11.19.2019

Marketing missteps to avoid. #1 branding yourself as the top tier of your local market...

LBJ's school house, outside of Johnson City, Texas. 

I think most photographers survive financially not because of the big jobs that come to them from time to time but from the income derived from a constant stream of smaller, less flashy projects that constitute the bulk of what most advertising and public relations clients need on a month by month or week by week basis. 

Going against the prevalent marketing common sense I'll say that the continuous flow of decent paying, moderate to low stress jobs beats the adrenaline euphoria of the occasional all hands on deck, national advertising jobs. 

I realized lately that, in my market, many local clients and potential clients have positioned my company in their minds as one that only does high profile photography projects. While this is not true, nor even welcome by me, it's a market perception that is most definitely a double-edged sword. A long tenure in any market paints a target on one's back for all the up-and-coming photographers while also fostering the idea that financial and business success in our field depends on creating only top dollar images for big, complex projects. But nothing could be further from my own wheelhouse of skills or preferences. 

My greatest comfort zone is the happy creation of portraits either in the studio or in any fun location within an hour's drive. The budget is generally always less important than how much freedom I'll have in doing the actual work and defining the style. There is so much that's reassuring about "limited engagements." For example, if your intuition failed you and you are on site with a client that turns out to be a real jerk, you have the comfort of knowing that after you wrap up, head home and deliver the deliverables, you'll never have to work with that client again. You have that control. You've only suffered through one engagement.

It's different if you are working on a big project through an ad agency and you've done lots of pre-production work before finally meeting the client from hell on the set. At that point you have sunk cost and sunk scheduling and you probably have a number of people who are directly or indirectly counting on you to pull off the job, and stomping off the set, no matter how convincing your excuse, is pretty much career suicide. Multiple day jobs create multi-day stress. The higher the budget, generally, the higher the stress...

Don't get me wrong, a big, long job with a fun, happy, well adjusted client is like an early Christmas but there is charm and calmness that comes from a series of unrelated but similar smaller assignments that will keep your blood pressure low and not mess up your early morning swim schedule. 

When we (collectively) market we tend to put our best feet forward and that usually means finding the most impressive job you've done in a given quarter and then broadcasting it far and wide. That's great but by doing so you create the expectation amongst art buyers that this is the only kind of work (budget) that you are interested in. They save you for that mythical job that might come to a smaller agency only once or twice a year. Those are the kinds of jobs that generally require competing bids, jockeying amongst client requirements and budgets, and lots and lots of nervous tension from the agency and clients (remember, if they are doing this kind of work only once or twice a year that makes them amateurs for this kind of project!). 

By the time you finish with a typical high profile project you'll have spent way too much time hand holding, running through airports and managing people and not as much time shooting as you'd like. You'll find the budgets better but you'll also find that this kind of work, from a business point of view, is like whale hunting, in that you might invest in a big ship, sail the seas for months, maybe over a year, before you even catch sight of the next whale. In truth, I'd rather go fishing, cast a net and bring in a daily catch. In my mind a constant stream of fun, smaller jobs beats the feast and famine nature of giant undertakings. 

I've been changing up my marketing to emphasize more that I do small scale projects. I want people to call and book me for one executive portrait, one product documentation or one video interview for the web. There's so much less stress and so much more financial continuity this way. And, generally, I find that these dependable clients, when treated correctly, will come straight to you when a bigger project emerges: you've already built-in trust and value for the client and most of them will assume that you can "scale" to a more complex project. The reverse isn't necessarily true. Most people wouldn't go to a surgeon for a head cold but most people with a mysterious pain will head to a trusted general practitioner 99% of the time. 

I want clients to call at the drop of a hat. I don't want them to feel as though they have to schedule weeks or months in advance. 

A client called yesterday and they were almost sheepish about their request. They needed some photographs of a rental space to put on their website. "When could I schedule this?" It was an exterior space so the vagaries of weather were a consideration... I had just finished editing a different project and I was in the process of uploading 18-20 gigabytes of files. The client's rental space was a five minute drive from the studio. I hopped in the car and drove right over, shot the space from every angle and uploaded finished files for the (astonished) client about an hour later. Did I care about the budget or prestige of the project? No. I've worked with this client for years, decades. I knew what they could budget and I knew they could make good use of the images. I also knew that they'd call again in a week or a month with a daylong project or a half day video interview or some other calm and happy project. 

I'm more likely to market with a nice location portrait these days than a Promethean project. An e-mail blast and a post card. A quick upload to Instagram. The benefit is that I tend to lock in clients with these less intimidating projects. When bigger projects erupt there's less resistance on the client side to awarding me the project. Less competition. 

In the early part of the century I thought I was on the wrong marketing track. Most of my work came from ten or fifteen regular clients who had assignments like events, product shots, portraits and "people at work" stuff. Like radiologist reading scans, specialists taking readings at water treatment plants, engineers supervising large scale construction. They were smaller projects, less budget, less usage fee income, but the trade-off was stability. And consistency. And a certain flow.

I became friends with a legendary photographer who moved from New York City to Austin just before the big bust of 2008. He worked the big projects for corporate titans. His work was everywhere. He was surrounded by producers, multiple levels of assistants, representatives and more. His burn rate was (to my mind) ridiculous. We had dinner and we talked about each other's business strategies. After the bust his work more or less dissolved, vanished. The big projects weren't on anybody's radar for a couple of years. None. I too worked less but my work was flying under the CFO's radar which meant we kept working so the wheels of industry would keep turning. My friend's projects dropped from ten per year to maybe one per year. But all of his previous marketing made it unlikely that anyone would call him for a P.R. headshot. 

My work dropped (in 2009) from a pre-bust average of 140 projects per year to 60. But the income kept flowing. We tightened up on costs wherever I could and were able to survive what has to have been the roughest year for freelance artists since the Great Depression. In retrospect I owe that survival to the strategy of casting a wider net. The fish were smaller but there were more of them in the nets. 

Now, my decision making is less about economics and cash flow and more about controlling my free time. Working shorter and less rigorous projects means more unencumbered personal time and a more relaxed working environment. I'm happy with that. 

Now I need to figure out how to market "smaller and easier" without dumping the bigger projects altogether. It might take some dancing but I think I've got the shoes for it. 

Curious to hear from fellow pros about what works best for you. Thanks. 

11.17.2019

Just fooling around downtown. It was nice.

Walked with a Pentax K-1 and the 100mm Macro.
Shot raw and used the +2 clarity control. Nice. Pretty.

Cruised into the Royal Blue Grocery for a hot Cuban sandwich and a coffee. It was luxuriously good.

My hat reminded me to relax. I almost left it on the chair next to mine. But I remembered.

I've just packed up my Lumix gear and I'm headed to Zach Theatre to shoot the Tech Rehearsal for
Christmas Carol. I can hardly wait to slip into the wonderfully immersive magic of live theater.

This musical/play is like a booster shot of joy that gets me through the holiday season. It's funny, poignant, musical and hopeful. It's also really well done. I hope all of you have something like this in the fourth quarter that brings a big ass smile to your face and even makes you more tolerant of everyone else.

That's all I've got for today. Hope you're having maximum fun and minimum resistance. KT

(fun bumper sticker I saw today): "Do No Harm. Take No Shit." 

Complete with a drawing of Buddha meditating.

My DE-ACQUISITION review of the Fujinon 8-16mm f2.8 lens. Why I used to think it was "great" but now think it's good "trade-in" material.


The Fujinon 8-16mm f2.8. Big, sharp, and to me....useless. 

I've written lots of reviews about cameras and lenses before, and recently I wrote a satire about all the lead up reviews that are written about new products. You know, first impressions reviews, unboxing reviews, not-yet-in-my-hands-but-still-click-bait-able reviews. Mine was called a PRE-ACQUISITION REVIEW. That spoof-y blog post was about a product I had ordered but had never seen nor touched. I thought it was funny and, gauging from the comments here, so did at least 18 other people. One person (who did like the original piece) suggested that a novel, new and untried approach might be to write a de-acquisition review so I'm going to give it a shot. Here goes: 

I don't know why I bought the 8-16mm Fuji lens in the first place. I recently looked at the metadata of all the 460,000+ images I have in my Lightroom catalogs and out of all these images about 90% are shot with focal lengths of between 35mm and 135mm. If there is a winner in the focal length usage race it definitely belongs to the ever present 50mm. But even focal lengths around 200-300mm far, far outstrip anything under 24mm. In fact, there are so few ultra-wide focal length lenses represented that it shocked even me. 

The thinking at the time of acquisition (at the beginning of 2019) was that I was flushed with cash, wracked with anxiety about my family obligations, and as a result had entered into a sort of tunnel vision that convinced me of the need to plan for every photographic contingency, and to do so within the Fuji system. When the 8-16mm and the 100-400mm lens went on a rare sale I snagged them both, remembering the good old days of annual report photography when we might actually problem solve with our lenses and get dramatic photos from either end of the spectrum. I think now that must be a memory without actual substance.

I used the 8-16mm lens this year for exactly three commercial images. If you were to divide the retail price of the lens by the three shots you'd get a cost per shot of about $660 per image. If each image were, by itself, the final choice for a national ad I'd have no hesitation about the expense but as soon as the novelty of being able to get everything (including my feet) in the frame wore off the lens started to remind me of the fisheye fad of the 1970's. To me, all ultra-wide angle shots look the same; way too much foreground, extremely forced perspective and, generally an insult to human portrait subjects. 

To be honest, the fault is with me; I just don't see well in the wide angle space no matter how often or how hard I try. Maybe it's my long held prejudice that people who shoot long know exactly what they want in the frame while people who shoot short can't make up their damn minds about what to put in the frame. And people who profess to love the 35mm focal length above all others just can't make up there mind which way to go.....

The lens itself is/was pretty much perfect. It was obviously optically gifted even when used wide open. 8mm (12mm FF eq.)  was sharp and, when used with the automatic in-camera corrections, not subject to excessive vignetting or rectilinear distortion. 16mm was equally good. Were I the kind of photographer for whom life only starts under 24mm I think I would be overjoyed with such a solid and ultimately flexible lens. But since I tried to crop out about 85% of each frame I shot with the lens I think I assured myself that I'm not even remotely in the target market for such a great lens with those particular wide angle advantages...

My advice, if you think you may be in the market for a lens like this but you don't shoot for the bulk of your income? Spend a lot more time playing around with a 50mm until the thoughts of wide-angle-ality exit your brain and you forget the lure of being able to almost see around corners (even if what's in the corners is rendered tiny). 

To the folks who think this lens will magically transform them into world class architecture photographers? My personal experience is that the magic didn't work for me. Seems it actually takes skill and taste to make good architecture photos, not just super wide lenses. Crazy, huh?

After months of packing and unpacking for assignments I got tired of seeing $1895 languishing in the lens drawer, almost completely unused. I put the lens in my big, black camera bag and toted it over to Precision Camera where it offset the price of a second Panasonic Lumix S1 camera body. I noticed the lens sold quickly. No doubt to yet another photographer who currently believes the mythology of having to have all the bases covered, all the focal lengths represented. A fool's errand. At least for me. 



Whatever will I do now that I am bereft of the world's best 8-16mm lens for APS-C? I think I'll be just fine with Fuji's elegant, little 14mm f2.8. In fact, I've already used that one ten times as often as the 8-16mm and even if it is seldom used it's not a burden to bring along in a camera bag. Just in case. 

MMMV. 

Just a financial note: If I'd taken the (roughly) $4,000 I spent on the two outlier zoom lenses from Fuji (8/18 and 100/400) and put the money into Apple stock instead I would now have $6,720. Just a thought... that's the amount of appreciation in Apple stock just in the past 10 months. That would beat investing in gear and having to find jobs on which to use the gear. My financial guru has already chided me. Maybe next time.

11.16.2019

Another Perfect Day in Austin. Version 20,693.


I hit the pool at 8:30 today. Couldn't quite make it to the 7:30 practice since the air was chilly and the bed was so comfortable. We got a lot of yards done by 10 am and spent most of it swimming in the sunshine. Getting a good charge on my solar powered wristwatch. I've been swimming well lately. It's the result of both working on breathing and arm stroke recovery but also adding some pre-sleep visualization to my swimming. I spent about ten minutes visualizing exactly how my stroke should look and feel. It's sounds woo-woo but it seems to make a difference. You don't fix the stuff you never think about....

We had maybe three cold and cloudy days in the week so there is a lot of pent up consumer demand for sunlight and warmer temperatures. People are out biking, running, walking and soaking up the good weather day; trying to sock some extra away for the next bout of cloudy weather. 

I'm heading out the door to play with the Pentax K-1 and the crusty, used 50mm f1.4 I'm falling for. It's a lens with a history, I am sure. Now I'm writing my own stuff with it. 


I'd love to write blog about how great the new Fuji X-Pro3 camera is but only the cool kids have gotten one to review. I'd love to write comparison between the Lumix S1 and its sibling the SR1 but, again, only the cool kids get to do that without splashing out for their own versions of each. Not something I'm interested in doing in the moment.

I can write a very, very short review of the Godox V1 flash (dedicated to the Pentax): It works as well as all the other third party, dedicated TTL flashes on the market. The round diffuser looks cool and the assortment of modifiers which attach via magnets is fun and useful. The lithium battery got me through well more than 400 bounce flashes on Thursday evening and I still had lots of little bars left showing me I wasn't about to run out of power. The V1 isn't very expensive (especially compared to its nearly identical cousin, the Profoto  A1) so if you want to try one and you decide it's not exactly what you need it's not a very painful mistake. 

Nothing else seems to be calling to me, gear-wise, in the moment so I guess I'll just be boring and not write about gear for a while. Get me too close to that Panasonic Lumix 50mm f1.4 and I'll have lots to write about. Trying to keep from looking directly at one. Must be strong........


11.15.2019

Evening of photography goes about as well as I usually expect it to.

My first pair of glasses. Got them back in 1994, right after 
I accused Hasselblad of not making sharp prism finders...
But that's a different story.

I used to get nervous about jobs with tight schedules and no opportunity for do-overs. Mostly because the future of my business depended on keeping clients happy and continuing to book me for more jobs. For some reason gala events were the most nerve wracking. Organizations generally have one big fund-raiser each year and that means the clients are perennial amateurs; they don't do big events often enough to be comfortable and fluid with the process. They tend to replace expertise with adrenaline and lots of last minute dramas. 

While none of this really pertains to last night's client (they have their stuff together) it's hard to break habits and subconscious expectations. Five nervous and high strung event planners in a row sets a precedent and an expectation for the sixth event planner. I tended to come into the event jobs with a bit of armor on and a lot of redundant gear to offset the chance that a mechanical/electronic failure would hamper my ability to deliver good photographs for the client.

Yesterday I felt a little rusty because I haven't shot a large event since early September. I've also surrounded myself with a couple different systems and I was going back and forth, trying to decide whether to go with the tried-and-true cameras, lenses and flashes I used before or to try out something new (to me). 

Here's the job description: Go to the Four Seasons Hotel and photograph in two different ways. The first part of the evening is a cocktail reception in a lobby space in front of the grand ballroom. All of the attendees are partners in law firms or the spouses of partners in law firms. All 400 of them are there to honor one of their peers for his pro bono work for the organization I'm working with. The space is tight and, since most of the attendees are over 50 years of age, nearly everyone's voice is raised so they can hear each other. It's almost as loud as a rock concert, although there is no musical accompaniment. 

There are people from the board of directors of our charitable organization in the mix. Their name tags are festooned with an extra ribbon on the bottom that identifies them as such. Two ribbons on a name tag might indicate that a person is both a board member and a speaker at the event. My goal, and the expectation of the client's marketing team, is that I'll flow through the space, pull people together for quick, small group photographs, and, in the space of one hour capture nice images of couples, foursomes and small groups. Essentially, get a couple hundred pleasant photographs of everyone in the space, in various groupings, but be sure not to miss getting everyone whose name tag is embellished. 

I'm no stranger to many of the people in the crowd. Some know me because they have attended, and I have photographed, all nineteen years of galas for the group. Others know me because my company is commissioned by theirs to make portraits and marketing images over the course of the year. Still others I know socially. In a funny way we've all grown up together.  I was 45 when I photographed at the inaugural event. Now I'm 64. The faces of a quarter of the attendees are well known. Older than last time but still in the mix. We all wear dark suits and nicely shined shoes. Most of the men have gray or white hair. All have done well in their careers. That much was evidenced in the cash "auction" later in the evening. All for charity.

I dug my heels in and led with my art brain when I packed yesterday, much to the chagrin of my logical brain. I decided to work only with two Pentax K-1 cameras and two lenses. I brought along a 28-105mm zoom lens which I used in conjunction with on camera flash. For all the shots of speakers at the podium in the main ballroom I used a 100mm f2.8 macro lens. I've never traveled so light for an event like this one. Just to quell my fears of technical failure I did pack an extra 50mm lens to take over the grip and grin duties if the 28/105 glitched, and I did bring an extra flash.....just in case. 

Had logic prevailed I would have gone with the same camera and lens set I used a number of times before this. It would have been a couple of Fuji X-H1 cameras, the two f2.8 zooms (16/55+50/140) along with supplemental lenses that would cover the range. That, and a few dedicated Fuji flashes. 

On the other hand I just didn't feel ready to bring the Panasonics. Too new. No hands on experience with direct flash....

All my stuff fit in a small, black, photo back pack. 

I pulled an older, navy blue suit out of the closet. I bought it in 1994. It's in good shape and had just come back from the dry cleaners. The suit is 25 years old. It still fits just as it did when I wore it for the first time to an IBM function. I reached into the shoe repository and grabbed a pair of Vince Camuto cordovan oxfords. No cap toe, no fancy stitching. They needed a quick refresh so I polished them. 

The event started at 6 pm and I needed to be there half an hour early in order to show my face and allay any fears from the client side that I might be late, or worse, not there at all. Even though we're only five or six miles away rush hour starts earlier and earlier in Austin. I left at 4:30 just to make sure that I'd be there on time. A little rain and a few detours later I dropped the car with a valet right at 5:30pm. A good decision as traffic wasn't going to get any better later. 

With the tight schedule of the reception and the even tighter spacing I needed to work without getting fancy with the flash. The room had those fake tungsten, LED down lights that are close to the same color temperature as older, incandescent bulbs but they come pretty standard with a bit of a green cast. I set my camera's color temperature at 3100K and then nudged the hue adjustment to a +5 of magenta to offset the green. I used a Godox V1 flash with a rounded front diffuser. I covered the diffuser with a CTO filter and then added a +5 green filter from my old Kodak/Wratten gel filter stash so the flash color would more closely match the ambient lights. On top of the filters I secured (by magnets!) a white dome diffuser which I used pointed at the ceiling of the room. Since the dome is 3D some of the light is direct and some spreads around the room but the majority of lumens come racing down from the ceiling. It's a decent look and it's easy to work a room that way. 

In good light the Pentax K-1 focused well and the camera and flash worked reasonably well in the TTL mode (once I figured out that I needed a minus 1/2 stop permanent adjustment to the flash output). When I got into chancier light the camera hunted from time to time and it took a couple of seconds to lock in. I spent the hour going from little group to little group. Mostly they existed as closed circles which required me to politely insinuate myself into their space, interrupt whatever conversation they were in and getting them to all turn toward my camera. I'd do two exposures per group, in a mostly successful strategy for getting at least one shot where everyone's eyes were open and no one had a horrible facial tic. As I say, I was mostly successful...

In events like this the honoree is in high demand and the client would love it if we could photograph him, individually, with everyone in the room. That's when you need to help set client expectations.....

After a frenzied hour of photographing and trying to make sure everyone was represented in the growing collection of photographs a merciful banquet crew stepped out from the main ballroom and sounded chimes to signal that dinner was nigh and that the doors into the ballroom were open. 

A quick note to those who've never had the extreme pleasure of photographing a nice gala at a Four Seasons hotel: They don't do rubber chicken dinners. I love working there because the food (and the wine) are always first class. BUT, no matter how much the client talks up the idea that you too will enjoy the fruits of the banquet kitchen you should know that you will do so only while jumping up to catch the next speaker and the next, and that plate with the perfect beef filet, paired with wonderfully executed jumbo shrimp will only arrive at your place as you are getting up to head to the front of the large room to photograph the guest of honor --- ahead of schedule. 

Once you return to your place your plate will have either been whisked away or your food will be cold. 

In the main ballroom I needed mostly to photograph anything or anybody that happened or happened to be at the podium on the small, clean stage. This year the lighting got improved by several levels. There were multiple spots on the stage and a clean wash onto a mostly white background with the client's logo and the branding for the gala. I don't use flash on speakers or presenters unless they are handing some lucky person an award and shaking hands. So, for the most part I'm trying to get close enough to make the image dynamic but far enough away so that my silhouette to the people behind me doesn't become part of the show. 

Once one locks in the exposure for the speaker at the podium there is little need to revisit the setting unless the lighting changes. Yay! One less thing to think about. I chimped during the initial introductory speech and zero'd in on a good color balance and a good exposure. It never changed. Never. Not at all. A good reason to use your camera on manual and not screw with your settings!

I used a single AF point because I didn't want to get home and discover that my "smart" camera had elected to "celebrate" the speaker's microphone that evening instead of their (normally) sharp eyes. 

I also shot raw because, well, I just did. I won't next time. Not needed. 

The 100mm is the only long lens I have for the Pentax system but I figured that with the 36 megapixel resolution of the K-1 if I needed a longer reach I could either crop after the fact or set the camera to shoot APS-C and get a 50% increase in magnification. I did a bit of both. 

The evening ended around 9 pm and we spent a bit of time making a group shot of the client's staff. I retrieved my car from the valet and headed home. 

The images look pretty good. There are a few that I don't like the tonality of some skin tones. It's funny, there must be something odd with make-up these days as the camera will often "see" all the people in the frame with no make-up with absolute accuracy but the person with lots of make up takes on a color cast that's hard to remove. Also, Texas men seem to have spent too much time in the sun so I routinely hit the hue control in post and slide the red hue slider to the right by +5 to +10 which takes out some of the magenta from their "over tan" and I also drop the saturation a bit. 

Out of about 960 frames I color corrected and delivered a gallery of 719 to the client today. It felt good to do the 19th year of the gala for the client. The only embarrassing thing is my realization as I worked on the files today, that I have used a different camera system for nearly every different year. Ah well. It keeps that part of the process fun. 

11.13.2019

Studio Dog was sporting a new sweater today. She picked it out at Tomlison's Pet Store. It's an Eddie Bauer brand.

Studio Dog likes her sweaters a little bit large. Better than too tight. 
She's happier to be in the studio when warmly dressed, 
not too thrilled to be here if the heater is off. 

A grudging pose for my Lumix S1 and the Sigma 85mm.

Need to take event photographs with flash? The Pentax K-1 and the Godox V-1 for Pentax is a pretty good combination.

The basic, naked Pentax K-1 with a 50mm attached. 

There are two things that make the photo business fun for me; one is actually doing the work (which is like technical problem solving at a full run while keeping up your end of the conversation socially) and the other is playing with the right gear. But most photographers don't necessarily match gear to jobs so much as just shoe-horning one system into making do on any sort of photo project. I get that some folks shoot one style and one subject matter all the time and that using the same camera is comforting to them. It sounds great to be that specialized. As my brother, a Latin and Greek professor for 30+ years is fond of saying, "Find your rut and stay in it."  I tried specializing in a photographic niche and got bored. So I still accept and do projects that differ greatly from each other  a lot. My client base is all over the map.

While we'd like to think that there's one "golden" camera out in the wild that can do everything better than any other system of cameras I've found, over the years, that it's just not true. 

I currently own and use three different camera systems so when a client called and asked me to shoot a charity gala event this week, with 400 well to do guests, I walked out to the studio and pulled together the best from all three systems and began the process of narrowing down to the best gear solution. 

Most of the images we'll be taking will be classic "grip-and-grins." Images of couples, foursomes, and small groups pulled together during a bustling pre-dinner reception in one of the banquet spaces at the local Four Seasons Hotel. The ceilings in the reception space (mercifully) have been painted white and that's great because I intend to use a lot of bounce flash during this part of the assignment. 

I am not unfamiliar with the space as I've done this same event, in the same space, during the same week in November, for the last 19 years. During that time I've gone from shooting with Leica M series rangefinder cameras and "automatic" Vivitar flashes to every permutation of digital camera with their attendant, dedicated flashes. I learn something new every time I work this job.

The same camera outfitted for some quick field work. 
The lens is just the right range for close quarters couples/groups photos.
The flash is fun and accurate and uses one of those proprietary 
Li-on batteries that lasts forever.
And the whole system seems to nail exposures like few 
systems I've used in the past.

I'm photographing tomorrow evening and I hate surprises so I started testing cameras with their flashes yesterday and I'm continuing to do so today. I could use manual, Godox speedlights with any of the three camera systems (Panasonic S1, Fuji X-H1, Pentax K-1) and fire up some brain cells to continually figure out guide numbers and apertures based on distance (and a bit of on-the-job experimentation) but I'd actually like to find a combination that's consistent and good in its TTL performance so I can concentrate more on getting people grouped together for my shots and less on operating levers and gears on the cameras. 

I have a dedicated flash for the Fuji cameras but I find that this is one kind of photography that mirrorless cameras in general don't handle that well. For some reason my TTL bounce flashes with any of the Fuji cameras tend to give me exposures that are all over the map. The last time I shot this event I did it with the mirrorless Panasonic G9s and they weren't any better or worse with flash than the Fujis. In fact, the most recent time I had a more or less carefree evening using flash in this kind of environment I was shooting with a couple of Nikon D800es and Nikon dedicated flashes. I spent some time walking around the house yesterday with a Fuji X-H1+16-55mm+Godox TT685F taking photographs of random stuff and bothering my family with test shots of them. The results were mostly okay but I spent more time than I wanted to dialing in flash compensation. And the "always on" nature of endless shooting at events is a killer for Fuji batteries. 

Also, with mirrorless cameras blessed with EVFs, you have to turn off "constant preview" to see what you are focusing on when you do use flash. It's always better to have an EVF at a high enough brightness to see who is in front of you and whether they are smiling or not. When you need to switch over to available light photography (say...a speaker at a well lit podium) you need to turn "constant preview" back on. This is pretty much the same no matter which brand of mirrorless camera you are using. The one advantage I always liked with the Panasonic G9 was the switch in the hot shoe that sensed the attachment of a flash and switched off "constant preview" for you. If you forget and leave it switched on with other cameras you'll have a darker finder with a blurry, slow motion image with which to compose and assess focus...

I bought one of the same model flashes for the new Lumix cameras (but the Olympus/Panasonic version) and my first problem was just getting the flash on the hotshoe of an S1. The little contacts on the bottom of the flash shoe were a bit too long and a bit too stiff to fit easily. I grabbed a ballpeen hammer out of the tool kit, made some adjustments and finally got it on. I've got a chisel in my camera bag in case I have trouble getting the flash back off...

The flash performance is okay. The Lumix camera tends to be slower in response to all controls when in the flash mode. And the exposures aren't quite what I want. I'm right back to riding the exposure compensation control for the flash. It's probably just a matter of learning curve but I can't really accelerate the learning curve between now and tomorrow evening. I've got other things to do in between. Like swim practice. Taking a nap on the couch under the close supervision of Studio Dog. Packing up gear and remembering how to tie a tie again. I might even need to shine a pair of nice shoes.

And that brings me to the Goldilocks flash camera. Amongst my camera system treasures the Pentax is the simplest and best of my choices for old fashioned, fast moving, on camera flash oriented event/gala photography. 

I got a Godox V-1 flash for the Pentax and so far, it's just right. I like using a white dome on top of the round flash head to get a combination of some direct light mixed mostly (if I point the head the right way) with ceiling bounce light. I've been playing with the combination of the Pentax K-1+28-105mm+Godox V1 for the better part of the afternoon and I've yet to have to hit the menu to adjust flash output. So far every automatic TTL flash photograph with the combo is flawless. And, it's the one user scenario where even I can make a good case for a big, bright, clear OVF. There's no lag and no need to turn on or off items like "constant preview." 

The Pentax K-1 has the best battery life of the three cameras. The focusing speed difference is a toss up between the Lumix and the Pentax. My only disappointment is that I have a limited supply of lenses for the K-1 and I wish I could use the Lumix lenses instead. But compared to the first ten or twelve times I photographed this event the Pentax gear is light years more convenient and better quality than some of the loser cameras I used back then (looking at the Nikon D200 which absolutely sucked, the Olympus E-5 which could never lock focus accurately, the Sony A7R2 which didn't understand even its own dedicated Sony flash, etc. etc.). Looking back, the recent Nikons and the original film Leica M's seemed to have the edge over everything else I've shot with for interior, fast flash work with the flash on camera while in a hotel event space. 

So far the Pentax seems to be dialing it all in very nicely. And the files are big and robust. Hell, if I wanted to shoot the whole event in Raw I could probably ignore the flash settings entirely and just fix everything in post production. I do wish the camera had a "smaller" raw file setting. Something like 18 megapixels instead of 36. The client will likely just make 5x7 inch prints to send to the V.I.P.s and then use a bunch of images on a web gallery. We could probably do with far fewer pixels... But having non-destructive color correction is always welcome, right?

So, what's the final kit look like? What am I going to drag over the Four Seasons and handle for three or four hours?

It's two Pentax K-1s with a couple extra batteries. I'll use one camera with the 28-105mm for all the flash stuff. I've got a tungsten conversion (CTO) filter stuck in under the dome on the flash and it'll go a long way toward matching the subdued and warm light at the venue. (Setting the WB for "lightbulb").
I'll use the second body for speaker shots at the podium in the grand ballroom. I've got a nice 100mm lens that will give me enough stand off distance to the podium, especially if I do some judicious cropping in post production. That makes the second camera and lens more like a combo with a 150mm f2.8 if I set it to APS-C crop.... But then again, maybe I'll go crazy and shoot that rig at a 1:1 ratio for a square frame.

So, two bodies; each can be a back up for the other. A new, Godox V1 as my main flash and then a manual Godox V-850 as a back-up to the primary flash. If everything fails at once I guess I'll just pull out my iPhone and get right back to work. Better charge that one up before I head out to the job...

Well, in situations like this you never rise to the occasion and achieve something you've never done before, you mostly fall back on what you've practiced all the time and hope that muscle memory and good brain wiring take over from your jumbled, conscious adrenaline charged thoughts.  Set the shutter speed for 1/60th (dragging a little to get some ambient light into the frame) set the aperture somewhere between f5.6 and f8.0 to get those groups in focus from side to side, set the ISO to 800 (so you can have a chance at your flash batteries lasting the evening) put the camera in S-AF and pray the existing light is enough for your camera to achieve quick focus with, and you're set. Get your valet parking ticket validated before you head home and you'll do fine.

I love playing around with the small flashes but tomorrow is not the time to get fancy and experiment. Too many people crammed into too small a space and client expectations through the roof. But that's why I get paid the big bucks to put on the suit and tie and show up with a camera in my hands. And I love it. 




11.12.2019

A few more dance rehearsal images. Central in each is the theater's choreographer, Jen.



I really hadn't plumbed the low light capabilities of the Fuji 56mm f1.2 APD before I shot rehearsal images for Zach Theatre a week and a half ago. While the 56mm is certainly NOT state-of-the-art when it comes to fast focusing I think it delivers a look that can be perfect for a certain style of 
available light photography. A sharply defined but narrow plane of focus surrounded by a progressively less sharp field. I tried to use the lens either wide open or one stop down.
The look was elevated by using a profile, in camera, called "Classic Chrome" and was
further assisted by the camera getting the WB just about as perfect as I could want 
shooting under really poor florescent lighting. 

I'll keep the 56mm APD. It's flawed but wonderful.



11.11.2019

Pulled out of the camera graveyard in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet. (It's a big filing cabinet).

Alpa 9D with 50mm f1.8 Kern Switar.
The construction of this particular camera makes the new 
Leica SL2 look like a Holga by comparison....

Years and years ago I found this Alpa 9D Reflex camera and its partner lens in an ancient camera store in San Antonio. It had its original black leatherette back then but we had to take it off to do a repair and never got around to re-cloaking it. The camera and lens were both built in very small numbers in Switzerland. The top and front of the camera body are all made from a solid, milled, single piece of space age alloy (really, mostly stainless steel) while the removable back and bottom are twice as thick as a Leica M removable back, and the inside workings look as though the camera was made to lounge about in a surgical lab somewhere, looking amazingly precise and well finished. 

This camera was as basic as it gets, but "basic" with over 700 finely made (think: fine automatic watch) mechanical parts. It had a rudimentary, center weighted meter but no hot shoe, and the lens was focused wide open and then stopped down to the shooting aperture as you pushed the front mounted shutter release. Even the wind knob (which still works as smoothly as polished motor oil) is different from any other model or brand of camera I've seen. 

The specs are ordinary for the period of time in which the 9D was current; shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/1,000th of a second. Flash sync at 1/60th of a second. There are sync sockets for both X sync, FP sync, and M series flashbulbs. The single piece of plastic on the camera is a little window that surrounds the shutter speed setting dial and allows the operator to see what shutter speed is set. 

The Kern Switar lens is equally bare-bones. It's non-automatic and has non-linearly spaced f-stops from 1.8 all the way to f22. It focuses down to a little less than 1/8th life size. You need to stop down the lens to meter but the lock allows you to do so without accidentally triggering the shutter while metering....

I used to use my Alpa for "hobby" shooting but it's a slow-to-work camera and, with Tri-X film, I didn't see any improvements over my "much quicker to operate" Leica M and R cameras and lenses. By today's standards it's like working in ultimate slow motion when compared to the latest digi-cams. Earlier SLRs like this one also had dim focusing screens and were notoriously difficult to focus wide open. 

Every once in a while I pull this camera out of its storage space to remind myself that one actually had to know what they were doing in the earlier days of photography to be successful image takers. Just getting an acceptable image took time and real effort. We are so spoiled today. But I did insert a roll of Tri-X into the precision innards of the camera today and took some photographs. I'll keep at it until I finish the roll. Not so much to make my own art but to, in some way, channel an era/knowledge base of our craft that is quickly being lost to the collective consciousness of today's photographers. God the camera feels nice to use!

This was my rain, shine, dust storm, perilous and foolish stunts camera. 
It shows...

11.10.2019

A small collection of the photographs of the Berlin Wall as I saw it October 2013. Remembering the fall of the Wall today.


The parts of the remaining Berlin Wall that I got to see were covered with 
commissioned, painted murals depicting fascism and repression around the world.
It's a somber place. 








Out for a walk on Sunday. Critiquing a major corporation. Getting some vitamin D. Going super-wide to clean out the cobwebs...

Let's start with this hideous cup. It's this year's "holiday" cup from
Starbucks. While Starbucks may be putting local coffee shops out of the coffee
business they are certainly not going to make a dent in the businesses of 
any decent graphic designers with this visually cacophonous monstrosity.
Yes. Yes. I can see that the letters spell, "Tuck" right across the middle of 
the cup. But it's not what I had in mind when I suggested they partner with
 a world class photographer....

Do you think this cup design is as visually repulsive as I do?

Other than the "crimes-against-humanity" cup design imbroglio it was a really nice day today. The weather was about as perfect as nature could deliver and the city was brimming with people walking, running, scootering, biking and coffee slurping outside. I saw a larger than usual number of people strolling about with cameras including one very serious looking couple (each around my age) who were both sporting Leica M series digital cameras. Fun to see some Leica love out in the wild instead of just represented as the butt of jokes about camera pricing on internet sites with jealous vloggers. 

At one time I was seriously, intensely into Leica M and R cameras and used them for many years as the primary "small" cameras in my business. That came to a screeching halt with the early ascendence of digital but I may venture back into the fold given all the fun and breathless press the new Leica SL2 is getting. If you use cameras for anything but AF-C oriented work you'd probably love the SL2. It's pricy but beautifully and minimally designed. In the nicest sense of the word, "minimally." 

My attraction is less to the new camera and more focused on the lenses. I've been reading about the new Leica 75mm f1.2 APO (real APO, not advertising APO) lens and every once in a while I have to stop and wipe the drool off my keyboard with a lens cleaning cloth. According to one of the engineers at Leica this might be the highest (best? most best?) consumer lens ever made. 

I say, "consumer" lens because the various professional cinema lenses are much more expensive but might just be a bit better spec'd. At $4,795 I'm hardly running out the door to acquire one of the 75's but from time to time, when I'm feeling maximum hubris, the thought of ownership does cross my mind...

The nice thing about my recent acquisition of two Lumix S1 bodies is that they are part of the whole Leica/Sigma/Panasonic L Mount Alliance and all the lenses are usable on all three of the manufacturers' bodies without caveat. If all one needs is a brilliant 24 megapixel sensor and a very, very well engineered body then the Lumix stuff makes perfect sense. And, with the cost savings over the Leica SL2 camera one might just be able to swing one or two carefully selected Leica primes. Or save for retirement....(an over the shoulder reminder from the in-house accounting department). But I say, "Why not both?!" 

You would think after all the nonsense I just typed above that I was out today with one of the S1 bodies and whichever Lumix lens I considered to be most luxe but, no. When I stirred today, finished my frittata and my coffee, gobbled down my blueberry waffle, brushed my teeth, my one thought was on getting out today and going with a wide angle prime lens to recalibrate away my compulsion to shoot everything with a 50mm equivalent. I chose the Fuji X-T3 (who needs image stabilization on a bright, sunny day when using a very wide angle lens?) and the 14mm f2.8 Fuji lens. I was less averse to it than I thought I would be. It's a wonderful little lens. It's got very low distortion but acres of vignetting which are discreetly handled by the in-camera software correction. And the combo of body and lens make a nice, small, unobtrusive package to carry around on a two hour walk. Plus, the files out of the X-T3 are hardly lacking...

The look of the shoreline after storms have blown out all the micro-trash from the sky. 
Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin.


A millennial/hipster urbanist dentist office. Way to cling to the highlights!





I think they've finally put the finishing touches on the "Jenga" building.

Yes. Fake grass. So fake that everyone knows it's Astro Turf but the dogs. 
Odd to me that people bring their dogs here and the dogs do their "business" 
on the turf. But other people bring their kids here and play on the same turf. 
Modern life in downtown. Hope someone is power washing the landscape every night.



endless dynamic range. 

Uh oh. Is everyone sharing the sidewalk?
Bike rentals should include helmets and etiquette instructions....


I seem to be recovering my work equilibrium and am actually getting excited again about various projects coming into the company. I've also been casting around for some young people to work with. Met one today who asked to shadow me on some projects. We'll see, potentially, how this mentoring thing might work out. 

Much work coming up in the next few weeks. Marketing photos and possible video projects for three theater productions, a gala this Thursday at the Four Seasons Hotel and a fair number of private portrait commissions (seems like I acquired that 85mm f1.4 lens just in time). 

Hope your pre-holidays are going well. Keep up the high quality blog reading. Knowing you are out there reading always serves to give me the desire to write.

Keep swimming or running or whatever active thing you do all the way through the holidays. Don't let anyone disturb your schedule for work or ancillary family stuff. There's always time to help out after workout!!!


11.09.2019

Angel-Man. Photographing for the upcoming Holiday Season.

Jaston. ©2019 Kirk Tuck.

Jaston Williams first hit my radar when he co-created and co-starred in Tuna Texas, the long running, two person play about Tuna, Texas. It was hilarious, irreverent, spirited, and it was inspired enough to play nationally (coast to coast) even though it emerged from little ole Austin, Texas. 

But Jaston never stands still. He's written, produced and starred in theater productions everywhere. 

I was thrilled to get to photograph him once again for his new holiday play this year called, Broken Wing. I don't know a lot about the play yet, other than that Jaston will produce and star in it but I'm already planning to attend performances here in Austin and in San Antonio. It's a privilege to get to see a master at work!

We shot this in my studio a few weeks ago. There were 400+ shots to choose from and while I am certain Jaston and his crew picked something a bit different for their general marketing use this is one I love because it's a bit over the top. The original is shot on smooth gray seamless paper but I added a white vignette just for the hell of it. 

Shot with the Panasonic Lumix S1 and the 24-105mm f4.0 at f6.3. It's way sharp and I love the tonality. But most of that was the lighting. Happy Holidays, Part One. 

Here's the original frame after cropping to the square: 


11.08.2019

"I'm sorry. I missed your last post with all the fancy bokeh from that 85mm Sigma ART lens (wide open). Can you post another one?"

This is Illiana (left). She's also in the Zach production of Christmas Carol. She'll steal the show because she's so incredibly talented. I photographed her at a rehearsal last weekend. Here's the file. It started life as a Jpeg in the Lumix S1. Do I love the camera? Yeah, it's pretty neato. 

"Hey! Dude! What does the bokeh look like with that 85mm f1.4 Sigma ART lens? Can you show us something?"

Sure. This is Taylor. She's in the Zach Theatre "Christmas Carol" production.
She sings like an angel. She's also the main focus of the image above, shot at f1.4 with the 
Sigma 85mm f1.4 on the Lumix S1 camera. It was taken at one of the 
early rehearsals....

That there image below is a magnified portion of the same frame just to show you that
where the focus lands there is much good/happy sharpness. 

Go buy one. It's fun.

Forgot to mention it's ISO 1600....

A quick glimpse at part of an early rehearsal for "Christmas Carol" at Zach Theatre's rehearsal space.


Rehearsals are fun. And necessary. And photographers and videographers should do more rehearsals in their own work rather than just winging it and hoping everything will fall into place. But having written that I realize that I was just hanging out and waiting for everything to fall into place with the actors and dancers....

Photographed with a Fuji X-T3 and the 56mm f1.2 APD. 

Why the X-T3? Why not an X-H1? Hmmm. Honestly, I was re-evaluating the X-T3 to see if I.S. was really that important to me. If it was critical to the work then my intention was to sell the X-T3 and concentrate on just using the three X-H1's I have for all the shoots that call for the special charm of Fuji cameras and lenses. I was also curious to see if the X-T3 really focused faster/better than the X-H1 when the latter camera is in "boost" mode.

My take? I won't be selling the X-T3. Image stabilization in situations like these takes a back, back seat to freezing subject motion with fast shutter speeds. Once you've closed in to around 1/250th of a second with a medium telephoto like the 56mm you're already in a sweet spot for being able to handhold a camera and lens safely. The times when I.S. helps me are when I'm shooting towards the long end of the 50-140mm Fuji lens at dress rehearsals (because I'm in a fixed position and not able to get closer to the stage = hence the longer focal length). The stabilization helps with camera movement but also with stabilizing the image in the EVF which makes composition more accurate.

As far as focusing goes, I'm generally a one point focus guy using S-AF and to be honest I didn't notice a difference vis-a-vis the X-H1's focusing abilities when in "boost" mode.

So why keep the X-T3? It's smaller and lighter for times when that helps. But the real reason is that it's a delightful video camera with a great range of video features. That, and the fact that the higher resolution EVF is more pleasant to work with for long and involved shoots. Plus, the trade in values mean taking an unnecessary bath.

It's all good here.

At the Blanton Museum with a Panasonic 24-105mm f4.0.


I'm not sure what to think of the Lumix 24-105mm f4.0 lens. It's big, that's for sure, but it's not that heavy. I like the look of the lens but at the same time it seems a bit...anonymous. I'd like to think my purchase got me a superb lens but there is a tiny bit of post cognitive dissonance in realizing that it is not a "Pro" series lens; the only one in their small line up of lenses not to have that certification. 

But in the end the only way to judge a lens is to see if it measures up to the kind of photographs you aspire to take. That it doesn't drop the ball somewhere along its range of focal lengths and apertures. 
I've used the lens sparingly in the last few weeks, preferring to take the small and light 45mm out with me on walks (or the adapted Zeiss 50mm f1.7) and pressing the massive Sigma 85mm or the equally big-boned 70-200mm f4.0 into service when shooting for clients. 

I took the day off yesterday (which is becoming habitual) and went to the Blanton Museum instead of toiling in the fields of commercial photography. It was raining and I wanted to make sure my camera and lens combination was weatherproofed enough to take a bit of moisture on the long walk to and from the car so I put the 24-105mm on the S1 camera and brought along my rain jacket. I needn't have worried so much about water intrusion as I discovered (my compulsive nature of trouble shooting in advance) that my rain jacket had, in its pockets, both a large bandana (for wiping off cameras and lenses) as well as an extra large ZipLoc bag, suitable as an emergency camera cover in a downpour. 

While I understand that most lenses are at their best when stopped down a couple of stops from wide open that doesn't seem to be the way I generally use lenses for personal imaging. I spent the entire morning photographing in the museum with the lens set to f4.0, the shutter set to 1/30th and the camera set to auto ISO. I'm decent at handholding cameras and lenses but my abilities are amplified by about 600% by the dual image stabilization provided by the Lumix S1 + the 24/105 lens. 

As you can see if you click on the sample photos (and you could see this with even greater clarity on the original images taken in raw at 24 megapixels) the lens is capable of high detail rendering in spite of being used at its widest aperture. If I stood steady in front of a work of art and worked carefully I could see, in the final images, every tiny crack in a painted surface along with the underlying detail of the canvases themselves. The gold paint on the image just below seems almost three dimensional to me. All with a lens used handheld, wide open. It's very nice performance. 

I didn't dunk the camera and lens under a downspout or spray them with beer so I can't really speak to their impervious nature. I can say that I found the camera and lens to actually disappear or become agile during my process of image making. A compliment to the balance of the system and the competence of the engineering. Finally, I like the 24 megapixel sensor in the S1 and can't see, with the types of projects I like to do, getting the bigger brother (S1R) and losing some of the video capabilities I like in the S1. I just don't find the increased resolution that big of a draw. Now, the minute a paying client starts talking about a project the final output of which is monolithic, gigantic, enormous prints I'll head up to the camera store so fast it will make my own head spin. But for now? S1 and the range of zooms I already have bring a smile to my face every time I shoot with them. 

The 24-105mm range is so nice. I could do with an additional 5 or 10mm on the long end but I'm not complaining; not when everything is working so well. 

Hmmm. I wonder how all these lenses would work on a Leica SL2?????