7.31.2019

OT: What better family bonding experience than a five mile walk around the lake in 102 degree, late afternoon?



The kid is in a housing transition and will be moving into his own place in a week or so. In the interim he's staying with us. I'm having a blast. Neither of us is working on a regular schedule right now (we're on self-induced Summer breaks) so we're hitting all the priority stuff: hanging out with Studio Dog (and making sure she's not eating cicadas), having lunches, and running errands. Last week Ben helped me out with a three camera video shoot and tomorrow he promised to take a look at my editing attempts (which I hope he radically improves upon) but today we decided to get some exercise and walk around Lady Bird Lake (which used to be "Town Lake").

When we left the house it was a balmy 101 but during the walk we got the benefit of some addition heat and humidity which pushed the measured temperature up over 102 and the "feels like" temperature to about 107. We didn't care, we've both run the lake trail on way hotter days, and besides, we were walking instead of running.

We got to talk about finance, the state of the markets, the ups and downs of working in a P.R. firm that specializes in high tech start ups, the state of the photography industry, the state of my progress in settling my mom and dad's estates, and how the whole modality of work is profoundly changing.

On the way home we cooled down with some iced coffee from our neighborhood Starbucks. It's been like an incredible vacation for me to be able to spend so much time with my kid.

I had two pieces of advice for him today: Don't ever stop running, walking and being active because you want to be able to do it when you turn 63!!! He's got about 40 years to ponder that.

And the second piece of advice I gave him was career advice. I told him, whatever you do don't become a freelance photographer!!! Just don't.

He's pretty level headed and far less impulsive than me. I think he'll be fine.

The photo above is from a high school cross country race. I remember that day and the idea of running three sub-six minute miles in a row in 96 degree heat was shocking to me. But it never seems to phase him....

Good times.


A different method of theater photography was in play last night.

Actor Libby Villari as Gov. Ann Richards in "Ann." 
A play by Actor/Playwright, Holland Taylor. 

Like most theater photographers I have two different approaches to shooting live theater on the stage. During the final technical rehearsal, when (usually) 99% of the stage, costumes and props are set and finished, and there's no audience to consider, I like to use shorter lenses and get as close to the stage as I want. I shoot a lot with a 16-55mm f2.8 but I also get tight shots from angles all over the theater with something like the Fuji 50-150mm f2.8. It's a great way to work, and a side benefit is that you are always in motion as you look for the best angles and compositions, and then put yourself in the right spot to catch them.  Exercise while working!!!

The flip side of the technical rehearsal (at least in our theater) is the invited dress rehearsal. Having a "friends and family" audience helps the actor(s) with their timing, their delivery, etc. and the audience responses to lines and gestures gives the actor valuable and immediate feedback. But...having an audience in most of the seats means that I give up the mobility I have in the technical rehearsals. We have to minimize distractions for them and the actor. There's a silver lining everywhere though and in the case of rehearsals I trade mobility for a totally finished stage look in the invited dress rehearsal. Everything is more polished and the lighting cues are generally rock solid, but because we have nearly a full house I am constrained to stay pretty stationary.

Out of experience, and trial-and-error, I've chosen to be at the center of the house on the row that divides the orchestra seats from the upper seats. It's a "pass through" row so there's a lot of distance between the seats in that row and the row just in front of us. I block off about 12 seats so I can have some (limited) range of movement (left and right) to get better angles, but for the most part I'm dead center and seated. 

I share this row with the house videographer who documents the dress rehearsal with a two cameras set up and an audio feed from the mixing board. His cameras are on tripods so he is locked into position. 

On anything but a one person show I use the 50-140mm f2.8 (75-210 ff equiv.) as my main lens because it allows me to go from a two or three person grouping to a larger ensemble group within the same optic, from my mid-house vantage point. I supplement that with the 16-55mm (24-82.5mm) so I can catch an establishing shot of the entire stage for each scene as well as wider shots of bigger groups of actors. It's a nice combo but for one person performances the 50-140mm is sometimes not enough reach from my spot to upstage. 

Yesterday I decided that I'd use the Fuji 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 lens as my primary shooting lens for "Ann" which is a one person show.  From the middle of the house I could reliably frame a "head-and-shoulders" shot and I could pull back to make a full body shot. If the actor got close to the front of the stage I could still get a head-to-toe shot at the widest setting by switching from horizontal to vertical. 

I had a blast using the lens for the play last night. The reach was amazing and the lens felt different to me. I did have the wider zoom along as an alternative and, since I am a former Boy Scout, I also packed the comforting 50-140mm f2.8, just in case. 

It took me a while to get comfortable with the different framing options but by intermission I think I had it down pretty well. With a long lens like the 100-400mm it's pretty important to use the continuous mode for the image stabilization so the viewfinder image doesn't hop around. I started out using the camera and lens on my older Leica monopod but in short order I realized that the combination of the XH-1+100-400mm image stabilization and shutter speeds starting at 1/125th and going up was more than enough to get consistently sharp images.

While people can look at various test charts, and argue about how many sharpness angels can dance on the point of a needle, I was able to shoot with the lens at its widest apertures across all the focal lengths and still get well defined eyelashes in most of the photographs. The ones that didn't achieve that level of sharpness are down to my rusty focusing technique more than any shortcoming of the lens.

And speaking of focusing technique....the light levels on the stage for this show were much more photographer friendly than in some of the recent shows I've been documenting. We're talking a couple of EV brighter, as well as more even (less contrasty) lighting. Because of this I was able to use face detect AF, sometimes at 400mm (600mm ff equiv.), with a moving actor, handheld, and out of 1200 shots the majority, maybe 90%, are focused right where I intended them to be. I count this as pretty amazing. It's a far better performance, vis-a-vis accurate focusing on actor's eyes, than I was ever able to consistently get with traditional DSLRs from Canon, Nikon or Sony. Reason enough for a theater photographer to switch to a mirrorless system!!!

I count the use of the 100-400mm last night as a total win. I'll use it for all the one person performances we produce in the future. Do I have a wish list for new lens features for the studio? Oh, just the same nonsense everyone else would share: I wish the lens would go wider. Something like a 50mm to 400mm  full frame equivalent. I wish it was f2.0 all the way through (but then I'd probably need a geared tripod head on a sturdy base just to use it....), and, finally, I wish Fuji would support my efforts to document theatrical art by sending me free copies of any long lenses they think might be useful in this bold and noble undertaking (self-snark implied; noted here for the lame of humor...).

Now uploading 720 nice shots for the marketing team. Then I can get on to the important stuff in the day; like where to swim this afternoon. Thinking it's probably going to be Deep Eddy Pool....


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7.29.2019

One of the most dangerous things I can do is to leave the driveway with money in my pockets. It's almost never there when I get back home.... Or: New Camera, now testing.


Now testing and playing around with the ancient Pentax K-1 and a HD  FA 28-105mm f3.5-5.6 lens. How very retro.... And, the only camera system I've never owned (other than the K-01 concept camera)...  Better late than never?  We'll see.



It's improbable but I have to ask... Or there any readers out there who actually shoot with the Pentax system? I'd love to hear what you think of the K-1.


7.27.2019

I thought I'd get a jump on all the other bloggers and vloggers and write the review for next year's Sony RX100VIII. Of course, it's a technology marvel....


I'm going to break my advanced NDA with Sony and blast forward to quickly review the next model of their vaunted RX100 series, compact cameras. It's inevitable that all of this information will leak out over the course of the next few months anyway and I thought I'd beat everyone to the punch. Perhaps, a la DP Review, I will also do the relentless: First Blush Review, the Preview, the 'Hands On' Preview, the Review in Progress, Part One of a Two Part Review, Part Two of a Two Part Review, Our Gallery of Incredibly Banal Photos from our Multi-part Review, Chris and Jordan's Quasi Humorous but very earnest (in the style of Canadians) Video Review, The In-Depth Interview with one of Sony's Janitors, and, of course, Barney's Comparison with the Leica he proudly saved up for years to buy....  And then maybe I'll follow it all up with a comparison between all the RX100 cameras Sony has made over the last seven or eight years.

But first, the review, looking back from from late 2020.

We at VSL were pretty impressed when we learned of all the improvements that have been made to the Sony RX100VIII over the previous model. To start with we now have a camera that can shoot at the incredible frame rate of over 110 fps. Using a double-decker, back AND front side illuminated, one inch sensor allows the camera to shoot at ISOs that will give the operators nose bleed while maintaining colors that are richer than Bill Gates and more saturated than (the fat in cheap bacon?) any previous camera. 

We stole a document off a DP Review server about the future RX100VIII camera and find that Rishi, the nuclear-quantum-string theory-chemist-engineer-triple doctorate in physics expert who vets that site's technical word salad, has indicated that the camera will have " lots of quantum." And lots and lots of "Nyquist" and he would not be surprised to find that it also features "extinction" and "delta" but almost certainly does have a "retrogressive interference something" which means, in as simple words as possible = "Sony is always best".  Or it could also be summarized as "a diffraction-enabled tool paradigm love." 

The lens on the camera has five sections of extension and extends from the "equivalence explains everything" angle of view that mimics, in vain, a 23.5mm focal length lens on full frame; albeit with an f64 aperture when used in an equivalently optimum fashion. At the long end the Zeiss/Leica/Lomo hybrid lens goes all the way out the omniquivalent dangle of view of a 205mm lens, all the while besting its predecessor by opening up to f2.78 at the wide angle setting and f4.4 at the long end. These are equal to f27 and f45 on a real, non-loser, full frame camera. 

Sony boasts that image stabilization will reward users with the ability to handhold even the longest focal lengths at something greater than three and one half minutes.....or long enough for a quick interview with the 5.25K video the camera has packed into it's tiny body. A camera body small enough to fit into the pockets of a 300 pound man trying to wear size 28 (waist in inches) blue jeans. 

As with the previous model there will be a pop-up EVF that matches up with the user's right eye but now features "Sony Optical Velcro" to form a tighter connection between the finder and the human eye. 

The camera also features some new filters including: the "I'm so trashed" filter (just perfect for frat parties), the "I hate that girl and want her to look 20 pounds bigger shaming filter", the "I'm trying to save my relationship by making my girlfriend look better" filter, as well as a simulated "drone" filter which works by tricking the weak-minded into thinking that they are actually looking at photographs that were taken twenty feet up in the air (all done with an incestuous blend of machine learning and A.I.).

There are thirty new function buttons, all of which can be re-configured and all of which also change their settings at random. None of which are marked. 

The camera features "shoot and post while you drive" Wi-Fi while low powered bluetooth is also present just for because it looks so good on the spec sheet and men seem to love the word, "bluetooth" nearly as much as the word, "titanium" or the phrase, "carbon fiber." Which it has. All of it. In spades.

Party animals and selfie fans alike will appreciate a pop-up flash that sports a negative guide number.

The camera continues to look the same, operate the same, and provide the same kinds of photographs and video that the previous model provided, but goes a long way to cure the wretched "excess money" syndrome and replace it with "the technology in my camera will save me!" syndrome.

There will be nothing external to distinguish this camera from the six that came before it. You'll only really be able to tell the difference by looking at the upgraded price tag. But... Steve Huff will love it. Jared Polin will review it and then wonder why Nikon doesn't make one to best it. Hugh Brownstone will be amazed. Then confused by it. And finally will order everyone within earshot to: "Hold that thought." Matt Granger will double-switch systems. And Jason Lanier won't have time to test it because.....

Zach Arias will tape white gaffer's tape over the Sony logo and then use a Sharpie to hand draw the Fuji logo on the front. Thom Hogan will pillory it for not having the communications protocols to effortlessly communicate with his Braniac 2000 main frame computer. James Popsys will lust after one but get shut down in his attempt to buy one by Emily. Finally, Ken Rockwell will love it and pronounce its Jpegs to be the sharpest on the planet. Lloyd Chambers will refuse to acknowledge its existence while Ming Thein will start providing RX100VIII specific Curation Workshops. 

 Yes. Of course. I have one on pre-order at Amazon.

7.26.2019

Temporarily Paradise. This morning Austin had to be one of the nicest places on earth. And a great morning to swim.


I crawled out of bed, brushed my teeth and grabbed my camera and a clean towel and headed out to go to the pool. When I stepped outside the front door I got somewhat of a shock. The temperature overnight (IN THE MIDDLE OF JULY!!!!!) had gotten down to 61 degrees and even at 8 a.m. the skies were clear, the humidity was low and the thermometers all read 68 degrees. Absolutely amazing. For the last couple of days we've had dry, north winds and unseasonably low temperatures. I know it won't last but I'm savoring every minute of it. 

I hit the pool for the 8 a.m. workout and the water was....perfect. About 80 degrees and crystal clear. I can't even remember what we swam this morning but I did do a lot more backstroke than usual; I just wanted to look up at the small, puffy clouds being overwhelmed by saturated blue skies. Someone must have turned on the universal "Velvia" setting for the central Texas area. Relentless and indiscriminate beauty. 

Now I've swum and received the life giving dose of coffee and I'm heading out the door to have lunch with Andy, the owner of the ATMTX blog. We're meeting about halfway between our offices at a little neighborhood Tex-Mex restaurant and I'm looking forward to this lunch because Andy has joined the dark side of photographers and is currently embracing, and fleshing out, a Fuji X system. But it should all be taken with a grain of salt since he owns well over 50 cameras and bounces around between his inventory of systems as often as I seem to. 

So, what camera and lens is the perfect companion for a nice lunch? I'll say that with the skies as they are today it's got to be the X-E3 with the 23mm f2.0. Small, light and happy. 

Then it's back to the editing grind. But I may push that deadline back and take a sybaritic walk through the city. It's only a matter of time before real Texas weather returns with a vengeance. 

The Rollingwood Pool. Home base for my swimming. 

Lifeguard avoiding 68 degree hypothermia with his jacket. 
Relentless pool cleaning. 

some prefer Barton Springs but that seems a bit "recreational." 

The hardcore. Packed in. 








Capping off with fond memories of swimming in the Skidmore College Pool 
 on various "Parent's Day" visits. A very nice pool. Maybe I should move
there and start a masters program in Saratoga Springs...... it's a thought.

7.25.2019

Procrastination Museum Tour. Art Cuddling with my Fuji X-Pro2.


One of the things I love about Austin, Texas is the Blanton Museum. It's a great space and it's filled with lots of fun and engaging art. Sure, there's some conceptual stuff that I don't really get, and some pretentious stuff from the 1960's that wears thin quickly, but for the most part everything is pretty cool, right down to the furniture. I can be a cheap bastard so I tend to go on Thursdays when admission is free. And I always bring a camera along....but you knew that.

It seems as though my relationship with the Fuji X-Pro2 is getting more serious. I seem to bring one of the two that I own with me just about everywhere. And, bowing to peer pressure, as well as the persuasive set up of those cameras, with their optical finders, I find that one always sports the 23mm f1.4 while the other one is always adorned with the 35mm f1.4. The combination seems so Leica-like in that respect. They are devilishly good tools for convincing oneself that good work is being done when, in reality, you've just snuck out to look at art as an excuse to put off work that's no fun.

The cause of my procrastination is my huffiness about video editing. I just am not a big fan. I think if I did it more often I'd build up some sort of resilience but so far I just find most video editing to be tedious and boring. An apt occupation for people with different values. Or a punishment in some countries for shoplifting....

When I walked around the museum today my mind wandered and I found it loitering around ideas concerning what it is I do for a living and how much longer I want to pursue it. I've been an assignment oriented photographer for over 30 years and the sad thing is that creative concepting and budgeting seem to be going backwards; devolving. I keep getting comps to bid on that call for images that I would never want to put in a portfolio. Much less frame and put up on a wall. I'm in a bit of despair about the implosion (paucity) of cerebral quality I keep seeing from advertising agencies. At what point did the creative personal capitulate entirely to the business side of the business? 

I recently watched a V-Log by James Popsys who is currently my very favorite photographer/v-logger. It's a video that explains why he exited the assignment arena to pursue self-assignment and direct sales and it's a video that spoke very clearly to me. Here's the link: Link. 

Of course, this kind of thinking always occurs to me after I've volunteered for, or accepted, some project which sounds like so much fun when we're in discussions and turns out to be so much drudgery when we get down to the actual shooting and/or post processing....

I'm quite confused today so I'll default to my typical dodge: Wasn't the gear great? And yes, the X-Pro2 is a fun, fun camera. Even if the images are no better than any other camera with the same basic sensor configuration the more complex and selectable viewfinder at least gives me the feeling that I'm doing something serious and constructive. Even if I'm not. 

I came back to the studio and got back to work on the videos. Typical client point of view: We need to include: ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ in the video, and it needs to be no longer than :60 seconds. If you figure in the introduction and the art and logos at the end you have about 40 seconds left for content. How many thoughts can you convincingly cover in forty seconds? I'd say you're lucky to get two out. But 26? Pure fantasy. 

Tomorrow I'll re-commit to doing nothing but still photography. The way God intended it...








Kirk switches to Canon. Oh...no...wait! That's just a point and shoot camera. No big switches on the horizon....


I had an interesting day. I discovered that Ben and I are absolutely great at shooting very sharp, clean and interesting video footage (file-age?). We're also pretty darn good at getting clean audio in our video stuff. But I'm coming to grips with the fact that I just absolutely hate to edit video. Especially unscripted video. Most emphatically hate unscripted video. So much so that I stood up from the desk and went to the Blanton Museum in a fit of pure procrastination. 

Here's how I wish every (commercial) interview would go: We'd set up cameras, lights and microphones and the talent would come into the scene. We would aknowledge, and they would agree, that we're aiming to get a specific message across in a set time. The talent would have memorized a script and practiced it. The script would be made up of perfect sound bites that all fit nicely together. Additionally, there would be a teleprompter synced up on each camera; just in case. 

An interviewer would cue the talent (after we're all set) and the talent would do two or three perfect takes of each phrase, sentence or bullet point, pausing five seconds between takes to make it easy on me to edit. Every interview would take place inside an anechoic chamber and we'd add canned room ambiance later. During every critical juncture of the interview process all the extraneous people (anyone who is not the on-camera talent, the sound engineer or the camera operators) would be called away to deal with an emergency phone call, or emergency potty break, or they would just go outside to smoke a cigarette, or stand on a street corner and give every passerby their two cents worth on anything at all. 

There would be wonderful craft service and the Champagne and caviar would flow. But most importantly the client would speak the magic words, "We have this great editor we'd love to use on this project. Can you just send them the footage? Can you send us the bill? Oh, what are we saying? I think this is enough..." as they pull wads of hundred dollar bills and gleefully shove it into our waiting hands. 

But no..... it just doesn't work that way. At least not often enough....

People in front of cameras seem to have a super powerful ability to stretch out whatever answer they need to give from one simple sentence to an endless soliloquy. They help us fill up even the biggest memory cards and then, once the cards are full, they finally deliver the perfect one liner

No matter when we film; even in the dead of night, there will be audio interference of the most profound and jarring nature. A fleet of chubby Harley riders revving up their hogs at the accounting firm's  building down the street, at 3 in the morning. A cute couple trying out their his and hers chainsaws just outside the door of our location. An impromptu live fire exercise on the next block. Each mortar round hitting just as the talent finally gets the name of the product correct.....

The electrical power in the (client) chosen location will be iffy. The air conditioning will be about as effective as a small, slow fan blowing over an ice cube in a sauna; but as loud as a 747 taking off. The beautiful background? It generally turns out to be scared and worn wood panelling left over from the 1970's along with the orange shag carpeting which makes the custom white balance so.... special. 

And the craft service? Whatever they have on sale at the local Seven/Eleven. Twinkies and Lite beer? Again? 

But I'll gladly put up with all of that if I don't have to do the edit. Three cameras means three times the crap to wade through. I knew I should have studied harder and become a psychiatrist. At least I could take a stab at solving my own masochism....

Just random thoughts in the middle of an editing session. I'll get Ben in here. He'll fix it. 





7.24.2019

Sometimes this seems like my second studio. I've shot so many assignments at Zach Theatre. Currently packing up to photograph the Tech and Dress Rehearsals for "Ann."


Like any relationship that's gone on for a long time there are things that rub me the wrong way about the theater but on the whole there's a lot more stuff that makes me smile. It's pretty easy to do the math. Almost all in the plus column. And what can I do at this late stage? I already feel like part of the family.

This is not a commissioned shot. I was out for a walk and it's convenient to park nearby. On my way back to my car I was just in the right spot at what I think was the right time and I took this photo with a Fuji X-E3 and the marvelous, little 18-55mm f2.8 to f4.0 kit lens.

Love it when nature gets the clouds and the sky just right.

The play, "Ann", by Holland Taylor, starts sometime in the middle of next week and I can't wait to see the rehearsals. I've already photographed and videotaped the star, Libby Villari, and she's got the character nailed.

How do I know? I did some photography with Gov. Richards; even an ad project. Now I can vouch for it when people get the character right....
The real Ann Richards.
©Kirk Tuck

New Stuff to Learn! Multi-Camera editing in Final Cut Pro X. Lots and lots of fun!!!

Screen shot of the portion of the computer screen showing the three windows and the selected angle.

I know this will be old hat for some of you video professionals but I've been getting up to speed on multi-camera editing in Final Cut Pro X. Last Sunday Ben and I produced three different interviews of three people associated with the play, "Ann" that is being produced (again!) at Zach Theatre. For each person's interview we set up three cameras which gave us three different points of view and included a tight shot, a medium shot and a wider, establishing shot.

Instead of having a static camera of a "talking head" I'm able to seamlessly switch from one camera angle to another in perfect sound and frame sync while I edit. In the past, if I wanted to switch between two cameras I would have to pull one clip onto the timeline in the editor and then find the second clip and try to find the exact exit point of the first clip and the exact entrance point of the second clip to make a (more or less) seamless change. Now I can switch back and forth with ease by just clicking the numbers 1,2, or 3 on my keyboard. You can watch all three camera angles live in their respective windows and you can also decide which clip's audio track is the best one to use by auditioning each one.

A few important things: If you can't "jam" time code on all three cameras (not possible with mine) it's vital to have decent audio tracks on all the clips you want to sync together. The programs (FCP X and Premiere) both use the audio waveforms to match the video clips to each other. You'll want to make sure you label each of your cameras to make housekeeping easier, and you'll want to add a name for each angle you will be using. Finally, you have to have all three cameras set to exactly the same frame rate for all this automated syncing to occur.

Having all three of our angles for each person's interview sync'd makes the editing process so much easier and more fluid. How did we ever live without this?

Once I get my hands on some good "B-roll" we'll have three sixty second video segments ready to go in no time.

Makes me wish we had a really long form video program to work on; that would make the switching so much more fun.

Finally, one of my video editing friends warned me: "Don't switch without a reason and don't do it so often that it becomes a habit. If you do you'll be making the equivalent of a excess zoom lens zooming  that we all hated so much."  Good advice. Use everything sparingly......

A good source to learn about multi-cam editing in FCP X? Why it's all right there in the Apple Support section of their website. Reading is mandatory.




Mid July Cloud Portraits. Shooting with the Fuji X-E3 and the adorable kit lens (18-55).


I took some time off from polishing my shoes to walk around and take 
cloud portraits yesterday. Today, it's hours of video editing. 
tomorrow? something else entirely.