A simple and candid portrait of an artist. At the beginning of a career.

Belinda working on a canvas at art school.
Now a 30 year veteran of graphic design.

Posted for fun.

This image was a copy shot of a black and white print made years ago...

What is it that gives a portrait a feeling of depth; an invitation for immersion?

There is a trend that I see in the portrait work of many photographers that I think is counterproductive or at least blandly homogenizing... It's the tendency to light everything with very flat, omni-directional light sources. It could be a big beauty dish or softbox right above camera with gratuitous fill light coming from below camera and it could be as goofy and aesthetically flat as two big soft boxes; one on either side of the camera, giving a 1:1 lighting ratio. 

What light like that does is to wipe out any real dimensional modeling on a human face and takes with it any interesting photographic sensibility in the photograph. The way one of these flatly lit documentations gets help to finally appeal to consumers is with tons of make-up or metric tons of post production work. I may be a rank traditionalist but I like a sense of depth in a photography and one way to achieve that is to create lighting that shows off the true contours of the face with light that comes from one main source. And though it is ubiquitous advice, the other tenet is to move your light away from the camera axis if you want it to be interesting. 

I cringe when I see the work of a (self-proclaimed) famous headshot photographer who lights every one who comes into his studio with the same triangular assemblage of ultra soft fluorescent light sources. He uses them to wrap the light from top to bottom and side to side, as evenly as possible. All the heavy lifting to add any sort of three dimensional interest to the sitters' faces is done by a make-up artist. The flatly lit image giving the stylist a more or less blank canvas on which to paint. It certainly is an effective way to automate one's approach to making portraits but it rarely serves the final recipient as anything more than mundane documentation. Even the expressions the photographer coaxes from his customers are boringly the same and hopelessly contrived.

But maybe when we talk about a feeling of depth there is a

I often hear that one has no real depth of field control with small sensor photographic files. I'm not sure that's right...

It was a typical Sunday morning back in the film days. Belinda and I headed down to West Sixth St. to have brunch at Sweetish Hill Restaurant. We sat on their lovely patio under a translucent awning and waited for our waiter to bring over the most addictive coffee I have ever known.

As has been my habit for well over thirty years I had a small camera dangling off my left shoulder, just in case I saw something that wanted to be photographed. I was running an advertising agency back then so there were no external constraints on which cameras I carried. On that day it was a small, black Olympus Pen FT half frame camera, loaded with Ilford FP4 film and sporting a smart little 40mm f1.4 lens. The same one I own and use now.

I liked the way the light came through the awning so I pulled my camera up, adjusted the exposure from experience (the meter in the camera had long been non-functional) and shot two or three frames at f2.0.

The dim finder of that camera (ancient even back then) coupled with the greater depth of field of the frame area meant that focusing was at it's best with the lens wide open, or nearly so.

I have printed this image onto 11x14 inch paper many, many times in an attempt to get it just right. This is a copy image of a fiber based print that I made sometime in the 1990's. The FP4 film contributes to the higher contrast of the photograph but at the same time it keeps film grain (analog noise?) to a minimum.

The film frame is hardly any bigger than today's micro four/thirds sensors but the lens does a good job carving out lots of detail while delivering good contrast.

To my eye the background areas are well out of focus and have a pleasing out of focus characteristic to them.

I couldn't have gotten a "better" image with any other camera. I might have gotten a different image; a sharper image, a more detailed image, an image with more dynamic range, etc. but this is the image I ended up with and have come to love over the years. As long as my subject matter is highly captivating to me no other metric or feature of photography matters.

The Pen F series of film, half-frame cameras of the late 1960's and 1970's were the precursors to a whole niche of current cameras. They are no less valid now than the Pen FT was to me back in the 1980's.

I never made a habit of dragging around a Hasselblad or motorized Nikon f4 when we were heading out to have a nice meal, just as I would never take a cellphone into a nice (or any) restaurant today. A small and sleek camera is acceptable, a giant, noisy power tool is out of place. And a ringing phone or a loud and loutish conversation is never welcome.

I love small cameras with big capabilities. Thinking about Sony RX100's today.... Nostalgia or practicality?


I've been going through my archives and I found this image of Ben destroying a fruit danish in the studio. Black and white still looks better from film.

This was taken 18 years ago with a film camera. You can see the edge print along the top of the frame. I shot the photo with a Pentax 645n and a 150mm lens. The distribution of tones seems just right to me. So much better than I am usually able to get no matter which software program I use to try to squeeze pretty black and white images out of any number of digital cameras, across a wide range of digital formats.

I have a stack of about 100 11x14 inch prints sitting on my desk that need to be scanned. Just thinking about preserving the tonal ranges.

Having a short re-romance with black and white film tonight as I try to find the box filled with old negatives from St. Petersburg, Russia.

As we get closer to the end of the year I keep talking myself out of driving up to Precision Camera to see just what they have in the way of medium format film cameras. I hope someone talks me out of it before I stick my foot back into the tar patch of film...

Medium Format Digital from the Middle Ages of the Industry. A Portrait of Amy.

Amy. ©Kirk Tuck 2010.

In 2010 I tested the three most popular medium format digital camera systems for a magazine called, "Studio Photography." Of the three I tested I was most pleased with the handling of the Phase One camera and back. It boasted a 40 megapixel, CCD sensored back and was built around a Mamiya 645D body. It also took Mamiya 645 lenses. While the bigger file was more detailed when used for big enlargements, and clearly had more dynamic range than the 35mm frame sized digital cameras the system with a complement of three lenses tipped the scales at about $50,000 at the time. And you might remember that we were just starting to come off a vicious recession.  

Had some of these cameras been launched in the middle of a boom period I wonder if they would have been accepted and employed by a much, much bigger segment of the market. We'll never know now that they've been largely replaced by the newest generations of Nikon and Sony full frame cameras...

The Camera Store (you know, Chris and Jordan...) got robbed over the weekend.

One of our readers just sent me this posting:

It would help our local camera store a lot if you could pass this on.

The Camera Store had a break and enter early in the morning on December 16th, 2017. A selection of high-end specialty cameras and lenses were stolen including: 
Hasselblad X1D camera body silver #UQ27014288
Hasselblad XC 30mm F3.5 lens #2WV10784
Hasselblad XC 45mm F3.5 lens #2UVT10447
Hasselblad XC 90mm F3.5 lens #2VVT10265

Leica MP Safari Edition #09008593
This theft seems very targeted since specific items were taken. We hope that someone in the local photo community will hear something about this.

We are offering a $5000 TCS shopping spree for any information that leads to a conviction.

Please call police at 403-266-1234 or if you wish to remain anonymous call crime stoppers at 1-800-222-8477

Police case #17539052
The store is located (I think) in Calgary, Canada. 
If someone offers you some mint in box used Hasselblad or Leica gear you might want to ask for the serial numbers before before you crack open your vault and drag out your credit card...
See their really, really good videos here:

A different sort of Christmas Tree from the Stage Set of "A Tuna Christmas." A play set in the small Texas town of Tuna. By Jaston Williams.

The Christmas Tree at Didi's Used Weapons Store.
Part of the stage set for "A Tuna Christmas" at ZACH Theatre.
Camera: Panasonic GH5
Lens: Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro

Marketing Still from "A Tuna Christmas."

Marketing Still from "A Tuna Christmas."


Saturday Afternoon Field Notes. Boy Arrival Imminent. Computer Replacements. Video Package.

I'll start with the fun stuff first. The kid is heading home from College for the Holiday Break. I just got a text from my friend, Fred, in Saratoga Springs a few minute ago. He successfully deposited young Mr. Tuck at the Albany airport for the first leg of his trip back to Austin. If I have been slow to post things on the blog lately it's largely because Ben's mom has me washing Studio Dog, cleaning the "boy's" bathroom, shopping for his favorite foods and other errands. She clearly doesn't get the priority hierarchy of my schedule...

We'll both be incredibly happy to see the boy again for all the reasons that most parents would list. On a more pragmatic level I will be happy to see him around the house for the next month because he is a much better cinematography director and editor than I am and has more experience doing it than me. We've got a Zach Theatre project that I just know he'll be delighted to help me with before Christmas..
In computer news I've finally heard about a machine that may meet all my parameters for replacing my current, high performance laptop (see above).


Sometimes we know what a job will entail. Sometimes we just wing it. But if you are going to "wing it" you might as well come prepared.

A view looking straight up. A ceiling detail from the 
Alexander Palace in Pushkin, Russia.
Camera: Hasselblad Superwide.

I didn't think I needed the Hasselblad SWC/M (the Superwide camera with the fixed 38mm Zeiss Biogon lens) for my assignment in Russia many years ago but my friend, Paul, insisted I take one along, so I did. It turns out that the fixed lens camera was useful for just about every situation. Many times, just like a cinematographer, I'd want a wide, establishing shot to go along with all the detail documentations I was doing for the Worlds Monument Fund. During the course of a couple weeks on the ground there I probably put 40 or 50 rolls of film through that camera. (zone focus only, frames hand cranked, twelve on a roll. No automatic modes, no built in meter, no raw file butt saving in raw).

Before I left on this particular mid-winter trip I did a bunch of research. I researched the weather and eventually bought the U.S. Army Ranger's book on cold weather survival; along with lots of layers of Polartec and down. I took to heart the three main pieces of advice: 1. You can't do your job if you are physically compromised. 2. If you keep your feet warm everything will follow from there. 3. Don't get wet, and if you do get wet get dry ASAP! I still have the insulated, Vasque hiking boots and a box full of wool socks.

The other bit of research I did was about


Living in the present. Just getting the job done. Moving toward the holidays and thinking about what worked this year and what didn't.

It's 5:05 in the afternoon and I'm sitting at my desk, sometimes glancing out the window at the end of a gray and chilly day. I've got a bag of grocery store popcorn propped up in my left hand desk drawer for easy access and, when I look across the office, strewn with bits and pieces of photo gear arranged in a chaotic collage on the floor, I see three little green lights telling me that the lithium batteries for the three Vision 4 monolights I used in this morning's portrait shoots have recycled and are ready and waiting for the two shoots we have booked for tomorrow afternoon. 

Over by the equipment case there are four more little green light arrays telling me we've almost topped up the lithium batteries for the Godox flashes that will illuminate the white background that's on the assignment schedule.

I've spent the last few hours editing down the take from this morning. After a night of mostly illusive sleep (thanks to a big possum and a territorial Studio Dog) I was up this morning before the rest of the creative population brewing coffee and making a breakfast taco with scrambled eggs, sausage and cheese. At 7:15 I pulled on a jacket and walked into the studio to grab the gear I packed last night and load it into the car. Once again I cursed the bane of working on