5.01.2019

A few thoughts about using the Fuji 16-55mm f2.8 to photograph at a social event.



I have to say from the outset that I got very, very spoiled using the Olympus 12-100mm lens for the documentation of social events that happened in good light. One could use that lens wide open at f4.0 all day long and never see a diminution of image quality, plus one has the option of going as wide as an equivalent 24mm and then turn around and "snipe" from a discrete distance with the long end of the lens at the equivalent of a 200mm lens (in full frame speak). Added to the wide range is probably the best image stabilization ever put into a zoom lens. If you could time your shots so that your subjects were relatively still you do amazing shots with shutter speeds that border on ridiculous. 

Put that lens on a G9 and there are few things you can''t shoot well. For some reason the combination never clicked (ha-ha) for me in studio portraiture but for everything else it's just so good. 

But now I'm working with the 16-55mm on the Fuji cameras and, after adjusting for the shorter range of focal lengths, I'm beginning to understand the appeal of this lens as well. It too is fairly sharp wide open but it goes from "nice" to "class leading" once you stop down to f4.0. I think I'll just spot weld it right there. There's no in-lens stabilization but vibration reduction (human inflicted) is handled well by the in-body image stabilization of the Fuji X-H1 cameras. 

The real trick I had to (re-)learn is how to work with that shorter maximum focal length which is an equivalent of 75mm (approximately). You have to accept a shorter working distance between you and your subjects. That means giving up the comfort of shooting from afar in exchange for the more immersive method of being right in the middle of the social mix. I can no longer stand on the edges and look for chance encounters between attendees at galas and corporate showcases. 

A better technique for the shorter max focal length is to walk right up to groups of two, three or more people, engage them and ask if you can group them together for a quick shot. Almost everyone is happy to comply. It's extremely rare for sober people to turn down a sincere request like that. But I have a secondary motive in this because I want a mix of unposed shots and candid captures; the problem is that people need to incorporate you into the general landscape of the event and "place" you in terms of your function before they are at ease with your presence and your activities. 

By doing group shots all over the place you establish that you aren't trying to sneak unflattering shots but that you are part of the event and your function is a benefit to the cause. Once people see you playing nicely with people that you've made a point to approach and engage, their natural fear of the unknown, or of people outside their herd, diminishes and at that point, once you've blended in to the event, you are given almost a group consent to shoot whatever the heck you want. 

I also find that it is beneficial if you are familiar with one or more of the alpha members of the group. I was fortunate at the event I photographed on Tuesday because the chairman of the event, and his wife, are people who are also leaders in another group and I've been photographing their social functions for over a decade. When this couple arrived at the reception it was natural for me to walk over and greet them; shake hands and then casually make a few photographs of them together. Once other members of the group saw the attitude of acceptance from the chair person they relaxed and let their general guard down; at least where being photographed was concerned. 

And that's a good thing since a maximum reach of 75mm doesn't provide a lot of space between you and two people posed in a tight shot. The lens was fast to focus and once locked on was stable and well behaved.  Once I started taking candid images in earnest I was set. In a lot of situations I wanted to catch the visual dynamics of small groups chatting, and some members meeting for the first time. When I got back to the studio to edit I was impressed by the general tonality of the lens and the way the files looked. Part of that is the interplay between the camera, its sensor, and the lens. It's good to remember that, with photography, it's all part of an interconnected system. 

While I almost never gravitate toward wide lenses, except by necessity, having the same wide angle of view as that of the Olympus lens was comfortable; as long as I remembered not to put large people too close to the edge of the frame. As a 50mm aficionado I love the way the lens made images at that equivalent focal length. The photographs seemed nicely sharp and highly detailed to me, even though I was comping and shooting pretty quickly. 

A lens with a short maximum focal length sure does teach a photographer to get closer, and to get more connected with his subjects. I feel less aloof/removed if I can't escape behind some random potted ficus and pick an image out of the crowd from the relative emotional comfort that more distance provides. It's one more little push that takes a photographer out of a comfort zone, creates more of a challenge and, by extension, makes the images seem a bit more convincing. 

You could do this with any standard zoom, in any system. And I could do the same thing with the cheaper Fuji "kit" lens but it feels nicer to do with with the premium version. Part mental in that we want to think a more expensive or better specified lens will give us and our work a boost. There is a tiny bit of truth in that the performance at wider apertures is a bit better. (There it is; that was the  rationalization yakking it up a bit). 

Anyway. Hope to see you at the next party. Let me get shot of you and your date well before you hit the bar for a third time. Nothing really worthwhile happens after 10 pm....or after the third round of drinks...




217 Spam comments yesterday and no "actual" comments, have forced me to reinstate the hated "word verification" filter. I can't make you comment but I don't want to spend my life wading through spam.


It's either word verification or no blog. I chose word verification.

added a couple hours later: Here's a screen shot to show you guys what came crawling into the comment zone while I was cooking dinner.....

I don't know how this does anything for the spammers but it sure drives the spamees crazy.

Sometimes the most basic jobs are the most fun... Portraits and a Gala.

Phil Klay, author of "Redeployment", was the keynote speaker at last night's 
Champions of Justice gala and fund-raiser. I was the event photographer.
©2019 Kirk Tuck
I photographed Sara for long time client, Texas Appleseed; a 
non-profit organization dedicated to providing legal remedies and justice
for all Texans.
©2019 Kirk Tuck

Professional photographers seem to always tell stories about their hardest or absolute worst jobs. The ones where the egomaniac CEO gives them only five minutes in which to make perfectly lit portraits in five different locations. Or the time they had to carry in 200 pounds of equipment and food on their backs in order to get to the spot in Siberia to photograph only to find that the sensor on their digital camera froze solid and was unworkable (but they learned how to use burning potato chips and vodka to warm the sensor and save the shoot!!!). The shoot on which the first three back-up cameras failed but the photographer was paranoid enough to add both a fourth and fifth camera and so saved the job.... And there's always a favorite story about doing battle with a publicist as their hapless client looked on, mortified (the publicist always wins which gives the photographer the moral high ground to refuse ever to work with said talent again!!!). Or just the job where everything went hopelessly wrong...

By way of counterpoint I'd like to discuss the two jobs that I did yesterday; how leisurely they were and how much I enjoyed them. Just a spoiler here: no cameras broke, nothing we needed was accidentally left behind, no one cried, no crazy deadlines were proffered and.....everyone seemed to have fun. I know. Weird that a job/profession/project could be fun. Right?

Here's how the day went yesterday. 

My first assignment was to photograph two new associates for the marketing people at Texas Appleseed. They have an office in the central part of town, across from a nice, big park. We've been photographing portraits for the organization for several years now in the same spot, adjacent to their building. It's a small raised platform with a bench and a rail that's right next to a tree on one side and a long, stone wall in the other. We just like the nice, green foliage in the background, and the foliage is far enough away from our portrait subjects that we can drop it out of focus with anything longer than a fisheye lens.

The day started out a bit rainy and breezy and I wasn't certain we'd get to photograph but I packed up the car and drove over to the location anyway. I didn't pack much. Just a camera, a couple lenses, two wirelessly controllable speed lights, a big light stand, a small Octabank and my perennial Gitzo tripod. 
My one nod to being responsible was bringing along a sandbag so my lighting apparatus didn't fall over in a wind gust and injure one of my clients. 

I got to the location right on time. Took one more sip of coffee and then started to set up. It took me ten minutes to put the two flashes on a shared bar and aim them into the 32 inch Octa, put the flashes and Octa on a light stand, and then walk everything over from the car. Yes, yesterday I was lazy; I parked about 20 feet from the location. It was sweet, I was able to work out of the back of my little SUV. 

I set up my camera and comped in the shot in a very cursory way. Then I called the client and asked if we were still on for the session. Since the rain stopped and the wind was manageable we were on. I positioned Sara on the rail of the bench that we always use and took a few test shots. The temperature outside was perfectly 68 degrees. The cloud cover made for soft diffusion of the sunlight and my light just added a bit of direction and color consistency. 

In two minutes, or so, Sara and I got into the process and developed a nice and happy rapport. Sixty quick frames in and we were finished. She looked at a few images on the LCD panel of my X-T3 and loved them. I waited for my next client and they too came right on time, smiled perfectly, and endured the five minute session with no hint of drama. I gave a quick "thumbs up" to the marketing director, declined a genuine offer to help me load gear, and started packing up. Twenty minutes later I was back at the studio looking at the files and making galleries. 

By the end of the business day both subjects had already viewed their web galleries,  made their selections, and sent me kind e-mails. Retouching their selections is one of the things on my "to-do" list for today....

My second project of the day was to photograph a Gala for another non-profit client; Champions of Justice, which provides legal assistance of all kinds to U.S. veterans in need. The event was held at the (very nice) AT&T Conference Center and Hotel, just on the Southern edge of the University of Texas campus. 

Like all nice fundraising galas, this one featured a one hour cocktail reception, a relevant and somewhat famous keynote speaker, a very nice dinner, and lots and lots of powerful and wealthy Texans. 

I had a couple of cameras in an old, tan Domke bag, packed for the event, but for the reception in the courtyard I just put together a Fuji X-H1 with the grip and extra batteries, the 16-55mm f2.8, and one of those dinky little Fuji flashes that seems to come with every camera they sell. I had a list of people to photograph but I knew most of them already from other, intersecting galas and events so my real plan was just to try and photograph everyone. It seems to have worked out well. It was unhurried and fun. I was able to say "hello" to lots of old acquaintances and, it really seemed to help with the photography that I was in the same age cohort as most of the people in attendance. 

It was kind of fun trying to get just the right balance between the ambient light and the little flash. I liked the way the flash looked when set at about 1 stop down from the existing light exposure. It was overcast outside but a little cooling filter on the flash, coupled with a WB setting for "cloudy", seemed to balance out the flesh tones pretty well. 

Then the conference center staff came through the crowd with the little xylophone things and made the nice tones that announce "dinner." We trouped off to the main ballroom to take our places, listen to speeches and award presentations, and to enjoy a wonderful meal together. 

My seat assignment was at table #35 with the event planners and various staff from the Texas Bar Association. They are all used to photographers hopping up to get shots and then rejoining the table. I interspersed making tight and loosely comped speaker shots and eating a wonderfully cooked salmon and steak entree,  accompanied by a small, thin layer of mashed potatoes, sautéed spinach, and braised carrots. Wines were served and enjoyed. I had a nice Sauvignon Blanc. I'm trying to cut down on tannins and such so no red wine for me...

I made sure to get after dinner shots of important chairpeople interacting with each other as well as images of Mr. Klay signing copies of his book. Here's what they say about his book on his Amazon page:

Winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction · Winner of the John Leonard First Book Prize · Selected as one of the best books of the year by The New York Times Book ReviewTimeNewsweekThe Washington Post Book World, Amazon, and more 

He seemed to also be having a fun and stress free evening. 

Finally, I made some fun group shots of the team that put the whole event together. They were pretty happy because  they set a new record this year for their fundraising. That's got to be a wonderful way to end an evening. 

There were some touches that were very nice and appreciated all through the event for me, as the working photographer. I'll start with the fact that no one trailed me around breathlessly pointing out people "that just had to be photographed!!!" I loved that the client trusted me enough to get stuff done and relied on my 10,000 hours of experience to not fuck up. I was glad to see they'd made a name tag for me. Even happier to see that the name tag had a table number on it. And here's where the client went for extra credit --- they got in touch with me a few days before the show to get my menu selection. They handed me a parking pass for the parking garage when I first walked in the door. And, finally, they wrote me back today, after I sent the gallery, to tell me that photographs were great and that my check is in the mail. 

I got back home about 9:30 pm last night and took off the suit and tie. I put the cameras on chargers and downloaded the memory cards before hitting the sack. It was the kind of day that helps keep one's blood pressure below the 120/80 mark.... The kind of day in the life of photography that makes it all seem fun and worthwhile.

Not exciting to read about but happy to live in.