4.24.2019

It's interesting when a person resists procrastination and actually does a project. The project seems to move everything to a higher level. Like Andy's book.


I've known Andy for a number of years. I met him when he attended a lecture on lighting I gave at BookPeople (an Austin independent book store) about ten years ago. At the time he was an ardent amateur photographer who soaked up information like a sponge. Over the years he's gotten more and more serious about his photography but not in a traditional way. He's never been much impressed by the latest and greatest gear and prefers working with an ever rotating (and big) collection of point-and-shoot digital cameras that seem to represent all the good stuff from the last ten to twelve years. 

A few years ago he upped his game by starting a blog which he nurtures with daily postings. You can see the blog here: https://blog.atmtxphoto.com Occasionally he'll write about gear by way of a review but you can tell that standard reviews bore him and he's weaned his readers off the low hanging fruit. His real strength as a blogger is that he is constantly shooting and then talking about the process of photographing rather than blathering on, writing about, well, gear. He'll tell you what camera he used and why he liked it but you don't come to ATMTX to learn about the latest Zeiss Otus lens or Nano Acuity. Kinda refreshing. He's also not selling workshops, or flogging someone's sponsored product.

So, Andy has a day job and he doesn't have time to take traditional assignments but when his real work requires travel he doesn't go anywhere without a camera or three in his hands. Recently he found himself in Bangalore and Mysore India. I'm not sure, technically, how long he was there for but I do know he was there long enough to fill up a book with well over 100 wonderful street photographs from his adventure. 

And I mean adventure. While most U.S. business people tend to stay in the "safety" of guarded hotels and corporate centers Andy is right at home on the streets with real people. He's also has a fearlessness laced with a gentle and low key demeanor. 

I was floored when he pulled out this book at our lunch on Monday (Andy, sorry, I realize I really ate most of the queso...) and we started to leaf through it. Andy designed the book, chose the images, did the post processing and ran with the project all the way to completion. And it's a very nicely done book filled with images that are as good or better than most of the images I see from "major" talents these days. 
I really liked the way Andy paced the book and how he found resonant images he could place side by side for effect. The paper isn't premium grade; hell, it isn't even glossy or lustre, more of a trade book grade, but the images work really well on it and, like a lot of art books being bandied about, the production values make the book more accessible instead of more "precious." 


The book is a self-published work done at Blurb but it's the equal of many books that find their way through traditional publishing. When Andy gave me a copy I couldn't wait to get home to my favorite reading chair and sit, with a hot cup of real coffee, and give each page my full attention. 

So, what has the book done for me? It's woken me up to the idea that real artists are constantly creating instead of sitting around waiting for fate or fortune to throw the next project into my lap. It's made me realize that we live in a time when all of us can afford to create our own books and be our own publishers. 

Andy is already looking ahead to the next ten books. Everywhere he goes is a potential project. Even Austin, our home town, is a potential, future book. He kicked my ass into gear in a big way. 

Here is the link to Blurb where people can buy the book:
https://www.blurb.com/b/9354093-on-the-street-india

And here is his blog post about it:
https://blog.atmtxphoto.com/2019/04/05/my-first-book/

I guess if you are really into photography (with a huge "P") you could drop $10,000 for a Steve McCurry print over at the Magnum Photo shopping mall. But if you are into a wide and new vision of the possibilities of photography right now you could drop all of $18 for your very own copy of "On the Street: India" and get a taste for what one guys, with cheap cameras, no media connections, no Magnum connection, etc. can do all on his own. Or you can buy both and cover all your bases. 
The back cover. 

So, out of my lunch with Andy I get a great book, a huge serving of motivation, and a newer understanding of (in a good way) where we are right now with some parts of photography. The fun and non-pretentious parts. But our conversation also veered into topics like the visual differences between CCD sensors and CMOS sensors and the appeal of smaller, cheaper cameras that are less scary or obtrusive to our subjects. 

I was reminded of the Canon G10 and like most overly pampered and entitled people I thought about getting one again, the universe took me at my word, and today at 2 pm, in a soaking rainstorm, a friend knocked on my office door and delivered to me a like new G10 in the original box. I vowed not to spend any more on cameras until I've flogged the G10 and squeezed a lot of new art from it but of course you know I was on the web not more than fifteen minutes later ordering some additional Wasabi Power batteries for my new artist tool. And that's when I also started considering the G15. 

And off we go.  But, circling back to the book, it's not in any way camera dependent. Andy's success with the project was not predicated on connections, sponsorships, deals or quid pro quos. He wanted to do the project and do it well. So....he....just did it. 

And he showed me that we can do our projects too.  That's it.

(Andrew Molitor! Buy one. If you don't like it I'll buy it from you and pay for the shipping. It's a book!!!)

What did I learn last night when I used the Fuji 100-400mm lens for 95% of my documentation of a play?

Chanel as "Vinette" in "The Ballad of Klook and Vinette."

I photographed this play's technical rehearsal on Sunday evening and I used two different lenses; the 16-55mm and the 50-140mm f2.8. I covered the production from the second row, center of the house, and got lots and lots of good images. But not everything was "set" of the final production that evening. There were a few costume changes and some more set dressing to go before the dress rehearsal with audience so I came back last night to build some new images into the catalog which would give the marketing people some updated images to use. 

But since I felt that we were nearly 100% covered in terms of needed photos I decided to experiment and do things a bit differently for last night's shoot. I packed the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 Fuji lens and an X-H1 body. I also packed a second body and the 16-55mm because ---- just because. 

My intention was to shoot from the very back row of the theater in the center. It's a smaller house than our main stage so the top row is really only ten or twelve rows up... from the stage floor. I also intended to use the 100-400mm mounted on a big, Benro video monopod; the kind with small "chicken" feet that help anchor the monopod. 

I shot for a few minutes with the monopod but it really hampered the way I usually work in the theater, which is entirely handheld. It was just to cumbersome to use when following people around the stage and trying to comp very quickly. 

The lens is sharp and, out of nearly 1,000 frames only a handful were spoiled by not getting exact focus.  Even though parts of the play were quite dark I only had the lens hunt or refuse to lock on twice and in each episode a slight change of targeting got use back on track quickly. 

I probably won't try this again because the long focal lengths were too limiting. I'm usually working from the other direction (with lenses like the 16-55mm) and trying to zoom in just a bit more than the lens will give me. In this situation I worked hard at 100mm to get good "two" shots (two actors in the frame) with enough air around them  not to feel claustrophobic and I didn't have nearly as many opportunities as I thought I would to take advantage of the really long end of the lens. I took a bunch of tight shots near 400mm but they look more like headshots than documentation of a play. Live and learn. Or, rather, try something new and learn. 

What I really learned was that working above the stage feels off to me. I prefer to be level with or just very slightly above the actors for camera position. I learned that the 100-400mm is a very good lens. I was impressed with the sharpness I was able to get, handheld and wide open. The image stabilization worked well and, with the camera in "boost" mode everything felt snappy and engaged. 

Hitting and holding focus is tougher when you go longer. If you use S-AF and lock in on a point, like an eye, you run the risk of the actor moving just a bit before you commit to engaging the shutter. On a long lens just and inch or two can mean the difference between acceptable sharpness and the trash can. With C-AF you might start with your focus point on the object you want in focus but as actors move and the frame changes the point of sharp focus may end up somewhere else. The solution for some shots is face/eye detection but there were plenty of shots where the eyes weren't visible in the way the camera might need to see them. 

I learned that my initial choice of lenses for theater work is optimal for the way I do stuff. The 140mm of the 50-140 seems to be long enough, even on the main stage and the 16-55mm, when used close enough to the stage, is great for wide shots, full width of stage shots and then also medium to large group shots. 

I've really gotten the color, contrast and general look I like down to a near science with the Fuji X-H1 and I'm happy I have three....just in case. Adding back contrast and saturation while keeping the shadows open is like magic. The Eterna color profile is by far my favorite when working on contrasty stages. I dial down the noise reduction a bit which wins me back some sharpness in Jpegs and reduces the chance of getting plasticky skin tones at high ISOs and reducing the sharpness in camera also helps keep noise in check. 

I was able to use ISO 6400 without fear last night and the files look almost as good as those shot at 3200. The real secret is just to get your color balance and your exposure correct. That buys you some wiggle room when it comes to overall quality. Surprisingly, the Jpegs are pretty solid and can take a lot of tweaking in Lightroom. The don't faint and fall apart with some aggressive post production. 

I won't drag along the 100-400mm for the smaller theater assignments again but I have come to respect the optical performance of that lens and can't wait to use it at the next swim meet. It's definitely a keeper. I'm still a 24-200mm adherent (ff equiv. implied).  That's about it. 

400mm. wide open.




400mm. Wide Open. Handheld. ISO 6400.

400mm. Wide Open. Handheld. ISO 6400.

Around 230mm. Wide open. 

4.23.2019

I had lunch with a photographer friend yesterday. He collects point and shots and compact cameras of all kinds. Now I'm retracing my steps back to a Canon G10.

A Canon G10 shot from one of my books. 

Every time I have lunch with a photographer friend it seems to cost me money. Yesterday I had lunch with Andy; he's a really good street, twilight, urban landscape and people photographer and he's fun to talk with because he's also whip smart about most technical issues surrounding cameras and the making of images. Over the years he's owned a number of "normal" cameras, the latest (which he still owns but rarely uses) is a Canon 6D and an assortment of Canon lenses, but whenever I see him out on the street, in a coffee shop or at a pop up bar at SXSW he's generally sporting smaller, more agile and less conspicuous cameras. Small Olympus cameras like the EPL-1 or the XZ-1. He's also got current Olympus cameras like the Pen-F and he seems to love that particular camera line. Yesterday at lunch he had, his iPhone, a DXO One camera, an XZ-1 and his Olympus Pen-F with the Leica/Panasonic 25mm f1.4. He also had his newly published book of photographs from his recent trip to India; but I'll review that shortly (spoiler: great little book). 

As Andy and I sat at Maudie's Tex-Mex Restaurant, eating queso, tacos and chicken tortilla soup we spent nearly three hours discussing photography, the thrill of travel and shooting, and also the bliss of making great photographs within ten miles of home. When conversation turned to small cameras I was reminded of what was one of my favorite powerful little compacts, the Canon G10. It had a 14 megapixel sensor that was smaller than today's Sony 1 inch sensor but it was a delightful camera to work with in good light. The files were nice and detailed (see above) and the operation of the camera was clean and straightforward. 

Interesting (at least to me) is that back in the middle ages of digital cameras, around 2009, I had a series of discussions with another friend who was totally invested in the idea that the only truly "professional" tools at the time were full frame cameras (35mm format) and that no publisher, ad agency or other client would ever use images from a "lesser" camera. Being the contrarian I am I bet my friend that I could illustrate at least half to three quarters of the product shots in a book I was doing about lighting equipment with a small point and shoot camera. I further stated that the images would print well, and that the publisher wouldn't care at all about the provenance of the images as long as they looked good in the final scans. It was probably a bit of hubris on my part but I'd been using the little Canon G10 for well over a year by that point and was pretty certain that the combination of low ISO's, my good friend Mr. Tripod and some added light would help me make files that could go toe to toe with files from bigger cameras; at least in the sizes that would be used in the printed book. 

the cover of this book was shot with a larger format camera.
Either an APS-C or full frame Canon or Nikon. 

I needed to illustrate a lot of products for this book and I worked pretty carefully. I made sure to get the white balances correct and I was careful to never over expose or under expose. I was especially careful to put the camera on a tripod and to shoot near the maximum aperture of the lens. I was going to get more than enough depth of field because of the small sensor size but I didn't want to give up any sharpness to diffraction, which would make itself known in at any setting over f5.6. It was funny to see a tiny point and shoot camera riding up on the top of a 500 Series Gitzo Studex tripod with a pan head at least five times bigger than the camera but I didn't lose any shots to vibration or camera movement. 

In the end about 90% of the images in the book, which are of the actual gear or products, were done with the G10 (all of the example images; portfolio stuff, were done through the years with any number of other cameras). While the book had a smaller audience that my "Minimalist Photographer" books (Location and Studio) it still sold well and turned a profit for me and the publisher. I won my bet. 

After that I went down some other gear-madness rabbit hole, sold off the smaller cameras, and turned my attention to interchangeable lens camera systems for a long time. But my chat over lunch with Andy reminded me of how much I enjoyed using those smaller cameras and so I'm now on a search for a super clean, low mileage G10. 

Even crazier is that I mentioned this to one of my other good, photographer friends over coffee this morning and he mentioned that he has... in his endless stash of cameras, exactly the camera I am looking for. I'll relieve him of it as soon as I can and spend some time getting reacquainted with a camera that doesn't feel like it has to prove anything. 

Strange how some of our favorite cameras  are those that we used and got rid of in years past only to reacquaint ourselves with them in the present. After going through my renewed desire for the G10 I also came across a long diary entry about my photographic road trip to west Texas in 2010. This led me to dig up the images from that trip; which I think are very good. The cameras I was using then were the Olympus EP-2 cameras, and a combination of the new micro four thirds lenses they were just starting to make in earnest for those cameras, as well as some adapted Olympus Pen FT lenses from the early 1970's. Now I'm on a search for one of those cameras as well. This time I can gloat a bit because I've never gotten rid of the older, manual focusing Olympus lenses, and I even have two time proven lens adapters just waiting for them. 

Must be rampant nostalgia for the "good old days" of digital. You know, back in 2010. 

Well, that's all for now. I need to make sure I've got a couple of X-H1s with charged batteries packed. I'm just about out the door for this evening's theater shoot. Wish me luck....

4.22.2019

A Production Photo from Zach Theater's "Klook and Vinette." A few different approaches to live theatre photography this week.

 ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.

I'm back at work this week and having fun. I photographed the technical rehearsal for a play at Zach Theatre yesterday (Sunday, April 21st) and it was a nice change from doing the big production plays on the main stage. This play is a two person piece that the theater is doing on their much smaller, cozier and more intimate Kleberg Stage, a theater I've worked in since my very first assignment to shoot photographs for the theater. 

Since the crew still needed to add some finishing touches to the stage set my brief was to concentrate on the actors and to get as many close shots as possible instead of getting our usual mix of wide, medium and tight shots. I was traveling light yesterday and I just packed in two Fuji X-H1 bodies and two lenses; the 16-55mm f2.8 and the 50-140mm f2.8. Both are great lenses which, on the X-H1 bodies, focus quickly, accurately and with a bit of authority. I tried shooting with both at around f4.0 for highest sharpness but never hesitated to drop down to f2.8 if the light was just too low. My ISO's ranged from 1,000 to 6,400; also dependent on the way each scene was lit. 

For me the new "magic bullet" for my live theater work is my formula for the color profiles. I've been using the Eterna profile which is very, very flat. I also set the highlights and the shadows to -2 which gives me more detail in the highlights and also "lifts" the shadows a bit. I set the sharpening to minus one and the noise reduction to minus one as well. I'm also shooting Jpeg so I'm letting the camera blend all of these settings for me before I even get to post production in Lightroom. 

When I open the files they are uniformly just a tad dark but I like that because I'm able to preserve all the infomation I want in the highlight areas. If you looked at the files I'm pulling into Lightroom you'd think they were a bit of a mushy mess but they are filled with the potential to do battle with the high prevailing lighting contrast of most stage lighting!!! I pull a representative file and get to work building an overall template that works for the most part with all the files I've shot this way. I pull up the exposure to get just the right levels (my taste) for flesh tones. I add a bit of contrast (maybe +10%) to put initial snap back into the files. Then it's the highlight slider which hangs in the range of minus 25 to minus 45. This allows for my increase in overall exposure without jeopardizing detail in white shirts, jackets or dresses. I pull up the shadow slider by +35 to +50 to open up additional detail in the shadows. The minus 1 for noise reduction in the camera helps keep files sharper while the minus 1 for sharpening keeps what noise there is from being accentuated in the baked in files. 

I use the "clarity" slider to add contrast back into the mid-tone areas and then, if the stage crew has been extra (too) generous with the fog machines on the stage I add in a bit of help from Lightroom's "haze" filter. The final touch it to bring the flat color back up to a snappier level of saturation with the vibrance slider. This is supposed to be better for shots with people in them than using the saturation slider because the vibrance control is set up to protect flesh tones whereas the saturation controls are indiscriminate. 

I tend to find an exposure/color balance for each flurry of action I want to capture and the shooting careful, slow bursts of 10 to 50 shots until I get exactly what I want. If nothing changes, lighting wise, over the duration of this short duration of action then I can apply the same settings to every image in the group with batch assignments (Sync Selected). Sometimes I can be consistent enough so that I'm only having to do ten or fifteen episodes of fine-tuning out of a group of over a thousand shots. On other days I'm not so lucky and I'm making small (or medium sized) tweaks to every ten or so files. 

Once I like the look of everything I export all into a Smugmug.com gallery at their largest resolution and with the lowest compression. Everything goes out as an sRGB file because, well, they just work for everything with a screen as a target and if someone needs to print them I'm very confident that the production crew at the theater know how to convert to different profiles. 

What I am doing differently tomorrow: I got a bunch of great "two shots" last night and I've already covered what's needed for public relations and advertising images so I'm giving myself some leeway to experiment a bit tomorrow. Instead of sitting down and close to center I've asked the stage manager to reserve five seats in the center of the top row in the center section. This will give me room to move a bit and even if I use the mechanical shutter on the camera the audience members are far enough to be out of my "audible splash zone." I'm moving up 12 or so rows so I can break out the Fujifilm 100-400mm zoom lens and try my luck making good compositions with greater compression. I'm planning on using the big lens and an X-H1 on a heavy duty Benro monopod to give me an extra bit of stabilization for the 90 minute long performance. It should be fun to practice with a lens that's still a bit foreign to me and I'm also planning to use it mostly wide open so I'll also be giving the camera's noise handling capabilities at ISO 6400 a trial by fire. 

I'll bring along the 16-55mm for those times when I want to grab full width stage shots and when I also want to include the lighting truss overhead. And, once again, I'll get the full set of a gear into a convenient to carry backpack. By the end of Wednesday morning I should have a better understanding of just how well longer zooms can work for live theater production shots. 

It's fun when stuff is (a tiny bit) outside my technical comfort zone; it generally means I'm learning something....



  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.
 ©2019 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.

4.19.2019

My non-verbal, non-literate, review of the Fuji 60mm f2.4 macro lens as a daylight, outdoor, good light shooting tool. No conclusion beyond what you can see when you blow these up.

 ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
  ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.
 ©2019 Kirk Tuck. Austin, Texas Downtown.

Sleep walking beside Fifth Street. A humorous essay on the wearisome duality of modern existence in a populous city where no one is outside.

In a more serious artery, this was my experiment in using Fuji's flat, "Eterna" color profile. It's one they suggest for video production, taking the place of an even flatter F-Log profile for people who don't have the time or inclination to learn how to grade in Premier or Final Cut Pro (or Resolve...). I also gilded the lily by using the DR +200 and +400 settings which are supposed to increase highlight retention by one or two stops. Before I color corrected them you could see so far into the shadows that it as if you painted all the interior spaces stark white. But flat is boring so I added back some needed contrast and popped up the saturation just a bit. And here we are; back where we started....

Camera: Fuji X-H1. 60mm Macro lens. Jpeg. Eterna. 
Photographer: Self-Propelled. 









Napping Near the Kitchen. An Enthrotopic Dissection of Post-Industrial, Post-Techno-dustrial, Cultural Dysphoria Mapped to Benton-esque Layerscaped Flattening Poems.

Peanut Butter and Jelly in a Post Apocalyptic Funk. Sink-Situated.
Rendered onto archival nano-acute pixels.

This one was difficult for me. To show the entire apparatus seemed too obvious
but I wanted to show enough jakondiscity to engage the sympathetic resonance of 
suburban essentialism and render it licorice. So much punctum. 

The brutalism of crushed and segmented fora pressed into
unwelcome and unethical debasement for the sybaritic pleasure of 
caffeine addicts causes the mind to reel and fabricates 
ripples in our shared cultural ethos. 

Towels for wiping mud off the dog's paws when she comes in the back door. 
"Repudiating the flatness of our two dimensional canvas of photography. And our one dimensional understanding of its potential." 

Thank you to manifesto writers everywhere. 
My application to Magnum is now in the mail.