Coffee seen as life giving elixir during recent Austin, Texas Cedar Fever Epidemic. The "PollenPocalypse"

It's been an especially rough week for Austin Portrait Photographers who are susceptible to allergies from the juniper and mountain cedar trees which cover the Hill Country to the west of the city. We have a scourge here called, Cedar Fever. It's named after one of the many symptoms attached to allergies from the pollen from the cedar family of trees.

While Zyrtec, Claritin and even Benedryl are our allies nothing seems to scrape the velcro-like grains of vicious pollen off the backs of our throats or the roofs of our mouths quite like a big cup of hot, steamy coffee.  In a week or two this particular pollen season will come to a close; rains will clean out the residual grains and we'll start a body count to see how many brave Austin men, women, children and photographers we've lost this time.

If you were buying into the hype about Austin being one of the best places to do business in the U.S. or you thought about joining the hipsters for a beer at Bangers, maybe take in a bit of live music at one of 16,967 live music venues, you might want to reconsider. There's very little that's worse than sneezing to death for the privilege of a few funny hat moments.

While coffee is by no means a cure (the only real cure is to have one's sinuses surgically removed...) it does temporarily relieve one of the symptoms....at least enough to almost enjoy driving or blogging for a while. Coffee sales are off the charts in Austin in the new year. Hardly a surprise since we are enjoying a record setting cedar pollen harvest.

And yes, the pollen does stick to digital camera sensors!

Just a snapshot between shots in the product studio.

Renae embraces the product.

You know how it gets when it's around 4pm and you've still got a few hours of product shooting to get through and everyone is getting punchy. Always a good time to put all the toys down and go for a walk. Or sit quietly for 20 minutes with a cup of coffee. 

Renae and I were photographing products for the annual report of a long since dead dot come start up company. We were blazing away with a Hasselblad and a 120mm Makro lens. Big soft boxes everywhere. For some reason she picked up this laptop and just started laughing hysterically.

Is it my imagination or are the skin tones on this scanned transparency richer than the ones we get from our digital cameras? Maybe it's just the scan......

Lower Back Pain? We've got a photo for that...

For an advertisement about back pain.

I spent too much time on airplanes and in cars over the past week and I've nursing some lower back pain. According to a Harvard medical specialist most lower back pain is like headache pain; there's nothing structurally wrong, it's usually a side effect of stress...

At any rate I remember coming across a few sheets of negatives from a shoot I did many years ago about back pain and I thought I'd test my ability to find that sheet of black and white negs and take a little walk down memory lane. 

This image is pretty straightforward. We found a model who was in great shape but also in the age demographic the agency was targeting and we had a make up person cover him with a toner in order to make him appear more "bronze statue-like." The art director for the shoot found a tree stump somewhere and I remember that he had the stump painted gold because in the early planning of the shot the client and agency were considering running the campaign in color. This was back in the early 1990' when color ads were more costly to insert and run in newspapers and magazines.

The color got vetoed early on and we continued with black and white. I did my basic lighting for a white background and then I lit the model from the right to create a darker area on the left side of his body. We wanted that so I could put a diffused edge spot of light back in on the left side of the model, right where his hand is positioned on his "sore" back. We used a big 4x6 foot soft box on the right and a flash head firing into a grid spot on the other side. 

The image was shot using black and white film in a 6 by 9 cm roll film holder on the back of a Sinar 4x5 view camera. We'd been using the 6x9 back for lots of product shots for two other clients and, at the time, it seemed like a good compromise between the economy of being able to shoot eight shots on a roll of 120 film but also getting more square footage of imaging detail than we would have gotten otherwise. 

The 6x9 holder allowed us to do many catalogs and product set up with total control of rises and falls, tilts and swings. The Sinar made doing the technical stuff pretty easy. And the Schneider lenses we used were wickedly sharp.

Once the shots were in the "can" I went into the darkroom and processed four rolls of film leaving two safety rolls aside, just in case...

At the time ad agencies worked from prints for black and white so once the exact image was selected (not the one above) I went back into the darkroom to pull a 16x20 inch black and white print. Why 16x20 inches? A bigger print is much easier to work with if you need to airbrush or retouch details.

I am quickly remediating my back pain through a regimen of swimming, excessive coffee and getting in touch with my back spirit animal----which, based on the structural integrity of my back, must be a hummingbird or some sort of shrew. Ah well. Back pain comes and goes. At least we made a paycheck out of it once upon a time....


Playing around with video in the Sony RX10 and goofing on camera.

sony rx10 from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

Goofing around with the video part of the Sony RX10 camera. It's me mugging to camera. Click through the link and go see it on Vimeo to see the HD version. Note the detail in my hair, etc. It should give you a small idea of what the Sony is capable of....

Please, no fan mail...

Portraits, Interviews, Faces and Stories.


Shot on Kodak Portrait 400 BW film in a Rolleiflex 6008i with a 150mm Sonnar lens. Scanned with the magical desktop scanner. 

The Visual Science Lab has done some soul searching, some market research and some number crunching and we've finally arrived at a business game plan for 2014. Our noble leader, Kirk, will be implementing our master plan of providing portraits and interviews. Or as he says, "Faces and Stories." As you probably know we've been doing portraits for years but you might not know that we've been doing interviews, PSAs, web-based video commercials and similar video production for a while now too. We've honed the skills, put a sharp edge on the tools and we're rolling forward in 2014. We're ready to help our customers and our partners tell their stories. 

Our core business will always be portraits. It's way too fun and addictive not to love. But the video stuff is crazy fun too. With so many video channels available on the web it's kind of silly not to be there with good video. 

We'll try to keep Kirk from going too far down the rabbit hole with things like the performance of microphones, or endless reviews of audio mixers but there's only so much we can do....

For those interested we're basing our new business model around cameras like the Panasonic GH3 and even the Sony RX10. We're aiming to be efficient and creative providers of programming for the web but we sure won't turn up our noises at broadcast commercials,  or even long form story telling. 

We're ready right now. Let 2014 begin. 

Theater Portrait. Square.

See the two notches on the left side of the frame? The ones in the black frame line? That means this image was shot with a Hasselblad film camera. And the notches are specific to a particular camera back. That way, if a back developed an issue, like a faulty light trap, it would be easy for the photographer to know which back was messed up. Nice.

I really like the tonality of scanned black and white negatives.... This was scanned in the little Epson flatbed scanner (perfection v500 photo) that sits on my desk.

Traveling light and with purpose. Life is a never ending series of lessons.

Early last week my sister called me from the east coast. My parents had been visiting for the holidays and needed to return home, close to me.  Both of my parents are heading toward their ninth decade and both of them need (more than) a little help getting through airports and negotiating travel. I was happy to help out so I booked a flight out of Austin and made all the necessary arrangements. I knew I wouldn't have the time or the free hands to make photographs but I couldn't bear the idea of traveling without a camera somewhere close by. I chose the Panasonic G6 and a little, silver kit lens to take along as both a talisman of good luck and a travel camera. 

Even compared to the Sony RX10 the G6 is small and very light. I took a few images while I waited for my flight east and a few images out the window on my way there but from that point on the camera stayed in the bag. There are times in life in which being totally present for the situation in hand is necessary and this long weekend was one of them. 

I guess I'm writing this for only one reason and it has very little (nothing) to do with photography. I'm writing to express how my interactions with airport security, airport Sky Caps and airline flight attendants has surprisingly brought a smile to my face and re-energized my positive feelings about people in general. 

I've traveled a lot. A lot. And most of it has been solo. I stream through airports like water around rocks mostly. I always pack light and I'm always ready for the curve ball. Always anticipating the odd occurrence. Always packing a "plan B" and a "plan C." But not this time. I would be traveling with two people who would require assistance at every turn. Both parents traverse the airports in wheel chairs. My dad, with a bum leg and a cane would miss every plane at his usual walking pace. My mom has a breathing disorder that requires portable oxygen and means that walking more than a few hundred feet is taxing. I expected the worse. I haven't flown with them since we traveled together to Paris nearly twenty years ago...

We arrived at the airport for our flight back home, TSA pre-screened boarding passes in hand. The Sky Caps came in smoothly with wheel chairs and I followed along with three carry-on bags. The Sky Caps were gracious and light hearted. They joked with my dad and kept a good eye on my mom. We breezed through security in five minutes or so. The TSA people we interacted with were warm and polite. They sped us on our way without shoe removal or insertion into the machines. The gate agent at our gate went out of her way to accommodate us and defuse my nervous anticipation. She even found me a spot on her power strip to recharge an oxygen machine's batteries. She and her co-worked joked with my parents as they swept them down the ramp into the plane and made them smile. 

Once we got seated our flight attendant quickly apprised our situation; the oxygen machine and the parents who want aisles seats to assuage their claustrophobias, and she started working her plan. She reseated the passenger in my row who had the window seat into an upgraded seat so my mom and I could spread out a bit. She re-seated the person in the middle seat who had been next to my dad so he'd have a bit more space. And she did it all without making her machinations obvious. The flight went without a hitch.

Once we hit our destinations we waited for everyone else to deplane and then were met by another set of Sky Caps who wheeled the folks to the baggage claims and waited patiently for my father to identify that one checked bag. My plan was to position my parents on a bench out in front of the arrival area, get my car from the parking garage and circle around to pick them up but the Sky Caps insisted on pushing them all the way to the car and helping them in. From start to finish everyone we dealt with was patient, positive, welcoming and ready to bend over backwards to make our day work and our trip as pleasant as it could be. I wanted to write this to say a huge "Thank You!" to the folks at U.S. Airways for an amazingly stress free trip. And to all the people who helped us make the journey on the ground.

Getting older is a bitch. It's wonderful to see that the world is full of caring people who are willing; no, happy, to take a little more time to make sure our more seasoned citizens can still maneuver through life. Thank you to everyone! 

Total number of images shot over the weekend? Three... Re-learning patience and gratitude? Much.

Portrait of Suzie on the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Past.


I really love to make portraits. How much do I like the process? Well, after a hard day's work in the studio, making portraits, I love to unwind by heading out of the studio and making some more portraits. This is an image from long ago. Suzie was an Austrian make-up artist that I used to work with. While her expression in the image above is a bit severe she was a warm, happy and thoughtful work friend. The kind of person who brought you herbal tea when you came down with a cold. 

We both had some time one day to just go out and shoot, and even though it was the middle of a hot summer we trudged down some thin trails to the slow flowing water of Barton Creek. Suzie brought along a couple of outfits and I brought along a Pentax 6x7 medium format camera, a tripod and a pocket full of Kodak T-400 CN film. Interesting film. It was basically color negative film that yielded a black and white negative with a very, very long tonal range. The advantage that I saw was that my lab could process it in C-41 chemicals thereby freeing me from more time in the darkroom, swirling chemicals around in a metal tank. 

We shot until the light evaporated and then we trudged back up the trail in the semi-darkness of the sunset's afterglow. 

It's not an amazing portrait or much of a fashionable image but it reminds me of the sheer immersion with which I lived photography at the time. Hardly a day would go by without me somehow going through four or five rolls of film (on a day off) and thirty or forty rolls of film on a work day. I still shoot a lot. Mathematicians might tell us that the act of creating so many "data points" probably increases my chances of getting something decent more often than if I'd have stayed home and watched TV. 

I loved that particular time period of photography. Everything was transiting in my business from large format to medium format. The feel of the backing paper wrapped around the film. The little strips of adhesive paper with which one sealed the finished and wound off film. The quick glance at a Minolta incident meter to make sure your brain's internal meter matched reality... The cameras seemed like magic back then. And the mirror slap of the Pentax 6x7 was legendary. I used the mirror lock up for nearly every shot. Why not when you're on a good tripod?

I've been away from photography since last Friday and I feel deprived. When I finished the clerical work and accounting work I have at hand I'll head out for a stroll with a camera in my hand. But not a Pentax 6x7. Those were just too damned big.


Sharing my first impressions of the Sony RX10 video. And a little twinge of hesitation.

No beating around the bush here. I wanted to know what the RX10 would do if pressed into service as a video camera. I had some time this afternoon, no models around, no ready subject matter and the ominous threat of rain so I pressed myself into service as on camera talent. That's probably why I'm showing you a still of the camera instead of some web compressed footage...

Just a fun picture of a friend and a Rolleiflex at coffee at Jo's.

Ah. The early days of this century. When we went back and forth between film and 
electronic photography without a care in the world...

A Rollei photographed with another Rollei. Fuji Reala film flowing through the backs. 80mm lenses all the way around. ISO 100 in the open shade. 

Just pausing to reminisce.