Sunday. Walk with a Camera. Good exercise. Nice antidote for sitting around staring at a screen for most of the week.

I finally had some free time this weekend to get out and try the fz2500 in some freeform shooting. I made the same rookie mistakes many people make with a new camera. I lost a good shot because my nose touched my touchscreen and moved the AF cursor over to one side. Couldn't figure out for a few seconds why the nice young lady directly in front of my camera would not come into focus. I put the camera in "A" priority and shot, blithely unaware, for the better part of an hour never checking the shutter speed the camera was setting. Ooops! All of the moving/action/street scenes were recorded at 1/80th of a second. Too bad good image stabilization can't save photographers who don't pay attention to subject motion blur.... And then I started processing some of the images shot later in the evening and, of course, I was having so much fun shooting and weaving in and out of the enormous SXSW crowds on Sixth St. that I never bothered to check the ISO, and I have to confess; this camera gets a bit noisy at ISO 800. More so at 1600. 

Of course the noise reduction kicked in and I had the factory preset engaged. Hello water color detail at 100%. Of course I know better. I should have been in control of the ISO. I should have set a faster shutter speed. I should have fine tuned the noise reduction for the Jpeg setting. But in reality I didn't  care. I was out walking on a beautiful day and I had a camera in my hand. The stuff I was watching right in from of my face was a hell of a lot better than anything I see on Netflix or Network. In addition to endless action, drama and comedy you get a couple more dimensions of sensory candy that no (current) screen gives you. The smell of cigarettes and perfume, and sausages sizzling over a butane flame; all mixed in with the smell of the disinfectant the bars use to clean. The yeasty smell of spilled beer and the glorious aroma of pizzas cooking all over the place.

You also get multi-layered sound. Dialogue. Chanting. Rapping. Flirting. Clapping. Sirens. More flirting. Verbal posturing. Different music blasting through portable speakers every ten feet or so. A guy playing an old, upright piano at the corner of Congress and 4th. More sirens. 

You walk in and out of shadows. You keep one eye peeled on the screaming homeless person wrapped in blankets like a Caesar's toga even though it's 85 degrees outside. 

The camera gave me a tertiary reason to be there but my real goal was just to sample.....the multitude. To see what was making this little corner of Austin tick on this particular day. To slip into the crowd and walk with the flow.  And then, like a hungry homing pigeon, disengaging and "flying" toward  my car, parked two miles away. And then home to the quiet and serenity of affluent suburbia. And a decent restaurant. Cameras are fun. But they are largely meaningless if you don't have something interesting to put in front of them...

Is all social exchange about the smartphone now?

I met a student. I think his name was Justin. He was shooting a project with this 4x5 field camera. He was smart and engaging. He knew all about Richard Avedon. His camera was on a rickety tripod. If he remembers to get in touch with me I have an extra Benro tripod that I'd be happy to pass along to him. It would be better than the skinny Manfrotto the school loaned him....

Google took a beautiful and iconic building downtown and did everything in their power to make it fucking boring. Not swearing, really, it's a technical, architectural term.

At the W Hotel.


A few more thoughts about super "bridge" cameras and why they make me smile.

People are slow to adapt to change. They hold onto ideas that have lost their deep roots and reject innovation because it comes in a form that they don't recognize; or reject it because of anachronistic prejudice. It's kind of dangerous because change is accelerating at a rate that's so fast we can barely recognize what exists today and few can imagine the change and innovation that will happen by next year. Who, in 2005, would have imagined that Nikon and Canon's biggest challenge

A funny thing happened in the kitchen on my way to my next photo assignment.

Temporary billboards for SXSW.

We had a nice photo assignment booked for today. One of my healthcare clients sent me a box full of products last week and we'd made arrangements to meet at my place at 9:00 am this morning to start shooting 25 thingies on white backgrounds.

Here's what I do when a day long assignment like this comes up: After we confirm the day, and get a good idea of what we're going to shoot, I dive into how I'm going to shoot. None of the products move and none of the products needed to be shown on live models so I knew I'd be safe lighting everything with LED lights. I also knew that we'd be shooting with a longer focal length and not with wide angles so after figuring out the distance of the object to the background, as well as the maximum object size I knew I could shoot everything with a 50 inch wide, white seamless paper backdrop in the background and I built out from there.

Here's the tricky part of the shoot: The products are generally black. They are things like back braces and neck braces and things that are generally worn by patients recovering from things like accidents and back surgeries. So, all of the objects are either black or gray and black. The clients has a style established and it consists of shooting these products on shiny, white, featureless mannequins. So, deep black products on shiny white mannequins against white backgrounds. Got it.

Shoots like this mostly mean that you need to control the light on the background separately from the lighting on the product. Usually, I would make the background one third of a stop hotter than the light on the foreground but since I needed to do clipping paths of the shiny, white mannequin and the product I couldn't blow out the background to put white or I'd never stand a chance in cutting out those backgrounds. Where would the edge be? I wanted the mannequins to have some detail in the whites but I also wanted there to be good detail in the deep black material the products were made of. I decided to pull down the exposure on the background to keep a good edge between the background and the foreground. This would help give me an edge to cut against without adding too many wraparound highlight on the main subject.

To evenly light the background I used two Aputure LightStorm LS-1/2 lights, set in vertical orientations, to either side. I used them far enough from the background to give me an even wash of light and used barn doors made of BlackWrap (tm) to block any direct light from hitting my subject. A quick incident meter reading let me know that if I wanted f11 @ 1/4 second, ISO 100 on my main subject I would need to dial the background lights down to 60% each. The LS-1/2s are controllable from 10% 5o 100% in single digit increments so no problem there.

I lit my main subject (the mannequin with the product applied) with two LightStorm LS-1S lights shining through diffusion material on Chimera 48 inch ENG panels. The panels were set 45 degrees to each side and fairly close (about two and a half feet from the subject). This allowed me to move the actual lighting instruments back to make the light spread on the panels more even across the surface. When I wanted one light to take precedence in the lighting scheme I could bring that light in closer, creating a bright spot in the center of the panel fabric which made the light brighter overall and contrastier (since the size of the light relative to the subject becomes smaller). This gave me more control and quicker control that I would have had using an umbrella or soft box.

Finally, I used a small Aputure Amaran portable light panel just in front and below the camera position to provide fill into specific areas. This worked to help me control small shadows adjacent to the products without having to increase the overall illumination.

I used a Sony A7Rii on a very big Benro tripod for the photographs. I used it in its full on raw mode; 42 megapixels of uncompressed pixel happiness. This might seem to be overkill for a photograph destined for a catalogue or a small inset image in a brochure but the extra resolution and detail comes in handy when one is making finicky clipping paths.

I used the trusty and sharp, 70-200mm f4 G series zoom lens for nearly every shot. Its well controlled flare characteristics and high overall sharpness make it a perfect choice when you don't need a lot of close-in magnification or wide angle coverage. Every Sony shooter should consider this lens as part of their toolkit. Boring but close to perfect.

There were several shots that needed to be made with much higher magnification and in these cases I used the Rokinon 100mm f2.8 macro lens. On one shot which needed deep depth of field I stopped down to f16.5 and, on 100% examination, was pleased with the results!

I had three guests in the studio for the duration of the shoot. One was the product manager, one was the graphic designer for the company and the third was the advertising and marketing coordinator.

When I have guests in the studio I always make an effort to keep them happily hydrated and fed. We offered them five different kinds of energy bars, whole wheat croissants with the option of adding peanut butter and blueberry preserves, fresh apples and bananas as well as yogurt. Hell, if someone had come really hungry I would gladly have fired up the range and made them a pan of migas. Or huevos rancheros.

We have a big Keurig on the counter and lots of coffee brands to choose from. Sparkling water, sparking water with lime, and still water.

We have a guest share for the Wi-Fi network as well. It's great to work at the home base because I have all the tools and modifiers I'd ever want immediately at hand and, when we hit a spot where styling takes time, I can head into the house and check on Studio Dog.

But every once in a while the photo gods love to toss a wrench in the works. Just before hitting the rack last night I was washing some pots and pans in the kitchen and the sink began to back up. Wouldn't drain! I tried a plunger and boiling water and finally (grumbling) pulled on my shoes and headed to the grocery store to buy a bottle of Liquid Plumber. I followed the instructions and.....still no joy.

I let everything sit until this morning. I guess I was expecting that time and the Liquid Plumber would do the trick, if I was patient. I headed to the kitchen and the sink had drained. I tried running some water before turning on the dishwasher and creating a catastrophic emergency (you can see how tough life can be for us photographers....)

Still no joy as the sink filled up again and refused to drain.

Didn't much matter in the long run. We shot photographs. We made coffee. We ate croissants. We shot more photographs. The only thing different is that instead of rinsing coffee cups as we went along I had to round them all up after the shoot.

One thing I should mention that really helps in studio still life shoots is the use of a monitor tethered to the camera. I hate tethering to laptops or desktops. I want the screen close to the camera and moveable. I used a clamp on the tripod leg to hold a small (7 inch ) monitor a couple of inches to the left of the camera. This gave the product manager and graphic designer constant access to either the preview of the shot or a review of the shot. It made for an efficient feedback chain. I loved having the live histogram and all of the camera info right there on a bigger screen.

When we finished the shoot it was about 1:30pm. No one wanted to go back to work so we headed over to my favorite Chinese restaurant for a late lunch. Never a better time to get to know your clients better than over lunch.

When I got back home Studio Dog was waiting by the door and helped me decide which plumbing company to call. She must know her stuff because we had a plumber here in less than an hour and the sink is righteous once more. Old cast iron pipes. Some oxidation. Some clog somewhere.

Now everything is once more right with the world and it's time to download those files and to sit down and start working on clipping paths. I've spent too much time thinking about the kitchen for the last 24 hours. I think that means Belinda and I should head out to dinner tonight. Gotta be able to read the signs.

The monitor is now pretty much mandatory for shoots where art directors or product managers are attending. The ability to share images without slowing down the shoot is good. It's quicker and easier to use an HDMI monitor, originally purchased for video production, than to go the fully tethered route. A benefit beyond good seeing and sharing is that running the monitor shuts off the screens in the camera and vastly increases the run time for the camera batteries. Important for some stuff. Very useful when doing long form video.

Nothing fancy here. Just a Super Clamp attached to one of the tripod legs, anchoring an arm that allows me to position the monitor where I can get the most use out of it. We get much use out of Super Clamps and Grip Heads. Everybody should have a bag full. (We don't sell them...). 

I use "nets" for lighting control. Nothing's better than pulling unwanted light off a subject without introducing hard edged shadows, etc. I used this net to pull light off the shoulder of the shiny, white mannequin we had in the studio earlier in the day. It's not in its "working position" for this photo...

While I am happy to work on various locations nothing really beats working at home base. My 600 square foot studio/office is about ten steps from the front door of our house; which makes the daily commute very manageable. It's fun to be able to reach into a bag and grab three or four extension cords. Reach into another bag for an assortment of microphones. Turn around and grab five or six different rolls of tape off a shelf. Etc.  It's also convenient to be able to walk into the house and check on Studio Dog. She always appreciates a visit and some time outside.  

Above is an itty-bitty Aputure Amaran LED light. Amazingly, it matches the color spectrum of my much more expensive lights. It's great to be able to grab a little, battery powered light and reduce a shadow in a single spot --- instead of having to make more "global" corrections. 


A Newly Published Work produced in January. Shown here.

Karen Roy Talks About the Ottobock OBSS Chair Back from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

On a cold, clear day in January Ben and I had the opportunity to do an interview with Karen Roy for our client, Ottobock. I'll have Karen tell her story in the video.

Ben and I got up early and packed the car for the half hour trip to Georgetown, Texas where we would set up and be ready for a short interview in a private home. My focus early on was to set up and light for lots of b-roll (most of which we ended up not using...). Ben was on the second camera and he was getting details (which we did end up using...).

The main interview footage was done with a Sony a6300 camera recording 1080p. The interview was lit with three Aputure LightStorm LED panels and the audio was provided by an Audio Technica AT835b microphone.

We picked up additional video in a nearby park and at the offices of our client.

Since the day was bright and sunny I was happy I had thought to bring variable neutral density filters for both cameras/lenses.

While it might seem that Karen is miraculously delivering a perfectly crafted statement her interview is actually made up of audio (and video) from about nine or ten different clips. And some of the clips are interwoven in a different order than which they were recorded.

Ben handled the editing for the project. It was the last one he worked on before heading to Seoul, S. Korea for his long semester abroad.

For the kinds of projects I do I think the perfect crew size (including myself) is three. A first camera, a second camera and a sound person. That gives us plenty of hands for moving gear around as well as lighting in the minimalist tradition. More crew makes for more logistical moving parts. I like to shoot and move a lot in a day and I love a very small crew who can move with me without having to give them detailed instructions.

I'm sure that on bigger projects every crew member adds to the efficiency but on smaller, more intimate jobs, a larger crew is just more friction.

This is the last of the videos I'll share for a while as every video shared seems to drop readership of the blog by about 25%. At the rate we're going we'll be into negative numbers by the next three shares.

I guess I'll just go back to the old "Nikon Versus Canon!!!" & "DSLR Versus Mirrorless" routines. People never seem to get enough of that. Or maybe I'll explain how to use fill flash in sunlight for the thousandth time. That seems like a mystery that never gets solved....oh well.


A Third Installment of my Video Project from Canada. David's Story.

David Sims C-Leg Video. Rev. 1.2Z March 13, 2017 from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

I'm not sure there's ever a point at which video producers feel their editing is done. I could wake up every morning and change something on every video I've ever done. There are two things that bring projects to completion. One is budget; but if you enjoy a project budgets prove to be weak firewalls against spending more time fine tuning, or trying different approaches.

The other thing that serves as a giant stop sign in the editing process is a deadline. Hitting the deadline nearly always trumps one more set of tweaks.

As in the previous videos we used a Sony A7Rii, shooting in 4K (APS-C) mode to record the main interview footage and used a Sony RX10iii in 1080p mode to shoot our b-roll "footage."

The word, "footage" sounds a little zany to me given that there are no longer linear feet of film dragging through a film gate. We may have to revise our language around motion pictures as we head toward the future....

Everything that was lit was lit with Aputure LightStorm LED panels. Our primary microphone (into the Sony A7Rii) was a Sennheiser MKE600. We were working in the middle of an ongoing business and we could not always control background sounds but we did the best we could.

The main target for these videos is our client's website. They were not shot with theatrical distribution in mind and, in all likelihood, they will never be broadcast. The switch between black and white and color (which I also like) is part of the client's style guide.

I like David's interview because it was so personal and honest. This was a very rewarding project that put me in touch with some wonderful people. People with great stories about overcoming trauma and setbacks.

I want to do more like this.