Old Portraits.

Swabbed, Jabbed, Side-effected, Basically Happy.

 I swam hard this morning. I swam hard because I predicted I won't want to get out of bed tomorrow morning. I was trying to save up some exercise. I won't want to get up tomorrow morning because after swim practice today I made my way to my favorite (non-chain) pharmacy to get poked twice in the arm with vaccines. At 10:20 this morning I got the latest flu shot and the new, bi-valent Moderna vaccine against Covid. That marks my fifth adventure with the Covid vaccine and if past performance is a good predictor of future events I'll have a headache, a slight fever and acute fatigue by tomorrow. Maybe, since I bundled both vaccines, the general malaise will strike tonight. 

I'm happy to get vaccinated and so far (leaving desk and finding wood to knock on) the vaccines seem to have done their jobs as I have yet to test positive for Covid-19 in the past two and a half years. I hope to continue my record of good health. 

While I do interface with humanity at swim practice (outdoors), at photo shoots, and in small social gatherings I have not flown on an airplane since 2019. I have eaten indoors at restaurants only a handful of times and usually only during times when community spread is low. I've done several big, multi-day corporate events but each one required all participants to show proof of current vaccination. I have turned down a number of assignments that would have required me to fly commercial or spend a lot of time in rooms filled with large numbers of people whose health status info was vetted by the "honor system." 

Don't write to tell me that you've had Covid X number of times and it was mild, like a head cold, or a demure case of the flu. We still don't have a good handle on the long term effects of Covid infections. Everyone has a different response. Many of us who are healthy and well positioned to resist the effects come into contact frequently with people who are not so lucky or not at all impervious to the side effects that are currently killing 500-600 people per day in the USA (Another metric in which we lead the world...). Telling me about the effects you experienced in the moment is like chain smokers telling me smoking will never affect them because they feel okay right now.

But spending less time out in the virus stew pot gives me so much more time to look at photo stuff on the internet....

Like the new Apple iPhone 14 Pro. If you haven't read the specs you might want to visit the Apple.com website and take a peak. 48 megapixel sensor that automatically samples at 12 megapixels in low light. The world's fastest phone processor. An action mode for handheld video work that makes gimbals less necessary for highly kinetic work. 2X the low light photo ability of the previous phone cameras. Emergency satellite texting from....anywhere. Etc. There's so much computational potential to this generation of iPhones that, if I were thinking of starting a photography business today I'd probably choose one of the two Pro models as my basic camera. And all of this with no price increase from the iPhone 13s from last year. 

I've been waiting for a good reason to upgrade from an XR and I just found one. I can order mine tomorrow and, if I read the website correctly, can get delivery sometime near the end of the month. Nice. Here's what they have to say at the world's biggest digital camera review site: https://www.dpreview.com/articles/6110937480

Or you can tell me about how you build your own phones to save money....

Another "camera" that caught my attention was the newly announced Hasselblad medium format camera, the X2D. It bumps up resolution from their previous model to 100 megapixels. It now features in body image stabilization (5 axis) that's claimed to be good for up to seven stops effect. The camera now uses a combination of CD and PD AF for much faster focusing. The camera shoots in 16 bit and should have crazy good color discrimination in the files and you couple that with 15 stops of dynamic range. Should be an absolute killer performer. But there's more. I never looked twice at the X1D. A different time I guess.  The new model was announced alongside three brand new lenses that are relatively fast; all f2.5, but more importantly, all of them feature built-in leaf shutters. 

After reading all the available info about the new X2D and the lenses I started putting a kit together in my head. It would consist of the camera and the 55mm f2.5 XCD V lens. That equals a 45mm focal length on a 35mm sensor camera, is chalk full of interesting glass and promises to be the perfect lens to mate with the X2D for a "take anywhere" travel camera for someone who just wants a single unit for travel and found art work. It would not be cheap. The camera is about $8K and the lens adds another $4.5K. So, once you pony up for some extra batteries you are looking at just shy of $13K + sales tax. But....it's about as cool a camera as I've seen in the digital age and it clicks all the boxes. Can we wrap one up for you? (Kidding, we don't sell cameras and we don't do the affiliate thing... I make money making and selling photographs to commercial and advertising clients). 

The other camera I am anticipating is the one I think Leica and Panasonic are jointly working on. I have no insider information but I'm hoping for a Leica Q variant that, like the older X-Vario camera model, has a potent zoom lens permanently mounted on the front. Something like a 28-65mm f3.5 which would be wickedly sharp and yet still low profile. They might as well launch it with the recent Sony 60 megapixel sensor. If I'm right and they do this I'm just hoping they keep the same battery as we currently have in the SL cameras and the Q2; I'd hate to have to "invest" in yet another proprietary line of batteries from Leica. That would be an absurd stretch. Also, hoping they take a page from the Apple playbook and add some crazy good computational image enhancing magic to the system.

They could launch this camera as a Panasonic at $4500 or a Leica at $6500 and I think they would constantly sell more than they can make. I'd be first in line to order one.  From either camp. 

On a domestic note: We now have a new refrigerator. The delivery/installer damaged the first one during the delivery process this week so we rejected it and had the retailer rush out a new one the next morning. B. supervised the second install process with an eagle eye and saved the installer from their own incompetence more than once. I guess this is just another supply chain issue. This appliance was not our first choice. That would have been a beautiful Bosch side by side unit. But we just couldn't survive the 9 months between now and the anticipated delivery date to get that one so we compromised and got a unit that could be delivered in a week. I think it's fine.

If we decide we can't live with the second choice we'll order the one we really want, keep the current unit until the new one arrives and then donate the recently delivered one to a local charity. So many complications compared to life before Covid. 

Stay healthy. Stay fit. Remember that Happiness is a choice. Make good choices.


Lighting on location in a post flash era. Less is optimal.


For Samsung, in NYC.

Location lighting was different a decade ago. If you were shooting for commercial clients and wanted clean color while photographing in a space lit by a combination of mismatched fluorescent lights, with a big dose of daylight streaming through windows which had a green tint to them, your general "go-to" plan was to bring enough strobe power to totally overwhelm the mixed lighting. Set a high sync speed like 1/160th or 1/250th and just overwhelm any light that would give you an unwanted color cast in your image. If you wanted the background rendered in the same neutral color you lit it with the same kind of electronic flash.

This "technique" was tried and true but it also meant that photographers were bringing mountains of gear along with them to shoots, running extension cords all over the place and spending ample time lighting and testing. When LED lights came into play, along with various other continuous light sources, everything changed. At that point we were no longer in the game of overpowering existing light but instead finding ways to coexist with it. 

I did a lot of research back in 2008 and 2009 about the best ways to light with LEDs. I had to. I was writing a book on the subject. My guide quickly became learning the methods used by videographers and film makers. This entailed subtracting unwanted light rather than overpowering it. 

In my business we take a lot of location portraits in areas with mixed light. My nemesis has always been unwanted top light. Lights positioned up in ceilings ( usually called "can lights") that cast unwanted light on the tops of models' heads, shoulders and even their faces. I realized that the best way to deal with these light sources was not to try to out muscle them but to block them altogether. I might find the lights useful for lighting up a long hallway so I don't want to kill a whole circuit outright I just want to deal with the ones that pollute the light falling on my main subjects. 

Taking my cue from movie gaffers I started putting light blocking panels, called flags, between the top lights and my subjects. Then I could bring in my own lights and design a nice portrait look. If the color in the background was off it's easy enough to select the background in PhotoShop and apply some color corrections after the fact. The crux of the job is to make sure the talent it well lit. Mixed color casts on a face are a bitch to fix.

Over the years I've used foam core panels, pop up diffusers with black covers, ENG panels and frames and  a range of pro tools designed for the film world. But what I really wanted was something that was light enough not to tip over a heavy light stand when extended up ten feet or so. Something that was easy to pack down and quick to set up. Something that had multiple other uses and didn't cost a bundle.

Turns out I had all the pieces already sitting in the studio, patiently waiting for me to figure it out.

When I light two different portraits today, at one of my favorite law firms, I'll set up my LED lighting as usual but when I go to blocking the can lights above my subjects I'll be doing it with a 48 inch or 60 inch photo umbrella. I'll use an adapter on a lightweight side arm to extend the umbrella over the top of the subject and position the umbrella about two feet above the subject's head. The umbrella I'll be using is much lighter than a 4x4 foot panel and it's easy to pop up and attach to a bracket. Adding the black covered umbrella lightens my packing and hauling while providing the same kind of light modifying potential. And if I inadvertently destroy or lose an umbrella it's an easy, sub-$50 cost.

Pulling the unwanted light off the subject is probably the single most important method of making continuous lighting work on location. While you might think it would be easier just turn off the top lights most offices are wired so that turning off just the lights you don't want is nearly impossible. Turning off one set of lights might turn off lighting over a large amount of square footage and not every client wants to disrupt an entire workplace so you can get a portrait done. 

And even if you could kill all the lights in the space you'd have changed the look and feel that led you to select that particular location in the first place. 

Today's load out has been distilled down to two light stands, one side arm, some clamps, a couple umbrellas and a backpack full of fun cameras and lenses. Of course there is the main light and a back up light and, a key piece of gear = the cart on which to get all this stuff from a high rise parking garage to an equally high rise office building, up the elevator and across an expansive lobby. I could lose the cart but if I did I'd have to hire two or three assistants to carry everything. That's not in the cards. 

Subtracting unwanted light is my goal for this morning. Wish me luck. 


Happy Labor Day. I Hope Everyone has the Day Off.


I was out near Marble Falls, Texas, about an hour from Austin, to document the ground breaking of a new service center for Pedernales Electric Cooperative when I took this. We were in an out for the groundbreaking in a bit less than an hour...

The venue was a big, grassy pasture. In a few months it would be a big building dedicated to helping customers get service and also pay their bills. I arrived with the advance P.R. team, about half an hour before the executives and maybe an hour before the invited guests. We had the ritual shovels lined up next to a patch of turned over dirt so I could get photographs and someone else could get video of local elected officials and company poobahs tossing dirt in unison. Commemorating the day when another project would be launched in that county. Good for business and good for the thousands of Texans who depend on keeping the lights on (this area did not go down during the Texas Deep Freeze of 2021!!! Yay! Client!!!). 

The marketing folks had acquired a giant American flag and had the idea to suspend it between two high lift bucket trucks. It would flutter over the heads of the folks shoveling raw dirt. 

You can see by the clouds in the background that we were on the cusp of bad weather. As the guys started getting the flag positioned the wind picked up in angry little gusts and threatened to make "Old Glory" into a wicked sail. I grabbed the shot during a moment of relative calm and then moved on to some handshake and shoulder patting moments. 

We rounded everyone up, did the speeches, took the photos, grabbed the video as the wind picked up again and we could smell the fresh rain coming our way. The quick march back to the impromptu parking lots was a bit of chaos. The rain broke over us high and quick. Everyone got soaked. I said a little prayer to the photo gods beseeching them to honor the D810's reputation for ruggedness and water resistance. They answered my prayer but sent me a sign that I should cover the camera and lens with my best felt hat. Sadly, it was a goner. 

So much fun when you leave your home and go out on location to spend quality time running from a ground-breaking in the middle of a raging thunderstorm. Happily we all got our cars out of the field before the ground turned to mud and trapped us there. 

Good times. 

Crossing over into editorial work. Not a big jump...


©Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.

On the way to Johnson City, just this side of Dripping Springs, Tx. there was a restaurant combined with an outdoor amphitheater that featured lots and lots of live music. The restaurant and bar did a great business on days when the amphitheater was packed with music lovers. The place was called, "The Nutty Brown Cafe." 

I'd never been there before but an advertising agency was representing a natural gas service company and they asked me to head over there and take some photos. This was a few years back. A time when every photo shoot did NOT come complete with an ad agency entourage and a little coterie of clients. In fact, I had a cursory phone conversation with one art director, got a general feel for what they wanted and arrived by myself ready to introduce myself and get a bit of collaboration going with the kitchen staff. 

The above image of the chef du jour was not in the brief and probably not at all what the final client was looking for. But that's okay. We covered the job in a traditional way with smiling servers, dedicated kitchen workers, blue flames leaping under sizzling pans filled with Texas comfort food. Lots of images of people working with gas ranges...

The cook/chef and I ended up spending an hour or so making the requisite photos. We laughed at each other's jokes. We traded war stories about being "fry cooks" (I spent a couple of years during the early part of my career cooking for the bar shift/late night at one of Austin's legendary 24 hour diner/restaurants). 

Early on I noticed the tattoo on his hands; between his knuckles. Before I did my final pack up and exit I asked him if we could do one shot with his hands out in from of him. 

I was photographing with a Nikon D810 and a 24-120mm zoom that day. I had a small Nikon flash banging into a white corner behind me. We did ten or fifteen shots and then we both had to get back to work. He needed to prep for that evening's dinner rush and I had a deadline to meet for some quick turnaround images. 

What a fun way to end a shoot. 


I think my favorite skill for portraiture is to slow down and connect with my subject in some way that transcends the process of photographing.


©Kirk Tuck, All Rights Reserved.

Nifty Fifty lens and the Leica SL camera. A good match. Nice color/create black and whites.


My only hesitation with the Leica 24-90mm Vario Elmarit solved.

Love the 24-90mm lens. It's a perfect range of focal lengths and it would be hard to fault the optical performance. I use the lens a lot and over the course of owning it for a year my only complaint has been the issues caused by the weight of the lens when using it on a tripod in a "portrait" orientation. I can screw down the tripod screw like gang-busters and from time to time still get the dreaded droop. The weight of the lens and camera cause the assemblage to twist downward. Gravity is a bitch. 

I was thinking about this recently and thought how great it would be if someone made a product specifically for my Leica lens that gave me a traditional lens/tripod collar. At the end of a fun day of photography I was uploading files to Lightroom and I plugged in a search on B&H Photo's website. And there it was. A Novoflex tripod collar for "selected" Leica SL lenses. Two lenses fit the bill; the 24/90 and the 90/280. I hit the "buy" button with enthusiasm. I hoped it would be a good purchase. Especially since I have portrait shoots booked for both this week and next. 

It arrived this morning at 11:48. The product is spare, minimal and works perfectly with my lens of choice. I've been playing with it for a while and it changes the way I can work with the lens on a tripod. I know a lot of people who like to handhold their lenses when they make portraits but I'm more comfortable letting the tripod to the hard work. And, unlike a lot of my peers, I prefer to use continuous light sources instead of flash so the ability to comfortably use a tripod vectors into my working style. 

From a theoretical angle I like the "idea" that we're taking weight off the lens mount at the camera and also at the lens. Even though I am sure both are designed to handle the weight I'm of the opinion that the further we stay from the edges of an operational envelope the longer the gear will stay in tolerance. I am now officially smitten with the new accessory and the potential it opens up for me with the lens.
It's been a busy Sunday. I delivered the Canon FTb film camera with a 50mm lens to one of my young swim coaches this morning. He asked me what I do for a living one morning at practice and when he found out that I'm a photographer he told me about his desire to work with an actual film camera. He was born in 1999, into the age of "full digital" so it's all new and interesting to him. I needed someone to hand off the camera and lens to and he just happened to speak up at the right time. A welcome reduction of inventory for me and a no cost introduction to film for him. 

I left the pool and headed over to the Clarksville neighborhood to have coffee with my friend and former assistant and video partner, Chris. He sold his house here in Austin for more money than he ever dreamed possible and he and his wife are moving to the Pacific NW. I'll miss Chris. He was an inventive artist and ready to take deep dives into whatever interested him. We worked on still photography projects together and he partnered with me on several successful video projects for restaurants. I even used him as talent once.

He forgot to pack one thing for the move out of town and so he left it in my care. I now have his O'Connor Ultimate 1030D  cinema tripod and fluid head here in my office. Should be fun to play with for a while. It's a beast. 



International Self Portrait with a Camera in the Frame Day.


Darn contrast detect AF. I was just trying to get that lens in focus...

Attempted photo with a (tentatively) Michael Johnston approved Sigma fp camera and a Panasonic 50mm f1.8 lens.