5.12.2018

Join me in late October for a really cool (literally and figuratively) 9 day workshop in Iceland. Pretty amazing stuff. Photography, travel and food. What else can you ask for?

http://www.crafttours.com/trips/?page=iceland_photography_1018

I'm ready.



All photos ©ODL Design. All ©ODL Design. 


After shooting through a winter storm in Canada, in February, I've learned how to dress for the cold. I'm practicing eating Icelandic fare and I'm looking forward to exploring all the nooks and crannies of photography with like minded shooters. Come along for the ride and we'll have a great time.


A Giant Chicken got into my Studio this Afternoon. I chased it around and cornered it on the white seamless. Then I photographed it....

So, there I was in the studio when I heard a bunch of squawking and opened the door. In rushed a giant chicken with balloons tied to its wings. "What the hell?" was my first response but soon I was able to corner the chicken and corral him onto the white seamless background I'd set up this morning for no particular reason. Just opposite the lights I also set up for no discernible reason at all.

Actually, this is world famous actor and playwright, Jaston Williams, who co-wrote, co-produced and co-starred in TUNA TEXAS and A TUNA CHRISTMAS; two hilarious plays that have toured almost every major city in the United States. He called yesterday to see if we could do a quick shoot for a play he'll be opening in San Antonio in the next few weeks. I have no idea why there is a chicken suit but, anything Jaston is in I'll go see. He oozes comedy.

I need to see if he'll make me a pair of those incredible "fins", they may be just what I need for the next swim practice.

This is what I do on Saturdays when I am taking time off and relaxing. Kinda.

Weird gear brief: Neewer Vision 4 lights, Nikon D800e camera, crusty, old Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 zoom lens. Not much post. GIRIC (get is right in camera!).

Keeping Austin Weird. One Photo Assignment at a Time.

Big, soft lights mean big catch lights. Do we retouch them? Do we blot the catchlights out in PhotoShop? What's a photographer to do?


This is an image of Heidi that we did for my second book; the one about studio lighting. The image is an example of the look you get when you use a very large lighting modifier close in to your subject. There is a beautiful light playing across her face and it falls off as you go from the left to the right of the image. By putting up a black velvet light subtractor to the left of frame (the right side as you look at it here) I was able to get a nice and dramatic shadow on the left side of her face, in spite of the inclusive nature of the light source.

The only thing that might give a viewer pause would be the size and brightness of the catchlights (the reflection of the big lighting modifier (a six foot umbrella) or any light source in the eyes). It's an ongoing issue because the catchlights will be there unless you go in and retouch the image. With a natural light source I am almost always inclined to leave the catchlights as they are. It's only in studio lit portraits that I waffle. I like to leave them but some clients expect them to be gone. It's worth a discussion with the people commissioning the work.

Here's the image, edited quickly, who NO catchlights:


Finally, here's an image (just below), edited even more quickly, that shows a compromise between the two extremes. There is no "right" way and I chaff at most retouching of things that occur in the actual shooting, but I'm curious to hear what others think. Not that I'll change the way I do stuff but......

I have switched to back button AF, so there is that....


5.11.2018

Still thinking about composition. Half the frame is content the other half is non-tent.

This is a photo of novel writer, singer and sometimes political candidate for Texas Governor, Kinky Friedman. He's an Austin icon. I had a good time wrangling him into the studio and getting him to sit still (almost impossible) and usually I talk about the gear I use to shoot something like this or how I lit the shot. But lately I've been more interested in composition.

As I examine more and more of my older, square compositions I can see that there is a balance between the amount of space my subjects occupy and how much is left over. It seems, usually, to be a 50:50 balance between the two, which much make sense to some part of my brain.

The bonus, for me in this photo, is the wonderful diagonal of Kinky's black hat. Nothing I planned but maybe most portrait moves are better explained by the book, "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell....

Thoughts?

kirktuck.com

5.10.2018

The folder full of sky.


I was mentoring a younger photographer who was hellbent on being an architectural photographer. I have no interest in architecture beyond hoping that architects concentrate on making the buildings and houses that I must look at everyday.....pleasant and interesting. I'm not at all into conceptual architecture but happy when it only exists in plans.

At any rate, I've done at least several hundred assignments for magazines, home builders and industrial builders, documenting the interiors and exteriors of all kinds of structures. For nearly everyone of those assignments I used a some kind of 4x5 inch view cameras and had mostly mastered the quick use of front and rear standard rises and falls. Almost all the assignments were done on film.

So I was showing the photographer how and why to use the rise on his tilt/shift lens and we started talking about a job he'd just done. He was a bit miffed with the results because the house he was assigned to photograph could only be done on a specific day, and that day had been plagued with a bald, ozone-y sky. The light on the house was fine but the sky was a whitish-gray mess.

I suggested that he just grab a good sky from his files and drop it in behind the house. This is the age of PhotoShop, after all. He didn't have a "sky' folder. He immediately went into male photographer problem solving mode = (Google) and started looking for stock skies. I just shook my head.

I think every working, commercial, professional photographer; no matter what their specialty, should have a folder on their computer that's filled to the brim with high res shots of skies. Morning skies, evening skies, big Texas Cloud skies, glowering thunderhead skies, high/thin/cloud skies and every other sky you can think of. In fact, when I'm out roaming around and I see a rich, blue Texas sky dotted with dramatic white clouds I can't grab my camera and a normal (or slightly wide) lens quickly enough.

This is not just advice for architecture photographers; I drop in backgrounds if I'm doing a portrait in an office that has a spectacular view that just hasn't materialized during my shoot.

If you don't already have a sky file you  probably need one and now is a great time to start. It will come in handy. Eventually you'll have an emergency sky for every occasion. We still try to get every photograph just right, in the camera, but schedules, clients, weather and bad view angles sometimes frustrate our best intentions. Dip into the file, make a new layer and fix things up.

Just remember to match the saturation of the sky to the rest of the file and to toss the sky layer out of focus if it makes logical sense.

Several years later the younger photographer dropped by for a visit. I reviewed at his portfolio. It looked great. He told me that half the images in his "book" were made with dropped-in skies and the other half were shot as straight. To his credit I could not tell which was which. He thanked me profusely and we both went outside to see if there was any sky worth shooting.....

Contrast for composition.


I'm going to bet that if we measured the space Lou takes up in the frame and subtracted it from the total area of the photograph that the subject area, and the area for the rest of the frame, would be close to a 50:50, balanced split. Somehow I think this works. It's fun when you try for a compositional effect and it actually works...




5.09.2018

Jobs don't just wrap up when the shooting ends and the galleries get delivered. More stuff happens.

Amy sits in while we light and comp for a photo at a medical practice.

I'm beginning to think I need to re-brand as a full service advertising agency. More and more of my clients are having a hard time coming to grips with what kind of value a traditional advertising agency brings to the table. They'd like to have a single point of contact that can supply all the content they need, and with a uniform look and feel for their brand. But they are chaffing at continuing with agencies which seem to only want to concentrate and "strategize" around social media and web video.

One of the clients I've been working with recently met me five years ago when a small marketing agency brought us together so I could light and shoot video interviews of their executive team, and then also shoot traditional photographs, to use on their website, and in brochures and presentations. The agency, and the video editing house that did the post production on the client's video, both went out of business but the client did not. Nor did I.

The client (a manufacturing concern) got in touch with me last month and wanted to do a complete refresh of their materials. They had expanded their scope of services, changed some key personnel, and even added a new factory location outside the U.S. I was delighted that they wanted to have me back for more work but I quickly found that most clients without ad agencies are experts at their own business but usually much less adept at the fine points (and details required) to pull all the marketing together and make it work.

I'm used to working with art directors and graphic designers who love to see all the options from a photography or video shoot. If we shoot 1,000 images and I edit out all the stinkers and end up with 500 equally good (technically and aesthetically) photographs the art directors generally want to see all the variations. They may be looking at our collection with a very specific layout in mind. They may want a different expression than I might value. But most importantly they are very efficient at looking through lots of options to narrow down to just the right one. And they generally know it when they see it.

With the client I mentioned above the CEO is trying to do all the heavy lifting for marketing but he doesn't have the background and experience that a first tier art director would. For example, when I supplied the first gallery of images from one of our shoots he asked if I had already cropped all the images. When I told him that the art directors usually crop the images so they fit into specific layouts he seemed a bit lost. He also wanted me to edit down to just the single "best" image of each set up so he could quickly pick what he needed. Again, this is something we would have an art director do.

We need to reconstruct a video for him as well but the companies that had the original footage and motion graphics are no longer around. I'm walking the CEO through the process to the realization that you can't really just chop new stuff together with the original copy as it exists on YouTube; that we'd need to start more or less from scratch.

The company, while prosperous, isn't making much use at all of social media or inbound marketing either. While it looks like a big opportunity for someone to step in, provide good direction, make great content, and more or less lead the client through the marketing minefield I constantly remind myself that Just because somebody tosses you a ball doesn't mean you have to catch it.

I'll hang in there with this client while I try to find them a good, competent, collaborative agency to take over the day-to-day stuff that clients of this size really do require. I'm not a proficient website designer so that's got to be a priority. I'm not a graphic designer/art director so that's a priority as well. In fact, if I stick with what I do best it's going to be photography, copywriting and shooting video; in that order.

But if I try to do it all I will run out of time for the stuff I love to do. Like swimming. And the people I need to take care of. Like my dad.

Another client represents the way we've always worked but reminds me that no job is ever really finished....if the images are good, have lasting value to the client and have legs.

We shot on three different Saturdays and one Thursday for a medical specialty client here in Austin that has over 140 doctors/partners on the rolls. Under the direction of the in-house art director, Amy and I shot over 3,000 images which we edited down to about 1,500. We shot multiple teams of technicians and doctors doing multiple processes in multiple locations. And we supplied lots of detail shots that are like candy to the people designing the final work...

After the shoot we edited down the take, globally color corrected and adjusted tonality and detail, and generally made all the images immediately usable. We don't do any retouching until final images have been selected and ordered.

The galleries went up and a few weeks later the client ordered 40+ files to be retouched. The retouching had nothing to do with the quality of the images or the way they were shot but had to do with specifics that the client wanted changed. These would be things like taking a large tattoo off a nurse's arm, changing the wall color in the background. Changing the color of someone's scrubs. Fixing a fault with a doctor's white coat. Adding an embroidered name to said doctor's white coat, removing patient names from a screen file, removing wear marks from a piece of equipment, giving one talent in an image a specific hair cut and much more. Each file could take up to 30 minutes to change and perfect. Of course, we bill for this service and the clients expect to pay for it.

But if you have enough clients and they all choose different images to use in additional projects (different images and usages than the original project) you might find that the process of re-working and re-editing files to be nearly endless. Again, the scheduling problem with swimming.....

I am currently re-working files for three different clients who liked what we shot enough to re-use parts of the original takes in very different, new projects. Yesterday I got a request to prep about 200 files. Most are just minor adjustments that I can make quickly but some require more attention.

The wags among us would immediately bark out that all of this should have been handled in pre-production but they miss the point of the 21st century: clients changing their minds after the shoot. Then there are budget constraints and impossibility constraints. Yes, we could have had the wall in the Sonogram room re-painted. It would have taken time to get everyone to pre-agree on a paint color, agree on which days we might have access to the room to paint it and let paint dry (no patients=no income) and then to re-paint the wall back to its original color once our half hour in that location was complete. Not going to happen in the present era. Not when art directors are keenly aware of what can be done in post production.

We did one job for a Swiss bio-medical research company nearly a year ago and almost quarterly we get requests to re-purpose dozens of images to be used in new ways. And it's the same with video. While we remember the days when we did our jobs, got the clients to sign off on the "approval Polaroid", processed the film and handed off the sheet film (and all future responsibility) to the client, cashed our checks and closed the books on a project, that's not today's business reality.

The important thing to do in order to survive endless re-purposing is to be like lawyers. Keep track of your time, bill frequently and bill accurately. Clients need to know that every time we touch a file for them it takes resources. Our time and their money.

While I think a creative content agency would work well in today's agency climate, where most "agencies" just want to design and produce websites, I remember just how much work it was to manage staff and keep clients from fucking everything up at the last minute. I think I'll just persist in making photos and shooting random video. It seems like a safer bet for my sanity and quality of life....Now to find my goggles. Don't worry, I have many more pairs of goggles than I do cameras.

A long overdue walk with a recently neglected camera. Breaking the cycle of full frame dominance.

Downtown Cadillac. 

I've been busy lately. One of the things I've missed was the simple pleasure of taking a camera off the shelf and heading downtown to walk around, breathe deeply the urban air, and look at stuff with both arch elitism and benign naivetĂ©. 

I pulled on some old short pants and a black polo shirt. I looked very bit of 62 years old with my white socks and brown oxford shoes. I finished off the "you kids get the hell off my lawn" look with a nice pair of bifocal eyeglasses. Oh, and a baseball cap. Nothing says "I don't really care anymore" than a nicely mismatched ensemble of too casual ware. At least the camera was topical and chic...

After weeks of dalliance and intrigue with the various Nikons I thought I'd take it easy with a camera that delivers the goods without affectation or strain. I chose the Panasonic GH5 because I missed it and I also realized that I'd purchased a Sigma 30mm f1.4 Art lens for that system back in early January and the chaos for me at the beginning of the year meant that I've barely used that lens. Almost overlooked it entirely. 

A quick aside about this building: It was originally a hotel. It was originally built in the 1930's and was actually named, the California Hotel!!!  It's located on East 7th Street in the downtown bar area. Many years ago a group of artists got a lease on the property and renovated it (more or less). We had a huge downstairs display space as well as a smaller gallery for more intimate art shows. There was a commercial kitchen in the back. We never air conditioned the building and we never added an indoor shower either. The shower was in the back courtyard and the "air conditioning" consisted of cheap fans from the hardware store. At one time an art director from Texas Monthly Magazine had her painting studio here, across the hall from my one room,  an upstairs, studio and living space (a futon I could roll up if I needed to shoot). Musician, Charlie Sexton had a room in the left top corner while mine was on the right. We also had the curator of the Laguna Gloria Museum in residence as well as any number of wonderfully eccentric artists. I started hanging out and working here in the late 1970's, early 1980's. This was home to my first solo photography show. I made my first "important" portrait here (a 4x5 format portrait of Mike Levy, then publisher of Texas Monthly Magazine) and I did my first photo-illustration assignment for Texas Monthly in the down stairs gallery. I left after I got a teaching assistant's position at UT. The dream of air conditioning was finally realized. The nostalgia for a simpler time remains.

I'm a new convert to the "back button focus" cult. I tried it out on the Nikons, liked disconnecting the shutter from the AF and decided to see if the same set up was possible on the Panasonics. It is! In the space of several weeks I've gone from having everything tied to the shutter button and shooting only in center-sensor-single-frame AF to full on, full area AF in continuous AF. It's a weird pleasure to watch the little green boxes race around the confines of the EVF until I let go of the back button and realize that we're locked in until I decide to change something. I like it. No more focus and re-compose. I feel unfettered. The camera feels unleashed. Let the torrents of "I told you so..." begin. 


I had another "mini-epiphany" this morning. I decided, after looking through some of the 550,000 images I have up on my Smugmug.com account, that I tend to post process my images to be too bright, too flat and a bit too saturated. I spent this morning talking myself off the ledge of infinite shadow recovery. Tougher than kicking other bad habits but something to work on all the same. 

The image just above, of café chairs and planters is my attempt to ratchet down the drama to an acceptable level. I need to work on getting the mix just right but at least it's a start...


I have a few observations to make about the lens. The Sigma 30mm f1.4 "Art" lens is nicely sharp and contrasty. It's big but lightweight. The supplied hood is nice and deep. Images like the ones in this blog post aren't really a challenge for many lenses since most were shot at f4.5 or around there. I've been shooting some at the wide open aperture and find that, where I am focused, the content is nearly as sharp and contrasty as that at the medium apertures. I like the lens and the focal length very much; even more so when I use the camera in "Hasselblad Square" mode. The focal length seems just right for the square format. 

With my appreciation of this lens realized I am looking forward to trying out its wider sibling, the 16mm version. They, along with the legendary 60mm f2.8 Sigma lens would make a very nice and compact traveling system for the photographer who prefers individual focal lengths over zooms. 





Today is post production and studio cleaning day. My swim is done, my walk is over. Now to put my brain back into the game of doing my business and getting stuff done. At least until late afternoon...It's my turn to cook dinner and I've got steak and salad on my mind. Along with a nice, S. African red wine (a blend) that's just begging to be uncorked...

Go Cameras!

Looking though some wine and restaurant shots made with "ancient" cameras and lenses....



I understand that some people think the universe of commercial photography is falling down around our us but I've been extremely busy in May. At least it feels that way once I toss in the responsible adult parent care I'm also trying to handle. Last week and this week are a case in point. I shot and processed four different jobs last week, work that also included time consuming travel back and forth to Mexico, but I spent time engaged in a different adventure on Sunday and Monday. I headed back down to San Antonio on Sunday afternoon to get my father prepped for a very early appointment on Monday morning. Our event of the day was an early morning trip to the hospital to have his pacemaker replaced. Now I know all you electro-physiologists/cardiologists sprinkled through our VSL readership will probably roll their collective eyes and tell me what a trivial procedure a simple, sub-cutaneous replacement of the generator only is but I'm here to tell you that the real trick is getting a cranky 90 year old with some memory issues up from a deep sleep, through his morning rituals and into a car at 5:45 in the morning. And me without an ounce of even bad coffee....

Everything went well; better than I could have imagined (I'm an anxious pessimist....) and we were back at dad's memory care facility in time for a late lunch. Once I'd briefed the nurses on the procedure, and my dad headed back to his room to listen to the classical music station and take a nap, I got back in the too familiar car and headed back to Austin. I needed to get home; I had a shoot scheduled for the next day and I needed to pack cameras and think through the requirements of a different kind of shoot. 

Yesterday's assignment was at midday and over by around 3pm, which was great since I like jumping right in and getting all my post production done in the moment. While I watched the files upload I finally had time to bill for the last four assignments. I was pleased to find that I had been able to make my accounting target, my "nut" in the first week of the month. I kicked back and started the upload of the day's assignment to a private gallery on Smugmug. 

While I was on the site I started looking around at some of the other 550,000 images resident there. I stumbled across a folder of images from a story about wines that I'd done for Tribeza Magazine back in 2006 or 2007. I was pleased with how well the images held up. 

As you are aware I've been having a flirtation with older cameras lately. More specifically, cameras like the Nikon D2Xs, which was the most expensive camera I ever bought brand new. When I looked through the images from the wine story I was amazed at how much I liked the actual photographs. The color, the sharpness and even the out of focus background areas. I kept hitting the "info" button on the files to see what camera and lens I had used. Almost every wine image in this blog post was done with the D2Xs but the real star (in my mind) was the 28-70mm f2.8 Nikon lens on the front of the camera. I think it was one of the finest lenses I have owned in any system and the testament to that is that most of these images were shot handheld at the lens's maximum aperture.

Yes, now I am on the search for a mint condition 28-70mm f2.8 AF-d. I know that just by writing this I will almost certainly boost the price I'll end up paying for a nice copy. But really, I can just imagine how nice the images will be when I use this lens on one of the D800's. Or, even better, on a D700.

After last week I was thinking we'd slow down a bit but I just got hit with a request to post process several hundred images from several shoots done earlier this year, then we have an assignment with a new doctor on Friday and over the weekend we'll finalize plans and budgets for a new video project for one of my ongoing manufacturing clients. Oh, and of course, the Sunday visit for lunch with my dad. 

All the work has disappeared? Maybe not. Maybe the marketing disappeared.....