6.04.2013

Classical Product Photography. New York. Primary Packaging.

extreme close up.

the wide shot.

The assignments I cherish are the ones where the art director or client says, "I loved your (fill in blank) work. Can you go to this printing factory in New York City and just make art the way you see it?"

The correct answer is: "Yes. Thank you."

Time in the water. I heard all about it yesterday from my kid.




You've probably read me making the point that you only get better as a swimmer if you spend time in the water. More practice usually means that your body learns subconscious corrections during swims while your brain does some iterative trial and error with new techniques, layering them in with tried and true techniques. Over time your hands and feet and your brain develop a feel for the water that makes your swimming more fluid and enjoyable. I say it all the time. Mastery is all about time in the water.

So I've been trying to master video editing and it's hard and frustrating. Not the technical stuff; I know which buttons to push and how to make my clips look the way I want them to but it's the actual sequencing and the cadence and knowing where to end one segment and start another one that seems difficult to me. These are stylist choices and aesthetic choices. I guess a video editing style reflects a person's story telling styles.

So last weekend my son edited some food preparation footage he'd shot for school project and I was mesmerized by the way the quick cuts and the music created a 1:30 piece that riveted my attention for the enture duration. Yesterday we were out jogging around the lake in the heat of the afternoon and I asked him how he learned to edit so well. Was it the classes at school?

He glanced over and then said, "Well, you have to consider that I started playing around with video when I was about ten and that my friends and I have been through a lot of trial and error in trying to edit our stuff for the YouTube channel and stuff. If you add in the three years of cinematography classes at school you'd get that I've edited a couple of hundred pieces. That, dad, is how you learn an editing style."

Then I asked his if he wrote the scripts first and if the narration was an important framework. He responded, "Video is basically a visual art. I know what story I want to tell but I start with all the visual pieces and I put them together first. Then I add in the basic narration. But here's the deal: a good video is a like a children's picture book. The pictures are what captivate the kids. You only need enough words to drive the story along and no more."

We jogged on. He looked at me and decided I needed a few words of encouragement so he added, "Dad, it's just practice and paying attention. Do more videos for yourself and don't concentrate on client work. Once you've got a hundred fun videos under your belt you'll have a style and your clients will probably like it. It just takes time in the water."

I always give that advice to other people. Sometimes I need to hear it too.


6.03.2013

I'm playing with a new camera. I've agreed to shoot it all Summer. But not exclusively...

The Austin Children's Museum. Late afternoon. 

I won't beat around the bush and be coy. I'm playing with a new camera that Samsung sent along. It's the NX 300, a mirrorless system with a very nicely designed body and a really nice 20 megapixel sensor. I'm going into this with a totally open mind as I've never owned a Samsung camera or shot with one. I'm not planning on writing one of my long winded reviews on the system but you will see samples on the blog at least on a weekly basis. 

I was sitting in the studio this morning when studio dog growled and rushed barking to the door. She has the little sideways angled gait that dogs sometimes do and the way she half growled and half barked I knew instantly that it was her greeting specifically for the morning Fedex woman. We were right. I accepted a small box while keeping myself between the doorway and my dog.

Half an hour later I was finished reading the (very well done and very understandable) owner's manual and I had the camera charging up one of the two batteries. At this juncture I would just like to stop and congratulate Samsung's public relations team. I've tested cameras for years and never had a single manufacturer send along a second (and fully charged) camera battery. Bravo guys. That's what photographers want in the real world.

The system in my hands consisted of the NX 300 body and the 18-55mm kit lens. The extra battery. And an itsy-bitsy shoe mount flash that gets its power from the camera. This is a camera that doesn't have an EVF. It's all on the back screen. Almost against my religion. But----remember that open mind thing....  I took it outside into the shriveling, glistening, baking Texas sun and I had some difficulty seeing the screen, especially without my reading glasses, so I did what any normal photographer does: I went to the bottom drawer of Craftsman Rolling Tool Chest #3 and I selected one of the many loupes I've bought over the year to check shots on Nikon and Canon cameras that I've owned. What luck! I selected the Hoodman Loupe that has the elastic cords for securing the loupe tight against the screen. It worked well and it also has a generous optical adjustment so that even with my eye right up to the exit ocular the view was pristine and sharp.

It was only 95 degrees in downtown Austin in the late afternoon so I knew it would be the perfect time to take the new camera out for a spin. Early verdict based on looking carefully at about 50 choices out of the 300+ shot is that the new sensor is very, very good. Very neutral colors and a very high sense of both sharpness and resolution. Kinda fun using the loupe. The hipsters didn't know what to think as they held out their phones and small cameras in the classic: "dirty baby diaper hold.." 

Caffe Medici. Late Afternoon.

Apart from my misgivings about the lack of an EVF I'm finding the camera to be fun, fast and facile. More to come, sporadically.

6.02.2013

A fun image from my event photography in December 2012. President Bill Clinton and Linkin Park's, Mike Shinoda.


©2012 Kirk Tuck. 

Sometimes I write blogs complaining about the pitfalls and setbacks of life as a photographer but most of the time it's just straight out fun. Back in December I got to shoot images of Mike Shinoda playing with a new, touch screen Dell computer and making original music in front of 5,000 people and then later shaking hands with President Bill Clinton. It was like a weird meeting of cross-generational stars. I got to meet both of them and the things they have in common are an uncanny charisma and the ability to see a bigger picture that most people do (myself included).

I used a Sony a77 to make the image, lit it with an Elinchrom Ranger RX AS electronic flash, and left it alone with only minimal processing..

Nervous at the time of the shoot but happy with the memory of the event.






















6.01.2013

What does ISO 6400 look like on an a58?

I shot this in the low, low light of twilight at the end of the swim suit fashion show on Thurs. I can see some splotchy noise in the lefthand woman's left cheek. Part of the noise comes from a bit of underexposure. I had to increase exposure by half a stop in Aperture. Otherwise the image is unprocessed and no noise reduction was performed. While this performance doesn't put the camera into the rarified top classes of noise free cameras I think it's pretty respectable for a $600, 20 megapixel amateur-oriented camera.  Just an observation for anyone who is interested and also to show Mr. Lonien what the camera looks like there.

Of course, when the noise gets sticky the cowardly run to the black and white settings. A little monotone hides lots of sins...


Thom Hogan does a film camera site. Wow. That's so counter-intuitive. But talk about niche-ing the market...

One of the few 35mm cameras whose build quality made Leicas M's look like mass market trash.

Thom Hogan is stirring the nostalgia bucket with a new website dedicated to great film cameras of yesteryear that can still be well used today. If you are interested you might want to give his new site a spin:  http://www.filmbodies.com/  Thom is a good writer with an amazing depth of knowledge about photography. He comes from the techno/engineering side but his reviews and articles have a good left/right brain balance. And, remarkably, he also likes to write about the business of cameras. 

But all his new site did for me was to rekindle my lust for fun cameras from yesteryear. While I still have Nikon F's and F2's and F3's and an F4 rumbling around in one of the equipment cabinets I'm much more of an elitist snob that Thom so I dug out what may have been the ultimate in camera construction in all of the twentieth century to ruminate about. Yes, it's the Alpa 9d, individually hand built in Switzerland by a company that also made precision parts for the premier watch companies. 

While Leicas are very nicely built and probably are the ultimate expression of assembly line cameras nothing out there beats a camera made by hand, by Swiss craftsmen, using thick and rugged alloys like surgical steel for critical parts. When I hold a Leica M in one hand and an Alpa 9d in the other one feels "well made" and the other one seems like absolutely alien inspired, bulletproof, indestructible and timelessly crafted.  The Pignon company started making cameras in the 1940's and stopped in the late 1970's and, in all, produced fewer than 40,000 cameras of all kinds, total. Very clean copies of any Swiss Alpa (Cosina made a modern version but it never sold well) go for insane prices at auction. These were cameras with shutters that could be set very precisely, and in third stop increments, in a time when other maker's fully mechanical cameras had shutter that could only be calibrated down to one stop increments.

But as great as these single lens reflex camera bodies were the icing on the cake was the selection of apochromatic 50mm and 100mm lenses they had made (Also by a Swiss company). Photographers routinely dismissed the lenses from any serious competition because they were very expensive and they ruined the grade curve. They were that good in their time.

"The Kern Macro Switar lens was a 50 mm lens at F1.8 or F1.9. It was an apochromat, and is still highly regarded as possibly the best standard lens ever offered." --Wikipedia

Pretty much the gold standard for ultimate 35mm image quality in the 1960's was a roll of Kodachrome 25 film, a Kern-Switar lens and an Alpa precision crafted body. The example in these photos is of my favorite Alpa 9d, because it's the one I own. I am in the middle of restoring the cosmetics and I've stripped off the peeling, 40 year old leatherette and am trying to order replacements (yes, someone still does it...). The camera itself still functions flawlessly. Since there were so few made and so few sold in the U.S.A. I've never seen one at a photo walk or on a Flickr forum. Or for that matter anywhere outside a collector's glass cabinet.



 The entire camera bottom and back must be removed to load film or extract it. Every part is, at least, handcrafted steel alloy. You think your camera is weatherproof? This one is volcano and earthquake proof. And like a Bugatti engine the fittings are so precise and finely machined that it seals without the need for gaskets. You think a Leica is tough? This camera invented tough.

Is it fun to use? Now that's an entirely different question....























5.31.2013

I had fun last night and I still have respect for my little camera in the morning.


My friend, Lane, organized a fashion show to benefit the Aids Services of Austin organization. The theme was summer swim wear. I went to show my support, toss some cash into the donation jar and to have dinner. The show was held at one of my favorite, new (to me at any rate) restaurants, Garrido's.

I didn't have any involvement in the show and I was thinking about leaving my camera in the car but, hell, I took my camera along with me the last time I went to an emergency room, why wouldn't I take it along for a fashion show?  It wasn't much of a  camera by most people's estimations. It was just my toss around camera, the Sony a58, with a pedestrian 50mm 1.8 DT lens clomped onto the front. I shook hands with people and had a glass of red wine and got bored waiting for the show to start so I went off looking for the show. And the models.

They were getting ready, doing make up and all that jazz so I introduced myself, told them my connection to the organizer and the restaurant and then asked them if I could take a few photos, just for fun. Busman's holiday? Compulsive photography habit? I hate to go out without my camera even if I end up never using it.

Open shade is certainly a flattering light source. I think this kind of light makes everyone look just a little bit better. 

I was going to take photos of the actual fashion show but the main venue wasn't well lit and I knew from experience that any images I took would either be grainy and noisy from being shot at ISO 6400 or the camera shake from trying to use too slow a shutter speed would ruin the impression of sharpness. If I had been the photographer for the show I would have added supplemental lighting in the "sweet spot" areas of the show, tested it and shot that way. I'm finding that I can't control everything in life, only my own assignments.

The a58 is a bit noisy at ISO 6400 but it's still very, very usable. At ISO 100 it's just darling.
And even near wide open that cheapo 50mm DT lens is pretty nice. You can click on the images to blow them up to their 2000x2000 pixel size and see what you think. I'm looking at  100% thru the large files and find them satisfying. Amazing what $500 bucks will get  you in a camera these days....





























5.30.2013

I have my marketing hat on today. I'm figuring out how to sell the benefits of one person providing both video and still photography to a client.

Edit: Original Video Removed. Feedback good and overwhelming. 

My premise is that clients pay, in time, money and lost productivity, for a duplication of resources when they source video and still photography from two different vendors. Now, there are lots of situations where the expertise required means that two different creatives makes sense. Like a sporting goods company who want to have a high end video made with lots of complex moves and perhaps a Phantom camera for smooth, super slow motion work. Alternately they may need a certain style that for which a photographer is well known.

But many times, in the realm of basic website content, a client is looking for good solid work in both camps but with no really tough problems to solve. The example I've been getting a lot lately is the client who wants to have portraits made of their key people. The agency wants a lighting and background treatment that we've done many times in still work but they now want the same style and look to bridge across and be implemented into video interviews as well. The client is looking for competence and experience as well as good value. They don't want to re-invent the wheel but they don't want to pay for on the job training either.

My solution is to use one continuous light lighting set up, create a lighting design and compositional style and then carry that across in both the still images and the interviews. It's a classic: Light Once, Shoot Twice solution. What is the benefit for me? Well, I'm adding more services to my bill so I'm adding more income in each job. If I do the editing (or outsource the editing) that is a secondary source of income.

My ability to solve two problems for a client means that I'm less likely to be cut out of the deal entirely by a video production company that also offers photography. The benefits to the client are several. First, they have the comfortable convenience of only having to deal with one vendor. That means only one pre-production or creative meeting instead of two. It means less total time elapsed to do both sides of the project. It's very appealing to most clients to be able to schedule their key people into one slot that accomplishes both creative goals rather than having to schedule two different encounters for a busy executive. So, Schedule Once, Shoot Twice.

The next benefit is a little dangerous. Most photographers are used to traveling light when it comes to crew. We can make good use of one assistant but most of us aren't that hot on having a different position for every little task on the set. I can act as camera operator and director while my assistant works well as a lighting grip and a sound man. The videos we're shooting are not so complex as to require laying dolly track or bringing an entire truck full of HMI lights.

We can't scrimp where it makes a  difference and so this benefit varies by the job. But if the two of us can set up the lighting we need and create good sound then, for 90% of the projects we do we are in good shape. But there is a real benefit in not having to tromp into a busy office or factory and set up lighting at two different times. There is tremendous benefit in getting everything you need, stills and video, in one episodic encounter with the subjects in the video. And there is an additional benefit in that the still imaging can act as a warm-up for the live video work.  And most people need a bit of time in front of a camera to feel comfortable.

Finally, there is a mindset difference in terms of gear between the two worlds. The dedicated motion guys might be smarter than us because few of them own their own inventory of lights, grip gear, cameras and lenses. They rent everything. They mark-up the rental fees and bill it all back to the client. We have a tradition of owning our everyday gear. We tend to own our cameras and lenses, as well as our grip gear and our lights. On web-type projects we tend to include the use of the gear in our overall price. We should probably charge a rental fee for each project but that's not the tradition in our part of the industry. While our clients understand the need to rent (and pass along the costs) of generators, specialized lighting and esoteric video cameras they choke a little on the rental of basics like microphones and lightstands. We offer more value in the simple, hybrid projects because we are using the same tools for both halves of the assignment.

And since we own the gear and practice with it every day we're pretty good with it.

So the marketing is: Light Once, Shoot Twice. Budget Once, Shoot Twice. Schedule Once, Shoot Twice.

In the end all that marketing can do is get you in the front door or get you invited to solicit an estimate. The next step is proving that you can do the work, you can mesh with the client's team and that you truly understand their creative direction.

I put together a minute and thirty second video to show off some of our work. We'll flesh it out as we do more contemporary stuff. Hope your marketing efforts are coming along smoothly. Mine are coming slowly, like wisdom teeth being removed by small tweezers. But that's all part of the game...

5.29.2013

Portrait.

 Portrait by Kirk Tuck.



"Sometimes, Soft is a Good Thing."

Wright Bros Dairy Truck, by Kirk Tuck

When I walk around with my camera I like to photograph the silly topical things I see, like this food trailer/truck just off 3rd St. When the food trailer fad fades it will be a nice reminder of what downtown Austin used to offer. I also like double entendres. 

Nex 6. 50mm.