilized bodies, but I'm not sure the implementation is good with non-system zoom lenses. In the Steady Shot menu on the A7x cameras you have the option, when using older, or non-system lenses, to set the focal range of the lens you intend to use on the camera and that tells the camera and sensor how to approach stabilization. But there is no "automatic" setting for lenses with multiple focal lengths. 

I tried some images with the feature on and they off and I felt that the "off" images, if the shutter speeds were high enough, were a bit sharper than the images created when using the Steady Shot. As though the SS was trying too hard to correct and leaving me with images that were less sharp rather than more. I'm pretty sure that we are all better off using some form of image stabilization at lower shutter speeds, where hand shake and camera movement is most prevalent but I'm equally sure that there is an upper shutter speed level where the curves of image improvement flatten out and fall off. 

The issue did send me to the studio to grab a stout tripod and run a few tests with the SS turned off and the camera focused with precision. That laid to rest any misconceptions I might have had about the sharpness of the system; the real issue is the integration of a much older lens, and lens design, on a very modern camera whose sensor and circuits are expecting something entirely different. 

One of the reasons I had for wanting this lens was my recent total immersion into video. If I could bore down to one persistent issue in using non-dedicated video cameras (hybrid cameras?) to shoot video with it would come down to focusing. While everyone complains about bad sound ruining their productions I think my nemesis is getting to sharp focusing and staying there. If I tried focusing using focus magnification on the Sony cameras the issue (especially with smaller sensor cameras) is that there isn't enough acuity or difference between tones or areas with a 5.8X maximum magnification. 

If I went into still mode and set the focus with a much higher (and more accurate) magnification and then switched back to the video mode one accidental touch of the lens focus ring took me right out of the correct focus and threw me back onto the rocks of uncertainty. What I found when using totally manual focus lenses was that I could do the same exiting and re-entering dance, use the more powerful focus magnification, and switch back to video mode with absolute certainty that the lens would not move with a casual touch of the focusing ring. 

The next factor, still in the realm of video focusing, was the inability with focus by wire lenses to do any sort of focus pull. A focus pull is the pre-meditated, smooth change of focus from a near subject to a far one or vice versa. With "old fashion" mechanical manual focusing systems the ring always turns the same amount when going from near to far or far to near. There is always a hard stop at infinity and at the closest focusing distance. I can rehearse a focusing move by first focusing on the closest subject and then marking the ring with a piece of tape at the exact spot. I can then pre-focus and mark the ring at the focusing distance at which I want to end up. During the actual shoot I can use my two marks to go back and forth between two subjects with every hope of getting both of them in good focus. Can't do that with fly-by-wire. 

So, while I love the 24-70mm f4.0 Zeiss lens for the Sonys, it's a nightmare for video focusing. 

There's one more thing that bugs me about modern lenses. Some of them are designed with horrible distortion left intact, which is then masked by in camera lens profiles that use data to correct for output. Yeah. Unless you use one of these modern lenses on a camera that doesn't correct for lens distortion during video. Ouch. The older lenses didn't have the "benefit" of getting corrected by the camera or, even after the fact, in the image processing software. What was the solution? Lens designers spent more time and money making sure the older lenses had much lower levels of distortion. Which means that when you use them on modern cameras there is less need to depend on corrections that may rob one of resolution in the corners as well as lost imaging real estate. 

Finally, older, manual zooms tend to be Parfocal. That is to say that they don't shift focus as they zoom. Very, very few modern, AF zooms are Parfocal. The makers can save money on designing and producing the new lenses because the AF modules focus the lenses after one zooms. Try doing a test on your $2400, miracle 24-70mm Nikon lens. Focus at the long end with a wide aperture. Then either switch to manual or use S-AF and hold the shutter button halfway down as you zoom to the short end. Shoot a photo there and let me know if it is still in sharp focus. Probably not. Yay! Old zooms. 

Obviously I haven't had the lens long enough to shoot important things with it (portraits) or to make any sort of in-depth evaluations. I'm not interested in doing "tests" but I'll be shooting with it as much as I can for the next few weeks we'll dig down and see what this particular lens can do and how it handles on different bodies. One benefit I already know I like is the extra 15mm of reach over that of the 24-70mm lens. I'm always in favor of longer focal lengths and don't really care about those four pesky millimeters of wide at the other end. 

I don't know what this sign really means. Will some product at this store take 30% off my best times and make me that much faster? Will I swim up to 30% of my body fat off? (At which point I would be dead). Or is it some misguided advertising message that supposes people will make the jump to understanding that something in the store having to do with swimming is now 30% off. I had ambiguity in advertising. I don't think it is cute....

Look. There's flare. You would flare too if I pointed you into a mirrored reflection of the sun.

All skies "as shot" no blue-hancements were made.

If this lens pans out to be as good as the 50mm f1.7 then I'm hooked on old Zeiss lenses and will begin foraging for them. If it's a keeper I might also invest in a higher quality adapter; if there is one. I'm okay with this one but I've been trained to believe that more expensive ones are better....

That's it.

Color control via custom white balancing in camera.

We were shooting in interesting light yesterday. And it was fun. We were using CooLED lights in soft boxes, and in shiny reflectors covered with diffusion "socks." There was ample sunlight coming through windows all around us, and in some spots there were little ceiling can lights --- but we turned those off. As a rule, when shooting in the mixed light of LEDs and indirect sunlight, we try to get our white balance on the money, in the camera for a couple of reasons. While it's true that we could probably arduously wend our way toward a pleasing white balance by shooting raw and spending hours and hours in post production; correcting file after file (no two of which would be exactly the same...), we prefer to get it right for a whole sequence of images and have the wonderful joy of opening up the files in Lightroom and not having to do any color correction for any of the files. And secondly we know that if we take the time to get the color balance right before shooting we are also able to get much more exacting exposure results as well. Why? Changing color balance in post also changes exposure values.

Yesterday we were photographing people and shooting for expressions. That's different than shooting landscapes or still life. You can't really bracket any of the portraits since the one you will like the most will almost always be the one that's too dark or too light. If you are working with non-professional talent you might need to shoot a lot of frames to catch a fleeting expression. You might also need to shoot a fair number of frames just to get the person in front of your camera used to the process. When you deal with even small groups of people, if you are thorough, your frame count goes up times the number of people in the group.

We came home with about 1,500 frames yesterday. We worked


One more one light portrait before we extinguish the studio lights and go into the house...

©Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.

Renee Zellweger and I were just playing around in the studio and I decided to do a portrait with one big light only. I used a 4 foot by six foot softbox driven by a Norman 2000 flash system. Back then I put extra layers of diffusion on the front of the soft boxes because I liked to soup my film a bit contrasty and I needed to tone down the light. 

This image was done with a Pentax 645 and Agfapan APX 100. Lost to the ravages of time is my memory of exactly what printing paper I printed this one but it's a good bet that it was Ilford Multigrade fiber, toned in selenium. 

Night all. I have to get some sleep so I can spend the day tomorrow the same way I did back in 1993. Making portraits. 

Standing around in Sienna. Just waiting for something cool to happen.

Damn, it's hard to be inconspicuous holding a big, silver Hasselblad in front of your chest. But sometimes you just have to decide that discretion is overrated.

I saw this photograph earlier today and it inspired me to go home and make a fettucini Alfredo with smoked salmon. I have to get off this recent pasta kick or I'll need to start going to two swim practices per day to ensure that my pants fit...

One light portrait. Light emerging from dark.

©Kirk Tuck. All rights reserved.

We read all the time about the need for separation from backgrounds in photographs but sometimes the dogged pursuit of how we "should" do things becomes an affectation. I think you should light stuff the way your brain thought you saw it in the first place. In real life not everything has perfect tonal separation. But the graphic balance of light and dark is fun. 

Packing for tomorrow's shoot. Working in an historic house; photographing attorneys for a website.

Tomorrow Ben and I are booked to go on location and make photographs for a law firm's website. It's different than recent portrait-oriented projects because the main graphics for the website are very horizontal banners with a main element; a single person or a group of people, placed to the right of the frame with some free space to the left of center to use for headlines, pull quotes and other content.

The look is very informal. We'll have mixed light sources and informal groups of people at work. We have a good list of shots to work from and we're pretty confident we can get what's needed in an eight hour day. Since the location is rich with ambient light we've made a conscious decision to travel light on lights. I'm bringing three fairly powerful LED lights to use as fill lights and, in spots that don't get exterior light, we'll use these lights with soft boxes as our main light sources. There is inevitably a color mismatch when using constant, one temperature light sources mixed with daylight; mostly because the daylight is constantly changing. Direct light bouncing into the space (at least from 10am to 4pm) will usually be around 5500K, while open shade or indirect sun can be as cool as 6500K to 7200K. All bets are off if it's heavily overcast like the weather outside just now. The light could be warm or it could be even cooler than 7200K. No matter what the outside light is our fixtures are constantly 5600K.

In a shooting situation like this one I like to start out making a custom white balance with the target at the main subject position before we start shooting. We don't bracket exposures so an upfront measurement of the white balance and the exposure (in that order) is the preferred method.

My soft boxes are a bit warm and will probably bring the color temperature of the LEDs down by 200 degrees or so. It should work in my favor...

The lighting kit is simple: Three LED fixtures that plug into the wall. Two 25 foot extension cords with multiple connectors on the end. Two 24x36 inch soft boxes (internal baffles removed) and one polished reflector for direct application of hard light (for effect). Three light stands complete the set.

We're bringing a tripod that goes up about a foot taller than the top of my head so we'll also pack along a two step ladder. The tripod is like a security blanket for me. I'm sure we could actually do without it the way I have the shoot planned, but I just feel naked if I don't bring one....

I'll be predominantly shooting with one camera and one lens. My camera of choice is the Sony A7Rii and I'm using it because the 42 megapixel resolution will help with any tight top to bottom cropping the agency making the website might wish to try. I'm also happy to use it because I am throwing my usual shooting style to the wind and cranking the ISO up to 1600 as my base setting. I'll come down if I have to but I am also ready to go up to 6400 if the situation warrants. For someone who has always stuck with lower ISOs and a pursuit for ultimate quality this is a big departure. But I'm confident with this camera and my raw post processing skills and I really want to be able to shoot high shutter speeds and medium apertures for a lot of what I'm capturing. That way I can freeze most movement and still have adequate depth of field. We'll see if it works.

But the technique does play to the strengths of the lens I'll (mostly) be using. The Sony/Zeiss 24-70mm f4.0 is a very good normal zoom and I like the overall look of the photographs I've made with it. Since the frames are so wide I don't really see myself shooting any longer than 70mm (although I will bring a 70-200mm zoom along, just in case) but I may need to shoot shorter so I am also packing a 14mm lens. I'll think of it as a wide angle zoom since the camera's prodigious resolution allows for lots of cropping after the fact. In effect, the 14mm is really my 14-21mm zoom.

Of course I am brining along an A7ii as a back-up camera, along with some prime lenses that cover the focal lengths I think I'll be using most often. It would be simpler, I know, just to leave all the other cameras at home and bring the all purpose Sony RX10iii instead but ---- I really want some focus drop off in most of the images and we have no need for anything with that kind of range tomorrow.

Everything but the stands, soft boxes and the tripod fits into two roller cases. One for Ben and one for me. I'll give Ben an a6300 with the 18-105mm just in case he sees stuff that looks good while I am busy elsewhere; that, and a bit of behind the scenes documentation....

That's what we're doing for fun around here today ---- packing for tomorrow. 

Studio Portrait with one light.

In my rush to make sure I had lighting equipment to cover every possible contingency I lost sight of my understanding that simplicity was essentially the key to the style I like best. Every light I add to a portrait seems to diminish its intimacy and its power. I keep trying to remember the lessons I've learned. It's not important to use all the gear at your disposal. In fact, it may be injurious to seeing your style clearly.

Just a thought.


Rome. In the age of pay phones.

Stalking the street scene with a Mamiya 6 Medium Format Camera. 

Ah. The halcyon days of the square frame....

Transitioning to a new way of thinking about the imaging business. Part of the process is letting go....

On a bright and sunny afternoon, recently, I was cleaning my little studio and office space when I came across two reminders of time past. One was a tax return from 1997, and the other was a box of 8x10 inch color transparencies; mostly still life work for customers like Dell, Power Computing and Domain Magazine. 

The numbers on the tax return were insane. While so much more money flowed through the business back then so much of it went back out to pay for film, processing, polaroid test materials, printing, huge studio rental and assistants. The overhead included a full darkroom, 3,000 square feet of downtown studio space and multiple sets of camera gear: Everything from 35mm (rangefinder and str) to an 8x10 inch view camera. Not included in the numbers was the insane learning curve investment (without the benefit of the internet) to master so many processes and so many ways of making images. 

The odd epiphany for me is that when we distilled down all the costs we were on set or on location working about 250 days a year to net about what we do in the current time period working 60-70 days a year. The present business model is so downsized by comparison. My current studio and office occupies about 650 square feet (which I own instead of leasing), I can currently fit all the cameras I own into one roller case. I still own way too many lights. There's no darkroom. There are orders of magnitude fewer assistants and professional services involved. We seem to have done a good job of shedding costs while increasing the core, fee based income. 

Those changes, from big space to small space, from lease to own, from many assistants to solitude, from huge investments in cameras to a meager (but smart) selection, happened gradually as we steered the business into digital imaging, starting around 1999. But what opened my eyes to the changing models was the diversification from "just" photography to writing books and articles about photography. One could make good, sustainable, renewable money with nothing more than a $1,000 laptop and the knowledge already gained. If that's all it took to add a significant amount of income to the business could we not also get rid of the hard costs and winnow down photography to its essentials and, in the process, spend less time to make the same final, net income? Seems like the answer is yes. As long as the changes you are making are in line with your market. 

My son, Ben, was fascinated when he saw the 8x10 inch color transparencies. I talked him through the whole process of shooting large format and he was amazed at the complexity and craft basis for the work we did in those formats. But we both agreed that those were different times and those times weren't coming back. That train of thought led me to believe that the business itself continuously makes opportunities to take advantage of those ever reductive changes, and that basing a business on the last century concept of "needed"  inventory, old school methodologies, and old school marketing would seem to be a financial dead end. Which led me to question why we, as a professional services industry, are in reality, very slow to change. 

I liken it to Wayne Gretzky's famous line about not skating to where the puck is but skating to where the puck will be. If the gravity of change forces you to change because you've become ensnared in its grip you have arrived where the puck used to be and not where the puck is now. And waiting until a new norm has been safely established and proven to be correct is now more financially dangerous than constantly pushing forward to learn the new ways. 
Now there are really only two things that imaging businesses must excel in; one is marketing and the other is creative creation. Nowhere in the equation is it any longer cost effective to horde an inventory of quickly depreciating equipment, nor is it an effective strategy to constantly overbuy. 

In the realm of cameras I can easily and quite convincingly make the case that the vast majority of professional work being done has, as its final target, placement on the web. That could include banner ads for client websites, images for social media, portraits for LinkedIn, Facebook, and company websites or photographic illustrations for web advertising. Of the remaining placements most will be print advertising at one page or smaller and direct mail at 6x9 inches and smaller. For editorial photographers (we always seem to hear about sports photographers...) the target is generally the magazine website and the printed magazine page. Most images are used one page or smaller but even if they were used as double trucks the magazine are printed on high speed web presses and on the cheapest (read: low ink saturation, low res) papers. The takeaway is that none of these uses would be the least bit taxing to a top line Micro Four Thirds system like the GH4 or the EM5.2 and would certainly represent horrible and wasteful overkill for medium format cameras and 50 megapixel cameras; unless they were being used for an aesthetic consideration like the degree of focus ramp available. 

I keep downsizing cameras and lenses here. We have three pairs of Sony cameras and a handful of lenses. When I pick a camera pair for a project I like to consider the parameters of the project and then match the system. The smallest format is the one inch sensor family of Sony RX10s. The middle format is the APS-C family of the a6300 and a6000. The big format cameras are the A7x bodies. It's rare that I mix and match. If resolution and sharpness are the only criteria I can select from any of the three families of cameras. If I'm shooting documentary video the RX10s get first crack. If I'm shooting classic portraits with lush, out of focus backgrounds then the A7xs get tossed into the camera bag. The process is pretty simple. 

If I need anything else I will rent it. And in many cases, if I need something else I might also rent the operator that comes with it. If a client wants me to show up for a client interview and they have to see a prestige video camera on the set I'll hire an FS7 camera and its owner operator rather than try to get totally up to speed on yet another camera from yet another field. If  client demands medium format photography (right.....) then I'll rent the system I need and toss it back to the supplier the minute I am finished with it. Ownership, maintenance, mastery and depreciation are no longer worth it so renting gear we might only use once or twice a year is my strategy. 
Many years ago I read about a German fashion photographer who was at the very top of his game. I was stunned to read that he had no studio, no lights, no stands, no gewgaws and no car. I couldn't imagine it when I overlayed the demands of my studio at the time onto his approach. It seems that the only things he owned were: a camera body he had mastered. a favorite lens (that he shot with 90% of the time --- not a zoom). And a light meter he trusted. Everything else was rented for the project right in front of him. The wonderful things for him were the elimination of overhead and the lack of mental inertia that would have required him to use the equipment he owned instead of the new lights (or whatever) that he wanted to try. To, you know, push the limits of his current creative envelope. 

A couple of weeks ago I looked around my space and the clutter appalled me. My desk was covered with paperwork. Two hulking filing cabinets were constantly in my left side peripheral vision as I sat at my desk. Over against one wall were two rolling tool chests filled with either cameras or junk. Perhaps the two categories were so intertwined I couldn't see the differences. 

I finally just couldn't take the visual clutter anymore. I've totally cleared out one of the rolling tool chests. I found filters for old series 50 Hasselblad lenses, batteries for cameras that hadn't been made in years, a viperous nest of cable releases that I was certain I might need again one day, too many broken watches or watches with dead batteries. Old, battered cameras that had been given to me by some other suffering photo wretch in an attempt to declutter his own life; and way too many cables. Everything from SCSI connectors to VGA connectors. Stuff Mac users haven't needed in decades.

The process of paring down in arduous and not for the meek of resolve. Once I started in on the red tool chest I would not let myself stop. I filled trash cans. I sent stuff away to the next unlucky photographer bastards. And, in the glow of triumph, I hauled the tool chest off in the car to the local Goodwill. What a victory. Now I'm hard at work on distilling down flash equipment. I am equally overweight on things that flash. 

There is a certain logic in using flash but more and more I am finding that interior work gets done with LEDs and florescent lights and the use of flash is more or less relegated to fill flash in sunlight. But so much of our buying wisdom is predicated on what was essential ten or twenty years ago when everything was lit by flash and ISO 100 was de rigueur. Not so much now. Even less so when I'm shooting with one of the RX10 cameras that sync at over 1/1.000th of a second. In that situation just about any flash will do. So why do we have six or seven 400 watt second mono-lights, in their requisite cases, cluttering up the studio shelves? Am I pining for the days when we needed 4,000 watt seconds to get the depth of field we needed with our large format cameras? I am not. The flash gear seems ripe for thinning next. 

The new business model is to become the opposite of the old business model. Where before we came loaded for bear, with every possible (high dollar) solution to any imaging situation, it would be a lot more fun to turn down the stuff I never enjoyed doing anyway and then figuring out less burdensome ways of doing the stuff I do love to photograph. Smaller and lighter stuff along with creating a kind of imaging that looks simpler and more direct. A few pocket strobes instead of a cargo bay with a forest of C-Stands and Pelican cases of lights. A couple of RX10x cameras instead of a Think Tank roller full of big Nikon bodies and fat, fast lenses. A tripod and a new appreciation for less light rather than the ability to create a complete sunrise in a studio. 

Fully a third of a recent video project's profits were generated in concept and writing. Another third in editing. Only a third of the money generated from the project actually came from the shooting. As shooting engagements get shorter and easier it's incumbent upon us as business owners to see where we can add value outside the time spent shooting. Concepting and testing concepts are valid tasks that can be billed. Storyboarding and story creation are perhaps more valuable than the actual shooting. Wouldn't it be just as much fun to be paid for thinking about a photography project in addition to just being paid to spend a day with a camera in one's hands?
I want to work toward the day when my studio is four white, bare walls punctuated by a small camera on a tripod. One light aimed into the right modifier. Nothing more. But I would like to bill insanely well for the creative vision that we'll bring to each project. Billing for what we know and feel rather than just logging in the hours or the days. 

The disconnection of this concept for most photographers might be the idea that we have to do our business encounters the same way we did in the past. In the advertising scenario we worked for the advertising agencies. They created the concepts. They sold the concepts to the clients who approved and paid for the production that made those concepts concrete. Our power was limited by our need to be invited into the game by intermediaries. But over the last ten years the industry has been unceasingly flattened. Now, in many cases, the clients are working as though they are at a buffet. They've been selecting "vendors"; people they are comfortable working with, outside of the traditional agency paradigm. Outside the agency tent. We might get integrated into a job well before an agency to create a public relations image that subsequently gets pushed into an advertising project. 

More and more often we're getting engaged to produce image catalogs for expanding uses. And these uses need curation, implementation and imagination. I think my days of waiting for oppressive purchase orders from advertising agencies are coming to a close, choosing instead to work more as part of a collaborative team instead of as a vendor brought in after the cake has been mixed and relegated to working the controls on the oven.

But everything requires a change of thought. A move from a business with an inventory of machines which stamp out "creative parts" and towards a consultancy that creates the ideas behind the creative parts and then produces them as an integrated part of a marketing process.

We should be licensing "looks" and "feels" and "styles" and "taste." Not just twiddling the controls on the machines. 

When your space is cluttered your mind is cluttered, and in a panic you attempt to do everything exactly the same way you did on the very last job that turned out very well. But--- that previous job was done in a previous time and the currents of culture and commerce morph and change. I have come to believe that decluttering the physical space gives my mind more freedom to plan and create rather than reactively accept the confinements provided by people proffering visions that are different than mine.

I was reminded by the tax return and the sheets of 8x10 film just how little time there is to think when fear convinces you that one must be always working. Always working to an exterior agent's specifications.

And that, in a nutshell is why we're engaged in the current minimalist purge of studio clutter.