Another long week, capped by an old fashioned, all day long, advertising photo shoot.

This image has nothing to do with the content of this particular blog post. 
I'm putting it here so I can look at it and remember what cold weather felt like.
We had heat warnings here in central Texas because the combination 
of heat and humidity gave us a "heat index" of between
110 and 112 degrees, Fahrenheit. I long to walk 
on slippery pavement again. 
Reykjavik Iceland, 2018.

I was up this morning at six a.m. and eating my bowl of 2% fat Greek Yogurt, Muesli and one cup of blueberries by 6:20, washing it down with a magnificent cup of my own coffee. Packed and on the road by 7:00 am and headed toward the city of San Marcos to meet up with two representatives of an Austin ad agency, and the owners of a techie, hardware, start-up company in their labs. 

The assignment was a day long project to develop photographic content for the company's website and collateral advertising. We spent the morning photographing in various lab environments and the afternoon photographing at two different dental practices (the use target for the newly developed product).

The ad agency and I scouted the locations last week so we hit the ground running in each spot today. I packed just enough equipment to light every interior shot with LED lights but I brought along a Godox AD 200 flash system to use as a fill light for our one exterior group shot. Everything fit on one cart and we worked off the cart and dragged it around with us from lab to lab in the morning. In the afternoon we were working in small exam rooms so I packed down well enough after our first location that our lights and three light stands fit in just one Tamrac rolling lighting case. I packed two of the Godox SL60 W monolight style LED lights, and two of the Aputure 682S spot, flat panel LED lights. Just what the doctor ordered for such small spaces. With one SL60 bouncing off a white ceiling, one SL60 in a 36 x 36 inch soft box, and an Aputure LED panel supplying adjustable back light I was pretty well set.

We photographed the client's new product being used in dental offices with a combination of extremely tight (60mm macro) shots and wider shots done with a Fuji 16-55mm f2.8 on an X-H1 body. We also photographed our hygienists (models) and our patients (also models) engaged in dental exams and using our client's new device in wide, medium and tight shots. In the small rooms I found that the combination of two SL60s, bounced off a ceiling and pushed through a soft box, allowed me to work comfortably at 1/125th of second, f4.0 and at ISOs of between 400 and 800. If there was a lot of movement in in the shot I'd push the ISO and work at 1/180th to 1/250th of a second. If we needed more depth of field for the tight product shots I'd move the aperture to between f5.6 and f7.1 and then push the sensitivity. My ISO dial got more of a workout than the two other main controls.

While the agency had the best of intentions with their scheduling they forgot to factor in the typical human task friction endemic in most shoots of this kind and we fell far enough behind schedule to cause a panicked retreat from even the general concept of lunch. Of course, this was not my first rodeo and I had packed enough Peanut Butter Cliff bars to get myself through the day without crashing or hitting the wall. It helped that there was a coffee shop close by the second location in which we photographed, and a helpful advertising intern to pick up the liquid of good life and deliver it into my ready hands.

In several shots we had big, long hallways or very large rooms and I chose to lean on the existing and ample florescent lighting while using an LED in a soft box as a main light and general fill. But, it's never that simple as the LEDs are pretty much perfectly balanced for daylight while the florescent tubes were the usual plentiful but cheap variety that makes everything a ghastly yellow green. Without filtration I could have my choice of a white balanced background combined with a main subject riddled with magenta, and way too cool, or I could do a custom balance for my foreground subject and watch the background go radioactive green. I chose neither and reached into my lighting case for a sheet of Rosco Tough Plus Green. I added it to my main light and it was more or less a perfect match for the background which allowed me to make a global, custom white balance for the whole scene; and it looked darn good.

We did many different shots in the labs, two big group shots in the blisteringly hot outdoors, an hour in a dentist's office in San Marcos,  a daredevil drive up IH-35 in midday traffic (which is like most other city's Christmas season rush hour traffic-- stop and go all the way in) and finally ended up in a modern and somewhat chic dentist's office in south Austin. There we shot a never ending combination of hygienists, dentists and patients all involved, somehow, and in some design combination, with the client's product.

The only time I got to sit down and not have a camera in my hands was while I was in white knuckle transit between locations. But the beauty of spending my usual down time swimming and walking with cameras in my hands is that I still had a reserve of good energy and focus even after we crested into overtime at 6pm. There is something fun about being the oldest person on a location and the only one not on the verge of exhaustion and collapse.... (Always eat a great breakfast, always carry protein bars, always send someone for coffee and water, always be the last one to quit).

We wrapped up by 6:45 this evening and I piloted home through more evening traffic that I ever remember seeing. I didn't have sufficient motivation to unload everything but I dragged the Airport Security rolling case into the studio, put the cameras on their chargers and downloaded the memory cards. I'll do the big edit and post over the weekend and deliver on Monday morning so this job doesn't step on the feet of the next job (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we're doing the WP Engine Annual Summit at the Fairmont Hotel --- it's right next to the Austin Convention Center).

Happy domesticity. I drove up to my house and got to see my brand new driveway. A house re-do by the next door neighbors (since replaced by much, much better neighbors) had cement trucks traipsing across the old concrete entry way and cracking the surface. The new neighbors and my family split the cost of making a much needed driveway entry upgrade. The downside is that we can't drive on said new concrete until it cures; and that's projected to be in about two weeks. That means that loading and unloading my car requires a hundred foot journey over the driveway of the neighbor's on the other side of the property followed by an adventure dragging the carts through my front lawn. But damn! That new entry way is looking fine!

Belinda and Ben had fun advertising and public relations adventures to talk about over dinner and Belinda made a wonderful sausage and vegetable soup which ate better than it sounds; by a long shot.

The week started with a trip to San Antonio to see a probate judge in the company of my elder law attorney. I was assessed to be worthy enough to be the executor of my dad's estate and got all the paperwork done to proceed. I processed insurance forms and messed with estate accounts. Since I feel responsible for my brother and sister this fun new responsibility adds a bit of stress and friction but nothing compared to the time and energy I spent taking care of my dad in his last year and a half. Hard work but it comes with the reward of knowing you did everything you could to make a loved one's last months in this mortal coil as happy, positive and comfortable as they could be.

I'm looking forward to two solid weekend swim workouts with no bookending tasks, responsibilities, obligations or appointments after either of them.

I'm back to my long time focus on making photographs and I'm loving every minute of it.

Warning to my blog readers in the Calgary, Canada area: my current plans include visiting your area in the third week of July. Meeting for at least coffee will be nearly mandatory. Also a visit to The Camera Store and perhaps even an audience with the reigning kings of video photography gear reviews, Chris and Jordan (now plying their talented trade at DP Review).

Hope springs eternal.


Two more from Immortal Longings, the play by Terence McNally.

I seem to be having a love affair with several of Fuji's lenses. Today it was all about the 56mm f1.2 APD lens. But a week or so ago it was the 50-140mm f2.8 lens. It's a great set of focal lengths with which to shoot live theater productions. It's fast, sharp wide open and the range is perfectly suited for capturing the essence of most plays. The OIS in the lens works well with the IBIS in the X-H1 and the capper, for this kind of work, is the availability of the Eterna color profile to help flatten out the contrast  during capture. If a file is too flat you can always add a bit of pop to it. It's harder to go in the other direction; once the blacks are set, and the highlights are on the verge, trying to bring down the contrast in post is almost a fool's errand. 

Please click on the images to see them larger. 

This morning the star of the photo shoot was the kids. The co-star was the new (to me) 56mm f 1.2, the only lens I brought along.

©2019 Kirk Tuck. Please do not republish. 

I spent the morning photographing some of the Summer programs for kids at Zach Theatre. I left the camera bag at home and brought just one camera and one lens. It was a Fuji X-H1, and the very speedy Fuji 56mm f1.2 APD lens. I did something I've never tried before in all the years I've been photographing; I shot everything with the lens at its widest aperture ---- f1.2. 

I knew that the lens would be sharp because I've seen the MTF curves and read a fair number of reviews. I also knew it would be sharp because I shot test images in the studio before pressing the lens into service. But I was a bit apprehensive about how well it would focus; because of the anodization filter inside the lens it's only able to use contrast detect autofocus, not phase detect autofocus. I'd read stuff all over the web which presented the lens as slow and kludgy to focus. I figured that if the lens was truly dreadful at focusing I could just call it a day and come back sometime in the future to photograph. We weren't under any sort of onerous deadlines and I was willing to take a chance.

I wanted to use the lens wide open because, like almost every client's locations, there's always some clutter and junk in the backgrounds and if I can use shallow depth of field to minimize the visual chaos it's a plus for the art directors who will end up using the images.

So, how did it work out? Well, it exceeded my expectations. In decent light (areas in which I could shoot at full aperture using ISO 1600, or better) the camera and lens were quick to focus and lock in. I could even successfully use face detection in the majority of settings. If I did my part correctly and put the little green AF focusing square on the right spot I found the files to be extremely sharp. I don't care about corner sharpness and didn't look at it because in 99% of cases my main subject is in the center or in the sweet spot of the frame and my corners were part of the out of focus areas which were nicely smooth, and that's why I bought the lens in the first place. 

The kids were sweet and cute, and having fun with all the programs. I spent a couple hours shooting and knocked out about 1200 frame which I edited (selected or deleted) down to about 600 which I then post processed lightly (most just exposure tweaks) before outputting from Lightroom and sending the final files to Smugmug.com.
©2019 Kirk Tuck. Please do not republish. 

©2019 Kirk Tuck. Please do not republish. 
©2019 Kirk Tuck. Please do not republish. 


My first jaunt outside with the low light monster from Fuji. The 56mm f1.2 APD.

I know that this lens is pretty much custom made for the sole purpose of shooting portraits with extremely narrow depth of field in an APS-C camera system. An attempt to match the look of those fast 85mm f1.8s and f1.4s that people grew up with when they shot film, or now, full frame cameras. But I didn't have a handy human model today, and I've been reading about the enormous health benefits of long walks, so I decided not to have any expectations but to take a Fuji X-H1 and the 56mm f1.2 APD along with me on a two hour walk through central Austin. My one nod to curiosity about the camera's "wide open" performance was the application of a variable neutral density filter to the front of the lens. Sadly, mine did not come with the .8 ND that was originally delivered along with the lens (about 3 stops). 

That's okay because I have a drawer full of variable and single neutral density filters to use on video projects. 

I shot most of these images at f1.2, compensating for bright sun with a combination of my lowest ISO (200) and my VND. Getting the right stuff in focus can be a challenge but I must say that the manual focusing ring is wonderful, with just the right tactile feedback and not too extensive a throw. If I had trouble narrowing in with AF I could switch to MF and nail every image every time. 

I love the idea of this lens and had a blast just getting to know it. 

This one amazed me. It's wide open but the building and crane are far enough away to still provide enough depth of field to cover both subject; at least in smaller displays....

Stunned by the sharpness of this machine when shot at 1.2 with the 56mm. 

f2.0 is not shabby either. 

A quick nod to the "Pixie" cameras. I've finally dialed in the right way to shoot with my Canon G15 and I'm making progress with the older G10.

Every camera seems to require its own operating procedures to ensure that you can get the best files from it, and everyone has a different idea of what "best files" look like so it stands to reason that everyone's operating procedures for each camera will come with a lot of variations. I always thought I wanted and needed an optical viewfinder but the small Canon's have such horrible OVFs that I've had to become adept at compositing and (guessing) exposure based on the rear screens. It's not that difficult for most stuff but what a pain in the butt if you are shooting in an area with high ambient light; the reflections off either screen are a major hindrance to seeing the frame correctly. 

Here's my routine for shooting with the G15: I set the camera to Large, Superfine Jpeg. I'm not shooting precious, once-in-a-lifetime stuff with these little gems so I don't want to spend an inordinate amount of time planted on my bottom in front of a big screen trying to duplicate the raw file alchemy that the cameras already do well as they create their own Jpegs from the raw material at the time of capture. So, no raw. Get it right in camera or just delete the offending mistakes before someone realizes that you (momentarily???) didn't have a clue as to what you were supposed to be doing. 

These cameras have small sensors so they aren't really my first choice for shooting in dungeons, in dim night clubs or out on the streets at night. They work best for shooting in bright light. The higher the EV the happier they are! And both cameras come complete with neutral density filters that can be switched on so you don't run out of shutter speed. I set the cameras for the lowest ISO possible and also switch in the ND filter when I'm shooting outside in the sun; that's because I like to use the f-stop that's just one stop down from wide open. With the G15 you'll mostly catch me working around f3.5 or f4.0. Anything smaller starts to deliver increasing doses of diffraction and anything wider doesn't seem as sharp to me. 

The meters in these cameras work pretty well but I'm loathe to depend on them, especially if it's hard in bright sun to check my work via chimping. That being the case I like to figure out the actual exposure based on the "sunny 16 rule," verify that this works by taking test shots and retreating to a shady spot or interior location to take a good look at the represented frames and the histograms and then setting my camera via the manual exposure controls. I find a setting that prevents highlight blow out and use it until the light changes or until I'm pointing the camera at something in totally different light. 

If I were to use the small cameras with a heightened sense of seriousness I would bring along a Hoodman loupe so I could "field check" the output while eliminating light contamination. But that sure messes up the ideal use of the cameras as small, light, highly portable and minimally noticeable tools...

Since manually setting exposures works so well I'm also all in on setting the WB manually. If I'm shooting in full sun, as I was in all the samples shown here it's just logical that all the color setting for the images should be exactly the same. I find that people who think older cameras have a "different look" are really responding to the reality that older automatic white balancing was not as sophisticated as it is in current cameras and they are mistaking inaccurate color metering with some color cast or rendering of images from older generation sensors. In the sample below (set at the "sun" pictogram in the WB menu) I find color that's a close match to my present generation of Fuji cameras when the Fuji cameras are set to the same WB preset. 

I use the flexizone metering which allows me to move the focusing sensor, but I never do. I keep it centered and move the camera to focus and then recompose. It's primitive and I'm sure your method of moving the AF point around until it's right over what you are interested in focusing on is much quicker more accurate but....my method works for me. Especially with a small sensor camera. 

I don't do much post production to the images. As I've written above, if I missed it I blame myself for sloppy technique and toss the shot into the virtual waste basket. Trying to apply mascara to a pig is not a pastime in which I'm interested. 

My initial interest in these G series point and shoot cameras from Canon was piqued when I got a G10 back in 2008 and subsequently read an article on Luminous Landscape in which the late Mr. Reichmann  wrote about shooting almost identically composed frames with a much larger format camera and also with the G10, made reasonably big prints and challenged pros and non-pros alike to figure out which prints camera from which camera....   Just the fact that the question was raised at all made me think that something was afoot there. I pressed my copy into service and used it for the majority of images in an illustrated book I wrote for Amherst Media. The images looked perfect as they were generally printed at less than 8.5 by 11 inches at 300 dpi. Most were half or quarter page sizes and I'd be hard pressed to tell which images came from a Canon 5D mk2 or the G10 in that context.

If I press one of the smaller cameras into service for a real job (which I do from time to time) it's probably a quick illustration of: A. Something that can be well light in the studio or is already well lit by the sun. B. Something that does not move so I can place the camera on a tripod, use exactly the right shutter speed and focus very meticulously. And, C. Something that I can shoot at the lowest ISO on the camera (80) for the best image quality. 

Done well these cameras can perform really wonderful feats of imaging. Used in a cavalier way they'll dive down to meet your lowest expectations. But really, that's on you. The more difficult a camera is to use the more you have to pay attention to technique. But you'll be rewarded by surprisingly good shots....except when you aren't. 

Waiting for the right light. A few minutes of idle time, a big difference in the entire frame. Courtesy my Canon G15.

These were shot about 30 seconds apart and they serve to remind me of the value of patience. They look so incredibly different to me that it was amazing. But then, I am easily amazed. 

Happy Father's Day to all you Dads! And Grandfathers! 

The view of Zach Theatre's Topfer Stage from the street. Across Lamar Blvd.

When I first started photographing for Zach Theatre we called it, Zachary Scott Theater (named after a Hollywood actor) and it consisted of two pretty small, brick buildings each of which had smallish theater spaces. One seated about 150 while the other one, in a pinch might seat 180.

Right in the middle of the economic downturn the board of Zach Theatre embarked on a capital campaign aimed at building a first class performance space, complete with a "fly tower" and stage trap doors as well as (my favorite) two spacious bars, one on each level.

The theater design followed one production which was done in a refurbished musical hall. The sound in that rented space was atrocious even though it was supposedly built from the ground up as a performance space. The board learned just how important sound quality in a space is and spared no expense to make the Topfer Stage one of the best sounding auditoriums I have ever worked in or seen a live performance in. It absolutely blows away the main theater at the UT campus, the 2500 seat Bass Concert Hall. 

Lately, the area around the theatre complex has become my beginning and end point for my walks around downtown. Mostly because of the parking and the free bathrooms (yes, I have a name badge....). 

Just thought you'd want to see an exterior shot of a place in which I spend a lot of time and energy working with cameras, lenses and actors.