Yesterday I was putting together a slide show of theater photographs to share at a presentation. Then I thought I would also share the images with my readers here at VSL. I thought you might be interested in what we show.

Jill Blackwood in Xanadu. Zach Theatre. Austin, Texas

I write a lot about photographing for theaters here in the blog. Probably so much so that some of you think I must have an office at Zach Theatre, or that I do nothing but shoot for them. The reality is that most work done for private corporations is more tightly controlled and I sometimes have to jump through hoops to display it. But theater is different because the images are made with wide and diverse distribution in mind. The shelf life (from a show marketing point of view) is very short; about six weeks to two months for most work. But there's a pressing need to get it into as many media and social outlets as possible. 

This makes it easier for me to share with my readers on a regular and frequent basis.

I love these photos because they require me to be quick on my feet, always thinking ahead, yet at the same time reacting to the constant changes of lighting color temperature, exposure, blocking, composition and timing to make good work. If I do stuff well I get happy clients. That's a dangling carrot in which I am always interested. 

Today I built a gallery with a couple hundred images on my Smugmug.com site. My thought was to share it not only with my VSL readers but also the corporate clients who may never see my other work beyond my regular,  meager marketing efforts. I'll share it with them via an e-mail blast and a few handwritten letters. 

I'd love to know how you like the gallery and whether I should do more galleries of different photographic subjects. We have a pretty extensive archive to play with. I'd hate for all that work to just sit there and not pull its own weight......

particulars for this image: shot with a Sony a99 (yes, I even had one of those) and the Sony 70-200mm f2.8 (which, so far, has been the best of all the f2.8 zooms I've owned). 

Here's the link to the gallery: 

Type. Type. Type.


Why do I feel more comfortable with Nikon cameras rather than FujiFilm cameras? I never really gave it much thought till...

...someone asked me about my preferences at last evening's talk in Dripping Springs, Texas. I gave a cursory answer at the time but I've thought about it more today since we are in the period wherein all the blogs, photo websites and YouTube channels promoting cameras begin the concentrated glorification of the newest Fuji; the XT-100. For the next week or so we'll learn that this new, small, inexpensive camera is "Surprisingly good!!!" "Worthy of Serious Consideration!!!!" "A sleek and beautiful RETRO design" "Punches far above its weight class!!!!!" and, "Has a REVOLUTIONARY bayer pattern sensor!!!!!!" It's that magical period in which every writer newly discovers that cheap and simple can be really good. Especially if the site is in the business of getting click throughs and profiting from generating sales for giant camera stores and, well, Amazon.

If I were a fan of Fuji and already owned some of the lenses the breathless adulation for this $599 camera might have already pushed me to pre-order it. Indeed, it looks like a pretty good deal if you are just interested in taking photographs. But I'm not interested, which begs the question: What have I got against Fuji cameras?

The answer? Either: Absolutely nothing. OR: I've had some less than gratifying experience with the company's cameras, going all the way back to the Fuji S2.

In the early days of digital I shot a lot with the Kodak DCS digital cameras. My first experiences were with the DCS 660 but my favorite early digital camera was the DCS 760 with its 6 megapixel APS-H sensor and removable AA filter. It was a beast in more ways than one. It was built on a Nikon F5 chassis which meant it was rugged and fast. It weighed nearly five pounds so it could hardly be called convenient, but the most beastly factor for owners was that this 6 megapixel camera cost $7,000 and could only really be used at ISO 80 and ISO 100.

When the market for APS-C digital cameras from other makers took off there were competitors like the Nikon D1X, but it was still a pricey unit and didn't offer any real image performance advantages over the DCS 760. Enter the Nikon D100, a camera that never gets mentioned today.

The D100 hit the market at around $2,000 and made very nice images. It had a tiny raw buffer of four. Yes. 4. It took a while to write to the card but the camera was well behaved and rarely crashed or froze. I bought one and used it for a while. But it was (on paper) outgunned shortly afterwards by the Fuji S2. The S2 employed a novel new sensor that promised the equivalent of 12 megapixels. The sensor was continued with additions and improvements in the S3 and the S5.

But let's look at the first camera I bought, the S2. It was based on a Nikon N80 body but it required two different sets of batteries. Four double A batteries went in the extended bottom segment of the camera while the regular camera portion used two (non-rechargeable) CR123 lithium batteries (which we ended up buying by the bucket load ---- not an efficient energy user...). You could load all the batteries at the same time but it was almost guaranteed that they would die in opposite cycles from each other. And with alarming frequency. Change the double A batteries, shoot some more files, change the CR123's, shoot some more files, etc.

And when one set or another died they did so while corrupting whatever files were still left in the buffer. In fact, the S2 and S3 corrupted more files than any other camera, or camera system, I have ever owned. Regardless of CF cards used.

At the time the lure of the S2 through S5 was the idea of getting what might be considered a 12 megapixel camera at a time when there was only one other 12 megapixel camera on the market; the Canon 1D full framer (nearly $7.000). We were paying about $2400 each for S2 cameras that extrapolated 12 megapixels from a six megapixel sensor, used an amateur camera body with a 92% viewfinder, and had raw files that, upon introduction, were only usable in the world's worst raw processing software.

But, hope springs eternal, so we gave it a go when the S3 came out. Bought two. There were two things to like about the newer camera: first, the sensor kind of really had 12 million pixels on it. Half the elements were big ones and half were small ones. The big ones were good for low light while the tiny ones were optimized for highlight detail and the combo provided better dynamic range than many competitors. Second, the camera did away with two sets of batteries and settled on one set of 4 double A batteries instead. It came with a set of metal nickel hydride rechargeable batteries which might get me through a hundred or so images.

I did a lot of work with the S3 cameras but the files never had the detail and ease of processing that I could get from the then competitor, the Nikon D2X. I finally switched to Nikon, which wasn't that difficult as both systems were DX (APS-C) and both systems used Nikon lenses. This was before the magic time when Fuji started making lenses for their mainstream consumer products (Fuji has been a supplier or professional film and video optics for decades, and they have a sterling reputation in that field).

The choice was all about camera bodies. The Nikon blew the Fuji away for handling, speed, battery life and focus. It wasn't a hard decision.

So, that was my early history with Fuji digital cameras but what about now? Now Fuji seems to be the "Gold Standard" for many advanced amateurs, and lots of pros are starting to shoot with them as well. Why not give it a try since I've dragged myself through Panasonic, Olympus, Canon, Nikon, Sony and Samsung in the last eight years......?

I rushed out and bought a Fuji X-100 when it first hit the market and hated it. Passionately hated it. The shutter sounded cheap and frail. The software was half-baked in the first production cycle and the finder was an insult to any Leica user. It went back to the store and I was even happy to pay a re-stocking fee just to get it off my depreciation schedule.

When the X-Pro-1 came out I decided I'd been too harsh on the Fuji cameras and, knowing the solid reputation for their lenses, I read all the reviews of the camera and the new lenses and went to Precision Camera with a checkbook in my hands. I was sold by the incredible marketing. I loved the look of the bodies which was a nod to the Leica cameras I'd used all during the 1990's. We were just coming off some big project and I had the extra cash with which to scratch this Fuji itch.

I played with the camera. Loved the overall feel. But the finder looked blurry. I couldn't find the diopter adjustment, you know, the eyepiece control that comes even on the most basic point and shoot cameras... Right? I asked the sales person. Nope. There was no built-in eyepiece diopter. I would have to order a screw in lens for the finder. Did they have them in stock? No. Could they be ordered and delivered quickly? Maybe in six months.....

Later a rep for Fuji insisted that I try the revised X-100T. A "much improved" product. It wasn't. I sold it to a friend who really wanted to want it. He too was less than bowled over.

At that point I called it quits, at least temporarily, on Fuji cameras. I'll give them another generation or two to sort out everything and then I may dip my toe in with whatever their flagship camera at the time is. That and a 50mm equivalent lens. I'm sure it's all vastly improved at this point and will be even better in the next rev but... snake bit three times and you want to give yourself a rest and let the anti-venom do its job...

If you want to read stuff about the Fuji XT-100 give DP Review a few days and no doubt you'll have dozens and dozens of "first impressions" "hands-on" "is it a Nikon F killer???" and other articles to plow through. Some might be interesting. A few might even be helpful. But we're not really interested in covering it here.

It's Friday. I'm looking forward to the weekend.

Finally, why is the Nikon F at the top of the article? Hmmm. It's a symbol for what I really want in a professional digital camera. I wish we had a digital camera with ISO, WB, RAW and a review screen. All the other junk you want could be done in post. That's the camera I have consistently wanted. A simple to operate, fully manual camera with about 25 million pixels of good, solid resolution and dynamic range. No more decisions to make on set. The antithesis of most cameras offered today.

"Thank you" To The Photographers of Dripping Springs. We talked. We shared. We had great Tex Mex food.

My friend, Dave Wilson, invited me back to Dripping Springs, Texas again this year to present to their organization, The Photographers of Dripping Springs. They left the topic up to me so I decided to talk about something I had never done a workshop or presentation about before, and that was: the nuts and bolts of photographing live theater.

I put together 187 photos I liked and presented them as a slide show, running continuously in the background while I spoke. The venue had a great projection system! I also showed a video we did for Zach Theatre; it's the one I posted yesterday afternoon on the blog. The purpose of showing the video was to point out how we integrate still images as b-roll in motion projects.

The talk seemed well received as the group then invited me to their favorite Mexican restaurant to continue, more informally, our discussions about photography, cameras (one question that came up was, "Why don't you like Fujis?") and life. The Tex-Mex food was great but the conversations were even better.

The most important thing I focused on was to not ramble on for so long that we missed the open hours of the restaurant. That happened when I came up two years ago and I learned my lesson. Speak for 45 minutes, answer questions for 15 minutes and then shut the heck up. It's a good, working method if you also want to get a nice dinner.

Thank you to PODS for making me feel welcome and for listening. And thanks for showing me another good Mexican restaurant that I'll keep in mind for those times when I am coming home from San Antonio on Hwy 281 (the scenic, back way) and hit Dripping Springs starving. All very well done. I only hope I didn't bore my fellow photographers and that they were too polite to heckle..... (smile emoji strongly implied...).


As I was looking in the archives for shots of live theater production photos I kept stumbling across portraits that I love.

This is one of Afradet. I found her eyes to be amazing. I found her when an art director cast her to play a part in an campaign we did for the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Afradet was just finished with college and launching her career. We did a bunch of photos together after the Chamber project but we've since lost touch in the mad swirl of life...I'd love to photograph her one more time.

Photography as cultural record keeping. Looking at vanishing "Texas" in growing Austin.

This shot is part of a series of original buildings that lined Congress Ave., the street that leads right up to the state capitol. Congress used to be lined with many two and three story brick or stone buildings that had been there since early days. The image above is of the side of a building that started out as a clothing store and at some point became the home of one of our city's most beloved Mexican food restaurants; Las Manitas.

The whole block was recently demolished and flattened to make way for the amazingly bland J.W. Marriott Hotel. A cookie cutter convention hotel that, I am sure, generates money hand over fist for the Marriott corporation. I'm sure the property now also generates thousands of times the tax revenues of the old restaurant and also the surrounding businesses that proceeded the hotel. We've gained some revenue and lost a bit of our heritage.

Progress waits for no one. At least we have a continuing series of photographs that tells a two dimensional story of what was there.

Shot eight years back with an Olympus E-1 and a 50mm macro lens.

Photograph the stuff you grew up with before it vanishes. You might want to reminisce.

It's about one hundred and one degrees here in Austin, Texas. I thought I'd find a ski shot to look at for a while.

A few years back Jennifer and I decided to do a series of sports photos with a bit of a twist. We'd shoot them as portraits in the studio. Back then I was working with one big 4x6 foot softbox as my main light, very little fill light and then one light on the background for separation. Here's the shot we did with Jennifer in a down ski jacket wearing a pair of goggles.

We shot the series with a Hasselblad 201f camera and a 180mm Zeiss lens onto Agfapan APX 100 film and then printed them. This is a copy shot of one of the prints. When I see the photo it reminds me of how cold it was on the day of the shoot --- and how much fun we had doing it.

In retrospect I should have toned it a bit cooler (more blue) to align with a wintry theme...

Playing with new photos over on Instagram. A quick way to put up an new gallery: https://www.instagram.com/kirktuck/

Going a little nuts today over on Instagram. You might want to see new (and old) stuff.


Crazy times.


Kirk Tuck Presents his Ideas About Photography for Live Theater this Thurs. in Dripping Springs, Texas.

Practice something enough and you tend to develop some proficiency at it. I've been doing photography for live theater production marketing for over 30 years now and I think I'm just about getting the hang of it. I've been asked to do a presentation about photograph to a group of photographers in Dripping Springs, Texas this coming Thurs. (June 28th) and I decided to actually talk about something I know: The Nuts and Bolts of Live Theater Photography.

Here's a link to the group's website about the evening: http://photographersofds.us/2018/06/19/pods-june-meeting-june-28-2018-630pm/ 

I'm going to concentrate on walking people through my methodologies. I'm not going to set up and shoot anything. But I promise to at least try and be interesting. Now I've just got to spend a little time going through the archives with the idea that I might want to show some work.....

If you're in the neighborhood I'm sure you are welcome to drop by.

In other news: The West Austin News interviewed me and ran a full page profile. It made me sound smarter and more interesting than..... Sadly, it's print only and they seem picky about copies ending up on the web. I'll ask once more if I can publish just the article here on the blog but it's nothing you won't glean from reading the "Contact/Info" page on my website....

Grabbing a camera as I'm running out the door. What am I reaching for these days?

Mousumi. ©Kirk Tuck

For many years there was no question in my mind as to which camera I'd be casually hauling around for the day; it was always a Leica M3 with a 50mm f2.0 Summicron hanging on the front. In the same way that some cultures use "worry beads" to keep their hands busy and their minds focused I'd find myself sitting, waiting for a meeting or the start of an event, and my hands would be busy working the aperture on the lens while counting f-stops, or rotating the shutter dial while memorizing the positions of the shutter speeds. The camera and I were so well bonded I could load film in the dark and set exposures with my eyes closed. 

I've traded, and bought and sold, digital cameras so often since those days that I have never attained the same level of workaday comfort with any of them. On most of the cameras we use now there are really no physical aperture rings, no nicely knurled shutter speed dials, and, of course, no need to load  them with film in the dark. All the tactile cues have been stripped off and replaced with buttons and dials that have no beginning or final set points. You can't set a Canon 5DmkIV's shutter speed only by touch - you have to look at an LCD panel. You can't set a Nikon G series lens aperture from memory - you have to look at a screen. It's not the way we first warmed up to cameras but it's the way things are...

Lately, I've been defaulting to my simplest camera. That's the Nikon D700. That camera has the fewest menu items, the most streamlined settings and the fewest control distractions. I think the smaller set of choices appeals to me even though more "feature rich" cameras from the same maker can be used in a similar, simplified mode. It's not having to make additional choices that seems to be the appeal. 

When I left the house on Sunday to drive to San Antonio I remembered the full cloudscapes I'd shot the week before. I used the D700 and the very ancient 37-70mm f3.5 lens to make them and I was struck by their unique look and color when I pulled them up on my monitor.

I'm using the camera in a very standard way. I set it to Jpeg fine and select the "standard" color setting. The only modification I make is to drop the saturation by one click. The files look better to me that way. I can always add a bit more saturation in post, if the image requires it.

I also like using a non-AF lens. I've been pulling over and shooting a lot of scenic stuff from the car lately and it's great to set the lens at its widest focal length, set the aperture at f11 and the focus at infinity. When I've got the camera set that way and I'm in aperture preferred mode I can just point the camera and shoot without having to fine tune anything. Occasionally I'll have to dial in some exposure compensation but that's hardly traumatic.

All in all it's a fun way to shoot. And a very big departure from the way I shoot in the studio.

The photo of Mousumi is the result of a much different approach. I spent lots of time getting the subject to background distance just right and even more time lighting the whole scene. I focused carefully and used a flash meter to get my exposure into my favorite printable range. And, finally, I spent half an hour working with Mousumi to get a range of expressions and engagement that we would both find satisfying. The camera didn't need any automation, and that's a good thing since it was a completely manual Hasselblad mechanical camera. The only setting on that old 500C/M was the shutter button. The aperture and shutter speed rings were on the leaf shutter lens. Old school. 

House camera versus road camera. Long seeing versus reflexive snapshots. All fun.


It's Saturday. We swam well. The West Austin News Published a profile piece on me that ran to a full page (with photos). I'm researching daiquiri recipes because we have friends coming for dinner and it's the perfect cocktail for a 100 degree Summer day.

from the Zach Theatre production of "Hairspray." ©2011 Kirk Tuck. Shot with a Canon 7D and a Canon 70-200mm f4.0. Lovely flesh tones under mixed stage lighting....

But then I walked out to the studio to store a couple of MacBook Pros that were loitering on the dining room table and driving my wife nuts. I started looking through an image folder and got lost until the boy texted me from Trader Joe's to ask if he was getting the right hot sauce. After three posts with photos from his phone we finally nailed down the one I wanted.

I miss silly productions like "Hairspray." Stuff that makes you laugh out loud every five minutes. I hope all the theaters in Austin take a hard turn and go from "serious drama" to "fun comedy"....at least for part of the season..

Can't believe the cropped Canon was so good...... I guess it all works well if you take the time to read the instruction manual...

Keeping my eyes on the right balls. Re-marketing after six months of distraction.

 If you think my posts have been a bit random and distracted over the last six months you're probably right. I've had a lot on my plate and sometimes the business of photography got short shift. You can only juggle so many plates at a time and it's incumbent upon us to pick the right plates to juggle and to try and keep as many as you can from crashing to the floor...

I've wrapped up a bunch of family and legal stuff and feel comfortable enough, at the moment, to re-engage with the core of my photography business. When you are working your way back from nearly zero to a level which you enjoy and which pays the bills I think it's a good strategy to go all the way back to the genesis of your work and to figure out what kind of content brought you to the highest point of your historic achievement. For me that's always been making portraits.

With that in mind I've been ramping up a series of mailers directed toward existing, previous and potential clients that inform or remind them of some of the strengths of our essential business. And for me it's the portrait work.

We're doing a bit of painting and renovating in the studio space; may put down a new floor, but the real work lies in the development of a new


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.


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. 


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....


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?....). 


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.