6.21.2018

A Nikon Alternative to the Usual 70-200mm f2.8 Lens. A very workable choice.


This lens is a Nikon 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 G VR. It got launched into the market around 2006, covers the FX frame and has second generation VR. I guess the question is, "is it good enough to use in place of the much more expensive Nikon 70-200mm models?" Of course everyone's lens use will vary and some readers will have very high standards for imaging output while others will be more than satisfied at the performance. That's just the way the granulated market falls out.

Will it be sufficient for nearly every use we would normally have for this lens's faster and pricier brethren?

I've used a number of f2.8 telephoto zoom lenses that fall into the range of 70-210mm. I owned the Sony Alpha series version as well as the Sony Alpha f4.0 version. I've owned a number of Nikon 80-200mm f2.8's (both push pull and dual ring) and I've owned versions of each from Canon). In every case, if you desperately need that full f2.8 aperture

You NEED to Change (Picture This! Podcast) === I love this video from Tony Northrup. For working photographers.

6.20.2018

A bit of promotion about my 9 day photography expedition to Iceland in October. Lots photo potential here.

So, here's the bio part:

Why would you want to go to Iceland and spend 9 days hanging out photographing in Iceland with me?

Hmmm. Well, I've been working as a professional photographer for a long time and I've learned a lot of good stuff that works and might help you up your photography game, which could make photography even more enjoyable for you. I know my way around multiple systems and formats. I can help you hone your camera handling skills so when photographic opportunity comes your way you are ready to grab it. I've worked in challenging environments and can help you do the same.

As a former university instructor I'm pretty well practiced in teaching people so I won't waste your time with ponderous pedagogy; we'll get straight to the important stuff and I'll explain it in a way that nails down concept and practice for you. We'll also focus like a collimated light source on getting to good locations and getting great shots.

Think of my role on this expedition as that of a facilitator for your vision. Someone to get you to the right places and make sure we're all working at the top of our game, to help you bring home images of which you will be proud. Think of me also as a good fellow traveler who knows when to turn off work and turn on good conversation; someone to debate with over dinner and celebrate with at the end of a long day of image making.

What are we talking about?

The photography expedition to Iceland is being produced by Craftours and is aimed at photographers who can take the time to dive deeper into this incredible country and have a great time shooting, learning, experiencing, and creating treasures for their portfolios. It's a nine day adventure that runs from October 27 - November 4, 2018.

Let's get the cost out of the way first.... 

The entire cost of this tour is $3798.00 (per person based on double occupancy).

Here's what the package includes: 

Round trip international airfare from the U.S. to Iceland.

All taxes and round-trip transfers to and from hotel.

Private deluxe motor coach with experienced driver.

First class hotel accommodations.

Breakfast daily, as well as some lunches and dinners.

Photographic opportunities in the interesting town of HAFNARJORDUR.

A full day exploring (with me in tow) the natural wonders of the Golden Circle. You'll be surrounded by artistic inspiration as we visit the famous Strokkur Geyser, hot springs, and the amazing Gullfoss Waterfall. Horse stables and a greenhouse.

A journey to the Reykjavik Botanic Gardens. Lots of shooting time at every location.

The option to add on a tour to the Reyjanes and Blue Lagoon.

We'll do a photographic tour to participate in an Aurora Borealis Hunt.

I'm not doing this alone. We'll have a professional tour guide for the entire trip.

We'll head out for a photo trip to make images at an Icelandic horse farm.

You'll have professional Craftours escort and staff to assist you before and during the expedition.

This adventure is "camera brand neutral." There will be no sales pitches for any "just released" products. Pack whatever you want....

At every opportunity I'll put together workshops and mini-seminars about techniques you'll be able to use right away. And I'll be photographing with you, available to share tips, opinions, critiques and hard won shooting secrets all day, every day.

If you like what I write on the blog I bet we'll like hanging out together and seeing, photographing and soaking in experiences in one of the most interesting locations in the world. 

Why am I writing this right now? On June 20th? 

Craftours has a minimum tour size and we haven't hit our target yet. We're close. We only need a few more intrepid photographers to make the trip work. I'd love to get to Iceland on my birthday. I'd love to get some great shots of the land and of the people. If you are interested please get in touch with the folks at Craftours and help me make this happen. We're looking for a few more people to sign up by the end of this month!

They have a toll free number: 877-887-1188. Or head to their website: Craftours.com

And now for the disclaimer: I am not an employee of Craftours. Craftours will be responsible for the production and execution of the expedition. I am getting paid to participate on this expedition as the workshop teacher, photography instructor, imaging facilitator and all around, genial host. I'll be eating meals with you, celebrating with you at happy hours and marveling at how great
Iceland can be; just like everyone else on the tour.  I'll be there to teach, help, coach, illuminate (literally and figuratively), and generally assist you in making the most of your photography on this adventure.

Now, to sweeten the pot. Bring your swim gear and goggles. I'm sure we'll find some great places to swim. I'll help with your stroke technique if you'll also critique mine. OMG. Swimming and photography! All the good stuff at once.

I hope to see you there.

Panasonic adds new "Night Mode" to their GH5 camera. Here's why I like this new feature: It has actual benefits.


Every once in a while a camera maker comes out with something in a firmware upgrade that goes beyond just C.Y.A. and fixing stuff they promised to have working at the time of launch. I'm appreciative to Panasonic for including a new feature called, Night Mode, in the set of improvements in the latest firmware update for the GH5. It adds real functionality to the camera for me.

Most camera screens are made to work under a bunch of different lighting conditions but work best in average room light, shooting average subjects. Most rear camera screens just flat out suck if you are trying to compose outdoors in full sun (thank goodness for the miracle of EVFs...) and most rear screens are too bright and too blue for low light work. The light output, and the color range (too much stuff in the blue spectrum) of that light output, messes with your night vision and is generally bright enough, in low light situations, to act as an annoying and distracting beacon to everyone around you. 

Most of the times I am shooting in the theater I am experiencing a combination of issues with conventional screens. A lot of dramatic stage work is done with lower levels of stage lighting and the house itself is quite dark. If I need to check settings and actuate the rear screen the light from the screen is overwhelming. Nearly as obnoxious as the bright screen of a big cellphone. If I go ahead and take a look, or use the rear screen to change a setting, I have my vision temporarily compromised by the blast of light. I could always chimp camera settings through the EVF finder of my mirrorless cameras but they too have the same brightness issues when it comes to the preservation of my night vision.

With the GH5, you have the option of switching either the EVF, or the rear screen, or both, to Night Mode; depending on how you use your camera. I used Night Mode for the first time last night. I was shooting some additional promotional shots of the Zach Theatre production of "Heisenberg" from a stationary position just to the right of the center section of audience seating. There was no one on either side of me but there were people in the row just behind me. 

Normally, when shooting with an audience, I would disable the rear screen and make all my settings, and do all my reviewing, on the EVF. Many times it's an advantage to be able to pull the camera away from my eye and into my lap to check settings or make a quick assessment of sharpness or composition. I miss having that option with a conventional rear screen set-up while shooting in a dark theater. 

Last night I set the rear screen to Night Mode and left the EVF in its normal implementation. It was great to be able to keep one eye on the action while I looked down at a menu item. It helped keep me from missing important shots. The deep orange on a darker screen was much, much less intrusive than the same screen when not used in Night Mode. I also tried using Night Mode with the EVF and it's very workable if you already know you are in the ballpark for color temperature settings. It might take a while to get used to judging exact exposure with the new set up because without colors the visual cues for correct exposure are different. You might depend more, at first, on histograms.

When using Night Mode in the EVF I was surprised at how much better I could see into shadows and how much more accessible faces in the audience were when taking the camera away from my face. I did the last quarter of the play with Night Mode enabled on the EVF and found that, not being seduced by color, my compositions where a bit tighter and better balanced and I didn't have the same level of eye fatigue I sometimes get when I spend the whole day shooting (we had a marketing shoot all afternoon followed by a break and then plunged into a full dress rehearsal shoot). 

I give Panasonic double two thumbs up. The first two elevated thumbs are for coming up with the idea in the first place (although aircraft instrumentation and some car instrumentation has featured the lower output, red/orange spectrum illumination options for decades) and including it in cameras I like to use. The second set of odd thumb signals is for making the implementation so flexible. I like being able to chose how I want each screen to work instead of one setting being universally applied. 

The new Night Mode feature should be a boon for everyone who works in low light and for many who suffer more acutely from eyestrain caused by spectrum sensitivity and excessive screen brightness. 

I predict that every single camera maker will copy this and put it into their pro series cameras just as quickly as they can. I can't believe this feature hasn't created more buzz on the web. It actually helps make shooting conditions better for many artists. 

The monochrome rendition distills images down to their essentials. 
Color doesn't get in the way...


Every time I use the GH5 I am a bit more impressed. 


6.19.2018

But the shoot seemed to go really well.

©Kirk Tuck. Brianna as "Belle" in the upcoming
Zach Theatre production of, "Beauty and the Beast." 


Stupid and mindless destruction of gear.

I decided to bring a TV monitor with me on today's shoot so the marketing team of my client could see the big images across a 24 inch screen. It was going to be so civilized. I was busy loading the car in the driving rain and I stuck the monitor, carefully wrapped in plastic to prevent water damage, onto the back seat. I left it standing up and then instantly forgot about it.

I was zooming along to our appointment when a traffic light turned yellow then red. I put on the brakes and a second or two later heard a "smack" from the back seat. The monitor came down with gusto, banging into the hard back of a case. I didn't think much of it until we set the monitor up on the stage and plugged in the HDMI camera from the camera.

I turned the monitor on and, yikes, it was chaos across the screen and there were cracks across the top third of the screen.

My art director offered to recycle it for me. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking at the LCD on the back of the D800. I guess this is why we generally transport the Atomos Ninja monitor in its own hard case.

I console myself with the thought that I'd bought the monitor on sale for somewhere under $200. I cursed myself when I realized that it was handy to have around and I'd eventually have to dig into my pocket to replace it.

Ah well.

Other than that the shoot went great!

Fixing the pesky back focus in a Tamron 28-75mm lens.


My old, used Tamron 28-75mm zoom lens was giving me grief. Even with minus 20 steps of back focus correction I could not bring the lens into a range where back focus was not obvious. I took it to Precision Camera and they let me know that a mechanical focus adjustment would entail sending it back to Tamron for calibration. They estimated the cost to be around $250-$275.

Since I bought the lens for appreciably less than that I was not particularly motivated to toss more cash at fixing it. Especially since I have another lens, the Nikon 24-120mm f4.0, that covers the range, and then some. But when I used the lens on a past project which called for live view I came to realize that it's a very, very good performer at nearly every aperture and focal length. Sure, the corners of a wide open frame, at the widest focal length are a bit dicey but that's never been much of a concern for most of the stuff that I shoot. In addition, I also own the world's greatest standard zoom lens, the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro so I was in no rush to do a costly "replace or repair" for a third string choice. But, like every descendant of depression-era parents I am loathe to throw away anything I might have a use for and, when confronted with obstacles (like back focusing) I tend to grind away at the problem until I hit on a workable solution.

Eventually I'll take one of my reader's advice and try doing my own shimming of the lens mount. I have a suspicion that's what my $275 would buy at Tamron....

But for now I've decided that the lens is actually a manual focus lens and, in such form, works well....If I can get it accurately focused.

Enter live view. Today I'll be shooting a glamorous series of photographs of a beautiful, young actress who will be playing "Belle" in Zach Theatre's upcoming production of "Beauty and the Beast." I like to get buy in from the marketing team as we shoot, changing lighting and shoot some more, so I planned on bringing along an external monitor so we don't need to all gather behind the camera to see what we're collectively getting. I check every piece of gear before every shoot so I had the Atomos Ninja Flame 4K monitor out and set up (tech checking is also good for reminding me about where all the menu features are located) and connected to a Nikon D800. Works great and it's cool to see wave form meters on screen that are so helpful in setting correct exposures....

After I tested the shooting rig I remembered the old Tamron. I attached it to the camera and fired everything up again to take a look. I tried one more AF test and, yes, sitting overnight did nothing to tame the back focusing. I switched to manual focus, switched on live view and popped in some frame magnification. On the glorious Atomos monitor I was able to see exactly when perfect focus was achieved. I could also turn on focus peaking which, again, is very, very accurate o the seven inch monitor screen. When I reviewed my test frames I remember why I had not abandoned the Tamron 28-75mm after getting the diagnosis from the camera doctors; it's a very bite-y lens with its own look.

I'm taking it along with me to the shoot today. We'll have the camera on a tripod and the monitor riding alongside for quality control. I'll interchange that lens with the Nikon 24-120mm f4.0 and the Nikon 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 G VR lens and we'll see which one emerges victorious. I have a sneaking suspicion that at f5.6-f8.0 they will all exceed our marketing needs. But it's fun to mix stuff up...

Other notes. If you are around and want a change of pace, change of venue, I'll be speaking to the Dripping Springs, Texas "Photographers of Dripping Springs" group on Thursday evening, the 28th. I'm sure they would love a few extra bodies to fill out the mix. I got to choose the subject so I've decided to give a talk (about an hour) on the nuts and bolts of ...... live theater photography. I'll talk through my techniques and also show a few examples. The details: http://photographersofds.us/2018/06/19/pods-june-meeting-june-28-2018-630pm/
The "where" in on this contact page: http://photographersofds.us/about/

This is a very rare, public appearance. The first in about a year. Come by and say hello. I think we're all going out for Mexican food right after....

More Other Notes. I think we're still on schedule for the Craftours Iceland Photo Adventure starting on the 27th of October. If you are interested you might want to head to the Craftour's site to sign up so we can make the minimum class size and actually get to do this thing. http://www.craftours.com/crafts/photography.php

Chilly fun. Great food. Lots of photography. I'll be on my best behavior....

6.18.2018

A quick, in progress review of the second best m4:3 lens I have ever shot with. The Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro.

Jill Blackwood at "Dot" in "Sundays in the Park with George."
Zach Theatre.

I've been photographing the dress rehearsals for plays at Zach Theatre for about 30 years now. In that span of time I've gone from shooting set up shots in black and white, done with medium format cameras, with prints processed in my own darkroom to shooting current plays with a mix of digital cameras. While good cameras are nice to have good lenses are even better.

A few weeks ago I shot the dress rehearsal for "Sundays in the Park with George." It's a good production with one technical caveat; the stage is bare and the background is largely light absorbing black. It's an inherently high contrast collection of scenes.

Recently I've asked the folks at Zach Theatre to let me photograph both the Sunday evening technical rehearsal as well as the Tuesday night dress rehearsals. I only charge them for one but I enjoy theatre and more importantly I like to see the blocking and action at a run through before I shoot the final practice. This let's me know where people stand when and what they are about to do. I like being prepared so I think of the first night as a scouting trip in anticipation of the actual assignment.

It works out well. I no longer get nervous about "getting the shot" and on Sundays, with no audience underfoot, I can use louder cameras and move around a lot more. Actors like Jill (above) are so used to seeing me at their rehearsals that they can ignore me entirely.

I always dress in "show black" and even wear a black cap to hide the bright beacon of platinum (not white or gray) hair that I am sure would be a visual distraction. On Sundays I've started shooting with the Nikon D800e cameras and the Nikon lenses because the shutter noise isn't an issue. On Tues. I shoot with the Panasonic GH5s because noise becomes an issue. We almost always have an invited audience; it helps the actors fine tune... I need to use the mechanical shutters sometimes in order to handle flicker from some of the lights and in those situations I'll wrap a neoprene case around a GH5 which does a good job of quieting an already quiet shutter.

On Tuesdays I'm relegated to center of the house. I don't complain because I have a whole row of seats to myself. But we are half way up the house from the stage so I depend on lenses with reach for most of the best marketing worthy photos. I'm filling out the Nikon lens inventory slowly but in the m4:3 inventory I already have the PERFECT LENS with which to shoot from mid-house. It's the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro.

As far as I am concerned (for theater work) that lens has only one aperture: f2.8. I use it all evening long, all wide open. It returns photographs with lots of great detail, never back or front focuses and never flares. The lens has a tripod mount but I shoot the theater work handheld. I'll go wider than 150mm (300mm FF equiv.) if I want to capture more atmosphere but I think the images that sell plays are mostly shots of two characters together in a dynamic scene or small ensembles of actors. Wide stage shots rarely make it onto promotional websites or into magazine print unless the scenery is just spectacular.

When I compare the files from Sundays and Tuesdays (Nikon vs. Panasonic/Olympus) the advantage of narrow depth of field obviously goes to the Nikon but the other technical qualities are a wash. The files aren't much different in the noise department (f2.8 versus f4.0 or f5.6) and the cameras focus equally fast.

If I had to choose between the two systems the two Olympus Pro lenses I use would tip the balance in favor of the Panasonic GH5. Where I prefer the Nikon is in controlled marketing photographs that we take outside of rehearsals. These are situations where I am able to control the light, use flash and take advantage of the Nikon's superior quality, when used at ISO 100 and with lenses stopped down to optimum apertures. Nice to have both. Even nicer to know why.

I can imagine that if most people bought into the m4:3 system cold and only used the 12/100 and the 40/150 Pro lenses they would never, ever have format envy again. Amazing lenses. Wish Olympus would make one Pro lens for the Nikon. It would be a 24-200mm f4.0 with the quality of the 12-100mm f4.0. I know it would be large and heavy but if the optics were as good it would shift the whole market around. At least that's what I'm conjecturing right now.

Broken Lenses. What to do about them?


Lenses don't fail often; but they do. As of yesterday I have two on the critical list and one on the "too far out of range to AF-Tune correctly" List.

One is an older 55mm f2.8 ais Nikon micro lens. It has an affliction that seems to strike a number of these older lenses; oil or lubricant has seeped from somewhere onto the aperture blades and made them "sticky." As a result the camera doesn't stop down and then over the aperture open back up again. For the most part it's stuck in the wide open position.

I took it in to be repaired but apparently there is a part that breaks 50% of the time and that part is no longer made. The cost of the repair would be about the same as the cost to replace with another used copy. I gave up and decided to buy a nice, older 55mm f3.5. It seems to be a good performer. It was under $100. Less than the projected repair...

The second lens is a Nikon 20mm f2.8 AF that I bought used, hoping it would be all I ever needed for my wide angle stuff on the full frame Nikons. It developed a weird, de-focused, whirligig pattern on the corners and edges; nothing sharp until the center third of the frame. I think I understand the problem. One of the lens elements (or groups) seems to be loose and rattling around. I'm taking it in to see what the repair techs can do but I don't have high hopes.

Finally, there is a Tamron 28-75mm zoom lens for the Nikon that I want to love very much. If I focus it in live view it's sharp, sharp, sharp. If I let my camera take care of business and use the regular auto focus then it back focuses like crazy. I'm on old veteran of AF fine tuning so I set up my target last night and got to work. No dice. Even a minus 20 correction (the max correction on a D800) is nowhere close to budging the focusing plane into compliance. I'm taking that one out to the repair experts to see if there is a way to re-calibrate it into a useful appliance. Again, I'm almost certain that the cost to manually disassemble and fine tune the lens will exceed its used value.

All of which begs the question, "Once the value of a lens has been sucked dry by accident, aging or other decay, what should one do with it?" It seems sacrilege to send it to the landfill and yet who wants to crowd their space with more stuff that doesn't have a function?

This is not a rhetorical musing. I'm very interested. What would you do with non-functional, non-repairable lenses? Thoughts? They are not big enough to turn into interesting lamps.....

Around the web. A micro four thirds revival in full swing? Maybe. Looking to the blog masters for clarification.

My first true love amongst the m4:3 cameras. 
That would be the Olympus EP-2. 
A marvelous photography machine.

Okay. So this is kind of "tongue in cheek" but a quick glance around the web this morning would make the readers of several blogs think that we're in the beginning stages of a backlash against the hyper-perfectionism of full frame cameras and all the attendant hype. I looked at Ming Thein's blog this morning to find that (in a subconscious reaction to all the preciousness of the new H-Blad???) he snapped up an Olympus Pen-F camera body and has been (joyously???) re-learning the unbridled joy of shooting Jpegs straight out of the camera and enjoying the crap out of the process. 


This is an interesting development given all the recent deep dives into medium format and his propensity for ultra-control.... But it's nice to see and the rationale he posits is a good one.

Then, over to Michael Johnston's, TheOnlinePhotographer, to find that after days, weeks, months of torturous research, conjecture, testing and mulling he too has slammed down cash for..... a micro four thirds camera and a matching lens. His choice, based on a large part about camera handling, haptics (and nostalgia for the rangefinders he professes to be disinclined to shoot), is the Panasonic GX8, which I will confess is a camera that looks beautiful to me. Michael paired his camera with the Panasonic 12-35mm, second version, giving as a reason the dual image stabilization. I can't imagine why he declined to try the 12-100mm Olympus lens but it may be he felt he needed the extra stop of speed. I owned the first version of the Panasonic 12-35mm and it's a wonderful lens. Not quite at the level of the Olympus 12/100 but a great lens nonetheless.

You can read the executive summary of Michael's excruciating search for the small sensor Holy Grail here: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2018/06/never-mind-all-that.html

And Sony blogger/workshop leader and brilliant scientist, Gary Friedman, has taken the whole argument about sensor size one step further and written about his infatuation (long term love affair?) with the even smaller one inch sensor cameras here: http://friedmanarchives.blogspot.com/2017/03/full-frame-vs-small-sensor-dont-laugh.html

It's a fun read and has the lure of big, luscious prints and focus grouping to make his points.


As you know, I am still in the micro four thirds camp with several Panasonic GH5s and a small collection of impressive Olympus Pro lenses. Two big zooms in inventory with several of the pro primes causing serious salivation over here. Pavlov's dog has nothing on me when I look at samples from the Olympus 17 and 45mm Pro high speed optics. Seems a great way to burn through even more money in the pursuit of..........?

A hand held stage image done outdoors at night, handheld 
with an Olympus EP-2 and the ancient Olympus (original) Pen FT 60mm f1.5 lens. 
Marvelous enough to massage your eyes....

We'll see if retro-format-fever strikes more blogs and photo sites in the days to come. Feels like a backlash to me. And a welcome one from the steady drum of the full frame orchestra (or is it a punk band?....). 

6.17.2018

The Non-Metaphorical Journey. The nuts and bolts of traveling back and forth from Austin to San Antonio.


In the last twenty years I imagine the population in central Texas, from San Antonio to Waco, with Austin in the middle, has doubled. The main highway (IH-35) between the central United States and Mexico (as well as huge swaths of south Texas agricultural centers) has not doubled in size, not doubled in lanes; mostly not kept pace at all with the endless, relentless flow of traffic. This makes commuting back and forth, or visiting regularly, between Austin and San Antonio, an unpredictable nightmare.

What used to be a one hour and five minute journey is now, typically an hour and forty minutes. Each stalled car on the roadside adds an additional five minutes. Every wreck requiring police or ambulance attention can add 20 or 30 minutes of white knuckle driving to the tally. It's a modern sort of torture that reminds those of us who remember the wide, almost car-less expanse of highway back in the 1970's and 1980's that, where infrastructure is concerned, our country may have been comfortably first world then but we have, through neglect and lack of planning, demoted our public road resources to a decidedly third world standard that is neither safe nor convenient. Sadly, it's still the quickest way to get between the two cities for everyone without access to their own plane or helicopter. 

So, yesterday, we added over an hour to the journey. There were three major wrecks along the route. Mostly caused, I would bet, by inattentive drivers trying to multi-task via text or phone, which is always bad when combined with another subset of drivers who believe it is their manifest destiny to drive their pick-up trucks at 90 MPH, five feet from the bumper of the person in front of them.

After many roundtrips this year, taken at all different times of the day and night, I've resigned myself to this painful process and my intent is not speed but my own personal safety. 

After a nice visit with my father yesterday I headed home but instead of tossing the dice and taking another ride up IH-35 I took the longer and slower route home, heading up HWY 281 north. It's the back way. 

Is it dangerous to take photos out of the windshield of one's car?
Not when the car has been immobile in stopped traffic for at least 
five minutes or more....

HWY 281 is not yet subject to full stop traffic jams. Parts of that highway offer beautiful views of an undeveloped portion of the Texas Hill Country. There are a series of mini-mountains (maxi-hills?) that are referred to as, "The Devil's Backbone." Named because the early Texans with horse drawn wagons found the topology nearly impossible to transit. 

Because I had no pressing engagements I went further off the main grid by turning right at Blanco, Texas and taking the Henley Loop over to HWY 290. I don't know the real name of this two lane blacktop but I call it the Henley Loop because Henley, Texas is on the route to HWY 290. Whatever it's called it was largely deserted at 3:30pm in the afternoon and made for a much different, much happier journey home. From time to time I was so enchanted with the big sky of central Texas that I would pull of the road to click a frame or two of the landscape meshing with a dramatic skyscape. 

I had only my "car" camera. It's a Nikon D700 bought expressly to keep handy in the car and it generally rides along with a battered and crusty Nikon 35-70mm f3.5 manual focus lens that I've come to trust for sharpness and an almost Technicolor rendering of reality. I kept it close by, on the passenger's seat, set at ISO 200, with the aperture at f8, and left it to the camera to calculate a good exposure. With the distance scale set between 30 feet and infinity I didn't bother with focusing. 

At the time I wished I'd brought along a polarizing filter but when I went to post process the raw files today I realized that adding polarization to the mix would have been over the top. Too much.

I would never suggest anyone shoot from a moving car.....if they are the active driver. But I break the rules when I am at a stop sign and there's no other car for miles around. It's wonderful to see that there are still parts of Texas not completely ruined by the pervasive car culture. I'm pulling out the maps to try and discover new routes to San Antonio --- trading speed for calmness and appreciation of our remaining wide open spaces.





Happy Father's Day. A long journey of unconditional love and support.

C.W. Tuck

I've spent a lot of time with my dad in the last six months. When my mom passed away he lost his best friend and his #1 care provider. He was diagnosed with vascular dementia a few years back but he continued to function adequately with my mother's constant help. At the beginning of the year the responsibility fell to me. Yesterday I marked my 38th round trip this year to San Antonio. I went down to see how he was doing with his re-entry into his memory care facility after our stay in the hospital the week before. 

My sister was down for the entire week in between and helped him get back into the swing of things. The two of them had always played Scrabble together and they had many matches this past week. My sister (who, among other talents, has a degree in English from UT Austin) was soundly beaten by dad in several of the games. While my father has lost some of his memory, and had other parts of it scrambled, he is still verbally eloquent and an avid reader and writer.

At 90 years old my father scorns things like walkers and wheel chairs and insists on getting places under his own steam, with the use of a cane I bought him many years ago. When I visit him these days I bring him the Sunday New York Times and a small bag of his favorite candy; Hershey's Milk Chocolate Kisses. When I pick up and recycle the previous week's NYT I'm always impressed to see that he has worked diligently and well to finish the Sunday crossword puzzle.

We have lunch together at his favorite table, along with several of his regular friends. They are all 90 or older. Sometimes, in private, my father will remark, "I don't know how I ended up here...some of these people are really quite old."  After lunch I brief him on the activities of the week and of his current financial condition. He craves the news. His father was a banker and he can't help his need to keep track of his money and comment on the performance of his "staff" (meaning me of course).  

My dad has always been there for me and my brother and sister. My parents were more or less model parents. They never could rationalize the cost of buying a color television or getting cable but were more than happy to put three kids through college and graduate schools without thinking twice. My dad never missed an early morning of getting up and driving me to swim practice before school, and at every family crisis my parents showed up, check book in hand, ready and able to beat back hysteria and desperation (which thankfully for all involved were very rare occurrences). 

I went down to San Antonio yesterday not out of a sense of duty but because I wanted to stay our course and maintain a recent routine which seems to have made him satisfied with his new home and mostly happy. His face lights up when I walk in his door. My heart swells a bit when we hug. We are so frank and honest with each other now. There's so much less in the way.

My dad made a good recovery from his recent cardiac scare. His private apartment is beautifully appointed and filled with portraits of family and friends. The staff has given up trying to introduce my father to some of the mindless activities of the facility and we've agreed to let him do the things he has always done; sit in a comfortable chair in his room, listen to classical music on his sound system and read books about world history. Even with the handicap of dementia he probably knows more about American history than 99.9 percent of this country's population. He's always been a person who cherishes his privacy and solitude. He's always been an academic. It's fun to see him continue on his own terms. He's a great role model for me and my siblings. 

Happy Fathers Day to all of you fathers out there who have done your work, raised great kids and dealt, for better or worse, with all the curve balls that come along with the joy and responsibility of moving people from potential to success. 

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6.15.2018

Experimenting with variable neutral density on a very fast lens. Shooting wide open. In broad daylight.

The obligatory self-portrait.

Since I shoot a fair amount of video with the lenses I have for my Panasonic GH5 I've bought a good number of variable neutral density (VND) filters. One's options for shutter speed settings outdoors in full sun are limited if you are shooting video. Especially if you are hopeful about using faster apertures...

I'm cheap when it comes to some parts of the photographic buying frenzy. I could never bring myself to spring for +$250 for a 62mm B+W VND is I can buy one that works well from Zomei for less than $40. If there are color inconsistencies that result from using the bargain filter I haven't found them yet...

So we use the VNDs all the time in video production but I rarely read about people using them in still photography. Especially for non-technical stuff like street photography. Come to think of it I haven't used them very often for that either. This morning I decided I'd see what I was missing (if anything).

Of course, if you are using a camera that offers electronic shutter capability you may already have the ability to set very high shutter speeds in order to shoot wide or nearly wide open with fast lenses in the sun. But you might find that the freeziness of those fast shutter speeds has a different look --- and you may not like it. I wanted to work with a solution that would give me: A. Low ISO. B. f1.2 or 1.4. And shutter speeds in the range from 1/125th to 1/1,000th. 

I took along a GH5 and the Rokinon 50mm f1.2, as well as a Zomei 62mm VND. I was able to stay at f1.2, where I remained throughout the morning - with only one or two exceptions solely to get more depth of field... I would comp a subject, look at the exposure numbers in the finder and then twist the VND front ring until the shutter speed numbers dropped right into my preferred range. What I found is that the Rokinon 50mm f1.2 is better than I thought. Previous test were done as such low light levels that it was hard to separate out which weakness in technique was giving me crappy results; bad focusing, subject movement or camera shake. With daylight, faster shutter speeds and ample light with which to focus it turns out that the actual performance of the lens is quite good. 

I'm excited about the technique but the very next time I go out to do this I'm bringing along a beautiful and mysterious looking companion/model so we can make better use of the subject distance to out of focus background. It will also give me a much more interesting subject to photograph. I just need to find someone fun and relatively immune to the wretched heat. We will always be looking for open shade. Although a sweating model would be novel.... Happy to try new stuff. Nice respite from the harsh reality of real life.

Subject too far from camera to show off effect well.


The second door from the left side of frame is my target in the image just above.









Nicely sharp wide open. And look at the pavement in the background....






After a dalliance with some full frame Nikons, a joyous return to the Panasonic GH5 and the almost perfect Olympus 12-100mm lens.


Don't get me wrong. I really like all that Nikon stuff. The full frame, at 36+ megapixels makes for lush files and a fairly easy working process. Big, juicy files, laden with detail, make work at the edges of the ISO envelope a bit less of a nail biting experience. But the cameras and lenses are huge. The lenses, even the good ones, aren't perfect and the lack of an EVF means there's more screwing around to get just the right exposure. Shoot. Chimp. Shoot Again. Chimp Again. Repeat.

I was heading to the Blanton Museum on the UT Austin campus yesterday morning and I wanted to bring along a camera with less physical gravitas. I was getting tired of the bundle size, the irrefutable effects of gravity and the extra layer of work involved in using an "old tech" camera so I decided to bring along the smaller Panasonic and one lens. I looked into the m4:3 drawer in the equipment cabinet and passed over the alluring prime lenses; the single focal lengths that always promise I might get one glowing, razor sharp nugget of visual joy. I went straight to the 12-100mm; my interest in it stoked by an hour's use of it for the video project done just the day before. 

I loved the show of art from modern Australian Aboriginal artists. It's a great show and  a celebration of interesting patterns and symbols intertwined with beautiful colors and textures. When I had gone through the galleries twice, with the camera hanging over my left shoulder, I went back and walked the galleries one more time cradling the camera in my hands and shooting images of the gallery itself.

With the Olympus Pro 12-100mm I believe the system defaults to using the image stabilization in the lens. In any event it all works well to deliver a very stable and handholdable package that I can use down to something like a 10th of a second with no discernible artifacts. The lens is supremely sharp and is well corrected at most focal lengths. At 12mm there is some noticeable (but not excessive or complex) barrel distortion but it's easy enough to handle in Lightroom or Photoshop if you need perfect geometry. The thing I like about the lens is it's feeling of confidence. No matter what the subject matter, if it's in the range of 12-100 you can shoot without a neuron wasted wondering if your lens is up to the task.

This lens, in combination with the really tight and capable GH5 body is a great all around system. It's my default and my basis. While the Nikon full frame system ( or Sony or Canon ) is great for those times when you just have to have all the clutter in the background disappear courtesy of the magic of limited depth of field, in many way the smaller format is better. Easier to stabilize. Easier to ensure image quality across the frame. More physically manageable. 

In the end they are all just cameras. The show at the Blanton shows me the real nature of art work. It's the WORK. It's getting up and thinking about the work you want to create and then committing to doing it with all your attention. Making time to work is work. But doing the work is good work.

Doing it with a camera you enjoy using takes a bit more friction out of the process.

So, what's on tap for today? Well, I was the subject of a fun interview yesterday evening by Gary Friedman, I signed lots of paperwork for the sale of a house in San Antonio. I caught up on billing and client correspondence, got a bunch of video files over to the Fedex office for a client in Florida and a bit more. But over the last week I missed my traditional walk through the city of Austin with a camera and I'm afraid this weekend might be similarly tricky so I'm taking the morning off to recover, stroll with mindless (mind free? unmindful?) abandon through the familiar streets of the city and take a (metaphoric) deep breath before stumbling back into the strange world of self-employment I've constructed for myself. Some moments feel as though I am hanging by my fingertips while other moments feel like I've just walked into the most spectacular party on the planet. But I'm never sure which agenda is ascendant and which is on tap for the present.









6.14.2018

Lou. A reminder that we all knew how to light a long time ago. The new cameras haven't changed the need for that...


Into every photo a little light must fall. It can fall well or poorly; that's up to you.

Photography is an excuse to look at people in a way which might be uncomfortable without the construct of the camera in between.


I think we tend to make big presumptions about why photography is popular and enduring. As a culture we tend to collect objects and creating, printing and collecting images of our food, our fantastic experiences and our unique (ha!) possessions fulfills a bevy of urges constructed by our existence within a mercantile culture. We are also fond of using photographs as symbols of our relative wealth and overall social status. The image of a cruise ship is not about showing your friends or relatives the design and displacement of an ocean going craft it is about a photo becoming a souvenir which, when shared, says, "I had enough money to do this. My social status allowed me this freedom." The same could be said for our images of landscapes taken while on vacation or as the focus of our vacations. I believe that legions of older men feel the need to take their fine cameras somewhere remote from their daily lives in order to give weight and provenance to their artwork by embuing it with a cost of time and travel that is extraneous to the merit of the art itself. 

Our prodigious outpouring of images, spewed across the web, are really two dimensional advertisements for our achievements. We collectively create the understanding that, in order to create a landscape or urbanscape that is of a certain quality, we are  required to travel away from our daily lives in order to see nature/life/monuments in a new and fresh way. 

In effect, the majority of landscapes, cityscapes, and photographs of our stuff  are merely postcards that gather like progressive graffiti to shout, "Kilroy was here. Kilroy had his wallet out. Kilroy traded his time and some of his money in order to position himself to see in real life what you can only see via this small postcard shot I've shared with you"

We've also moved from the idea of sharing being a benevolent act of giving something of value and desire to our fellow travelers. Now sharing has come to mean, in many instances, "I will show you that I am more worldly, more tied in and more able than you are, have more and better friends than you,  and I will do so by making you look at something I have done which does not benefit you and is, almost certainly, of no interest to you. And you will look and act interested in order to preserve the parts of our relationship that you do value. Or you will suffer my need to strut through my catalog of experiences in order to maintain a social equilibrium. 

This is in no way a new thing. People have dreaded for decades the idea of sitting through some horrid evening consisting of uncle Bob's slide show of his trip to the edge of the Grand Canyon, complete with running monologue, "You can't really see it here very well but that spec on the other side of that cluster of trees on the other side of the canyon is actually a bear!!!!!" "You really had to be there to understand it....." And that, of course, is the real message. 

I love Rome and have visited and photographed there perhaps a dozen times. But I can't think of anything more boring that sitting through someone's travel video about the city.

The worst permutation of all this new sharing is the insensitivity of sharing anything visual on the  screen of a cellphone while standing around in bright ambient light. I've given up being nice. I just tell people, "I don't look a pictures on cellphones. It sucks too much."

No, if we are honest, with the exception of commercial work which clients need in order to push their businesses forward, no one really loves anyone else's work. Not wholeheartedly. We do this photography thing because we love our own work. Sure, there are ten or twelve or maybe twenty photographers whose work you admire and wish you could compete with but it's not Joe at the camera club and it's certainly not that guy who has photographed Mount Bonnell in every season and from every angle and with every camera. Robert Frank? Maybe. Richard Avedon? Sure. But that guy who keeps buying those monster zoom lenses and takes shots at the kid's football games? Not on your life. 

So, if I'm such a curmudgeon and so grumpy about photography why do I even bother to practice and share it? Well, my interest is in people and what I've found after working through a lot of life is that there are polite ways of looking at people and then there are interesting ways of looking at people. There's the quick glance and there's the long stare. 

The short answer is that the camera, and the practice of photographing people, gives me a certain permission to really look at and absorb the beauty or presence or energy of the person who stands or sits on the other side of the camera. I photograph (for myself) only the people I find beautiful, interesting, compelling, engaging or scary. Because in this way I can spend time circumventing the polite (and necessary) rules of our culture and stare a little longer, sit a little closer and engage people on a different level than that which is part of our social contract in everyday life. That's why portraits are so captivating. Not necessarily only mine but everyone's. You can stop and look. If you are of a certain generation you might be looking to see if the surface details disclose some evidence of the subject's soul. From another generation you might be admiring aesthetic balance and form. For others it's all about expression and connection. But the bottom line is that the attraction to images of people is our innate curiosity about what makes the person across from us both different and the same. 

My images give you permission to stare. And it's an invitation to see and understand what I find interesting. Fields of blowing cornstalks versus faces directly engaged. No contest.