Biggest unexpected inconvenience of getting back to work. Comfort.

Ben before becoming a professional writer.

You know me. I never complain. And this last week I was pretty darn happy to be back at work. It wasn't about the paycheck, that was a very secondary consideration. No, I like being busy, I love the problem solving of making more complex photographs for corporations and professional practices, and having jobs gives me more sense of purpose than sitting home working on some hobby or crusade.

I was very happy to do a three day project for a very tech forward company and even happier to be able to include Ben. Working with your post college-aged kid on an assignment is fun and satisfying. He had the flex in his schedule and I needed someone I could count on as an assistant and a second set of eyes and hands.

I could not have been more pleased to be "back in the saddle" with the Panasonic cameras (which I am coming to believe represent the last of the truly professional cameras in the market --- the S1 system....). The cameras were absolutely suited to this sort of higher budget work since reliability, repeatability and overall quality are much more important priorities than how many frames per second one can shoot or how tenaciously the AF can lock on with a handheld camera and a fast moving subject. I might think differently if I was a sports photographer. But I'm not.

The ability to generate highly detailed files of products via the multi-shot, hi-res feature is valuable. To hand over perfect files that can weigh in at over 300 MB is remarkable. The other joy across three days was just how competent and beautiful the results from my collection of Panasonic and Sigma Art lenses really are. I know that many reviewers split hairs and try to quantify how many Zeiss engineers can dance on the head of a pin but I also know now that after you've hit a certain level a lot of the really good lenses on the market are within a percentage point of each other for actual performance. At any rate it's nice to work with comfortable tools that deliver professional/well balanced results.

We also enjoyed the good and happy collaboration of our client who made both Ben and I feel more like friends than vendors. Working in a largely empty space, along with truly professional partners is a joy unto itself. And when we're all of the same mind on a project the work just seems to flow.

So, after all this written Kumbaya what have I found to complain about? In short, it's the discomfort of working for long periods of time with a face mask.

Having been to college, studied hard in many science courses, and having a subscription to Medscape, I very much understand the absolute need for everyone in the USA to be wearing face masks in all public settings and especially indoors. I totally get it. When I go out I have a mask on my face and a back-up mask in my pocket. I won't work next to people who don't take the relatively easy protection protocol seriously. If you want to walk around with your nose sticking out of your mask I guess that's up to you but please don't stand anywhere near me!

My discomfort with masks that are used over the course of eight hours is nothing psychological and certainly nothing ideological. If I can master just one negative thing about wearing a mask I'll be in good shape for future jobs. Here's the deal:

If you wear glasses and wear almost any approved mask your glasses will invariably fog up when you work in air conditioned spaces. When your glasses fog up you can't see to inspect a product or look at the review results of a photographic exposure on your laptop screen! I developed a few workarounds to help make the work flow but none are optimal. I can only imagine that it will be even worse when working in freezing weather as well!!!

So, in an air conditioned studio, working on very precisely focused and highly detailed product shots, the EVF of the camera becomes a big and very important feature. If you can set your diopter to a useful correction and use the EVF well you can work that part of the process (accurately manually focusing your camera and lens) without glasses. I could and that was a big plus for me. All the critical focusing was done with my eye riveted to the EVF of the S1R. In this use case the 5.75 megapixel, super clean EVF was the most superior way of working I could find. I took off my glasses and magically, no fog. 

Could I have worked with a 2.74 or 3.68 megapixel finder instead? Sure, but if I can work with a better finder experience why wouldn't I?

If I looked at the computer screen with my regular glasses (bi-focals) I would invariably get fogged lenses because I was breathing but also I had my head tilted down to see the computer which caused any escaping breath to go straight up to the cooler surface of my glasses. I found I could do better by using a very small profile pair of reading glasses instead of my regular glasses. There was less surface area to capture my moisture laden breath and more ventilation around the lenses. I tossed the regular glasses in the gear case and spent the of the time looking through the EVF with no glasses and at the computer with cheap, small profile reading glasses. This was the best way for me to work.

There is a difference, as far as comfort goes, between various kinds of masks. The two highest rated that are not N95 masks are the standard, three ply surgical masks that come in various shades of blue. These are meant to be disposable, one use masks. You'll want to brush your teeth often unless you really want to come to grips with how grungy your breath can get by the end of the day if your oral hygiene is vague....

The second highest rated face masks are the three ply cloth masks that people are making but which are also available commercially. 

I started the first day with a black, three ply cloth mask because it fits so well and doesn't move around as much as the surgical masks when I speak. But the cloth masks muffle voices more, making it hard to give and receive direction. They also heat up more quickly and tend to get damp from the repeated deposits of condensation from your breathing. 

By the end of the day with the cloth mask I was pretty miserable. It was also a day of trial and error for glasses and visibility. The next day I switched to a surgical, disposable mask and it made a big difference in my ability to work efficiently. That, and the reading glasses reduced the discomfort level down into the readily manageable category. 

By the third day we had all this nailed down and we were humming right along. Masks came off only during socially distanced coffee breaks and the lunch meal. Fortunately those events took place in a large lobby area with very tall ceilings and were attended by only four people.

So, with the right mask, the right glasses and a stellar, state-of-the-art EVF I was able to work with nearly as much fluidity and efficiency as we have in the past. You get used to stuff. When you know it's important it's even easier to get used to.  Interesting to think about but I may have just written the first "review for photographers" about face masks and masking methods during interior, commercial photo shoots. 

At the end of the second and third days I tossed my used mask into the "bio-hazard" waste bin, washed my hands (again and again) and pulled out a second mask to use exiting the building and chatting in the parking lot. I see masks falling into the same category as paper towels. Use and toss. Add a bit to the invoice for replenishing and move on. 

If you don't want to wear a mask at work you probably aren't going to be invited to work at the same companies we're servicing and I certainly won't be hiring or working with you either. No matter what you think your "rights" are. Your rights legally, morally and ethically happen to end at the interface of public domain and private property. 

Don't let (flawed) ideology kill your business. Learn, adapt, profit. 



Martin said...

Hi, Kirk. Long-time reader but first-time commentator. Anyway, I completely agree with you that surgical masks are more comfortable than cloth ones. I've done a few comparisons, and the best surgical mask I've come across is from a company called Armbrust American. (Easy enough to find via a Google search.) The material is especially soft and the nose strip stays in place once you've conformed it to your face. And it's made here in Austin!

Onward: Thru the fog!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk

I have N95 like masks that have a small 0.2""? pu very soft foam tape on the (inside of) nose strip.

Those have a lot less leakage to the eyes.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Thanks Martin, I'll check into those first thing tomorrow. Appreciated.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi Anonymous, thanks! Go ahead and send me a box. I'll put them to good use! Or....were you just bragging?

Anonymous said...

Electrically heated spectacle lenses? Goggles with corrected lenses. Simplest might be frames where the lower part fitted the face since I think it’s the warm moist air coning up from the mask. People (surgeons?) must have solved this before.

Richard Parkin

Eric Rose said...

Maybe a snorkel? Just kidding. One way to bring those that feel their "rights" Trump yours is for the health insurance companies to cancel their insurance if they come down with Covid 19. Kind of like when you get into an accident while driving impaired. Insurance company drops you quicker than a fly attacks a good hamburger.


Tony said...

Kirk, thank you for continuing to write and share your thoughts and experiences, your blog is on my daily 'must read' list. Plus I enjoy the photos you share, especially as it's a reminder the need to keep practising any skill to retain it (I'm at the age of 'use it or lose it'!).

The following won't meet your criteria for publishing in your comments (it mentions gear!)

I too take portraits, but of live small animals in the 1-12 mm (1/24 to 1/2 inch) range. They are never willing subjects and I need to show their role in their (biological) communities and their characteristics. With a tiny DoF and the need to freeze movement* and to capture them doing something it can be quite challenging. (*it's not the speed of the subject but speed of movement across the frame that counts)
Some do exquisite focus-stacking of dead insects, but to me it's like taking high-res photos of corpses.
I get grumpy about internet 'experts' saying MFT is dead as it's an ideal format for macro. For example, by definition at 1:1 an image of a 3mm subject is 3mm regardless of the format. While full-frame has more DoF than MFT (as the physical aperture is larger and there is less diffraction), filling the frame means higher magnification which negates that advantage. And the weight and size of MFT out in the field is another bonus. Plus I'm using my 40+ year-old Olympus OM 38mm and 20mm macro lenses, and yes, they are sharp.

This is politics, so definitely won't meet your criteria:

This comment was triggered by your President and State Department issuing a travel advisory to not visit my country, New Zealand. The reason: we have 23 active Covid-19 cases (wow!). He neglected to mention they are all in managed isolation and that we have now passed 100 days without any community transmission and that life has returned to normal for most of us (the international travel industry is of course badly hit). And that only NZ citizens are being admitted and only after 14 days in managed isolation. We had total lockdown earlier in the year. It was led by the desire to have minimal deaths and by science, not by politics or economics. So the daily TV briefings had our Prime Minister and our Director-General of Health together explaining what and why (we also had a cross-party committee scrutinising govt. decisions). We are not known for our compliance to govt. directives, but this was an appeal to the whole country as a team, and the goals, benefits and costs were made clear. Perhaps your President could learn something . . .

Anonymous said...

Masks are hard. I’ve found if I wear mine under my glasses, my glasses (progressives/plastic frames) slip off easily and don’t line up right. If I wear them over my glasses I don’t have as good of a seal and my glasses fog. I have tried a bunch of fabric masks, paper masks and a K9 but none work well enough to wear for long. So far, I mostly avoid situations where I would need a mask for long.

Anonymous said...

>Hi Kirk

>I have N95 like masks that have a small 0.2""? pu very soft foam tape on the (inside >of) nose strip.

>Those have a lot less leakage to the eyes.

Sorry for the misunderstanding, I'm not selling those. Those are just as an example.
I think there's a DIY test possible on you're masks. The soft PU tape with glu on them is normally widely available and could be a rather fast test. (They are sold to insulate windows or better to minimize the air leakage on the moving parts.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi Anonymous, I was just teasing you. But sincere thanks for the additional information. I'll try it. KT

Anonymous said...

When I hear people spouting off that it is their "right" to go without a mask in a public environment, I am reminded immediately of the famous statement by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes that freedom of speech does NOT include, "falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic".

In my eyes, failure to wear a mask in a multi-person environment is directly equivalent. That action is risking the lives of other people, just like driving a car at high speed while drunk as a skunk.

- Tom -

Jim Metzger said...

You might try an old ski goggle trick, rub a small drop of dishwashing liquid soap on both side of the lens and buff out. Do not wash off. It breaks the surface tension of the moisture and reduces or eliminates fogging.

Mark the tog said...

It is interesting to note that we have a Federal law mandating seatbelts for our protection that almost no one contests yet a mask is somehow an infringement of our rights.
I am happy to report that those people are almost nonexistent where I live.

Frank said...

I also wear glasses and a surgical mask, make a 180° twist on the rubber band before putting it behind your ears. Not perfect, but this helps a lot against fogging.

Graham said...

You could try shaving cream on the inside of your glasses, wiped off with a clean tissue. Also some swear by a rolled up piece of tissue across the top of an N95 mask, but the earlier mentioned piece of adhesive foam tape could be even better.

Anonymous said...


I am surprised no one has mentioned this earlier. Go to your local Scuba diving shop, they carry a product that prevents diving masks from fogging. Rub a drop in the inside of the mask with your finger then give it a quick rinse.

Saliva also works.


Rene said...


I bought several of these - https://breathe99.com - for my family which I have found to be effective and comfortable for extended periods. The fogged up lenses was not a problem for me. They are pricey compared to disposables in the short run, but more environmentally sustainable in the long run, and probably cheaper.

Patrick Dodds said...

The fogging thing drives me nuts and it is summer here in the UK; it's bad now but winter is going to be a nightmare. I work some of the time in a hospital and masks are mandatory on my commute as well as at work so I've tried various things including shaving cream, washing up liquid, dive shop stuff and saliva. None of them work very well and contacts are my next consideration. That said, the hand sanitizer at the hospital isn't too bad a solution. Your use of the the diopter adjustment sounds helpful though for the days when I'm photographing.

Unknown said...

Kirk, for fogging glasses try dry soap. Drag it once across each lens surface and spread it across the lens with a soft cotton cloth (I think microfiber will remove all of it, so don't) and little pressure just until the lens looks clean again. Each application lasts a day.

As for masks, I'm reminded of a commentary in an American motorcycle magazine in the 1970's I'll have to cite from memory: "Individual rights aside, a person that refuses to use a crash helmet just hasn't a head worth saving". Given that cranial trauma ties up a lot of medical resources that could be used by other people that didn't get in a mess by their own decision, I think this is a valid analogy to the present Covid problem.


Peter Dove said...

I’m surprised nobody else has mentioned it, but what bugs me the most about mask-fogged glasses is thinking what else might be spewing past the edge of the mask. I’m pretty sure I had COVID (mild), my brother certainly had it (bad), and his GF had it (dead), so thanks anonymous for the foam tip. Kinda embarrassed I didn’t think of it, as there’s plenty lying around. I’ll give it a try. I don’t want to pass CV along when I inhale some tainted droplets somewhere. Bound to happen, whether I get sick or not.


Margaret Wong said...

My neighbour is a surgeon and they use an easily removable surgical tape to stick down the top of the mask and stop the fogging! I go some of the tape from the pharmacist and carry it in my camera bag all the time. It works :)

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Thanks Margaret, I'll give that a try! Sounds like it would work well.