Some weeks are anti-photographic. This was one of them.

Spanish Steps. Russian Woman.

Some weeks seem destined to be non-photographic for me and it makes me sad. Don't get me wrong, there was lots to do but so very little of it had anything to do with taking photographs and even less to do with wandering around aimlessly and taking fun photographs. Maybe that odious woman (Marissa Mayer) from Yahoo jinxed it for me when she came out and said what we've all be thinking but are too fearful or hard headed to say out loud....Since everyone takes photographs all the time now there's no such thing anymore as a professional photographer.

I did all the things creative people are supposed to do. I had a wonderful monday morning coffee with a business man I've known for many years. The kind of business man who could live for another 10,000 years and still not have to work again....but he still does because he seems to enjoy the deal and the process. We talked about politics in Syria and start-ups and CEO training. When I left I felt as though I'd been a temporary member of the big leagues of business and it made me feel a little down when I realized that all I really wanted to do on monday was to be somewhere cool and takes some interesting photographs. The afternoon was filled with domestic errands and the last gasp editing of that novel I've been talking about since 2002. My friends won't listen to me anymore when I talk about it. "Just publish the goddam thing!!!" seems to be the most common advice.

I'm sure Stephen Pressfield could use my procrastination with this project as a classic study in resistance. But I'm so close and I want so badly for my first real effort out of the blocks to be a good one. Every typo I don't catch now will be like a wasp sting when I find it after the fact.

Most of Tuesday was taken up by the machinations of being (not practicing) a portrait photographer. I retouched five images for a client who works for an oncology practice. After a tuna sandwich I spent the afternoon making web galleries for people I photographed next week. At the end of the day I decided I had put off the editing of a video project long enough and it was starting to spoil like buried cabbage so I jumped onto that train and rode it until midnight. Still no recreational photography. No professional photo work either.

Wednesday is a blur of lunching with clients (great Chinese food), signing contracts, writing proposals and studying up for conference calls. I think I'll be doing a project in July as on camera talent. I'm pretty excited, or at least I think I am until I remember that I also need to produce the content for my 2.5 hour on camera project....but that will be something to prevent fun-tography in June so I'll worry about it then. Three days of shooting for two and a half hours of programming. Who would have thunk it?

Hard on the heels of that was the realization that it was my turn to shop, cook dinner and wash up after. I'm lazy, I made fajitas and frijoles ala charro and guacamole. Then I remembered how much I disliked cleaning up the grill at the very end. Why does the clean up always fallow those two great glasses of wine instead of proceeding?

I packed a camera bag full of Nex gear on Thursday but the bag never got out the door. I don't remember much about yesterday but I do remember looking over from my desk, longingly, at the Sony a850 and the medium tele lens flirting with me as hard as it could. I'd gotten almost to the door when a request for bid came in and I realized that bidding video/hybrid projects takes a lot of time to do right (and profitably). I got the bid done and the pizza ordered for the kid just in time to walk out the door and attend, with spouse in tow, the premiere of "Harvey" at Zach Theatre. Yes, we had great seats.  Yes we had Cuba Libres at the lobby bar at halftime (drives my theatre friends crazy when I called it that...) and yes, we had Champagne and little desserts at the end. After the standing ovation. (well deserved).

I dragged myself out of bed this morning and got into the studio to start writing an outline for an educational program and then I realized that I write a lot more than I shoot. And most of my friends and family never really get to see the executive speeches, project proposals, scripts, books and other stuff I seem to be consistently cranking out. Maybe Marrisa Mayer is correct. Maybe there is no such things as (just) a professional photographer anymore. Maybe we have to do all these other things to keep the ball rolling. To put bread on the table. To move it all forward (and a thousand other hoary sayings).  Or maybe it's just that way for me.

Sometimes I feel like I'm living proof of an old Russian saying, "It is impossible to chase two fast rabbits at the same time." And I feel like I'm juggling three or four rabbits. But I can't bear to put one down in order to concentrate on another. I fear what I might miss. It's the curse of having more than several things you love to do. The linear among us would have me sit down and diagram life out and find the most efficient and efficacious method of earning a living and just flush everything else, accept a pair of blinders and go in a straight line. Eat the meatloaf every night. 

But I'll see if I can't get it all balanced out. Shoot a bit more. Think a bit less and, for goodness sake, stop writing so much.

Over there, by the filing cabinet next to the studio door. There's an old, brown Domke bag and inside is are two Nex 7's and a passel of lenses. I think I can sneak in some imaging tomorrow. But that brings up the next conundrum, do I shoot stills or little movies? Ah... it never stops.

I hope you have a photographic adventure that makes you happy this weekend. It's time.


500px just introduced some more template styles.

I'm trying out the one that does full screen images. Check it out and tell me what you think of the presentation: http://kirktuck.500px.com/beauty

Click anywhere on the images at the 500px portfolios to make the overlying type go away. Let me know what you think...

More like play, less like work.

There's always some way to technically improve a photograph. I was jarred into thinking about the difference between the joyful discovery of beauty via a camera and the hard work of compulsively honing both equipment and technique in the pursuit of perfecting the recording process of capturing a photograph.

I say, "jarred" because I seem to have forgotten almost entirely the time I spent in the retail audio business back in the 1970's. for me it was a way of making some extra cash to spend while pursuing a degree of some sort at the University of Texas at Austin. For everyone else around me; customers and fellow employees, audio was a passion. And, if you read carefully you'll see that I wrote, "audio" and not "music."

You see, the pursuit of perfect "audio" has nothing at all to do with music other than the fact that recorded music is used to show off the clarity, richness and noise free fidelity of the machines. Starting to sound familiar?

So, this morning I had coffee with an "audiophile" and he was telling me about a new turntable. He sold off a world renowned "reference" turntable in the ever escalating compulsion to squeeze even more "transparency" and accuracy from his collection of long playing records (LP's).

We spoke for a good while about audio and I still don't know what genre of music he enjoys, or who his favorite artists are. We never got around to talking about music. He did mention that they current "state of the art" home audio system was currently around half a million dollars. We also remembered a crazy mutual friend, also an audiophile, who was so obsessed that low frequency, vibration induced rumble might be affecting the sonic performance of his turntable that he cut thru the floor of his "pier and beam" house, poured a reinforced, concrete pillar that reached down to bedrock and mounted his machine on that (after building an insulated room just for the turntable first.

Surely the emotional need for the illusion of perfection has its roots in the human need to quantify the parameters of an experience while ignoring the experience itself. Like an adolescent, quickly and dispassionately having sex so he can run off and brag about it to his peer group.

A few years ago, after I wrote a review on the Canon 7D, several "concerned" readers felt the need to recommend cameras to me that measured even better. They assumed I was looking for measurable perfection. I was and am aware of what is out there in the market and all of the compromises involved, but my praise for the 7D was for its attitude of "I'm ready when you are." It fit my hand, which more readily assured that it was along for the ride when I felt the desire to go out and make some art.  I was thinking about these things when I had coffee with several friends and a few of their friends. All part time photographers of one sort or another.

One acquaintance, knowing that I'd taught and consulted with colleges, asked me about getting a photo education at one of the three institutes of higher learning in town. One program is at a two year college and I'll describe it as a "blue collar" curriculum. Which means, "Teach me how to make money with photography by showing me how everything works." They'll teach you how to set your camera, how to use lights, how to compose and shoot as well as all the steps you'll need to have an efficient and knowledgeable "workflow." But they won't teach you how to do art. Which is the WHY to shoot.

They assume you had a reason, an angle or a vision that you likely wanted to pursue in the first place.

The medium school, a private college with a 4 year curriculum teaches some "nuts and bolts" and also some art history, critical theory and helps one hone a philosophical point of view as it relates to creating photographic works.

They assume you were motivated to be a photographer in order to communicate an aesthetic or idea that resonates for you. They deliver the rudimentary technical "tools" you'll need in order to get your point across. But they assume you do have a point. 

The third school is a major university. Their four year, fine arts curriculum is nearly devoid of technical teaching altogether and is almost totally consumed by aesthetics, and theory, a discovery of the artist's voice and expression.

They assumed you were able to read your camera's owner's manual and that you got the rudiments of a subject you've chosen as your university major at least competently mastered. They teach the "why" and assume the "how" is a given.

All three programs assume that you are coming into the mix because you have something you feel compelled to offer to the "discussion."

None assume that technical mastery of your camera, alone, is an end goal.

And it became so clear to me over the course of the conversation that obsessing over process, workflow and technical proficiency were the surest sign that these people would never make the leap to producing art because they really have nothing worthwhile to say.

They want to gain proficiency in something that can be quantified "sharper than" and see photography as a medium solely in which to actively display their proficiency. Well-----sorry. There's no guarantee anyone will be able to make meaningful and culturally important art. And there's no fast track to becoming good at the intangible parts of the photographic process. But in the end the only thing that really does matter are the absolutely intangible properties in a photograph. Things like: The story, the narrative, the feel, the vibe, and the point of view. The creation of a visual poem.

And all the technical "candy" won't do squat to fix a poorly seen or poorly imagined photograph.

Bottom line? If you don't have a passion, if you don't have a message or a voice in photography you are just a piano tuner or an visiophile.

Final thought: The name of a great local photographer came up in the course of the second conversation. Someone at the table made a dismissive remark. The remark inferred that the artist had essentially wasted his life because now---just for the last few years---the photographer had experienced some financial and emotional difficulties.

This caused me to reflect for a moment. The photographer's work has been collected by the pre-eminent museums of our time, in our country and several European capitals. He had traveled all over the world and met famous and interesting people.  His work still graces magazines that the rest of us would likely give up a testicle to work for... And he's done it by having a courageous and consistent visual style for over 30 years.

No compromise in his vision. No stepping back from the edge.

He has something the technically obsessed will never have.

He can actually make...art.


I sat at my desk and ground my way deeper and deeper into Final Cut Pro X. Boy is my brain exhausted.

Small child at Half Priced Books, many years ago.
Back when cameras did bokeh without having to be
instructed to do so.

I sat down around 10am today to start editing what turned out to be an eight minute video for my sculptor friend, Marja Spearman. She's the artist who did the 1,000 Forget Me Knot ceramics for an installation at the end of last month. I wrote about her in an earlier article...

I had a huge stack of video clips with lots of Marja on camera explaining the project and talking about the challenges of working with high quantities of ceramics. I also had good clean "footage" of mini-interviews with her three collaborators. In addition to that I had lots of what they call, "b-roll" which is really just extra stuff you shoot so you have material to use when you get bored of seeing "talking heads" for too long.

But here's the deal, unlike a good still image that may need to be cleaned up or given the ole PIZZAZZ filter in PhotoShop, video demands that you take charge of telling the story to your audience and, hopefully, keeping them interested. 

I put down a well reasoned story line and used a bunch of the interview footage then I went back and added b-roll as frequently and strategically as possible. I color corrected each clip using the waveform monitor and the vector scope and then I went into each clip and equalized the sound.
It takes forever. I couldn't find any background music that I liked in my usual sources so I opened up GarageBand and spent a couple of hours composing my own. It's not wonderful but it's 16db down from the voice tracks to it's hardly more than colorful white noise. But, of course I wanted to go in and modulate the music to come up over parts of the dialog where there were pauses and dead air.

I was feeling pretty good until Ben got home from high school. He cruised into the studio to say, "howdy" and to check out what I was working on. I may have mentioned it but he's got two years of film classes under his belt and works on FCP X nearly every day. He's soooo much better at editing and video story telling than me. He offered to critique the project and we rolled. He didn't even wait till the end before he started "helping me" fix it. He had me shorten it by a minute and a half, add more b-roll, make the cuts quicker and lots of other little tweaks. When he finished with his critique I felt like the project was a solid B+. I learned a lot doing my own editing and my own music bed. Learned a lot from my younger mentor. And I learned that video is a process and not just an inspiration followed by a little bit of post production filtering.

In all, a humbling experience but not without its own light at the end of the tunnel.

Next time I'll stop acting like a photographer and put a lot more movement in the shots. I won't always crop as tightly. I'll get more second angle in interviews. But the one thing I got just right was the music. Thank you, GarageBand.

Now I understand what my video friends mean when they tell me that 90% of a good project is in the pre-production. Amen.

If you could design your ultimate camera what would it look like? What would it do?

You probably know what I want in a camera. But it doesn't exist on the market right now. I'd like a camera that's set up like a Leica M. Simple controls and simple menus. I don't want an optical finder or rangefinder but I'd like that window on the top left to have a 4 million pixel element electronic viewfinder. I'd like a camera that only shoots raw. Not that I have anything against Jpegs but I'd gladly give them up if I could have an ultimately simple menu interface. Color balance, format, view options. That's about it. I don't need a screen on the back. With a great EVF I could do all the reviewing and menu setting I would ever want. And not having a screen on the back might give me better battery life and a more indestructible machine.

I want my camera to be black. Not shiny black but matte black with a slight texture over all.

In the guts of the camera I want a full frame Foveon style sensor, made by Sony. I like their sensors. And in my ultimate camera there would be four ISO settings: 25 ISO, 100 ISO, 400 ISO and some vague setting that would just be called, "High."

The camera would have built in image stabilization with all the bells and whistles that Olympus have wedged into their IS in the OMD EM5 and the new EP5.

Finally, the entire exterior body shell would be made of real, thick, glorious metal. The kind that shows as brass through the wear areas after years of hard use.

Final wish....fully electronic shutter. 

So-----what would your ultimate camera look like. What functions and features are important to you?


I think the writing is on the wall. The future is mirrorless. And that means optical viewfinders will go away.

The thing I like about beautiful women and photography is that beauty is camera neutral.
The image doesn't care what system we use. And in most cases neither does the sitter.

I've been reading rumors all over the web this week that point to Sony rolling out SLR style Alpha cameras next year with a few improvements over the current cameras, like the a58 and the a99. The biggest improvement and the most controversial one boils down to one thing. The mirror; translucent, pellicle, actual, virtual, etc., is going to go away. The maker of the world's highest quality imaging sensors for consumer cameras is going to go "all in" and pull the plug on the sliver of glass that is the "R" in SLR, or, single lens reflex.  And I'm predicting that when Sony pulls the plug on last century technology consumers will push Canon and Nikon, grudgingly, into the future.

You can scream and yell and leave all kinds of pseudo-scientific arguments about why you think I am wrong but I'd just tell you to follow the money. Samsung, Sony and Panasonic have been rolling out sensors that have phase detection auto focus elements embedded in the sensors along side the plain vanilla imaging picture elements (pixels). They're on generation three of the technology and the next rev, the one that will take Sony fully mirrorless is already being tested.

While Olympus took a hit from their existing customer base with the (non) announcement that they would be abandoning the whole reflex viewing system to go EVF and LCD they really didn't have much of a choice. They could see the writing on the wall and didn't have the bandwidth to juggle and market old tech while focusing on putting a bunch of consumer friendly new tech into the pipeline.

Sony may not have made the transition any less painful by ripping the bandaid off a feature at a time. Die hard DSLR fans were livid when Sony more or less let everyone know that the optical finder was being retired. And retired for good. When the a99 camera hit the market I think even the thickest headed optical die hard realized that his choice at this point boiled down to loving the industry's best EVF or tossing the whole mess and scampering off to some other marque. 

They'll be doubly pissed off when Canon and Nikon inevitably follow suit. The next step for Sony (and it's just engineering logic...) will be to remove the vestigial mirror altogether and move to a completely electronic transmission throughout the camera system. The only reason the "translucent" mirror is still required is to provide auto focus performance that equals the mirrored cameras from their competitors.

If (and I know it's a big leap of faith....) Sony is able to engineer a chip that really does allow their cameras to focus as fast as the competitors but doesn't require a secondary optical system to function then what would be the real beef from consumers. If the performance is the same would the objections be based strictly on philosophical grounds? Is there an implicit moral superiority that falls to the idea of the mirrored camera?

Of course not. It's a matter of tradition. Of convention. The comfort of the well known solution. If the sensors function transparently (in comparison to more conventional systems) then Sony will have made their cameras less expensive to build and they will have eliminated two more infrastructural systems; the mirror with it's alignment requirements and the secondary autofocus sensor in the mirror box.

Does this mean that all Sony DSLT lenses and DSLR lenses and Minolta lenses will be rendered obsolete? Of course not. There's no reason that Sony has to change the lens mount to sensor distance and no compelling reason to get ride of the lens mount. But there's no reason to think that they couldn't shorten the lens mount to sensor distance to the same depth as the Nex cameras while utilizing the shorter distance as they did with the VG-900  video camera which give it all the capability of using both the Nex and (with an adapter) the Alpha lenses with full compatibility.

Sony isn't doing this because they believe in some sort of design religion nor is there a manifest destiny that champions mirrorless. They are doing it because now is the moment in the world of technology when they can more cost effectively mimic the focusing system we've worked with for better than fifty year but by eliminating the mechanical parts and the expensive glass prisms they can offer a very similar user experience at a profound cost savings.

And while everyone over fifty may clench their teeth and curse progress most people who came to photography through digital will find the newer systems more recognizable and ultimately more usable for taking better images. Information is power. And the EVF provides the feedback loop and real time information to make better images.

Remember the first time you used a digital camera with a decent LCD on the back? It changed the way you shoot whether you want to admit it or not. It allowed you to instantly review your shot... which gave you the option of modifying your settings and trying again and again until you knew you got what you wanted in your photo session. And I doubt anyone would willingly give up the screen and go back to a camera that didn't have one even if it was still fully digital otherwise.

Well, to my mind the mirrorless cameras offer the same type of evolutionary forward jump in picture taking. You can ready the camera, the exposure, the color balance and even image styles and see them as they WILL be recorded before you push the shutter button. And once you experience shooting that way you will be as loathe to give up the new power of information just as you would not conceive of giving up the current screens.

It's all about the convergence of costs savings and technology. And that's a curve we've been working with since the dawn of digital.

If you are shooting Canon or Nikon right now I'm sure you think this whole line of reasoning is full of crap. But are any of you willing to bet real money on what the outcome will ultimately be five years from now?

Losing your marbles.

Set design for Harvey

just for fun.

"One day, as if by magic, a young boy in a very poor village, found a small, perfectly round object only half an inch across that seemed to glow with the most beautiful blue light. He carefully put the round object in his pocket and went home to show his parents. The parents were delighted because, living in a village made of beige mud they'd never seen anything so beautiful. 'If you can find more of these we could sell them and become rich.' Said the boy's father. So the boy decided to go out into the world and find out the secret of the small, perfectly round, beautiful orbs. He put the one he'd found into his pocket, packed a few sandwiches and headed off to search the world for more.

He searched far and wide and eventually heard of a famous inventor who lived in a house on a tall hill, surrounded by great trees, and though it took him days and days of walking he finally came to the house. To his amazement the garden of the house was filled with the splendid orbs. And not only blue ones but also red ones and yellow ones and clear one. And some with a wild mix of colors that seemed to shift if one held an orb between their fingers and twirled it around.

The boy knocked on the door and in a few minutes the door creaked open to reveal a very tall man with a very short beard and a pair of enormous black eyeglasses. He looked down at the boy and asked, 'What is it you want?'

And the boy answered, 'I come from a mud village far away and I found this.' He reached into his pocket and pulled out the orb and then he said, 'It is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I heard stories which told me the orbs come from here.' The the boy put the orb back into his pocket, summoned up all his courage and asked the man, 'Will you teach me how to make such beautiful objects? I want to make them and share them with the people in my village. We spend an awful lot of our time contemplating....beige mud."

The old man decided to accept the boy as his apprentice and to train him in the art of the orbs. Over the course of several years the boy learned to gather pure sand. He learned the workings of a forge and he learned how materials could be added to a hot, molten mix to create colors and patterns within the orbs. When he had finally mastered every step of the process he came to the old man and said, 'Thank you. You've taught me how to make beauty.'

'And why do you think they are so beautiful, these round orbs?' And the boy answered, 'Because it takes such skill to make them and they are each so rare. Each one is like a precious bit of gold because each one is different and unlike all the others.'  

Then the old man asked him, 'What if they were easy to make? What if there were not so rare? Would you still feel the same?' But the boy couldn't even begin to understand what the old man was asking because he was still wrapped in the joy of his own mastery. 'They will always be beautiful and people will always want them because they will always be rare and unique. People will marvel at them as I did. They take so much time and skill to make."

So the boy took his carefully written notes and his collection of orbs which he'd made himself and travled back to his beige village. When he arrived at home his parents were overjoyed to see him. And when he opened up a small leather bag and carefully spilled out this collection of orbs they were overwhelmed. They asked him all kinds of questions and he told them about his apprenticeship.

A few days later the boy opened a business. He would make the beautiful orbs and sell them to his fellow villagers. People brought him valuable goods to trade and he and his family became rich. And in every home in the village people had one or two or even three small orbs which they would look at to relieve the sameness of their visual universe. 

And then one day two young men who had learned many things from many places came to the village and saw the "orbs."  They sought out the boy and asked him how he made the orbs but the boy wouldn't say. Eventually they offered him lots of lots of money for the secret of making orbs and eventually he decided to sell them his notes and his knowledge. The men married this new knowledge with things they had learned in many places. In a short amount of time they had figured out how to make the process much quicker and how to produce many more orbs in a day than the young man had produced in months. As they learned more and more they were able to make small machines and kits of colors so that everyone could easily make the orbs.

Soon everyone in the village had the same kind of small machine and the sand required to make the orbs was free for the asking a short walk away at a beach. People stopped working at their jobs to make orbs. Mothers ignored their hungry children in order to make orbs. The making of beautiful orbs became so addictive that soon everyone in the village was spending all their waking hours making orbs. They remembered that the boy who first made orbs had become rich by making them and the villagers were certain that they too could become rich.

After a time there were so many orbs just lying around on the floors of the houses and the streets of the village that walking became dangerous. People began to slip and slide and fall because of the orbs. A few weeks later the streets became filled with the orbs and were unnavigable. All other commerce ceased. The orbs then started to fill  up the farmlands and that created additional woes. 

Most of the people who'd bought the orb machines were frustrated. Here they were making beautiful orbs, just as beautiful as the orbs that the boy who discovered them had made and yet no one else in the village was buying the orbs. A man came into town who taught the villagers something called "workshops." He could, he said, teach them how to make different orbs that would appeal to buyers. Many people took the workshop and began to make bigger and smaller orbs. And opaque orbs. And orbs that looked like a cat's eye. But as soon as they learned how to make the different sizes and colors and shapes so did everyone else. Afterall, they'd taken the same workshop.

Months later there were so many orbs that small children could not see over the top of them and they covered every flat area of the village. Now the orbs were everywhere. And in everything. And the price of the orbs had dropped to zero.  Some people in the village could make better orbs or orbs with brighter colors and they thought perhaps these clearly superior orbs would bring some price in the market but people were so weary of seeing so many examples of orbs at every waking hour that the new and more beautiful orbs were lost in the infinite selection of orbs. 

Finally, the town council convened and they decided that the orbs had become a risk to health and commerce. But even more, the ubiquity of the orbs caused them to become an eyesore. They crowded out all other expression. So a company was hired to come in with shovels and carts and load up the orbs and drive them away to another location and dump them. And the village breathed a unified sigh of relief. 

It was then that the old man who'd given the boy the secret of creating orbs came into town to see how his apprentice had fared. He met with the boy and they went out for a walk. The boy told him the story of the endless supply of orbs. 'Interesting.' said the old man. 'So the village finally lost its marbles?!' And the young boy looked up at him and asked, "What are marbles?" And the old man smiled and said, "They are what beautiful orbs turn into after they have been mass produced."

'I'm sad." said the boy. 'Why?' asked the old man.

'Because for a time the orbs seemed so beautiful and it took such talent to make them. People would pay well for a nicely made orb, and then they became so ordinary and so common that they lost almost all of their value. I wish there were something new I could do that would always take skill and vision and would always have value..."

The old man looked at him for a few minutes and cleared his throat. "Do you know about photography?" He asked.


Lighting. The chapter in which Pooh discovers lighting Woozles and gets happier.

I've been on a search for good, inexpensive, continuous lighting since the day DSLR camera makers started implementing real HD video into their cameras. The combination of video-ready cameras and electronic viewfinders flicked one of those small but important switches in my mind and it sent an alarm to the parts of my brain that do rational processing. And the alarm went something like this: "Danger/Opportunity. Big Changes Directly Ahead." As I've mentioned too often I think the commercial world of photography is in the midst of a dramatic sea change. If all the different kinds of commercial photography are structured like a pyramid or an iceberg you'd see that the "foundational," entry level, basic work that was, for many, a large part of their ongoing businesses has been eradicated by technology. Simple documentation is now the provence of cellphone cameras. A lot of social and event photography is now being handled by friends and employees and no matter how massively we try to raise the bar in these sections of photography work they are never, ever, ever coming back into the our inventory.

But at the same time we're able to do much more. To offer much more to existing and potential clients. I'm seeing the markets for video growing by leaps and bounds. We just have to suck it up, learn the methods, buy the gear we need and go forward. Why won't the same piranha crowdsourcing eat that market as well? It might but the video market requires more than just point and shoot at pretty stuff. There's no one button editing. People still need to plan, write scripts, build crews, figure out what they need to shoot to cut together logically, how to do sound and a lot more. I guess the thing that makes video temporarily immune to the soccer mom, engineer dad phenomenon is that it actually takes a lot of hard work and the right gear to do a good job. And it takes a whole other level of expertise to do a great job. I'm not there yet and I'm pretty skilled. Give me a couple years worth of weekly projects and I think I've got a good shot of mastering it.

But this is just a round about way of saying that I can justify my current, continuing search for continuous lighting by the expectation of future profits.

I've exhaustively researched the LED lights and I'm good with using them for lots of applications. The newest, upper market introductions have brought lights to market with good  color and strong output but I'm waiting for the prices to drop and the LEDs to migrate to a newer generation of cheaper units. I have seventeen different LED devices in the studio but they span four years of development and have different colors casts. If I had all one version they would be easy to work with. But for right now I want to buy a solution that's uniform and powerful enough to do the kinds of shoots I'm already being asked to do.

The most common is television commercial work I do for Zach Theatre that requires greenscreen. Greenscreen needs a uniform wash of light across the green background in order to easily drop in new background elements. The light on the green screen has to be as powerful as the key and fill lights for everything to work well and to give me (and the editor) the flexibility we both need.

I also wanted lights that were a bit more powerful that my current set of bigger LEDs so I could work more comfortable at 60 fps and medium apertures.

I recently discovered and bought several Fotodiox Pro Fluorescent lights from Amazon. The magic is in the Osram Dulux tubes. They are very well balanced for daylight and have a very, very mild green bump (not anywhere near a "spike") that isn't in the realm of worry. And the ones I bought to test were bright. So I bought more. By the middle of last week I had three. A six bulb version that really knocks out a lot of lumns, a four bulb unit that's half a stop lower in output, and a two bulb unit that's great on backgrounds and as a hair or backlight.

I used the three lights on four different video projects and a bunch of portraits over the last two weeks. And then I had my first failure. The four bulb unit became intermittent and then stopped working all together. I did some trouble shooting and found that the source of failure was a faulty main power switch. I was going to source a replacement and fix it myself and then I remembered that I bought them from  Amazon and I decided to try their return process.

In less than five minutes I'd navigated the return steps. I asked for a replacement and about 15 minutes later I got an e-mail letting me know that a replacement was being shipped immediately (before even receiving my broken unit). I  printed out the RA and a return, UPS shipping label and took my light to the UPS shop a mile away. The scooped up the light, boxed it well (charged me $12...but that's what I get for NEVER keeping the original packaging) and had it ready to go. Their last step was to enter the return into their shipping system. When I returned to the office there was an e-mail acknowledging the receipt by the shipper and letting me know that I would not be charged for any replacement.

I shipped the light on Friday and my replacement came this morning. In the meantime I'd ordered a second, used light of the same type which had arrived the night before. Frankly, I'm shocked at how good and efficient Amazon is. They made the process seamless for me.

So now I have a full complement of flo lights for video projects and stills. The WB is quick and easy, the light is ample and soft. And now I have enough fixtures to do two strong lights on the background and still have a main and fill light for the front. I'm planning to do a portrait shoot this week with all four lights pushed through my favorite 6x6 foot silk. If there's enough power I may even try a second layer of diffusion. 

The continuous lights are so nice to work with. In concert with a great EVF they are an absolutely elegant system. And when I use them in place of electronic flash no one blinks...


total investment for four lights? Less than $1k.