11.13.2011

Ah. The friendly advice. How to improve my blog....


I ran into a photographer I know at the Austin Photo Expo and we spent a few minutes catching up.  He's a nice guy and fun to talk to at parties, etc.  But after five minutes or so of comparing notes he smiled and told me he was glad I'd decided to get back to blogging.  That felt nice.  But then I left myself wide open.  He asked me if I wanted a little advice about improving the blog.  I should have said, "no!"  but instead I politely nodded and said, "sure."  And he proceeded to give me the same advice that I've heard from every "blogexpert" and web source you can imagine.  I tried to will my ears to close and my brain to shut down but it doesn't really work that way.  Damn primitive human physiology....

In a nutshell his advice was this:  1.  Many of my blogs are too long!  He felt that I should work on trimming down the content to make it more manageable.  He added that he has twenty or so blogs that he reads everyday and that the length of the articles means that many times he can only skim them so that he's able to get on to the next blog.  Hmmmm.

2.  I shouldn't post so frequently.  He suggested that, if I felt compelled to be.....productive (like a cough) that I might want to warehouse the overflow and dribble out the content in some sort of "just in time" delivery scenario like a discount warehouse.  Again, if I post more that once a day this puts a burden on the reader who, with twenty or so bloggers on his radar,  gushing forth a torrent of somewhat disconnected content, may not be able to match pace.  Interesting leap of faith here.  That I can write faster than my audience can read.....

So, I'd like to address this as it may further focus my intentions as a "blogger."  Or even better, my intentions as a writer.

First of all,  I use just enough words to get across the message and the inflections of my messages.  No more.  No less.  While breathy and gushy quick hit blogs may be just the thing shallow readers crave, like Hallmark Greeting card sentiments,  I only want to write for an audience that's comfortable swimming in the deep end.  If a paltry 2,000 or 3,000 words is more than one can handle in a few minutes, with coffee already coursing through the system,  then the length of my blog is not the only problem bubbling to the surface.  We must, as a culture, be  developing an epidemic of ADHD.  

If my writing is too long and vapid to hold your attention then, by all means, give yourself permission to change the channel.  But in various chats with lots of followers, the majority indicate that they like the meaty, chewy and satisfying length we at VSL give to a fair number of our articles.  Like a juicy, marbled Ribeye, hot from the grill....  And let's be frank.  If everyone is following the "web savvy" advice and writing, like, two paragraphs,  where are all the people with "abnormally" long attention spans going to go for their photo reading enjoyment?  It's an ethical conundrum for sure.

As to the second point.  The frequency of posting.  That is even more interesting to me because it indicates that my web educator might not be fully aware of how the world wide web works....  It's like a giant capacitor.  You can keep throwing information at the web and it will keep storing up the charge. And when you aren't reading it the web (through the magic of Google, et al) will patiently sort it, rank it and even vet it for you.  Then, just like Tivo, you can come back at any time and enjoy it on your own schedule.  BUT....big news flash!!!!!  We annoying artists and writers don't work on a schedule, really.
We write stuff when it comes to us, post it and move on.  Clearing our palettes for the next thought.  We are NOT administrators.  We are not we traffic managers.  Managing your dosage is your responsibility. I ain't gonna start spreadsheeting my writing on some punch clock schedule just so you can use the web in "live mode" only.....

So, in a nutshell,  I will write as long a post as I'd like and as many posts as I like AND I will post them all willy-nilly and leave it up to my peeps to learn how much they can drink in at one sitting.  But I'm not dumbing it down any further than it is right now because I don't want to lose the kind of readers I'm happy with in the pursuit of gaining a class of readers I am less happy with. (And the second group is certainly more numerous....)  Some people shop at Walmart and I'm okay with that but I like a different experience and I'm even more Okay with that.  (Too bad I can't "smarten it up" but this is all I've got.  Just like power to the warp drive engines on Star Trek.  I can hear all the Scotty's in the brain engine room yelling into the intercom:  "We're giving her all we've got, captain!")

I'm certainly not angry or upset that my photographer friend offered me his opinion but I'm sure pissed at myself for agreeing to hear it in the first place. Everyone who comes to photography from the real world of business is hobbled because they see photography through the constructs and vicious metrics of profitability.  Photographers who came to the business because of their love for art and expression may be hobbled when it comes to making the maximum financial profit from each effort but at least when we are at work we're not looking at our subjects through layers of spreadsheets.  We run unfettered.  (maybe there's a class on creativity stuck in there somewhere....we expunge the math brain, the profit brain and the judgement brain and send people out to shoot things that are pleasing to themselves...).

You may have noticed a scant number of ads on the site.  As the VSL becomes more "popular" we've been getting approached by more and more companies which would like to advertise on our site.  And it's tempting but there's a trade off for everything.  And I know I would not be above the subtle, subconscious manipulation of a vendor's gracious largess.  And then you'd have to "read between the lines" (which would double the length of the articles).  When people write novels they don't sell ad space between the pages.  I know I'm not writing a novel here but every time I sit down to write something I like to start with a clean "piece of paper."  I think I'll keep pitching my books here, toss in an Amazon link for a product I've bought myself and leave it at that.  Then, at least my motives will be above reproach even when my grammar and spelling is not.

Finally,  everyone over thirty who thinks they know dick about how things "really" work on the web is full of crap.  Marketing on the web is a constantly moving target and all the metrics in the world will only tell you what worked yesterday, not what's going to work tomorrow.  Every site is different.  Every demo absorbs the web in a different way.  We use a proven method at VSL.  It's called, "Throw it at the wall and see if it sticks."  Our only metric is:  "Did Kirk want to write this?"

The above photo was taken in a studio, under a .25 Watt light bulb with the V1 at 1600 or 3200 ISO. 

(Can he write, "dick" on the web????)

11.12.2011

How good is the VR (or IS) on the Nikon V1?

This image was taken, handheld, at 0.5 seconds (one half second).  Not bad for a coffee addict.

This image was taken at one quarter second. (0.25).  The exposure is a bit better and the detail is not bad.  All in all a good performance.  IS at these speeds is hit and miss.

I'm always amazed at how entrenched people can get in a position without even a thimble of experience...

Having too much fun at Zachary Scott Theatre.  I think this was for HairSpray. I used a camera.

I came back into town last night from an assignment and I reflexively checked the "referrer" stats for the VSL blog.  I am always a bit worried and amused when a big clump of referrals come from one address on DP Review.  I clicked on the link and found a discussion in the Nikon V1 forum entitled, "Kirk Tuck reports that the V1 has a one stop advantage over........"  Following the original poster's synopsis of my long ramble about using six different cameras on one assignment, are nearly 100 responses that range to how it is theoretically impossible for the V1 to be:  "good, sharp, have low noise, operate at 72 degrees, flush, focus, or make legible images because of the constraints of its microscopic sensor."  And all these pronouncements are delivered as unassailable fact.

How am I involved?  Only as a convenient target for the religious sect that believes only "full frame" cameras are the chosen tools of professionals and that any person who likes any camera that is not full frame (or bigger) is, A.  NOT a professional.  B.  Obviously needs glasses in order to see how "smeared" the detail is.  And, C.  Must be on Nikon's payola roll.  (I laughed so hard at that one that coffee almost came out of my nose.....).  Doesn't  matter that I can't seem to beat Nikon out of flash even for FULL PRICE.

But here's the deal.  We're hearing only the rants of people who've never touched or used the camera in question.  And that's usually the case.  Across product categories.  Do you remember all the "IT" and industry experts who predicted, very earnestly, that the iPad would never become a viable consumer product?  They were legion.  And every one of them had some sort of argument (based on the ancient days of desktop preeminence) outlining why consumers would never embrace a pad that didn't run Adobe Flash or play nice with Microsoft office.  I think the joke is on them.  I imagine them mournfully choking down mouthfuls of bitter delivery pizza and chalices full of Mountain Dew as they turn their attention toward another product category and pronounce it DOA.  Maybe the Kindle Fire will be next....

All the targets we thought were so precious in the nascent days of digital imaging seem to be largely discounted these days.  We don't really need five pound cameras.  We don't need hyper complex menus.  In fact, we don't need hyper complex anything.  The truth of the matter is that the professional market as we knew it is almost completely gone and it's been replaced by a new way of shooting and doing business and the only people who haven't gotten the memo are the experts.

A camera, or a camera system, is only a method to communicate with.  In most instances the message is much more important than the delivery system.  Especially when we remember who our target markets are.  Most people are not "old school" photographers or photography buffs and they haven't developed a taste for many of the techniques that old fart holdovers seem to think crucial.  For example, a beautiful expression trumps massive resolution.  The right moment trumps high color accuracy.  The right angle "bitch slaps" bit depth.  And more and more the camera that provides the user with the most fluency and fluidity is the system that returns the best dividends.  The fewer controls the faster the operation.  The faster the operation the more opportunity.

No matter how far we've come with photography it's hard for me to escape using the car analogy to describe market changes.  In the U.S. thirty/forty years ago we worshipped big V-8 engines.  Now the nod goes to reliability and economic good sense.  Ten years ago people bought Hummers.  Now the Hummer really only exists as a cruel joke that exemplifies the extremes of bad taste (unless you are in a desert and being shot at.....).  Four cylinder cars are the norm.  Sixes suffice for big human cattle movers like Ford Explorers and the like.  V8's are specialty engines for people who like to go faster than everyone else or people who need to tow boats or trailers.

As we share more and more on the web we'll see the metrics of a previous generation of photographic experts wilt away and die.  And we'll see an explosion of creativity unleashed by small, powerful new tools that are right sized.  The medium is the message and the message seems to be that small is just right.  Anecdotally, I'm seeing everyone embrace their favorite, new small camera.  Some love the Olympus Pen cameras (and I hope the company fixes itself so we can continue to enjoy their groundbreaking design and feature engineering) while others love the Sony Nex cameras.  I'm loving the Nikon V1 but I'm also anxious to get my hands on a new camera with an even smaller sensor, the Fuji X-10.  They are all good enough for the way I like to shoot.  Fun.  Especially when the performance of all the cameras in a niche exceed my needs.  That means I can buy and shoot the one I think has the coolest feature set for me.  And, if I weave the files through the selections I give to my clients and they like them.......have we mutually redefined what it is to be a "professional" photographer?

I think we have.  We just forgot to tell everyone who still thinks that the only way to make a good picture is to measure all the parameters of a camera first, then applied an outdated understanding of physics and, finally, grace it with cultish miracle lenses.  Pah.

The same people are so quick to decry "in camera black magic software noise reduction" but if they've ever seen a real raw file they'd be amazed at the incredible amount of manipulation that is applied to linear raw files even before we begin our "conversions" in Lightroom or Bridge or Capture.  The little Nikon V1 is not the best camera in the world.  Nor is the little Fuji or the Olympus cameras.  But they are fun, get most of every job done and they do so with far less intrusion than the bigger, previous generations.  We need big cameras for highly focused work that must be perfect.  But we also need fun cameras.  Art cameras.  Pleasure cameras.  Cruiser cameras.  And purse cameras.  I like them all.  I like some better than others.  But not enough better to start wars about them.

The next wave is cameras like the Fuji, small Nikon, Olympus and Panasonic.  The next wave is LED lighting.  The next trend is actually going out and shooting the cameras because you have something to say.

Errata and fun news:  I talked to the Fuji rep today and he flat out stated that the company is re-emerging into the photo market with interchangeable lens cameras and a collection of lenses.  He suggested that the cameras would be real game changers.  Seem like Austin is a particular hot spot of the sale of X-100's and the early orders for X-10's are enormous.  Kinda confirms what I've been seeing in the hands of friends lately.  It's great when known innovators step back into the game after an absence.  I have very fond memories of my Fuji S2's and S5's.  Really great cameras for portraits.....

Delkin was showing off a laptop holder that fits onto any tripod and provides a firm base for your computer.  For $85 I thought it was a good design.

Hope everyone has a good weekend.  It's fun to be alive and well.  I'll be back at the Photo Expo for two more classes tomorrow.  I hope a lot of fun people show up and mix it up.  We're all about the LED lights.  At least until 5pm tomorrow....

I'm always amazed at how entrenched people can get in a position without even a thimble of experience...

I came back into town last night from an assignment and I reflexively checked the referrer stats for the VSL.  I am always a bit worried and amused when a big clump of referrals come from one address on DP Review.  I clicked on the link and found a discussion in the Nikon V1 forum entitled, "Kirk Tuck reports that the V1 has a one stop advantage over........"  Following the original poster's synopsis of my long ramble about using six different cameras on one assignment, are nearly 100 responses that range to how it is theoretically impossible for the V1 to be:  "good, sharp, have low noise, operate at 72 degrees, flush, focus, or make legible images because of the constraints of its microscopic sensor."  And all these pronouncements are delivered as unassailable fact.

How am I involved?  Only as a convenient target for the religious sect that believes only "full frame" cameras are the chosen tools of professionals and any person who likes any camera that is not full frame (or bigger) is, A.  NOT a professional.  B.  Obviously needs glassed in order to see "smeared" detail.  And, C.  Must be on Nikon's payola roll.  (I laughed so hard at that one that coffee almost came out of my nose.....).  Doesn't  matter that I can't seem to beat Nikon out of flash even for FULL PRICE.

But here's the deal.  We're hearing only the rants of people who've never touched or used the camera in question.  And that's usually the case.  Across product categories.  Do you remember all the "IT" and industry experts who predicted, very earnestly, that the iPad would never become a viable consumer product?  They were legion.  And every one of them has some sort of argument (based on the ancient days of desktop prominence) outlining why consumers would never embrace a pad that didn't run flash or play with Microsoft office.  I think the jokes on them.  I imagine them mournfully choking down mouthfuls of bitter pizza and Mountain Dew as they turn their attention toward another product category and pronounce it DOA.  Maybe the Kindle Fire will be next....

All the targets we thought were so precious in the nascent days of digital imaging seem to be largely discounted these days.  We don't really need five pound cameras.  We don't need hyper complex menus.  In fact, we don't need hyper complex anything.  The truth of the matter is that the professional market as we knew it is almost completely gone and it's been replaced by a new way of shooting and doing business and the only people who haven't gotten the memo are the experts.

A camera, or a camera system, is only a method to communicate with.  In most instances the message is much more important than the delivery system.  Especially when we remember who our target markets are.  Most people are not "old school" photographers or photography buffs and they haven't developed a taste for many of the techniques that old fart holdovers seem to think crucial.  For example, a beautiful expression trumps massive resolution.  The right moment trumps high accuracy.  The right angle bitch slaps bit depth.  And more and more the camera that provides the user with the most fluency and fluidity is the system that returns the best dividends.

No matter how far we've come with photography it's hard for me to escape using the car analogy to describe market changes.  In the U.S. thirty years ago we worshipped big V-8 engines.  Now the nod goes to reliability and economic good sense.  Ten years ago people bought Hummers.  Now the Hummer really only exists as a cruel joke that exemplifies the extremes of bad taste (unless you are in a desert and being shot at.....).  Four cylinder cars are the norm.  Sixes suffice for big human cattle movers like Ford Explorers and the like.  V8's are specialty engines for people who like to go faster than everyone else or people who need to tow boats or trailers.

As we share more and more on the web we'll see the metrics of a previous generation of photographic experts wilt away and die.  And we'll see an explosion of creativity unleashed by small, powerful new tools that are right sized.  The medium is the message and the message seems to be that small is just right.  Anecdotally, I'm seeing everyone embrace their favorite, new small camera.  Some love the Olympus Pen cameras (and I hope the company fixes itself so we can continue to enjoy their groundbreaking design and feature engineering) while others love the Sony Nex cameras.  I'm loving the Nikon V1 but I'm also anxious to get my hands on a new camera with an even smaller sensor, the Fuji X-10.  They are all good enough for the way I like to shoot.  Fun.  Especially when the performance of all the cameras in a niche exceed my needs.  That means I can buy and shoot the one I think has the coolest feature set for me.  And, if I weave the files through the selections I give to my clients and they like them.......have we mutually redefined what it is to be a "professional" photographer?

I think we have.  We just forgot to tell everyone who still thinks that the only way to make a good picture is to measure all the parameters of a camera first, then applied an outdated understanding of physics and, finally, grace it with cultish miracle lenses.  Pah.

Errata and fun news:  I talked to the Fuji rep today and he flat out stated that the company is re-emerging into the photo market with interchangeable lens cameras and a collection of lenses.  He suggested that the cameras would be real game changers.  Seem like Austin is a particular hot spot of the sale of X-100's and the early orders for X-10's are enormous.  Kinda confirms what I've been seeing in the hands of friends lately.  It's great when known innovators step back into the game after an absence.  I have very fond memories of my Fuji S2's and S5's.  Really great cameras for portraits.....

Delkin was showing off a laptop holder that fits onto any tripod and provides a firm base for your computer.  For $85 I thought it was a good design.

11.11.2011

Nothing says, "You've made it!" better than a hair net.

deep in the secret basement of the Visual Science Lab world headquarters we're experimenting with some new gear that will replace conventional cameras.  If we are successful all you will have to do is strap in,  think of an image and the cyber-snap 2011 can create it, add beautiful pole dancers in stripper heels to the image, dip it in red hot HDR sauce and then incorporate cat whiskers for SE (sharpness evaluation), shove in some gratuitous backlighting and a gel or two and for only $96,000 you too can sport a masterpiece.  Without ever touching a camera or going outside.

But seriously,  I have a confession to make.  I'm supposed to do an hour long presentation at 10:00 am tomorrow morning at the Austin Photo Expo and I'm totally unprepared.  If you ever wanted to see "major fail" tomorrow might be your chance.  

Usually I'm the guy my friends and clients look to when then need stuff that's meticulously planned, double-checked and fault tolerant.  I make back-ups of everything and I have back up gear for every potential pitfall.  But not this time.  You see, I've been doing the real work of photography instead.  I won't bore you with the details but I went from a hoity-toity (but long and richly nuanced) conference assignment on Sunday-Monday-Tues to a recording studio gig and tons of post production on Weds. to a 4:15am wake up call and drive to San Antonio on Thurs. a.m.  And I've been there ever since.  

The photo of me, above, is from today's shoot.  I'm standing in front of a DaVinci robotic micro surgery machine and I'm wearing a tyvek lab coat and hairnet because I've just come from shooting a procedure in a nearby operating room.  I've documented "preemies" and helicopter rescues and giant machines that stare into your guts (or your brain) and I'm about 1,000 big fat raw files into this project.  

It's stacking up like jets over O'Hare in a blizzard.  Everyone needs their stuff yesterday.  And here I am, at 10:47pm on Friday night, downloading files and applying metadata and captions and wondering what the hell I'm going to say in fewer than 12 hours to a couple hundred people about LED lighting.

Bright spot.  My client, Bryan, reminded me that I am going to talk about Lighting Portraits with LED lights.  And he also pointed out that I'd just written the book on the subject and, given how much I talk, he'd be pretty surprised if I couldn't fill up an hour.  And I'm sure he didn't mean that in a snarky way......

But I have an ace up my sleeve.  Super assistant, Amy, will be there to help.  It should be a wild two days. We have two master classes a day to teach this weekend.  I can hardly wait to tell you what happens.  

Just wanted to check in and tell you that I haven't gone AWOL.  Just doing my other job as fast as I can.

If you are in Austin, check out the expo.  Fun stuff for us photo nerds. (comment about idiots who review cameras by long distance removed)  See you there...

11.09.2011

So, why do I keep a Canon EOS 5Dmk2 around if I think the Nikon V1 is so hot?

Mostly because it can do this at 6400 ISO with an 85mm Zeiss 1.4 lens, wide open.  That's why.

Oh, and it can do this too.  Under the nastiest, lowest mixed florescent and tungsten household lighting you can imagine.  I can't quite do this with a V1 and though I don't do this kind of stuff that often I do like to be able to pull it off when I have too......

Rosie and the Ramblers were in the studio today, cutting a new album.  Rosie asked me to drop by and take some images for their website and promo.  She likes "real life."  So I came equipped with some fast glass and a Canon 5D2 as well as a Nikon V1.  I looked at the difference between the Nikon at 3200 and the Canon at 6400 and I put the Nikon away and shot "digital old school."

I'll keep the old stuff around for a while longer.  Is it just me or does that Zeiss 85 look good to you too?

I'm in San Antonio for the next two days shooting a hospital.  I'll be back in Austin Friday night getting ready to do my 10:15 am demo at the Austin Photo Expo Saturday morning.  I'll be the guy trying to juggle two cups of coffee.....

11.08.2011

What a fascinating three days! High level conference imaging.

Frame of frames from the Nikon V1 at ISO 800.  In the glow of the stage lights....

I often allude to the idea that, if not for being a photographer I would never have seen so much of corporate America from the inside out and I would never have travelled as extensively as I have.  And I will say that I have been "inside the gate" at some very, very interesting meetings and events.  I've watched half drunk CEO's throw temper tantrums in Paris and I've been a "fly on the wall" for private meetings of former presidents and billionaires.  In almost every instance of "brushes with greatness" I've been dressed in a suit and tie, shoes shined and fingernails cleaned.  You gain proximity by appearing to belong.

I can't really write about the substance of the conference I've been photographing for the last three days as it was by invitation only and only one media person was allowed to attend.....and then only for a few hours.  But I will say that the conference was both interesting and, in certain regards, scary.  It dealt with issues of world finance and business.  I can say I wore a different suit each day.  And my shoes were shined.....

But what I can and will talk about are the cameras I used over the last 72 hours.  And why I'm amazed at one of my newest acquisitions.  I'm just going to fill in the rough plot here but I'll write a more comprehensive report once I get my client's "okay" to release some of the conference images so you can get a taste of the differences I saw.  Also,  I am photographing an audio session in a recording studio tomorrow so I'll supplement this piece with some photos from that project as soon as I get them processed.

On sunday I shot standard "grip and grin" images at a reception and dinner for 150 people at the conference center.  I used a Canon 1D mk2N with the 24-105mm zoom, in conjunction with a Canon 580ex2 firing into a Rogue flexible bounce modifier. (Which I highly recommend).  Even though I was using eTTL I was careful to use the camera in spot meter mode, lock in the focus and use FEL religiously.  I got a near 98% success rate from the combo.  The finder of the big Canon, along with a split screen makes the camera fun to shoot.

On monday I used the Canon 1ds2, and the Canon 1dmk2, the Canon 5Dmk2 and the Nikon V1.  The 1Ds2 got bagged after twenty frames.  The screen on the back isn't wonderful and you can only shoot raw in the full size format.  I didn't need files that big.  It's also clunkier to use with shoe mount flash.  It doesn't seem as responsive as its stablemate, the 1D mk2N.  Definitely a camera I like using tethered.

For most of the day monday I haunted a table near the main stage and shot images of speakers, presenters and panels, on the stage.  I ended up shooting the 70-200mm on the 1D mk2 and the 24-105 on the Canon 5D2.  I brought the three Zeiss primes but I only flirted with the 85mm.  The light was too low and the people too kinetic to make the 85mm much fun.  It was also too short.  I liked the longer zoom for individual shots and the other zoom for wide stage shots.  So, into the bag for storage went the three Zeiss primes, along with the Canon 1DS mk2.  

After I got into the rythme of the event and realized that each session would last anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half I started pulling out the little Nikon and putting it through its paces.  I had to shoot at ISO 800 or 1600 to get a fast enough shutter speed under the rather anemic stage lights.  (In defense of the guys in production, the room has low ceilings which means lighting truss is lower and that puts lights closer to presenter's eye lines.  That means you need to dial down the lumens to keep people on the stage from squinting...)

By the end of a nine hour shooting day I'd logged about 1300 images on the little Nikon.  Here's what I found out:  You can use the electronic shutter on this camera and it is SILENT.  Not just quiet.  Absolutely silent.  Needle drop silent.  Makes an old Leica rangefinder sound like a hammer on corrugated iron by comparison.

The camera will focus on anything in good light and hold onto it like a pitbull who's got ahold of a brisket.  Even though I am a card carrying luddite I found myself playing with modes like: Scene select and focus follow.  I even had good luck combining face recognition with focus follow.  It was amazing.  

The EVF equals or betters the VF2 on the Olympus (more about the slap down in just a few paragraphs).  Of course, I could change all the menu items in the EVF so I never had to take the camera away from my eye.  I'd done a few tests the week before to see how the EVF and the back LCD match up to my monitor in  the office and those tests gave me the courage to depend on the viewfinder for color and exposure.

The V1 focuses faster than my Canon 5Dmk2 but not as fast as my 1D.

The meter in the V1 is pretty amazing as well.  I left it in evaluative but I did my exposures in manual.  I was rarely disagreeing with the meter by more than a third of a stop in one direction or the other. 

I got tired of carrying all the big stuff with me so on Monday evening I reconfigured.  Out went the One series Canons and in came the 5D2 with a 60D as a back up.  (the difference in batteries alone was two pounds.)  I also added the Olympus Pen EP3 with VF2 finder, the kit zoom and my favorite old 60mm 1.5 Pen FT manual focus lens.  Now everything got interesting.  And now everything fit in one bag.

Between the two Canons the operation of the 60D was much smoother and, at ISO 2500 the files were pretty darn close.  I shot everything set to 3200K (WB)  after confirming with the show director that we were using naked tungsten lights on the stage.  The Canons both gave me smooth, detailed and low noise files.  No real contest here.  And no teasing:  Both were two stops better in noise handling that the two little cams.

By the end of the day I was shooting 40% of the shots with the Nikon V1 and probably 40% of the shots with the Olympus Pen EP3.  I ended up keeping both cameras at ISO 800 and tried to be careful to catch people at the peak of their actions to reduce blur.  Most exposures were between 1/80th and 1/160th of a second with the lenses used wide open.  The other 20% of the shots were done with the Canons.

Here's how it breaks down today:  Even though I shot the EP3 in raw and the Nikon in Jpeg (with high ISO filter set to low) the Nikon had at least a full stop advantage in observable noise over the Olympus. And believe me I worked the Noise Ninja as hard as I could....  It also consistently delivered a more pleasing overall color balance.  The image stabilization in the Nikon V1 (kit lens to kit lens comparison) is more tenacious and efficacious than the Olympus version.

I give the Olympus points for several things.  First, superior feel in the hand.  Second, built in flash that works without issues.  Third, the ability to use cool, old MF lenses.  Really cool lenses.  When I say one camera is less noisy than another that's not a condemnation of the noisy camera.  It's just a difference.

Both of the smaller cameras were quick and accurate in their focusing.  The Nikon V1 was more accurate in the metering.  The Olympus feels more luxurious.  The Nikon more utilitarian.  Which would I own? Both.

If you had to choose between them you'd have to get clear on what you want from a camera.  At ISO 400 there's nothing to complain about from either camera, where image quality is concerned.  If you shoot sports the little Nikon is hard to beat.  If you like to drop things out of focus in your portrait backgrounds the EP3 with the 60mm 1.5 is pretty tough to beat.  Or you could just go back and forth.

If Nikon ever starts shipping the little flash I'll do my next interior conference with the V1 system and take the EP3 as the back up.  Everything else can stay home and pal around with gravity.  These little cameras are high enough quality to do the job.  As long as the rider is up to the task.

More will be added  here after I shoot the recording session tomorrow.

Thanks to everyone who pre-ordered the LED book.  I think my publisher was shocked that your responses drove the book from obscurity to #3200 on all of Amazon in less than 48 hours.  I was amazed and happy.

Now, let's all get some sleep.


11.06.2011

Sunday a day off? Naw. It's a day to pack and organize.

Let's get the crazy stuff out of the way first.  Yes?  Since I picked up the little Nikon V1 I've developed a cup fetish.  I can't stop photographing various cups.  At first I thought it was only cups that contained the creative elixir of the gods: coffee.  The above was shot with the 10-30mm at 18.xmm in the late afternoon, at Trianon Coffee Shop, in west Austin.  The cup contains an extra foamy, double cappuccino.  I thought I'd gotten it all out of my system but we went to lunch the next day at P.Terry's Hamburger joint and the magnetic pull of the cups on V1 was undeniable.  Even on the Catsup Cup.  That little paper remnant of time past.

I meditated and prayed but nothing seems to have helped.  Even strong narcotics haven't lessened the grip of the cup/camera interface.  I thought healthy exercise would heal me but even after swimming thousands of yards on Saturday morning, there they were again.  The holiday cups at Starbucks.

But I think there's light at the end of the caffeine coated tunnel.  I had a coffee this morning and I didn't have the V1 with me, only a Canon 1ds mk2.  I reached for the withering bulk of my professional tool but the magic wasn't there.  The camera seemed to sneer at my weakness for cup-o-graphy.  To taunt me for glorifying mere containers.  And so I've moved on.  It seems that, if I keep the V1 away from cups, and restaurants in general, I can keep this strange attraction at bay.  But.......maybe you should look closer....maybe I'm really on to something here. 

I mean, the P.Terry's cup, loaded with Dublin Dr. Pepper seems like modern art to me....Could it just be a case of misplaced Warhol-ism?  

Leaving the cups behind let's get down to the real topic of the blog today: Organizing for a busy week ahead.  On paper, my week doesn't look very daunting but when I break it apart into discreet, granular chunks I wonder how I'll get it all done and still have time to swim and pursue my dalliance with coffee.  The short answer is:  I won't.  

Here's the deal.  I start a conference project this afternoon at 4pm at the Barton Creek Conference Center.  I shoot until around 9:30 this evening.  Tomorrow and Tues. the conference continues.  I'll be photographing speakers and dignitaries from around the world.  It's dark suits and ties for me for the next three days.  I've even shined two pairs of shoes....

But a bigger consideration is "what to bring?"

I think I've got it figured out so all the batteries are on the chargers and I'm packing up memory cards.
Here's what I'm taking:  Canon 5Dmk2, 1ds mk2,  1D mk2N, 35, 50 and 85mm Zeiss single focal lengths.  Canon 24-105 and 70-200.  I'm also packing the Nikon V1 and the 10, 10-30 and 30-110mm zooms.  I'll stash a Canon 580 ex2 in the bag as well as a 430 ex2 as a back up.  Since I'm shooting raw I'll take 8 - 16gb CF cards and 10 - 8gb SD cards just in case.  I'll spend most of the time shooting presenters under stage lighting but I'll also need to shoot small group shots from time to time.  We did the same event last year and shot around 1800 images, total.  I'm trying to compress that a bit this year and aim for 1500.

I'm also bringing a 13 inch MacBook Pro and a dozen or so flash drives to I can share photos with the production crew.  Every once in a while a speaker's head shot will go astray and we'll need to provide a quick replacement. 

The conference goes long on Monday and starts early on Tues.  We'll wrap around 5pm on Tues. evening and I'll come straight back to the studio to download cards and start processing in Lightroom.  I hate to get behind.

The next morning I'm headed into a recording studio to do a day of "behind-the-scenes" photos with an up-and-coming vocalist and her band.  From the recording studio I'll head directly to the Hilton Hotel on Fifth St. for the Boy Scouts of America, central Texas awards banquet.  It's a big fund raiser and my art director friend, Greg, always buys a table and invites me.  Also a suit and tie function.  The dry cleaners will be happy to see me the following Monday.......  Once the banquet wraps up I'll be in the Honda heading for San Antonio.  I'm booked there on Thurs. and Fri. shooting at a new Hospital.  People, property, professionals and whatever else is on the long shot list...  I'll need to pack three more flashes and some radio triggers for that......

I'll be back in Austin Friday evening putting the finishing touches on my LED Portrait presentations for Saturday and Sunday, the 12th and 13th.  I'm a speaker/presenter at the Austin Photo Expo and I'm planning on doing a live demo of my method of lighting a portrait with LED lights.  It would be good form to both figure out what I'm going to say and do, as well as finding the right model.  It's two presentations a day.

When I finish my last presentation at 5pm on Sunday I'll be rushing to pack up and get out because we're (the family) all going to an awards banquet at the High School for Ben's cross country team.  Starts at 6pm.  No suit or tie required.... 


Inventory of gear for the first two and a half days of the week.  Shot with the little Nikon V1 and the 10mm prime lens.  Handheld at 1/30th of a second.  ISO 400.  Is it sharp?  I think so.

 But once the demos are over and the equipment is cleaned up and packed away there will still be several days of post production for the three major projects of the previous week.  No one talks about the prep time or the post time but it's at least equal to the time spent on location and it's at least as important.  You get most of the stuff figured out while you're packing.  That leaves your shooting time mentally clear.  If it's not in the bag you're not going to use it.  A great incentive to pack smart.

So things will have to wait until the following week to get taken care of.  For instance, the semiconductor shoot from last week.  The images have all been delivered but the three LED lights need to be taken down and packed away.  The stands put back in their place and the copy stand disassembled.

And then there's the office in general.  It could use a new coat of paint, a thorough cleaning and some re-organization.  Maybe we'll get to that after Thanksgiving.   But only if nothing better comes along.
(In the foreground is my Bodhi Electric Bike.)

There's so much more than photography that needs to be planned.  Since Belinda is working on a big project downtown I've hired a dog sitter to come in and assuage the pack separation for Tulip the wonder dog, and Ben will have to walk home from school.  The delivery service will get the disks from last Thursday's shoot over to the client sometime monday morning.  We'll get billing done at night.  The transition between my different jobs means different packing and different lists of gear.  Any free time means more work on the presentations for the Austin Photo Expo.  And somewhere in all this I'd like to get in four long swims during the week.  Might have to head to UT for the 5:30 am swims, yikes!!....

I know what they say on the news about the economy but it's sure starting to feel "Pre-2006" around here.....and I love it.


11.05.2011

BOOK FIVE NOW LISTED ON AMAZON. YIPPEE.

I am very excited about this BOOK.  I didn't know my publisher had already submitted the cover and details to Amazon.com but I'm delighted to know that we're finally official.  This is my fifth book about photography and was easily the most fun to create.  (For those of you who are unfamiliar with my books I write and photograph and illustrate each one of them.  Takes twice as long as doing the writing alone but it makes more sense).  It took some arm twisting at first to convince the publisher at Amherst that LED lighting will be an increasingly important topic in the next few months and certainly in the next few years.

So, why do I think LEDs will become increasingly important and why did I want to be the first person to write a book about it for photographers?  The answer to the first part of the question is as simple as the shoot I did for a semiconductor manufacturer during the days on Thurs. and Fri. last week.  I was shooting small objects with a mix of shiny and matte surfaces and I needed complete control of the lights.  The combination of continuous lighting and live view on the screen of the Canon 5Dmk2 gave me a level of control and immediacy that I've never enjoyed in the "bad old days" of still life photography.

I've used "hot lights" in the past but having three, five hundred watt tungsten lights in close proximity to your camera and your subject quickly becomes an uncomfortable working situation.  With live view engaged there is no mirror slap.  With the LED panels I use there's lots of light and very little (if any) heat to deal with.  One simple custom white balance and we're all set.  Earlier in the week I photographed my friend, Natalie, and she ( a Brooks Institute graduate ) remarked about the wonderful light quality, the lack of flash (she'd always been a "blinker" before) and the fact that her pupils were not overly dilated which can happen with dark rooms and low powered modeling lights on flash.  The LED lights are energy efficient, bring relief from thermal torture, are totally WYSIWYG and can actually be cheaper to buy and use than flash.  Best of all, the meter in your camera is all you need for total control.
The final (and to many), most important consideration:  If you do video you NEED a good set of LED lights.

But why did I want to write the book?  Well,  I've been photographing for a long time and I'd become used to all the lighting rigs that dominated our market for so long.  The LEDs are a near total departure from everything I learned and grew up with.  They represented the new challenge to master.  And there's no better way to learn technique than to commit to new technology, dive in and test, test, test.

The book has in depth examples of interior and exterior portrait work done with the LEDs as well as an extended and well diagrammed food shoot at one of Austin's premier restaurants.  You'll be able to take advantage of my learning curve in selecting and using the most cost effective LED panels.

The cost of the book is less than some magazines.  If you like what I write here I think you're a natural for this book.  And buying copies of the book will help support my writing here.  I'm rarely so blunt or so marketing driven but I'd love it if you would pre-order a copy of the book.  I'd love to see this one do as well as the four previous ones.  The delivery date on the site says April 1st but I'm betting it will be here in early March.

It feels so good to see it as a finished piece of work on Amazon.  I lived with the information and practice for six months.  Count me as very happy today.






11.04.2011

Shooting "Old School." Ancient tricks of the trade....

An event at the Four Seasons Hotel, Austin.  November 3rd.

It all started with a film camera called the Nikon N-90S.  That camera, and Nikon's  top-of-the-line flash at the time, changed the way I shot events.  It was the first camera I owned that, in conjunction with the flash assist beam on the flash, could reliably lock focus in a dark, dark room (but not a darkroom) and return consistently well exposed images every time.  Nostalgic memory is a dangerous thing and now that I sit here and think about it so much of what we shot back then was on color negative film and that might have had a lot to do with my perception of the combination's lack of fallibility....but on with my story.

By the days of the Nikon F5 and the SB-25 and SB-26 we pretty much had the technique of event flash well dialed in.  We'd load the 160 or 400 ISO color negative film of our choice, set the camera and flash to TTL put the camera in program where it would generally default to f4 @ 1/60th of a second and we'd blast away.  A few days later we'd be looking through 4x6 inch proof prints that were remarkably uniform and, well, perfect.  I remember well shooting a show in Scottsdale, AZ. were we needed to shoot 250 people walking up on stage and being handed an award.  One by one.  We'd use a Quantum Turbo pack, an SB flash and a moderate zoom.  I took two images of each person (in case they blinked)  with the president or vice president of the company and our only limitation on throughput was how quickly we could unload and reload film.  Good days for flash.

Before that we'd use our flashes pretty much in the "guide number" mode.  You turn the flash down to 1/4 power, figure out what the exposure is at 7 feet and then at 5 feet and then at 10 feet.  For most event work, depending on your framing, you'd work around maybe three f-stops and you'd know the approximate distances and working numbers by heart at the end of a long evening.  If you added a bounce board to your portable flash you'd work out those numbers as well.  The name of the game was consistency and "no surprises."

Well, surprise!!!  Early digital from all the major companies supremely sucked at delivering automatic flash and in my opinion it still does.  I wrote an entire book about using small flashes in the digital age and if you read it carefully you'll notice that, most of the time, I'm using them in their manual modes.  I like repeatability.

Both Nikon iTTL and Canon eTTL have gotten better and better over the years but it's still easy to fool them or hard work to compensate for the times you know they'll mess up.  I'm learning to trust the big Canon flash these days but I still have reservations.  Especially when shooting people in very light or very dark clothes and trying to maintain a different exposure for the background.  I've read Syl Arena's book, Speedliter, and I've been working on it.  But.........

Bear with me because this is my introduction to my decision making process of yesterday....

The other flash nemesis I have, and I can't blame this on either the cameras or the flashes, is the difficulty of DSLR's to lock focus in most formal candid situations.  People wear black.  The lighting is subdued. The way the process is supposed to work is something like this:  I walk up to a couple or a small group and playfully coerce them into a tightly compacted grouping and then I pull the camera up to my eye and push halfway down on the shutter button and wait for the annoying, red patterned light to play over my victims while the camera desperately tries to find an edge to focus on.  Usually it finds a sea of black fabric or, worse, a sea of white fabric and the lens begins to hunt.  I move the lens to a different part of the scene until I find success and then I lock the reading, re-compose and take the image.  By the time the flash finally goes off one or two of the people in the group are checking their Phillipe Patek watches while someone else is looking back over their shoulder, trying to find someone hot in the crowd.

Very annoying for everyone. And yet, when each new system comes onto the market one of the selling points is the incredible performance of the flash.  Liars.

Yesterday, from 5pm until 9:30pm I shot an event for a non-profit that I've worked with for over ten years now.  There's a VIP reception at 5:30, a general reception at 6:15 and then dinner mixed with the program.  I enjoy shooting at the Four Seasons because the food is always good and the staff is superb. (Thanks again to the in-house AV team for last year's double A batteries....the one thing I forgot to pack...).

The event is a fund-raiser is attended mostly by well to do lawyers and judges, and their spouses, so I'm always assured that the wines served will be superb.  We started dinner last night with an interesting salad and a really nice, un-oaked chardonnay and moved on to a really nice Cabernet.  But I digress.

My job is to shoot couples and small groups of influential guests (meaning everyone) during all of the receptions and then cover the speakers and award winners during the presentations.  I rarely get to finish an entire course at dinner because our table is near the back and we tend to get served last..... 

I had the crazy idea that I wanted to go "all in" and shoot the whole event with the new Nikon V1 but the photographic and charity gods intervened and denied my access the the wildly proprietary flash for the system.  At this point there are no substitutes.  I figured that, if I couldn't go "state-of-the-moment" and take a huge risk that I would go ultimately "old school."

I decided to shoot all the candid reception shots with my ancient Canon 1Ds Mk2 camera and all of the podium/award shots with my Canon 1d mk2N camera.  I put a Zeiss 35mm f2 ZE on the big sensor camera and the loyal and resolute 70-200mm f4 on the sport cam.  I charged up four of the enormous and dense-as-plutonium batteries for the two cameras and then shoved three sets of rechargeable Eneloop batteries into the bag.  I packed a 580EX2 with a 430EX2 in the side pocket as a back up.  

The one nod to modern strobe therapy was my inclusion and use of the Rogue brand flash reflector.  It's a soft reflector that attaches to your flash and has bendable metal rods inside to allow you to curve or bend the modifier as you please.  Fully unfurled it's about 10 by 12 inches and does a nice job both staying put and modifying the light source to make it softer.  About $30.  

The camera and lens for ALL of the flash candids was the 1DS mk2 and the 35mm Zeiss.  Flash mounted directly on the camera.  Head pointing to the sky.

So here's the weird part.  I'm using a manual focus lens.  On a camera that's clearly not designed for razor blade sharp focus with manual lenses.  So I set the lens at f8 and figured out where the hyperfocal distance was for my working methodology.  I didn't care about close ups and I didn't care about infinity but I did care about five feet to ten or twelve feet.  I calculated, set the lens there and locked the rear wheel on the camera.  No changes.  I never touched the focusing ring or the aperture control for the rest of the evening.  Honest.  It was so nice.

Why was it so nice?  Well, I could swing the camera around, frame and shoot and never worry about locking in focus, in getting the "green dot."  There was never any hunting or kinetic racking from minimum to maximum focus and back again.  It was, for all intents and purposes, the "one use" aunt Ethel point and shoot.  Albeit an $9,000 version of one.  And do you know what?  It really worked!!!!

I set the camera at ISO 800 (which it handles with dignity and aplomb) and put the camera in manual exposure mode (figuring that it was good symmetry with the focus mode) and I would modulate shutter speeds depending on what showed up in the background.  If the peoples' backs were to the windows I would set the shutter to 1/250th, if the background was one of the walls of the room I would drop the shutter speed to 1/60th or 1/30th of a second.

I tried flash two ways.  First I tried eTTL and got pretty good results about 75% of the time.  Then I put the flash on manual, at 1/8th power and I got good exposures nearly 100% of the time.  If you use the guide number approach your flash/camera is never fooled by black velvet or white silk.  You never have to lock and recompose.  And the recycle time is ridiculously short.

As I worked through about 400 files today in Lightroom I paused from time to time to fix the exposure on a person who, at the edge of the frame, might have been closer to the flash than my main subject.  Amazingly, the 1DS 2 can pull detail out of raw files even if they've been over exposed by 1.75 stops.  Almost like color negative film of the old.

The rear, LCD screens on both the cameras are about as accurate as a weatherman or an economist so, at some point, you have to start trusting in the infallibility of camera physics.  

Now, I'm not saying that this is the only way to shoot event candids.  You probably have a great method that works for you and I'd be the last person to tell you to change it.  But if you haven't tried the patented, Kirk Tuck Hyperfocal/Guide Number Paradigm-Shifting-Lumen Launcher-Method, you have my permission to try it for thirty days for free.  There's something purging about shooting photographs and not having to think.  Maybe it's a faux Zen thing.  Maybe it just incorrigible laziness but the proof is in the deliverables.  To think that old fashioned common sense would be as useful as hundreds of million of dollars (billions of Yen?) worth of R&D that have gone into focus and flash automation....

Now,  I have another conference for another clients that starts Sunday and runs for three days.  Will it be the Nikon V1 or will I have to fall back to some other technology?  Candids with the Hasselblad?  I did it years ago but I'm not crazy enough to do it now.  Or am I?  (Please, Nikon, ship the damn flash!)