Friday Roundup. The week's new about flash, video, the studio and its birds, reckless new purchase, and more...

First off, I wanted to let everyone know that the birds are doing fine. I think we have two babies in the nest next to the window air conditioner unit for the studio. They weathered a huge rain and wind storm last week and I was impressed to see that the parent birds constructed their nest in the one spot that didn't get a drop of rain. Pretty damn good location scouting. 

We humans, helped by benevolent weather, have been able to resist turning on the air conditioner for now so the fledglings are getting a good, quiet environment in their formative weeks. No guarantees long term. It was 94 here the other day and since I only had clerical work to take care of I was able to decamp and head into the house proper. It's on an entirely different, huge central system and it made sitting at the dining room table messing with accounting on my laptop, durable. 
A fan in the service of bird habitat preservation. 

While prognosticators across the web are once again bemoaning the imminent decline of the industry I can only agree with them in a very haphazard and partial way; I think people will buy fewer interchangeable lens cameras but I think people will still take photographs (with their phones, etc.) and still enjoy looking at photos. Collecting them? Not so much. But enjoying photographs in the same way one consumes and enjoys a nice glass of wine? Absolutely. One piece of entertainment at a time. 

I think the change-elephant in the room is that people are quickly replacing the written word with images that tell the story. Photography is now a pure language instead of a field that specialized in collecting quasi-handmade iconic items. We see stuff and then move on. We no longer are each responsible for store housing everything that flashes past our eyes as a piece of paper in some ersatz vault or chintzy frame. 

It's been a quietly productive week. Taxes all taken care of and paid. Jobs from last week delivered and jobs this week already spirited off into the corporate sharing cloud. 

I had a fun run to my bricks and mortar camera store on Wednesday. I needed to replace a boom arm that was lost to a bad lend. I felt that the Kupo Baby Boom was just right. It was $99. I bought it and tested it on top of my extra tall C-Stand and it's just what the photo doctor ordered. While I was there I also picked up a long roll of black seamless paper. 
Here's the boom arm. It works in conjunction with a clamp head. 

Neither the boom arm nor the black seamless paper were impulse purchases; I need them both for a photography assignment I'm doing on Tuesday. I'd explain it but it would take too long. Suffice it to say that I need to shoot a tight scene on a seamless background that goes up about 12 feet in the air and that I need to hang a mono-light with a soft box up about 14 feet in the air. The fee plus expenses amply covers the newest expenditures. And that's lucky because I've needed a new boom arm for a while....

Saying a prayer of gratitude that we still have a full service camera store in Austin. 
Replacement rolls of seamless are a quick (depending on traffic) jaunt up the Mopac Expressway. 
And there's always cool stuff to ogle on the used shelf....
Tripod Dolly. 

Another recent purchase was this tripod dolly. Why a tripod dolly? Well, you may or may not believe this but sometimes moving shots are popular in video. Everyone has rushed out to buy cheap gimbals which promise wonderful smoothness, etc. But I find that electronically controlled gimbals require lots and lots and lots of real practice and that few people become proficient using them until they've logged about six months of good use. You also really need to use lightweight cameras and lenses and you can't be tethered to stuff like monitors. 

But if you have a smooth floor (or you buy a couple of 4x8 foot furniture finish pieces of plywood) you can get a very controlled and repeatable set of camera moves with one of these under $100 devices. Just attach your tripod, rehearse your moves and try it. The advantages of doing your moves in this old school fashion are: 1. the initial cost savings. 2. the very, very stable base with translates into less up and down wobble. 3. the ability to use any camera and lens combo you want without penalty. 4. Your arm doesn't get tired after doing the camera moves for two minutes. 5. You can use your external monitor and your microphone junction box without penalty. 6. the dolly never needs batteries. 7. it works with any tripod. 
and, 8. When you are not using it for camera moves you can just use it to hold up your camera.....
Yeah. $60? Maybe...

the reason Profoto and Broncolor will probably exit all but the highest end of the 
electronic flash markets. Field tested (one destroyed in 2018 from a ten foot fall onto hard ground; still useable to the end of the assignment!!!). 

I've been buying Godox flash units for a while now and I think about 95% of the people in the market for all kinds of flashes have been doing the same. I've found them to be at least as reliable as the name brands (especially where shoe mount units are concerned) and much less expensive. I love the shoe mount models that come with big, lithium ion batteries in them. They flash forever; at least through a full day of heavy shooting. The remotes work without confusing the hell out of me, and my friends who use their big, plug in the wall, monolights are mostly extremely happy with the price-to-performance ratio and overall availability. 

We are now at the point where purchasers of expensive flashes such as Profoto are in the same league as Leica buyers. They want the best and are willing to pay for the privilege of the badge. If I owned a big catalog studio I might outfit it with their pack and head systems because of the reputed reliability and consistency but I think it's a bit like comparing which 50mm lens at f5.6 is the best. They are all good. 
They get the job done. And you'll have to forgive me if I'm not anxious to rush out and drop $10K on a Leica 50mm to get that extra .02% of image quality over my Fuji or Nikon or Canon lens. 

At any rate, I was an early buyer of the Godox AD200, about two years ago, and I used it frequently for location portraiture; especially on those jaunts off road that meant long hikes to a location, or those times when I was packing for multiple plane flights on regional commuter jets. These things pack down small in a way that an A/C powered unit just can't. 

The AD 200 is small, recycles fast, provides enough power (in  HSS) to fence with sunlight and is usable with the Godox X-Pro triggers. I have one of the remotes for the Fuji cameras and it gives me control over flash levels at the camera location as well as providing high speed sync. So, how much do I like these tiny 200 watt units? Well, when I destroyed my first one I didn't wait until I got back home to replace it, I dialed up the Amazon account from the road to make sure the replacement would be at home waiting for me, by the front door, right next to Studio Dog. 

When I read recently that they were making a new head for the unit I was enticed. They have interchangeable heads/flashtubes. The units come with a conventional looking head like the ones on a shoe mount flash, and also a bare bulb head because that's what the really cool photographers want (works very well in a soft box). The newest head, which just clicks right on, is a round head with a built in front diffuser. 

Around the edges of the front diffuser is a metal ring, the purpose of which is the attachment of accessories for the flash. It looked good to me so I splashed out the $79 for the new head and added in another $50 for the additional accessory kit. 

First thing I did on delivery was put the dome attachment on the front of the round flash head. It snapped on perfectly and is held in place with magnets. I put the assemblage in a soft box and tested it. Nice, nice, nice and even. Then I looked through the other accessories. 

There is a lovely set of nested front of the flash accessories including, a four way barn doors, a fresnel diffuser, a filter holder and a grid spot. All seem well made and useful. There is a collapsible silicon rubber snoot the fits on the front. And there is a small collection of hard filters that are well chosen (more fine-tuning than theatrical). 

They are the most fun accessories I've gotten for a flash that I can remember. Now I'm thinking that I need one more AD200 and that two of these would make a wonderful, flexible and brilliant location lighting kit. 

Yeah. I'm not sure I'd trade this stuff for one of Profoto's new $1100 shoe mount flashes. In fact, I know I wouldn't and that is Profoto's marketing problem to solve. Good luck to them.

AD 200 with round front face. 

A small Pelican case with a bunch of lighting accessories and a cool light. 

Business is happily steady and as I get older I'm getting faster and faster on assignments. Why? Because I've done most similar assignments so many times that the guess work is mostly gone. We are letting our subconscious do the set ups and then my brain steps in for the interface with subjects and clients. It's so efficient it leaves me more time to swim and to wonder why people think all this work stuff has to be so hard. 

One thing I read this week that struck me as really funny, until I realized that the same sentiments might be true for commercial photographers.... It was a quote about the evolution of the advertising industry. It was in a great book entitled, "Squeeze this Mr. Whipple." 

Here's the quote: "In the future advertising will become like sex. Only losers will pay for it." 

Seems that this sentiment is the real, underlying promise of the web......


Sometimes the secret to getting an image you want is for everyone to just slow down a bit. Take a breath. Get still.

Lou. Studio. 

Seems the harder we try to be good at something the more elusive success is. I think the old masters of every craft knew that rushing things ruined them. That patience is a way of letting 
what you are learning soak in. That calmness is a path to beauty.

Yesterday's simple and fun event photography for Texas Appleseed.

the poster show begins to ramp up.

I'm trying to throw off the mental shackles from a time when a clean ISO 400 file was a miracle to behold and when flash absolutely ruled all aspects of night time event photography. There's a penalty for having decades of experience; sometimes you are held back by old information and truisms that are no longer even remotely true.

Using the Jpeg setting on my Fuji X-H1 I am fearlessly (hmmm....) racking the ISO dial all over the place while shooting at events. And yesterday I substituted the little, tiny Fuji EF-X8 flash in the hot shoe of my camera instead of a bigger, more traditional flash unit. Kinda nuts but it worked.

Texas Appleseed is a non-profit you can learn about here: Link to Appleseed.

In order to fund their initiatives they do the usual fundraising but they also do a bunch of event stuff that I think is fun and cool. Yesterday was their annual poster show. Working with sponsorship from the largest ad agency in town they select a group of artists/graphic designers and get them to design posters that incorporate current messaging about justice and legal issues people face in Texas. The top print houses in town donate the printing, and the posters, signed and numbered by the artists, are sold for $75 each; both at the show and on the Appleseed website. It's exciting because it brings in a segment of Austin's very hip advertising community and not only raises money but also creates community awareness in a new demographic.

And, of course, nearly everyone in Austin loves an excuse for a good party... There was ample catering by Austin restaurant, El Dorado, (EldoradoCafeATX.com) and several open bars. No charge for admission to the show and no charge for drinks or food. Felt like the old boom days in Austin...

The pop-up gallery was at 800 Congress Ave., just a few blocks from the capitol, in the middle of downtown, and people started trickling in when the doors opened at 6pm. By 7 pm the place was packed and posters were flying out the door.

In the days of yore I would have been concentrating on making big flash work. I would have a large guide number, articulated head flash in the hot shoe and it would be topped with a Rogue reflector or a large, DIY foamcore reflector, held up by tape and rubber bands. I'd be working at f5.6 to f8.0 if shooting full frame, and I would be working around ISO 400 to ensure noiseless files. As darkness closed in I would come to rely on the AF-illumination light to get focus in the dimmer areas of a big ballroom.

I did none of that yesterday. I put on the 16-55mm f2.8 and used the lens mostly between 2.8 and f4.0. Near the big windows on the east side of the large room I used ISO 1250 and, instead of pounding flash and watching the background go to black, I was shooting down around 1/60th of a second and being very, very mindful to catch people in pauses where subject movement wouldn't ruin my photos. I got some blurry hands but I decided it doesn't matter and I didn't care.

In the back half of the room I worked around ISO 3200 and, in really dim areas I took a deep breath and set the ISO dial to 6400. And, amazingly, it worked. It all worked.

Most of the time I wasn't just depending on the ambient light, I was using the small, included-with-the-camera flash to fill in and get me a little closer to clean color. I had the flash set to minus 2/3rds of a stop, in TTL, and I worked a bit to get a reasonable level with the ambient light; sometimes (usually) opting to keep it about a half a stop dark. Seemed just right for the combination of tiny flash and room light. They worked together to get me very close to a perfect exposure out of camera.

Here are a couple samples showing the ambient + flash in action:

The small, EF-X8 flash seems to come with every Fuji X camera that I buy and I had ignored them for a while. Now I'm keeping one on the top of my camera almost all the time, just in case it comes in handy. 
The EF-X8 doesn't take batteries; it uses power from the camera's battery(s). I used to worry about battery drain but I was using a battery grip last night and after shooting from 5pm (set up and posters) till about 8pm (party winding down...) I was still on the first battery in my grip. Not bad considering all the stuff it was running....

All my photo stuff fit in my small, Think Tank backpack. I brought along the Fuji X-E3 with an 18-55mm f2.8-4.0 kit lens as well as a 35mm f2.0 Fuji-cron, neither of which I needed to use; but you know my feelings about always having a back up.... I also brought along a big, Godox flash, dedicated to the Fuji system as well as a radio trigger. This did come in handy for shooting the posters as I could have someone stand ten feet to one side of, and at a 45 degree angle to, the art work in order to get clean shots without a lot of fall off and with no glare. 

I could get used to a minimal kit like this! In fact, someone should write a book about it...

The last thing I wanted to mention was transportation. I could have taken the super high performance Subaru Forester downtown and parked it in a garage. I could have spent $26 and taken an Uber from the house to the venue. But in the same spirit of carrying everything I needed in one small pack I thought I would also reduce my travel footprint. To that end I chose to take a city bus to work. 

The bus comes to an intersection about a half mile from my house. An easy and leisurely 15 minute walk. The bus costs $1.25 and gets me to downtown, within a block or two of the venue, in about 25 minutes. Easy-Peasy. I cheated on the way home. Belinda is working downtown and has garage parking at her agency. She met me at the show and when it was time to head out we walked two blocks to her garage and then sped off into the night. In a Subaru Impreza. All fun. 

That's my take on yesterday's photo festivities. Hope you aren't pining too much for the days of complex flash, slow film and the need to deliver stacks of color prints to your clients. It wasn't really that much fun. This is better. 

I remember the line that Ian Fleming wrote at the end of "Diamonds are Forever." He was talking about James Bond's life as a spy. He wrote, "It reads better than it lives." Brilliant. Just brilliant. 


Back in the water. Coming back from an illness is rough. I guess the secret is to never get sick...

Boy Howdy! That last week was a doozy. I had a cold, a cough that wouldn't stop and a nasty bout of insomnia on top of everything else. I was out of the pool from Sunday the31st all the way until yesterday (April 9th) because I literally couldn't get one lap in without stopping to cough like a three pack a day drifter...

The combination of having been sick, deprived of about half my usual sleep and out for so long was felt in its entirety during my first swim back. I woke up early yesterday, packed up and headed to the pool. It was still dark at 7:00 when I hit the water. My stroke felt perfect but there was very little energy behind it and I tired quickly. I finished the hour and fifteen minutes but only by judiciously skipping a lap now and then; taking a few liberties with the written workout. That's a masters swimmer's prerogative. 

I came home, ate breakfast, drank coffee and then hit the couch (Gosh! I love our couch!) and took a nap for the better part of an hour. I needed a bit of recovery before I could drag myself into the studio and start making calls. I'm looking for a talent for a shoot on Tuesday. The whole thing came up rather quickly and finding just the right talent takes....time. If you know a male, late 40's/early 50's, caucasian, who is in good shape and can take some time off on Tuesday, be sure and let me know..... I'm looking for someone to play the part of a doctor in scrubs, face mask, etc. And, yes, there is a talent fee in there somewhere...( Austin area ). 

The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to unpacking from our condensed video shoot last Friday (didn't have the desire to grapple with gear while infirm..) because those rechargeable batteries are not going to charge themselves, the batteries in the wireless microphone receivers and transmitters tend to leak if you leave them in for very long and, it's nice to know the camera lenses are snuggly back in their slots in the equipment case. Ready and easily findable because....they are in their correct spot.
The most important part of the whole organizing and unpacking process is the getting the memory cards backed up. I'd already pulled all the video files from our shoot out and put them on a little SSD for my client/collaborator; the guys who is tasked with doing the actual edit. But he's still on the client side and my paranoid expectation is that if there is a way to lose, corrupt, misplace, reformat-over, the files I gave him it's almost a client's imperative to attempt it. I wanted to get a complete set of the files on two identical 7200 RPM G-Tech drives that I use when I edit. Now that I've done that and asked the client to back up to their server I am finally able to re-use those SD cards. I like my new Delkin Devices Black 128GB V60 UHSII cards. They are fast and new. All the better to play with...

Mulling over some nerd-side new gear acquisitions for the office. I'm toying with the idea of replacing my (2015) Apple 27 inch iMac with the new i9 processor iMac. I'd like to get one with a 1 TB SSD for the OS drive and 32 GB of RAM. I also want to trick it out with the fastest video card they offer just to give me a bit of a speed boost for video editing. The current machine is absolutely fine for photography file processing but I'd like to give the h.265 video file format available in the X-T3 a spin and I've read that the h.265, while a space saver during shooting, requires some intense processing to edit.... (yes, I am sure you are super smart, brave and infinitely skilled and can make your own machine for 1/10th the cost but I think I'll save a bit of time and just buy one ready made, thanks!).

And, over in the realm of the irrational (one of my specialties), now that I've worked out my one audio issue with video recording on the  X-H1, I'm actually toying with adding another one while the camera+grip+three batteries are still on sale as a package for $1299. We used three of them on our video shoot Friday and as we slip further down the greased slide of video production toward the revised mosh pit of commerce, multi-camera shoots seem to be the routine and not the exception. And how often can one acquire a full on back up, with accessories, of one's current favorite camera at such an advantageous price?

I'll wait on all the purchases since my recent illness has made me a bit loopy. My bank called to ask me "what I intended?" on my last deposit. Apparently, I transposed numbers left and right.... Glad someone is watching my back. Thank you! Bank. Maybe I'll be thinking straight after a few more swims and a bit more recovery time.


Photographer retracts criticism of Fuji X-H1 headphone sound while monitoring.

File this one under: Don't I feel stupid.

The issue: I heard some distortion through my headphones while testing an X-H1 at my desk last week. I tried changing out all components but still had a niggling distortion. I even tried my two other X-H1 cameras in the same configurations; all while sitting at my desk.

I was not happy to hear the distortion and reached out for answers. Later, I used the cameras and microphones and monitors at a sound studio and did not hear the same distortion. I tried to duplicate the problem today in my living room, far away from electrical devices and was surprised when I could not duplicate the issue.

Here is my addenda to the article I wrote about the distorting monitoring circuit last week:

Edited on 04/09: Interestingly we did not have the headphone distortion problem on a shoot we did last Friday, using many of the same components. To be fair to the Fuji X-H1 I went back and re-tested again. This time I did it in my living room. Components all over my coffee table. But the times I tested the cameras before were all done at the desk in my office. I took the camera, headphones and a microphone back to the office, sat down and listened again and there was the distortion. So I started looking around my desk to see just what the heck might be causing the distortion I was hearing.

For starters my desk is the epicenter of about ten hard drives, each in their own enclosure, each with its own power supply. Then there is the 27 inch iMac about two feet from my little test area. Oh, and there's also a dual band modem/router, and, and, and...... As I moved the camera set up closer to the desk and tested it the distortion was a bit more obvious and when I moved away from the desk it diminished. And when I moved to the living room, about 30-40 feet from all electrical circuits, the microphone pre-amplifiers were as silent as mute angels.

So, this is a big mea culpa. Sometimes we imagine that technology has perfected all the routine stuff and that it will work perfectly no matter how much we try (wittingly or unwittingly) to fuck it all up. The pre-amps are a bit sensitive to huge, giant, unsavory electrical fields. Can you blame them? 

I am now chastened and must send an e-mail to my friends at Fuji to apologize to them for blaming my bad technique on what I see is now a nearly perfect camera.

In addition, all the audio that we ran into three X-H1 cameras at our video shoot last Friday is perfect. Not a trace of distortion or noise. 

I'm sorry to have been so far off on this and will try to be much more careful in my testing of microphone and headphone circuits in the future.

As you can see I made a bone-headed mistake and mischaracterized the performance of the camera. I am sorry for that and I also want to apologize to Fuji for unfairly dissing their camera instead of eliminating such an obvious source of interference. 

Now I will never be able to say that I am without flaw again. So sad. But that's the nature of a mea culpa.


The future of traditional photography? I don't have a crystal ball for that... Camera sales? Here's the latest bad news...


Sales of real cameras (not phones with cameras) have collapsed by 84% since 2010. Canon's CEO recently predicted the market will implode by up to 50% more in the next two years. Just comparing this year to last year (which was not a stellar year for cameras) is sobering; a drop of 34% so far.

I know what this means for camera companies and I suspect that you do to, but what do the numbers tell us about the practice of, and the business of, photography?

I'm currently waving goodbye to any camera, lens or lighting company that doesn't have deep pockets. Really deep pockets.

04/09: adding a few links to older posts that discuss this trend: 

seems like we've been thinking about this for a while....

I have officially shaken off all vestiges of that nasty cold I wrote about last week.

Here's my favorite thought about colds: My doctor says most colds resolve in seven to ten days. He gave me a miracle drug. He said it might cut down my suffering by a day. He just wasn't sure where in the 7 to 10 days that day might fall....

Two Samples Made with the Fujifilm 90mm f2.0 Lens. My thoughts...

First off, I have to say that I'm absolutely loving the Zach Theatre production of the play/musical, "Matilda." I have the song, "My Mommy Says I'm a Miracle." bouncing around in my head most days now. The play is wonderfully written and the huge miracle is that a cast of Austin, Texans can do a better English accent than most people I know who are actually from the U.K. 

As you know, one of my favorite assignments is going to the theater for the dress rehearsals (many times it's the first performance with full costumes and completed scenes and props!) to make photographs that will be used for marketing, public relations and other uses that effectively sell tickets; even non-profits have budgets to hit...

I like to lean on tried-and-true equipment for the shoots so I don't stumble because there aren't any "do-overs" but lately I've engineered in some comfort factor that allows me to be a tiny bit more ---- experimental. The new padding is that I now hit both the technical rehearsal and the dress rehearsal. There's no audience at the Tech rehearsal and there might be one or two visual rough spots that the crew is still working on but I get a great preview of the show which helps me understand how to best shoot it. I also shoot hundreds of shot in the first night so I can go back to the office and see how everything worked out.

If all is good then I am more disposed to bring a new toy or two along to the dress rehearsal. 
And that's exactly what I did last week. Twice. One monday I brought along the 14mm f2.8 lens for a bit more emphasis on wide stage shots. Then, on Tuesday, I brought along the 90mm f2.0 XF lens to see if it was really so super groovy as everyone says. 

Of course, it wouldn't be much of a test if I took a fast, well corrected, single focal length lens and used it stopped down to f5.6. That would only tell most of us what we already know; that almost every prime out there is great once you've stopped it down past the trouble spots...

So, I put the 90mm on an X-H1 and shot it wide open. f2.0. And I took a good look at the files I got. They were all pretty much as good as I thought they'd be. Which, if you think about it, makes talking about all really good lenses a bit boring. What do you really say after you've mentioned how sharp they are and how nice the blur is and how well controlled the flare is? I guess you could dive into the rough and talk about focusing speed and accuracy but those seemed fine, too. 

If you don't mind spendy, and you have a recurring need for a moderately fast prime that's about the equivalent of a classic 135mm on a full frame camera, then this is the best choice in the Fujifilm collection. It's also the only one. Unless you include the same focal length setting on a zoom. But if I wanted that I would have used a zoom. 

Where this lens shines is the close portrait; from waist up, or even tighter,  in an environment where there is fun stuff to put out of focus in the background. I wish I had a couple of jobs like that right now. Maybe I'll go out and look for some. Could be fun. 

Do I regret splashing out for the 90mm? Not at all. It's a nice, classic focal length and (sometimes) fits my style of shooting. I must say though, that shooting live theater is always easier done with nice zooms. Framing on the fly is golden. The 90mm is one of those "serious" lenses you pull out when the focal length is right and the potential for an extremely beautiful photograph exists. At least you'll know you pulled out all the stops...


A Note to Prospective Clients: Please don't consider handing me a contract that has:

"The agreement that we are entering into is a work-made-for-hire agreement. You agree that we (Satan Productions) are the sole copyright holder, sole owner and soul owner of any work you create while even just in close proximity to us. You also agree that our exclusive and total ownership of the work strips you completely of all rights of authorship."

 No. We would never agree to that. I create the work and I own the creative work. You and I would be entering into a usage licensing agreement. As part of the agreement I would only convey to your company specific usage rights for use of the material I create on the project. I am happy to negotiate and make sure you get the rights you need for your project; potentially even future projects, but you don't get "ownership." And, as if I have to tell you, paying a one time fee doesn't mean you now own the camera we shot the project with or the lenses, or the lights, or the car we used to bring all the gear and staff to your location. It doesn't. Although I'm sure your accountant would love to grab for $50,000 or $60,000 worth of gear in exchange for one small day fee and a reasonable usage fee. Right? Not gonna happen.

(note to the person who proffered the contract to me):
I know your strip mall attorney wrote all this stuff and you've probably never read it but you should. And if you did you'd be embarrassed.

Back the meat...

When we come to your project we're not just trading some working time for some money. As I wrote above we're generally bringing along gear which we use to do the project that has value far in excess of what we charge for most projects. I'm also bringing along my ten thousand hours(+) of expert experience in doing photography, or video, or writing. This means you are not directly paying for a long and productive learning curve, six years of higher education, 30+ years of hands on experience, a valued perspective, a practiced approach. Those are intangibles that are part of the value we bring to every project; no matter how small.

You are also not purchasing outright, for small change, my point of view, taste and cultural understanding. You'll get it in each shot but judging by the rights grab agreement form you might want to have people sign you desperately need to get this from an outside supplier because your contract makes it clear that you have a very limited perspective, a winner take all attitude, and very little in the way of good people skills. In fact, I would say the proffering of any such contract points to a diminished capacity to understand negotiation and effective agreements, which should benefit both sides in any business deal.

Your contract should also never have this:

"You will indemnify our production company and our client in all matters arising from the use, or mis-use, or negligent use, of the intellectual property we are trying to grab from you. This will include your commitment to legally battling on our behalf should anything ever go wrong with our often misguided use of materials over which you now have no control, no stake, and no ownership. And Satan just whispered in our collective ears that we'd also like you to cover our attorneys fees in perpetuity." 

Sure, I use hyperbole a lot in my writing but I swear I got an "agreement form" last week that had the above indemnification clause in it, almost verbatim (note to their attorney: that's Latin for, "as spoken."). I would have laughed if I hadn't wasted time discussing a project with the company previous to receiving this form. At that point I just wanted to pick up the phone and scream for a while....

Essentially this means I could go on location and work under the direction of this client to make a photo of "Chip." Chip might be a willing subject. Chip is happy to be involved; he was, after all, employee of the month. He might even sign a model release. I turn over the images to the client. They decide, a few months down the road, that Chip is a dick and they fire him without severance. Then Wendy in accounting, who had a bad break up with Chip takes the photo from wherever client keeps the photos and gives the image away for free to the Russian mafia who use it in a series of seriously nasty ad campaigns which picture Chip in a "bad light." Chip in a choke chain. In an savory threesome. In ads for erectile dysfunction. And then they run a series of joke posts about Chip's political beliefs for an American politician.

Chip gets a lawyer and sues his former employer who turns around and sues the production company who comes back to me waving their indemnification clause in their agreement form. All hell breaks loose.

Signing an agreement to legally cover anything that arises out of the mis-use, or negligent use, of photos which you no longer even own is like selling someone your used Dodge Charger and then signing a lifetime agreement stipulating that you'll be responsible for any and all repairs. Or accidents. No matter who is at fault. Forever. For a car you no longer own. What client would not love a warranty like this? But it doesn't make it right.

Finally, when dealing with a reputable photographer, videographer or other artist, your contract should never have a part that reads something like this:

"We are only responsible for paying the artist after we inspect each and every image and find each and every image to pass our inspection for quality, usability and general coolness."  

Yes. I've actually seen this as well (without the "general coolness" clause....)

Suppose the client is hiring a photographer to document a day in the life of their service staff. Any good photographer will shoot more than one image per set up. Given a tightly scheduled day hundreds or even thousands of images will be made. In some a client provided talent might blink, fart or look melancholy in such a way as improving said photograph is beyond the skills of even a world class retouching team. Suppose the product to be photographed has rampant defects and is the only one available. Perhaps the room the client insists you take photos in desperately needs to have the walls painted. The graffiti removed. This contract would give the rights grabbing client an easy out to not pay the photographer. Even if there are similar photos that are perfect, and many other variants available as well.

What passes for advertising strategy these days seems to change at the drop of a hat. Consider that the client could hire the production company to hire and supervise the photographer; all working under a very, very specific brief or scope of work. While the production company and photographer are creating content the client's ad agency gets cold feet about their (worn and sad)  concept and decides to have a "focus session." In the focus session it's discovered that the idea they sold to the client totally sucks. It's almost as bad and useless as an all rights/indemnify me for everything contract. The client and agency decide to change gears entirely. Now all the images that the photographer has created for the campaign are useless to the client-- even with all rights and a nice insurance policy against legal disasters --- but now the client doesn't feel like they should have to pay for work they no longer have a use for.

The production company has a rare "Aha!" moment and realizes that the nasty contract the artist signed has a convenient escape clause. They get to inspect and approve the photographs. They decide not to like them. They use the contract in order to not pay for any of the photos, or the time it took to create them. They never bother to tell the artist that the project was killed before they even looked at the work....

Imagine how hard life would be for restauranteurs if they offered the same sort of agreement for their customers. One could order a nice, gigantic Waygu steak, a caviar and lobster appetizer, a 1964 Bordeaux wine from the cellar, and then some vanilla ice cream for dessert. Upon assessing the bill, and having already stuffed themselves with wonderful food the customer decides that the ice cream is different from what he is used to getting from the local convenience store and that he does not like the taste as well as that of the ice cream to which he is accustomed. He calls over the waiter and tells him, "the ice cream isn't pleasing me. I'm declining to pay for this meal. Maybe we can try again in the future..." 

Insanity. And not a business model I'm putting to work in my business. I'd rather garden and read on the couch.

In the end it's the actual clients that get hurt when their intermediaries vastly over reach and try to force a bad contract on a quality provider. Any artist or writer who understands the value of their own work will walk away (or run quickly from the smell of brimstone, etc.) from a bad or totally one sided agreement. Why would they accept such bad terms? Why bend over for a rights grab?

The rights grab essentially means that the person signing over their rights can't use the images they created in their own marketing or in their portfolio. Can't enter it in an awards show. Can't use the work to get more work. Can't use the work as an example of their abilities. Why essentially donate valuable tools and valuable skills for the meanest, almost token cash exchange?

The indemnification clause puts the artist in legal peril for a long time and from every angle. Not an issue you say? Slow down and remember that in America anyone can sue for any reason. Happens all the time. You might not even be safe from being sued by your own client ---- remember, they were spiteful enough to hand you that nasty contract --- right? Is a fee of a couple thousand dollars (if you can get paid!!!!) worth the potential of months of even years of legal hassles and lawyer fees? You get to pay the lawyers even if you win!!!! Lucky you.

And the final clause, the inspection before payment clause. That's the capper. After the job is cancelled for whatever reason (the company spokesperson kills a bus full of nuns...) someone will leave it to a junior staffer to field your call (you know, where you ask for the money you are owed) and tell you, with phony regrets, that the work just didn't pass their stringent sniff test. "Sorry! We look forward to working with you again soon."

So, when the client's agency, production company, or in-house legal department run off/piss off all the good and capable independent artists they will be left with the people willing to take the smelliest contracts. These are bottom feeders and someone at or near the top of the client organization will realize they are no longer getting the "A" talent for their projects. Heads will roll but it may be too late to undo the damage of bad work used, and the worse damage which is to the client's reputation, painting said client as an unsavory and unreliable collaborator.

It's sad. The people who push contracts like this act like those agreements are the industry standard. They aren't. Bad rights grab contracts are like payday loan contracts. They are not illegal but they only benefit the finance company and lead the vast majority of people on the other side of the contract into financial ruin. Let's not let that happen in our industries. Fair contracts for fair use of good, solid intellectual property.

Oh, and the thing that triggered all this, beside actually getting one of the worst contracts I've ever seen? The nasty contract had a blaring typo/grammatical error in the first paragraph. That's just so embarrassing. Would you accept a contract that was almost guaranteed to screw you over even after you saw a double negative show up in the second sentence? I didn't think so. Me either.

All material ©2019 Kirk Tuck.


Stuff that worked well on Friday's three camera video shoot and stuff that could be improved....

We did a video shoot for Zach Theatre yesterday, in a hidden recording studio just west of downtown. I just transferred and reviewed the footage and I'm giving 95% of the stuff we shot an enthusiastic two thumbs up. We have more than enough primary footage, second camera angles and b-roll to create multiple final videos as well as three really great interviews. But part of the process of reviewing results is to see where we could have done better and whether or not some piece of gear let us down. 

This was our first three camera shoot on which we used the Fujifilm X-H1 cameras and I'll start out by saying that I love the look of all the files and personally think that the "Eterna" color profile provided in the X-H1 and X-T3 is the most beautiful profile I've ever worked with. Bar none. While I might consider using a log profile if we are shooting in contrasty Texas midday sunshine I'd want to really, really test out that choice because the stop or stop and a half of dynamic range the log file might  provide would likely be offset by lots and lots more time trying to get the color grading right while shooting, metering and light correctly while working with the Eterna profile would give us a file I could use right out of the camera. A big win for Fuji with the Eterna color profile. Nice, soft, flat but not too much... (I like it so much I used the Eterna profile all day long on a corporate job that was mixed daylight and flash, since I was shooting raw I didn't have to have any regrets but, for the most part, the Eterna files were very malleable and, with minor tweaking, looked just great). 

The image stabilization in video, using non-stabilized lenses, was very good. Not quite as good as some of the amazing Olympus camera bodies (EM-1.2, EM5.2) but good enough for me to handhold up to about 60mm with success. 

The video menu is great and very straightforward to master. Love that all in the stuff that doesn't  work in video is already greyed out. The ability to punch in for focusing and then back out to full frame couldn't be easier. The EVF is wonderful and the rear screen with touch controls makes using AF in manual focusing good. I was so happy to find that, when in the video mode, you can actually select 1/48th of a second shutter speed giving you a true 180 degree shutter angle when shooting 30 fps. Finally, I was super happy with the sound quality I got from the cameras. Not just when we were able to pipe in a beautiful feed from the audio engineer's mixing board but also when I was recording interview audio directly into camera via wireless lavaliere microphones. 

And you knew the list of things I want improved was going to follow right along, right? So here goes.  What the bejeepers is the deal with the battery grip and complement of batteries???! Here's the premise: Fuji: "Yes. We know our camera bodies suck juice out of our puny batteries at an alarming rate. Here's what we've done to make that better, we're making a battery grip that will hold two batteries while you keep a third one tucked into the camera. Cool, huh?"  Here's the real (tormenting) issue: The batteries switch over from the two in the grip, sequentially, and then finally hit the camera battery ----- but only when shooting stills! If you are shooting video and your first battery in the grip runs out the entire circus comes to a screeching halt. The camera just stops shooting. It doesn't care if you have two other fresh batteries in the same product, just brimming with fresh, juicy electricity, it just stops recording. 

What is the work around? Um. Um. Hit the record button again. A (sarcasm laced) great idea for the middle of an interview.... Just start over.

I must be missing something. Maybe putting the camera and grip in boost mode changes the battery usage order. I guess that's the next thing to test.

But let's not take the battery grip out of the hot seat just yet! One reason videographers grudging part with over $300 per camera for an added battery grip is to get the headphone jack that they finally just included on the body of the X-T3. It didn't exist on a stock X-H1. Yes, the camera body has a microphone in jack but no, the body without grip has NO headphone jack. So, across three camera bodies I have about $1.000 worth of battery grips; proprietary to one camera model, just in case I want to run audio at each camera location (and need to monitor it for quality!!!). 

(All the stuff in the strike throughs below is faulty information. Read the added material just below the strike throughs. Thanks, Kirk 04-09.)

If everything worked the way I think it is supposed to then I would be hearing beautiful sound through my headphones but, sadly, this is not the case. Lucky, I discovered an audio glitch when I tested the camera more or less feature by feature before committing to using three of them on assignment. At first I thought the whole audio chain was compromised or required some very special (and unobtainable) microphones or something. I would set the levels so they would never go into yellow, much less into red, and even with a minus 12 to minus 18db level I was getting some distortion in the headphones. The headphone level setting was set in the middle of the range as well. In fact, the setting level for the headphones had no impact on improving or worsening the distortion I was hearing. 

I thought it might be the headphones so I tested the camera+battery grip with AKG headphones, Audio Technica headphones, Apple earbuds and even a set of Bose noise cancelling headphones. Each had the same issues. I thought it might be a microphone mismatch so I tried a box of different mics and a squadron of microphone pre-amplifiers. (yes, we disabled the internal mics for our test). I even went so far as to disable the external mics and to test again just using the internal mics. 

Edited on 04/09: Interestingly we did not have the headphone distortion problem on a shoot we did last Friday, using many of the same components. To be fair to the Fuji X-H1 I went back and re-tested again. This time I did it in my living room. Components all over my coffee table. But the times I tested the cameras before were all done at the desk in my office. I took the camera, headphones and a microphone back to the office, sat down and listened again and there was the distortion. So I started looking around my desk to see just what the heck might be causing the distortion I was hearing.

For starters my desk is the epicenter of about ten hard drives, each in their own enclosure, each with its own power supply. Then there is the 27 inch iMac about two feet from my little test area. Oh, and there's also a dual band modem/router, and, and, and...... As I moved the camera set up closer to the desk and tested it the distortion was a bit more obvious and when I moved away from the desk it diminished. And when I moved to the living room, about 30-40 feet from all electrical circuits, the microphone pre-amplifiers were as silent as mute angels.

So, this is a big mea culpa. Sometimes we imagine that technology has perfected all the routine stuff and that it will work perfectly no matter how much we try (wittingly or unwittingly) to fuck it all up. The pre-amps are a bit sensitive to huge, giant, unsavory electrical fields. Can you blame them? 

I am now chastened and must send an e-mail to my friends at Fuji to apologize to them for blaming my bad technique on what I see is now a nearly perfect camera.

In addition, all the audio that we ran into three X-H1 cameras at our video shoot last Friday is perfect. Not a trace of distortion or noise. 

I'm sorry to have been so far off on this and will try to be much more careful in my testing of microphone and headphone circuits in the future.

Moving on. Let's talk about lenses. While I love the Fuji XF-18-55mm f2.8-f4.0 you can already see the problem. It loses a stop from the wide end to the telephoto end. If you think of it as an f4.0 lens and don't shoot at f2.8 you won't see the exposure change as you zoom through the range but many times, in low light you'd pretty much kill for that extra f-stop. 

I queried Fuji about their cinema lenses but someone suggested that for corporate video work the really nice, red badge, constant aperture lenses from the XF line up would work just fine. And I'm happy to say that if you never want to zoom that's probably really true. They are very, very good lenses. But, sometimes you want to zoom during a shot; or the client wants you to zoom during shot and so you go for it and give the system a try. On Friday I was a little shocked. I was using a 16-55mm f2.8, constant aperture lens and I needed to do a slow zoom in from a medium composition to a tighter composition and somewhere, mid-zoom, there was a disconcerting and abrupt bump up in illumination as though passing through a certain focal length range triggers a compensation that opens up the aperture to compensate for the light lost when zooming longer. It's a design glitch. I could hardly believe it but I tried it twice more, here in the studio today and was able each time to replicate this issue. 

We need to find a zoom for the system which doesn't do this (I guess that's why I was asking about the cinema zooms...) while zooming. I love the images from the 16-55mm but I'll never be able to do a zoom shot with it in video. And even though zoom ins are generally overused it's still a tool we need from time to time.

Moral of the story? If you don't do your own tests, on every piece of gear you own, problems will come back and bite you on the ass. But don't think this glitch bitch is just about Fuji, I can well remember more than a few heat related shutdowns from a number of Sony cameras. All full-framers....
Seems the only perfect digital camera ever made is the Sony RX10 IV...

Enough about the cameras. We'll get that stuff sorted out. The video looked astounding. The rendering of flesh tones was the best I've seen from a less than $10,000 video camera. I think it's a bit above the benchmark Sony FS-7, less noisy than a Panasonic GH5, and fun to shoot with. Loving the front and rear tally lights....

But my favorite piece of video gear is fast becoming my Beach Tek DXA-2T audio interface. It's not powered  and uses really clean transformers to convert a balanced signal from XLR connected devices to a signal that is perfect for most camera's microphone inputs. I love the device because it makes professional microphones sound and perform better with most consumer hybrid cameras but it comes at no cost in terms of signal loss. And there are no batteries to forget or to run out of mid-shoot. I would tell everyone to run out and buy one but I think the product is now discontinued except for a copy-cat variation from Saramonic. I love being able to grab one of the knobs on the small unit and pad down the signal to the camera rather than having to go into the camera's menu and touchscreen to accomplish the same task. I won't go to a shoot without one of these. It may have been a perfect audio product. I'm sad not to find one on B&H's site or on Amazon. 

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't again make the point that in video handheld shots are, to my mind, special effects shots that get really boring and annoying really quickly. If you value your audience you'll put the camera with which you do the majority of your shots on some sort of stabilizing platform rather than defaulting to image stabilization. I love having a locked down version of a shot, using a good tripod. A moving shot, also using a good tripod, and then, in order a shot from a "chicken foot" monopod with a fluid head, a monopod with no head and finally, a gimbal. The less jittery the shot the happier the audience. 

There are a lot of good $10,000 video tripod and head combinations in the marketplace and most are probably made for cameras in the 18-30 pound range. I've got a Manfrotto video tripod with a 501 head and I think for DSLRs practicing a lot with one of these probably trumps the results of someone who uses their pricier tripod a lot less often. As with anything else, it's not the Speedo or goggles the determine a good 100 butterfly, it's 99.9% the swimmer. Same with adequate versus perfect tripods. 

wow. That was a lot to wade through but it's helpful to me to put it all down so I can process my most recent experience. Would I have changed the way I shot, lit or ran audio? Probably not. If anything I would have pushed my partner to spend more time of some sort of camera support and dissuaded him from too much "Jason Bourne inpired camera movement (fight scene kinetics...). But it's all a big learning process, right?

If anyone is interested my cold is receding and I'm giving credit to Mr. Nyquil for getting my first good night's sleep of the week last night. And this is how I reward you? With a long, rambling blog about video? Almost criminal.

Exposure. White Balance. Stable platform. Enough headroom for audio. The foundation for successful video production.