Keller Williams Book Shoot.

It was a cold and rainy day last month when Caitlin came to my studio with a box full of books. She'd designed a new book for Keller Williams Ink, a large publisher of real estate specialty books and she wanted a whole basket full of documentation. We did the regular stuff, the single book cover, the stack of books, the interesting angle on the book and everything else you can think of. Then we embarked on massively non-parallel book arranging. Seems the book is just crying out for an arrangement similar to the domino set ups where you spend days setting up millions of dominos, knock over one and watch the rest fall over at a rapidly accelerating clip.

Our biggest challenge was stacking them without accidentally starting a book avalanche. We did them a number of different ways and even incorporated a hand into the mix. I was using a Sony a99 with the Sigma 70mm macro lens. We lit our set with a combination of the new fluorescent lights because it's so much easier to arrange still life shots when you operate in the "what you see is what you get" mode.

The real bear was doing all the clipping paths. Beware of having too many image design ideas because your client may not want to choose and you may get stuck creating complex clipping paths for every single variation. I didn't mind because I really did find myself appreciating my client's design sensibilities. 

When we were thru shooting and Caitlin headed back to the office I sat down and actually read the book. Pretty darn good guide to doing business but an even better guide to figuring out how to be successful in life.

Above, grappling with the sad reality that books really do fall down from time to time and, if they are ill placed they take the whole stack down with them.

The End.

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We just finished shooting this TV commercial for Zach Theatre. It's "Harvey."

It's tuesday and editor, David Munns, already has our Harvey spot ready to go. We shot the footage on Sunday morning with Martin Burke. Click on the  YouTube logo on the bottom right corner of the video frame to go directly to YouTube if you want to watch the HD version.

Nearly a dozen loyal VSL members chimed in to me personally after I wrote about shooting this video last Sunday. They were interested in trying their hands at DSLR video and the common question was: "What do I need to get started?"

I'm just at the beginning of this whole video journey myself but I'll tell you what's come in handy so far.

1. While it's wonderful to have a camera that includes a headphone jack we've done a bunch of projects with the Sony a77 and some with a Canon 5D mk2 and neither of them were so equipped.  The most important feature (as far as sound goes) for me is the microphone input and a set of manually settable level controls. The headphones are critical to hearing problems with sound as you go but there are workarounds. You can record your audio to a digital audio recorder, listen to the sound via the headphone jack and output the same sound with a "line out" or "aux" to the microphone input of your camera with a 3.5mm to 3.5mm male, stereo plug. Kind of cool because you're making a back up as you go. Honestly, all the APS-C and FF DSLR cameras can record great HD video. Even a lowly Rebel. (The Sony's are the only ones with good, fast focusing during recording...if you don't mind losing manual exposure controls..).

2. I think you'll need two different external microphones. You probably won't use them at the same time but you'll end up needing each kind sooner or later. For interviews or direct to camera content where you have a subject or actor talking to the audience a lavalier microphone is great. There are all kinds. It's sexy to get wireless radio mics but it's not necessary. People have been using cabled microphones for decades and decades, and they work. Seems like every microphone sounds different so you'll probably want to go to a store and try them out with your camera. Bring someone else along to talk so you don't end up thinking you don't like a microphone when you really just don't like the sound of your own voice.

I bought a wired Audio Technica Lavalier microphone and it sounds great. I spent about $125 and I bought it used. I also have a Sennheiser wireless system and it sounds insanely good but it was a whopping $600. Start with the wired one and move up when you find a pressing need to. The audio is not that much different.

The second kind of microphone you'll want to get is a good shotgun microphone. We use these when it's impossible to hide a lavalier mic on someone and you need to hear them well.  Contrary to popular belief they're not made to function like a telephoto lens and bring far away sound close to you.  They just tend to be good at isolating the sound of a voice right in front of you and dumping away the sound that's off access. These work great if your subject is stationary and you can carefully aim the microphone and put it on a stand. They are also great if you have someone who can hold a pole and aim the microphone for you as the person is moving and talking. Also, if you only have one microphone and you need to record a back and forth conversation you can have a person swivel the microphone back and forth between them. Plus, when equipped with the fuzzy wind sock they look so cool and all Hollywood.

Play around with your microphones and cameras until you find a need you can't fill and then start looking at things like mixers and stuff that lets you hook up several microphones simultaneously and control their levels separately.

3. Depending on what sort of video you want to shoot you'll probably need a fluid head tripod. It's just a tripod with a dampened head that allows you to pan or tilt without too many jitters or false movements. Mine cost $500 but there are many priced down in the $150 range that might work. Alternately, if you are a big spender and your wallet comes well equipped there are numerous models up to the $5000 range and over. Go play with some and see how they work before you drop big dough. A lot of successful camera movement is from practice, not the gear. Sound familiar? But the fluid head are helpful. You probably find a decent head that will fit on a tripod you already own.

4. Unless you plan to be an available light videographer you'll need some continuous lights. And if you do this commercially you'll need some big, bright ones. You can go old school and buy a bunch of tungsten hot lights pretty cheaply. You can play around with LEDs which, for big commercial video are either expensive or need a few nudges of filtration for good color, or, you can go with some of the recent fluorescent panels from Alzo, Fotodiox, KinoFlo and other.
I'm not going to tell you how to light anymore than I would tell you how to dress but I find I usually need one big main light and two or three additional fixtures for lighting up backgrounds, creating fill light or making accents. I'll assume that, if you've been shooting photography professionally, you'll already have light stands, diffusers and the like.

5. You'll need a totally different mindset from that of a photographer. Stuff really needs to move and it needs to tell a story so rather than just shooting from the hip you have to slow down and create some sort of narrative framework to use as a guide to your shooting. I found it very revealing to sit down for the first time with a non-linear video editing program and try to cobble something together. It humbled me. Still does. That's my weak spot and the area I need the most help on.

Good luck with your efforts in video. It's a nice commercial adjunct to still photography.

Tomorrow I'm doing a total immersion kind of assignment. We're shooting portraits, interviews, and some stuff they call "b-roll" which means all kinds of footage of a manufacturing process, the smiling faces of the workers and staff and the sexy detail shots that will make nice cutaways for the main body of a comprehensive video. Crazy, but it means I get to try my hand at a bit of everything that I've either studied up on or practiced in the studio. Wish me luck.

Creating a portrait of an actor. The time on the back end was always a bitch.

Actor, Woody Scaggs, was in my studio for a photo shoot we were doing for Zachary Scott Theater. The play was The Illusionist. We did all sorts of shots with a transluminated crystal ball and also with second actor. What I really wanted was a dramatic image of Woody so when we had the rest of the images in the bag I asked him if we could do a solo shot directly into the camera. 

The fun thing about photographing actors is that they seem to get what I want in my images. I can give them a thin story line or even a feeling and they translate it so well. This expression was exactly what I was looking for. I think we spent all of five minutes making this one and probably half of that was spent timing Polaroids. The image endures as one of my favorites.

What I love about it, in addition to Woody's great energy, is the interplay between the light and dark areas. I also consider the border treatment to be part of the overall image's design. The light side of his hair is contrasted by the black line running down the right edge of the frame while the dark shadow on the other side of Woody's face is offset by the bright background, and all of it is contain between undulating borders. The flaring borders were caused, in printing, by my use of a Pictrol mechanism just below the enlarger lens which flared the highlights into the shadows while non-linearly distorting and diffusing them.

The image above is a quick shot of the 16x20 inch work print in one of our flat files. When I got a good first print I would write useful information on the front and the back. On the back of the print are the exposure times under the enlarger, the toning, washing and other information, all in pencil.

There was always an investment in process when we worked with film and prints. I was never able to hit everything perfectly on the first print and, many times, when trying to mix vision and technical clumsiness I would print ten or fifteen 16 x 20's in an attempt to get everything on the paper just right. I thought about the discipline forced by process this morning. When I shot this image I worked carefully to get just the right expression but always mindful that we had some sort of budget to hew to, whether external or self-imposed. Once I was mostly sure that I'd hit the right mark I developed three or four tanks of fim. That took an afternoon. Then the film dried overnight. The next day I made two sets of contact sheets, 24 sheets in all. One set for me and one set for the client. I selected a final image and set up the dark room with oversized trays.

I went through the process of making test prints and then a final test at full size. We'd take that final test and put it out to dry. We needed to see how the paper image would look once it dried down. Prints always looked darker dry than they did in the fixer tray... If we needed quicker feedback we'd stick a chunks of the final test print in the microwave to dry it quickly.

Once we had the windage I'd go back and print iterations. Different burning and dodging methods. Different implementations of the Pictrol. Experiments with different paper grades and all the rest. Once a print came out and was as perfect as I could make it I could have 20 or more hours invested in that one artifact, not counting the shooting and prep time. Is it any wonder that we had a different regard for the final product? 

And, of course, if I put the ten prints I have of this negative side by side none of them are strictly identical. There were changes in the way my hands moved across the paper when burning and dodging. The chemicals drifted in temperature and potency over time. Even the selenium toner changed subtly from print to print. In fact, just about any hand made print from the film age could/should be considered a one off.

The contrast to that work was my documentation of the work this morning. I put the print on the floor, stood over it and shot it in the available light of my studio with a handheld Sony a58 camera. Once I knew I'd worked cooperatively with the camera's built in image stabilization I stopped shooting, walked over to my desk and stuck the card in the side of the computer, grabbed a frame and then spiffed it up a bit in PhotoShop. Two minutes later it was in this document, ready to anchor my thoughts and my words.

There is still a resonance from the older work that guides me today. We may have ditched the physical craft but the idea of the work still informs the way I shoot today. We're near the balance point though. The point in time when my tenure with film based systems just slightly exceeds the amount of time I've worked with digital. Close to a 50/50 split as a working professional.

Everything you've done informs this one moment. The moment right now when you make today's art. 

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Checking in with the remaining VSL readers.

Seems like barely a week ago I announced that I was changing the way I would be handling the blog. I dumped most of the gear specific posts and I've spent the last week adding back the articles that I feel are more or less timeless. Or at least not wedded to the obsolescence of the toys depicted therein. From a metric perspective the experiment has been an abject failure with the number of pageviews quickly dropping by half. And trending downward. 

I have added back in nearly 500 articles that fit my new parameters from the warehoused article inventory.

In some instances, like this afternoon, I republished older articles at the top of the blog because they were articles I really liked. I won't do that for much longer but sometimes I read something I wrote in 2010 (when I had less of a culture filter in place) and I find that I still like the message.

If you came here to read a review of a hot, cheap, little camera from two or three years ago then I'm sorry you wasted your time. I'm going to keep moving in the direction I decided upon because it's turning out to be much more fun.

In a few days I'm going to take a stab at writing stuff that I hope has a sense of humor, bundled with a photographic context.

If you really, really need to know which camera is currently the best in the world I can tell you that. Get in touch with me offline, send me $50 and I'll tell you exactly what you want to know.

I do want feedback. Just because we no longer argue about which cameras and lenses are the coolest doesn't mean I don't cherish the dialog. That's all for now.

marketing note: 
Oh.  I decided to have a bunch of Amazon links below the articles that have nothing to do with the articles, other than that they will reflect stuff I like and buy on a regular basis. If you're hot to spend money at Amazon please consider clicking through with one of those links to support the site. I find that I miss the income. It's the difference between a grande and a tall at Starbucks.

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The thing no one wants to talk about.......video.

Meredith under the cool LED lights, on set, in my west Austin studio.

I read an interesting article by Jack Reznicki, here,  and to paraphrase, he's making the point that after years of deflecting his growing realization that video is quickly becoming the preferred imaging medium for a new generation he's ready to admit that video is part of the basic wiring of that new generation and will only get more popular as bandwidth speeds up and flat screens get cheaper and more ubiquitous.  He's thrown down the gauntlet, (to himself) saddled up and a few other confused metaphors, and he's out working on building a style and a name for himself in the video world.  Fish where the fish are.

When I talk about video to most of my peers in the business they get a "far away" look in their eyes and, when I press the subject, they rally their best undergraduate art school arguments about why still photography is different and unique.  I would argue that pretty soon all photography will be just still frames from video.  Of course, that's a bit hyperbolic but the reality is that photography is being subsumed by its very simplicity and popularity while video is in a new period of ascendancy.

But after trying my hand at the "new" video I know why my peers are so resistant to this medium.  It's harder to do well than still photography.  Let me say that again with the appropriate emphasis in place:  It's harder to do WELL than still photography.  And, maybe more importantly, to do it well requires collaborating (and sharing credit with) other professionals.  And that's something that many photographers are uncomfortable with or hostile to.  I know I am......

But it's to be expected.  We've spent our lives as loners.  We intersect with the pack to hunt down assignments and get a check.  The rest of the time we're experimenting in our caves....I mean studios....and diddling the dials of PhotoShop.  Now that our basic industry is saturated and devalued we're supposed to become part of a "team"?  (Remember that there is no "I" in team so be prepared to become assimilated by the Borg.....).  That, in a nutshell is why professional photographers aren't rushing to do video in droves.

I don't want to spend my life putting together crews of sound people, assistants, gaffers and grips.  I don't relish spending more time with more people.  What are we to do?  Hmmmmm.  Long pensive thoughts...

We could do what Robert Frank did in the 1950's.  While the majority of photographers were anchored in their studios with 8x10 and 4x5 view cameras and a jungle of hot lights he went out into the street (without assistants or a "team") and made a new art.  An art predicated on moving and seeing and capturing quickly.

We don't need to emulate the evolution of the video industry.  We don't need to follow the path of Phillip Bloom and Vince LaForet and embrace the way video has always been done, overlayed on a new set of tools (and let's admit that the only new thing Vince brought to the table was a new camera with better high ISO and more DOF control.....).  I can choose to implement a newer "snapshot" style that steals from all the good disciplines while maintaining the autonomy that I think many photographers have always subconsciously or consciously chosen for ourselves.  A new style of moving pictures.

I think about this because I just handed my son, Ben, another still digital camera to use.  He's been using a Canon SX10 and I don't think he's ever taken a still image with it.  I handed it to him a few years ago and the first question out of his mouth was,  "Will it do video?"  He and his friends have produced dozens and dozens of finished, edited videos with that camera.

I handed him a Canon SX20 yesterday and the first question he asked me was, "Does it do better video?"  Yes.  It does HD.  Will he take a still frame with the camera?  Doubtful.  Will he use the hell out of it?  You bet.  The batteries are already on the charger.

Ben and his friends are part of the generation in which all media moves.  All media, all moving, all the time.  He's in ninth grade and one of the courses he's taking is film making.  The school is teaching the students in his film making class how to use Final Cut Pro.  As a veteran user of iMovie, Ben is incredibly comfortable with the process.  And  the visual communicators of his generation will be as well.

I want to continue to wring out every good still picture I can out of photography.  But, to paraphrase the English poet, Andrew Marvell,  "O'er my shoulder I do hear video's winged chariot drawing near...."

Time to become multi-disciplinary in a new way.

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A Brief Tutorial About Shooting Underground.

I was thinking about dirt and remembered this image (on the right) that I made in the early 1990's.  Now I'm sure photographers would just piece the whole thing together in PhotoShop (tm) but that wasn't really a luxury we could count on in the first Clinton term.  So I thought I would recount the process we went through back in the neanderthal days of pre-digital photography to remind myself that image making used to be a time consuming and sometimes dirty craft.

I was working with an art director named Pam.  The client was 3M.  The product in question was a heat shrinkable sleeve that was placed over electric and data cable junctions to seal the connection and make the cable impervious to the encroachment of moisture and dirt.  Pretty cool stuff.  Apply.  Blast with heat, and you have a leak free connection you can bury under the mud.  So how do you show this to potential clients at tradeshows and in product brochures?  Good old fashion photography.

In the early 1990's clients with high quality budgets usually liked for us to produce photographs using 4 x 5 inch color transparency sheet film.  And it went without saying that everything was "Polaroided" at every step of the process so that the crew (art director, photographer and client) could see how the shoot was evolving and collaborate on the direction.

Step one:  Bring in trash cans full of different kinds of dirt.  Step two:  Create a shooting table by putting a 4x8 foot sheet of white plexiglas on top of a custom made set of saw horses.  The saw horses had attachable side rails to help support the plexi so it wouldn't sag in the middle.
Step three:  Rig our Linhof monorail camera over the top of the set by securing it to a large pipe suspend between two heavily sandbagged, tall, Century stands.  Aim the camera straight down over the white Plexiglas, stand on a tall ladder and rough in  the outlines of the shot by framing slightly tighter than the width of the Plexi.  We mark off our "live" area on the Plexi with black tape and get to work on building our set.  

Step four:  We know that we want to have little pools of blue to simulate standing water so we design the set so that side lighting from a medium sized softbox provides a deep shadow to the opposite side of each wire.  We use the outline of the shadow as a guide to remove the dirt in these areas.  

Step five:  The layout is fine tuned.  It is a process of going up the ladder, closing the shutter on the view camera lens,  setting the appropriate aperture, putting in a Polaroid holder, pulling out the envelope that functions as a Polaroid dark slide and then using a cable release to trigger the shutter.  My assistant times the color Polaroid and then peels it.  Once the art director, client and I review the image my assistant numbers the print on its back so we now where in the sequence each change occurs.  He also notes the fstop and shutter speed of the camera as well as the power settings for the studio electronic flash.  We repeat this process over and over again over the course of the set up.

Step six:  Once we've got the composition fine tuned on the top of the table we're ready to add the blue pools to the mix.  We do this by putting two small softboxes, covered with deep blue theatrical gels onto the floor under the Plexi, facing up.  Anywhere in our composition that the dirt is removed from the top surface of the Plexi there is a blue glow.  We can adjust the saturation by making sure that no light from the main light hits the shadowed pools.  The main light comes from one Norman PD 2000 watt second pack while the two small softboxes share the power from a second Norman PD 2000 pack set up to distribute power the two heads equally.  The main light is about four feet from the left edge of the set and small mirrors are added just to the right of the set to direct beams of light into areas that need to be filled or accentuated.

Step Seven:  At this point we are fine tuning the set.  We use small brushes, toothpicks and straws to brush, coax or blow dirt into place.  We build up little walls of dirt in areas where we feel a stronger shadow is necessary.  After each round of modification I go up the ladder and go through the routine needed to load fresh Polaroid and trip the shutter.

Finally, when we all agree that the composition is just what we wanted and the light is  metered to the nth degree I make another trip up the ladder.  Standing on the second step from the top of the ladder and using one hand for support on a steel rafter,  I put my head under a dark cloth and carefully check focus with an 8x loupe over the entire frame.  This is done with a wide open aperture.  Then I stop the camera down to f32.5, which is the fstop we calculated that would give us ample depth of field without introducing diffraction.  I spend five minutes under the dark clothe letting my eyes adjust so we can make sure there has been no focusing shift.  Then I shoot five sheets of film, bracketing each exposure.  We bracket our overs by double popping the flashes with the room lights extinguished and we bracket our unders by placing half stop and then one stop fabric screens over the lights.

If you've only shot small film cameras or digital cameras you've never had to consider that 4x5 inch film can bow a bit when shooting with the camera faced down.  To combat this we used to put a small piece of doubled Scotch tape (it is 3M afterall.....) in the center of the film holder and then slide the film over it and then give it a gentle press.  Not hard enough to weld the film tight to the back wall but enough to offset the bowing.

After all the film was shot we'd always do one last Polaroid to make sure nothing had moved and that nothing shifted with the camera.  Once that Polaroid was approved we'd get the client and the art director to sign and date the back of the print as an indication that they'd approved the shot.  A nice coda to the contract.

We'd congratulate each other just as the agency's account executive showed up to share in the good feelings and take the AD and the client out for dinner and drinks.  For the assistant and I the end of the day meant unloading the film into light safe boxes and labeling it for the E-6 film run at the lab.  We'd keep the set up and untouched until we saw final film, and only when the final film was delivered and approved by the AD did we start the process of cleaning up.  One day of pre-production and one full day of lighting, scene building and shooting in order to end up with five sheets of color film.  And only one perfect sheet.  

Post production?  Clean the studio and bill the client.  When the transparencies returned from the color separator we'd file them by date, job and subject and we were done.

Thanks for indulging this walk down memory lane.  Sometimes it's helpful to me to remember how we did things in the old days before we absentmindedly try to re-invent the wheel.  Now, where did I put my typewriter?

To see more of my still life work:  Kirk Tuck's Website

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Melancholy Walk. The Downfall. And other mini blogs as captions.

This is a re-publication of this article. It's still true.

I may be just a little insane but I think I'm witnessing the collapse of civilization every day.  Just a little bit at a time.  Crumb by crumb.  Not in the monolithic, "TSA Groped me and all is lost" sort of way, but in a different and more pernicious way.  Let me explain.  I'm convinced that the cellphone is greatest tool for isolation and evil in recent history.  Most car wrecks are now caused by people talking and texting on cellphones.  But that's too dramatic.  What I'm talking about is is the slow erosion.  I was at the flagship store of Whole Foods today.  Everywhere I looked people were detached from everything around them.  From the beautiful produce, the delightful pastries, the never-before-in-the-history-of-man selections of great wines and cheeses.  The guys were not "checking out" the plethora of beautiful girls flowing like spring water thru the aisles.  The women weren't even noticing the displays of chocolate.  Instead, they did the "thorazine shuffle" with their carts aimlessly navigated with one hand and the rest of their being concentrated either on staring like zombies at the screens of their iPhones or Blackberries, or wandering without a compass while listening to something at the other end of their cell connection, eyes staring off into the middle distance.  It was so sad.  Like a prince of old surrounded by a library full of priceless books and a museum full of art, looking for a comic book to read.  I was so depressed I had to leave the store.  These people wouldn't ever get better.  They are doomed to walk around in this particular circle of hell until their calling plan comes to an end.  Oblivious to the ever changing kaleidoscope of beauty swirling around them.  Don't write and defend cellphones,  I will only excoriate you.
For all of you who are convinced that photography is dead and that bricks and mortar photography stores died out in the 1990's I direct your attention to Precision Camera and Video on North Lamar Blvd. in Austin, Texas.  I shoved wax into my ears like Odysseus and resisted the siren song of the Carl Zeiss 85mm 1.4 for Canon long enough to grab a box of printing paper and bid a hasty retreat.  They had their best "black Friday" ever.  EVER.  This past week.  Selling mostly.........cameras.
 I live in the third smartest city in America, according to Fortune Magazine.  But I still see cars like this one.  The smaller sticker reads, "Obama Lied.  The Economy Died."  Apparently they didn't get the memo that the economy hit the crapper in late 2008 while GWB was still holding on to the reins.  The ballout?  2008.  The Tarp?  2008.  Collapse of the stock market?  2008.  Etc.  In some circles history and facts don't count.  God must have a different agenda.
When I feel overwhelmed I take photographs of clouds.  They comfort me and when they move really fast through the late afternoon skies they remind me of Bergman movies.  Or Highlander movies.  Depending on your age....
I know we are near the end of civilization when battered, graffiti'd fences are adjacent to 30 story luxury condominium towers just a quick walk from the center of town.  
Already commented.  When I walked by much later he was stil there, transfixed. He could have driven to another city and met face to face in the amount of time he spent glued to $2 worth of microwave emitting plastic.

I encountered the Which Wich shop near 6 pm on today's walk thru downtown.  It looked so medieval.  The glow of the interior lights made the barest impact just a foot or two outside the front doors.  Everything looked so gray.  Inside the lone worker leaned against the counter and talked on his cellphone.
But I did have lunch with Belinda.  She and I do have cellphones.  But we both leave them in the car.  Who could possibly call that would be more important than the person right in front of me?  Especially if it's Belinda.  Please.  Put down your phone.    Turn it off and speak without reservation and hesitation and condition to the person who sacrificed their time to sit right in front of you and share their humanity.

All photographs shot with a Sony R1 camera.  Jpegs.  iPhoto processing.  Start the new week with a commitment to really live.

the holidays are upon us.  I humbly submit that a good book about photography will be most welcome by the photographers on your list.  Here are a few suggestions:






The Sunday Evening Blog. A catch all of subjects meant to bring everyone up to speed on the mundane details of my professional life...

2nd Street. Crowded with Party-Goers of All Kinds.

Quick history lesson: On May 5, 1862 the Mexican army unexpectedly whipped up on the French invaders in the Mexican area around Pueblo. Whupped 'em good. So Cinco de Mayo became a general celebration of resistance and democracy for the people of northern Mexico and today it celebrates the pride and spirit of Mexicans. The short version in Austin? Any excuse to block off downtown streets and throw a party. 

But let me back up to this morning. I worked on a video project for Zach Theatre and we started setting up lights and audio gear at 10:00 am, which meant that I started sorting gear and getting stuff together around 8:00 am this morning. The batteries went onto the chargers last night....

Shooting still photography now seems delightfully simple. I only need to pack lights and cameras. But video is mean. You have to pack all the stuff you'd use for regular photography and then dump in a bunch of audio gear. Microphones, mixers, balanced cables and microphone stands. And it makes sense to bring an assortment because, like lenses, microphones have specific strengths and weaknesses. I'd just bought a Rode NTG2 shotgun microphone and I was dying to use it today but the air conditioning system in the old theatre we were shooting in is loud like the cough of a rheumy old man amplified through the Rolling Stones location speaker stack.

But that's a whole other subject. 

I set up a white background and lit it flat and bright with two of the Fiilex P360 open faced LED fixtures. They make liars out of people who claim LEDs aren't bright enough or well enough color balanced for real stuff. With a little turn of the color temp dial they fell right in line with my Day Flo Pro Fluorescent lights. My main light was a 6 bulb Day Flo Pro Fluorescent fixture blasting through a 6x6 foot, one stop diffusion silk. My fill light was a 4 bulb Day Flo Pro Fluorescent fixture blowing through a two stop pop  up reflector.

We were making PSA's (TV commercials) and promotional web videos for Zach's upcoming rendition of Harvey. It's the play based on the 1940's moving starring Jimmy Stewart. The whole play is about a man, Elwood P. Dowd, who has a constant companion: A six foot, one and a half inch rabbit which only he seems to be able to see... The lead, the character Elwood P. Dowd, is played by one of my absolute favorite actors extant, Martin Burke.

This morning we were serving several "content masters." We shot all the material needed to do a thirty second spot with Elwood talking to his "friend" while a voice over narrator filled in the blanks. Mostly Martin sat on a park bench, in front of my white background, under my bright, high key lighting, in a 1940's era wool suit and vest (complete with a bowtie) and proceeded to ruin take after take by making the video crew (David and me) burst out laughing.

We did manage to get all of the shots we needed and a lot more. Close ups, middle distance shots and wide establishing shots. Martin played to the Rabbit just like there was a real creature sitting next to him.  

After we got our "footage?" for the PSA's we changed the background for a green screen and shot a bunch of impromptu and improvisational kidding around between "Elwood" and "Harvey." David Munns (producer and editor) will use his green screen magic to drop scenes from around Austin into the background. I can hardly wait to see it all.

Our only real issue was sound. With an air conditioner that sounds like a fleet of Harley Davidson motorcycles bereft of any mufflers in the background we tested and then quickly discarded the shotgun microphone in deference to a wickedly good set of Sennheiser wireless lavalier mics. They are great. You get them in really close ( like on a dark jacket lapel) and they tend to throw away background noise and add an intimacy with your main subject. I carefully monitored the sound through headphones as we shot, stopping every once in a while to remind Martin NOT to thump his chest with his fist...

Some smart ass will ask why we didn't turn off the air conditioning. I might as well answer. In commercial buildings they (the building managers) generally try not to put the control of their utilities or A/C into the hands of the general public. So there's not a user accessible switch that says, "PUSH HERE FOR NO AIR CONDITIONING."  But secondly, we're here in Texas with a man in many layers of wool clothing, hanging just fractions of a centigrade away from sweating like a fat man in a steam bath. Like a cold ice tea glass on an August day in downtown Houston... I think you get the picture...

I'm learning not to "wing it" in video. It's too complicated to leave stuff to chance only to have to come back again and fix it. I metered the set meticulously with a hand held, incident light meter. I photographed the scene with the video camera (a Sony a99) and checked the histogram. I used a Lastolite white/grey target to custom white balance with. I used my Rokinon 85mm 1.5 Cine lens at what I believe to be one of its best apertures, f4, and I switched the camera into still mode before each take to zoom in to 16 or 20X and check fine focus. On some scenes (especially the close ups) where Martin would lean into the camera for dramatic emphasis I check focus at both ends of his move and marked the lens at both places so I could rack back and forth between the two marks to keep him in sharp focus. Focus peaking really helps in that situation.

We reviewed the content and all the parameters are good: Martin's performance, the audio and the visuals. I hope to see a nice set of PSA's at the end of the week which I'll quickly share with all of you even though you might not be interested in video. (You lazy slackers...). Since David will be in charge of editing I handed him the memory card after we packed the car back up and breathed a sigh of relief. The editing is the hard part. At least to me...

I went home to unpack and see what the family was up to. Everyone is in work mode. Ben has his AP psychology test in the morning. He'd been out to forage for breakfast tacos and was munching on a pulled pork and egg taco with a bacon, egg and cheese in ready reserve. Belinda had already taken nourishment and had chained herself to her desk to work on an advertising project with her usual, terrifying concentration. Feeling marginalized, I headed to Garrido's restaurant where a loud, rowdy and happy crowd was already in the midst of a glorious Cinco de Mayo brunch/happy hour.

I grabbed a seat at the bar, watched Nick, the young bartender, defy gravity with liquids and munched on Huevos Benedictos (eggs benedict with an addictive chipotle hollandaise sauce) and, being the consumate risk taker I washed it down with a cup of decaf coffee. How could I resist? The owner/chef brewed a fresh pot just for me.

I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around in the sun drenched avenues of our capitol city trying to find fun things to photograph. I was carrying the Sony a58 which punches far above its price class and I was using it with a lens that continues to amaze me and grow on me: the 16-50mm 2.8 zoom. More and I more I'm saving the a99 for projects that are, in some part, about video. For everything else I've been pressing this one cheap, zesty camera body into hyper-service. My goal? To see if I can wear out the shutter before I get tired of shooting it.

Could things get any more crowded?

Last week was all about editing. It went something like this: Edit > get stumped > go to Lynda.com and learn for hours > Edit > get stumped, etc. rinse, repeat.  I knocked out two really good projects with that methodology and, more to the point, I think I'm over the hump (fear) on Final Cut Pro X.  

This week we go on industrial safari. I have a job that takes me into an international company that makes custom cabling to make portraits of the executive staff, record video interviews with the same (same lighting set up: light once, shoot twice) and then move on to making images of the design and work areas and the people who do the set up and assembly. After each cool still shot I'll shoot some "B" roll. A video crew will come in after me, the next day to do some "look and feel" sutff so the agency has enough content to make a good program. My interviews will get cut down and put on the website.

Funny, it was just a couple of months ago that I really started aiming toward doing more video in the business and now it seems to be flowing through the door and over the transom (wish I had a transom...). I guess having the intention is always the first step. Buckle up for a fun week. Glad you are along for the ride.'