2.11.2014

Forced to buy the RX 10 because the R1 was so darn good. Sony inertia.


As many of you may know I recently picked up a Sony RX10 which is kind of an all-in-one camera with a one inch sensor and a very good Zeiss 24-200mm equivalent lens. This is not my first Sony all-in-one camera. That honor goes to the remarkable Sony R1. The R1 was the first fixed zoom lens camera with an APS-C lens. It used a sensor from the same family of sensors that was used in the Nikon D2X around the same time period. The lens was also designed by Zeiss and matched precisely to the sensor. Just like the RX10 the R1 sported an electronic viewfinder, although it was primitive by comparison.  

I liked the camera a lot. Enough to purchase two of them and press them into many, many commercial projects. The images from this project date back to 2007 and were photographed for a capabilities (print) brochure for a national financial services company with a branch here in Austin, Texas. We made a lot of images during the course of a long day. I ran across a back up DVD this afternoon and wanted to try it in my main computer to spot check and see if we are starting to have an corruption issues with data stored on older, Kodak Gold DVDs. 

Once I started scrolling through the files one thing led to another and I decided that I wanted to see if Adobe had made any improvements to the lens profiles and camera profiles in the latest revs of PhotoShop. I was happy to find that there was a complete profile for the R1+lenses that included updates for vignetting, chromatic aberrations and lens geometry. One click gets you a very clean and rectilinear file, whether you shot it raw or in Jpeg.

While the R1 is only a ten megapixel camera it does wide angle well and when used at its native ISO of 160 it makes nice files. Compared to the current Sony RX10 you can see some difference in the progress of noise reduction even at both cameras' base ISOs. The R1 has more, and more obvious color noise in the shadow areas. Noticeable at 100% but negligible at almost anything you'd do on the screen. On the other hand the files have rich colors straight out of the camera. 

On this project we worked all day in mixed lighting and I thought the Sony did a great job sorting out color shifts and making good AWB selections. But whenever I had doubts I'd pull out a white target and do a custom white balance.  The camera does not have image stabilization but it is an early example of mirror less and has a leaf shutter so there's no shutter shock and there's no real noise or vibration. I tend to shoot on a tripod. Go figure, I own five or six photo tripods and two different video tripods with fluid heads...

I doubt I would have jumped into purchasing the RX10 if I had not first worked with the R1 for nearly nine years. I trust that Sony has the sensor tweaked as well as it can be and I know I can claw out a lot of detail in the dark areas. I trust that Zeiss wouldn't allow their brand to be plastered on a lens if it didn't perform. I'm in the early days so far with the RX10 but I think it's the descendent of the R1 and I hope I get five or ten years of good photography out of it as well. It's all in the family.














To be a Team Player or a lonely hunter? That is today's question.

Do you remember how we used to believe that people could multi-task? I mean really multi-task, like type on a keyboard, watch a movie and change a diaper simultaneously? And then neuroscientists started poking around in people's brains to figure out how that all might work and they found that, well, no one really does multi-task. Instead people switch between tasks as quickly as their brains will let them. And it's not too quick because it turns out that all those synapses have a kind of inertia. And time friction. It's like every task can only happen after its subroutine software is loaded in the right part of the brain and running. In fact, what the scientists figured out is that "multi-tasking" is really a very inefficient way to work.

The stopping and starting between the almost simultaneous tasks that one is trying to perform adds 10-20% more time to the overall execution of all tasks involved and causes more fatigue. The net result is that no one task is done as effectively as it could have been if the subject had undertaken each task sequentially or serially. Big surprise to anyone who has been rear-ended by a Suburban driver who was trying to text, put on lipstick or shave, keep a grip on their vente coffee and operate a motor vehicle in stop and go traffic.

So, that's one set of operational efficiencies debunked.

But a recent comment by a reader pushed me to think about one of the parts of the speech I recently delivered and subsequently put up on the blog. He suggested that teams can be machines of creativity and that my preference for "lonely hunting" is just that----a preference. As I understand his point teams, whether in workshops or on the job, can create imaginative content, creative content and original work as well as or better than a lone individual; an artist.  And I thought that, here too was another supposed operational efficiency that should be debunked.

A dancer on the subject: http://stanceondance.com/2013/05/23/collaboration-collective-art-practice-and-when-to-go-it-alone/

Larry Shiner's take on the evolution from collective guilds to the aesthetic of the individual mind is in his book: http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/I/bo3633486.html

Is teamwork a valuable part of creativity?

The literature on this, and my personal experience, says otherwise. On the other hand the commentor and I may be defining the nature of the team differently. My knee jerk reaction comes from my days in advertising when "designed by committee" was always short hand for crappy work that seems safe from client disapproval because it has had its balls removed.  In the ad business you often hear about "creative teams" but it doesn't mean the same thing as it might when discussing a sports team. In advertising, as in film making, there is a very definite hierarchy to a "team."

Advertising is essentially mercenary and a good creative director will use ideas from anyone on his team. But in my experience there is usually a lone conceptor for each successful campaign who in spite of being a member of the team comes up with most of the great ideas. The teams serves as a support to hang the meat on the bones of the concept. But it's rare that the team brainstorms and jointly hits on some sort of group epiphany. The idea bubbles into one person's head. That's the genesis. Then the team takes the idea, embraces it, and forms it for presentation. Their presentation preparation skills might be legend but they need the spark of an individual to start the engine.

In the film work everything starts with a script and many scripts started life as novels. You'll be hard pressed to find a more solitary undertaking that being a writer--- honestly. But that's where the ideas come from. They come from a solitary mind working for months or years in isolation from group think. And then, when the novel is crunched into a script (which takes talent but not originality of ideas---they are provided by the primary source) the leader of the next team is the director. His alone is the over riding creative vision for the making of a real movie. He originates the scenes and the movement through the scenes. He understands the way he wants to tell the story and again, his team is there to support the manufacture of that vision. The making of the story. But the story existed before the team-----as an original idea percolated up from one person's mind.

The director doesn't sit down with the grips and gaffers and electricians on his "team" and ask them for ideas and creative input. If he asks for input it will be about practical matters: How high can we get a camera on a crane? How many generators will we need for the night time exterior? Where's the craft service? The ideas flow downhill from the director who is the source of all the creative ideas about the film. Can you imagine a committee telling Orson Welles how he should shoot Citizen Kane ???

"A good artist should be isolated. If he isn't isolated something is wrong."  - Orson Welles

"I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will."
-Henry David Thoreau


But let's reflect about teams and photography because that's the real gist of the disagreement. While you may learn new ways of thinking from a team or new ways to do things the value that you bring to your art is your unique vision. Two people shooting side by side and capturing the same image at the same time from the same angle dilute each other's vision. Or, one is the creator and the other the xerox machine.

While going for PhotoWalks or hanging together with like minded peers in a workshop is pleasant and fulfills our need for social company it's a dangerous situation for an artist. On so many levels it insinuates that the median distillation of the group's behavior and ideas is the correct one and this creates psychic momentum that pushes the individual off their equilibrium and pulls them closer to the attraction of the cohesive social and conceptual order.  "Look at the reflections of that bright neon in the water of the ditch!" One member might say, having made a solitary discovery. Then all of the members in the group come by and take a variation of the original idea. To each person who doesn't discover order in chaos well the original observation is given value and then the value is reinforced by the additive power of the group's repetitious capture of the same concept. That changes the individual in small ways because he gathers multiple data points that reflect what is considered artistically positive by his chosen group.

To walk solo with the camera and to discover the same reflection adds an empowering sense of discovery and increasing mastery for the individual. And it could be that the ability to discover the conceptual image was always in his power and he would have discovered it on his own anyway if not for the distraction of the group.

Speaking of distraction, the very nature of having a group means that everyone must feed the construct of the group for it to have continuance. A small portion (or large!) of each person's energy has to be concerned with compromising their unique point of view and needs just enough to create a cohesion to the group; to the purpose of the group. That shift in energy is tilted toward the group and away from the individual except in cases where the group disproportionally enables certain members.

In the case of a workshop, for example, the power of the group would seem to be evenly distributed and evenly contributed but that's seldom the case. There is always a small contingent that is able to manipulate or coerce everyone else in the group to rally around them and assist them in the realization and construction of their personal vision. They take a little more of everyone's power and attention than they return, and while the results of the group's efforts might be successful each lesser member of the group is more detached from the ownership of the final image than the more assertive member or members. There is always an ebb and flow to the politics of power within any group that diminishes the value of the undertaking for some while embellishing it for others.

I'm not saying that we don't need teams to produce an artifact from one person's creative conception. A writer benefits from an editor---but the story is already there. The director benefits from an editor but the footage is already in the can.  There are examples in the commercial world where teams create photographs. An art director may come to a commercial photographer with a comprehensive layout for an ad and ask the photographer to render the image to match the drawing.

A client may come to a videographer with a story board and ask him to shoot the video precisely but we both know that in these examples there was a point of creation somewhere earlier in the time line. In these cases the photographer is the part of the team facilitating the production of someone else's visions.

I need a team to produce a labor intensive advertising shoot. But I never need a team to produce personal work. But I guess my argument falls apart if I included in my personal work the making of portraits. In that pursuit I am somewhat at the mercy of the sitter.  Can I bend them to my will and force a one sided collaboration or am I willing to settle for a compromise that somewhat pleases both of us but at the expense of the true rigor of my conception?

My working understanding of the real value of teams is that they are good for taking big projects, breaking the projects up into discrete chunks and assigning each chunk to one or more people. At some point all the people bring their finished chunks of project back and we fit it all together. More like parallel computing than high speed serial computing. But the project always has a genesis. A moment of conception. An idea in someone's head. Without the individual conception there is nothing for the group to grapple.

The bottom line is that artist don't create in a vacuum, rather they pull in references from everywhere and everything in their lives but at a certain point they allow those resources to blend in their brains in a very unique way before have a moment of instant Satori where the creative concept flows into their consciousness. That's a moment that can be supported by a team but no team can, by support or force, cause the creative idea to exist. At the core every new idea is delivered by the muses to one mind at a time.

Humans are like sponges. They soak up every emotion and action emitted and acted by the people around them. They absorb influence and the constant subconscious goal is always to fit in. To be part of a society. But it's the outsider nature of artists that allows them to see and present a vision to their culture that is difference and valuable. The outsider sees things from a different angle.  Explains things from a different point of view. That's what makes the work valuable.

Teams facilitate what is already conceptually there. They are great at turning concept into artifact. They are great at providing efficiency. But to depend on them for singular ideas of power and vision is to expect too much. That's what individual artists were made for.

I suspect we'll get a lot of disagreement on this one and I'm okay with that. The idea of art and the individual has changed over the course of history. Our current idea of art as an aesthetic expression of  the individual artist is relatively recent (1800's?) and we're still wrapping our brains around it. But to me the concept of value of a team comes from manufacturing, harvesting and building. These are all concerned with realizing an idea that already exists, not making a creative new one.

Now, if you'll excuse me I'll step outside and make a few images on a lonely but happy walk by myself.

edit: I know, I know. It's too long. A blog should only be 500 words and one picture. Luckily my regular readers read quickly and with perfect comprehension.



2.10.2014

I have a small reader request.

 If you are a regular reader of the blog but have not signed up as a "Follower" of the VSL blog would you please consider doing so? It costs you nothing but it helps me to have a feeling of who is out there and for whom I am writing. It also makes me feel that spending time doing this also means spending time building a community of like minded people.

The following applet is just over there on the right. If you get this via a reader please take a moment to go directly to the site and "sign up."  You don't have to but I'd sure appreciate it if you did.....

Thanks, Kirk

edit note: Three images below from a freezing, downtown, twilight walk added to the post as a sincere "thank you!" to all the people who stepped up and signed in. Thanks!

edit note 2: If you aren't on Google+ and can't do the sign in, don't worry about it. I'm happy you are here and reading my stuff on a regular basis. Thank you.  Kirk




All images done monochrome in camera. Panasonic GH3+ Olympus 12-50mm lens.

Here is the speech I gave to the students and instructors on Friday at the Capitol. Some of you asked to read it...

Please note that the written speech is never given verbatim but serves as an outline. Where I sensed more interest I fleshed out the content on the fly. Where I found things to be flat I edited on the fly. During the speech I had a slide show running with 135 images that I selected from work images, theatrical work and (mostly) favorite personal portraits and greatest hits. 



( What is my point in making the speech?  To inspire and motivate a new generation of professional photographers!)

Kirk's Speech ©2014 Kirk Tuck. Do not use without permission!

Welcome. Welcome to Austin. We’ve been keeping it weird just for you.

There’s just one thing I want to talk to you about tonight. And that is the fact that right now, right in this moment, we are experiencing the golden age of photography. 

It’s not something that old guys got to have all the fun with in decades past. It’s right here and it’s right now.

When I first started out the camera companies had just come out with affordable cameras that could actually set their exposures AUTOMATICALLY.

The photographers who had been in the business for a while were all moaning and complaining that this would make photography so easy that no one would ever get a paying photo job again! Well, that obviously didn’t happen. The markets just got better and better because people started to understand that there was more to taking a great photograph than just getting the exposure right.

Next up?  Autofocus. That too, according to the people already in the photography business, was supposed to destroy the commercial market…

And after AF got really fast and worked most of the time that was what might kill off photography.  Then we found ourselves plunging into digital and even phone photography. The technical stuff has never been easier but it still just as difficult to take an interesting photo and it’s still damn hard to make a photo that will make people sit up, stare and go, “Wow!”

You people in this room have to find your way to make people go, “Wow!” And it’s not going to be by finding some new technical thing to fix.

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Lucky for you I actually know the secret to getting more interesting photographs. I do. And usually I charge people thousands of dollars for the secret but tonight I’m going to give it away for free. Why free? Because most people are too lazy to use my secret to make their work better. Or they don’t believe it takes anything more than mastering their cameras and lenses to get better. But if you are willing to listen I’m ready to tell you….

To make more interesting photographs you have to change yourself.

You have to become a more interesting person.  If you are a more interesting person you’ll take more amazing images. Because people will be blown away by your point of view. 

I’m sure you know people who love their cameras. The whole world for them revolves around knowing the stories of their cameras. Which sensors are noiseless, which cameras can shooting in the dark, which lenses are the sharpest….everything technical.

But I bet you know people who can take great, amazing, wonderful photographs with just about any camera. What’s the difference? These photographers are using the cameras to take photographs of things, people, places and performances that really excite them. And they are just using a camera to share the excitement.

The whole secret is to find what it is in your life that makes you want to capture it in the camera and share it with everyone you know. The secret is to find the subject, topic or object that makes you single-mindedly obsessed. 

I have a friend who loves art, design and architecture. He makes images of houses and buildings that are beautiful. His photography is a way to share that beauty with other people who value design and art.

And what do your think fashion photographers love? They love clothes. For them fashion isn’t just a good excuse to pull out a camera it’s the reason to have a camera. They want to share the looks styles that excite them and make their brain cells move faster.

The people I don’t really understand are the generalists who don’t have a favorite subject but will just photography anything. What I think that means is that they haven’t found their passion yet. That photography is just a job. But we can do better than that and you can do better than that!
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So, how do you become a more interesting person? 

I have a list and when I feel like my work is getting boring I read the list.
It reminds me to try stuff that makes me uncomfortable. To put myself into situations where I don’t fit in. Where I have to try new stuff with new people.

Here’s some samples to try:

Read more novels. But let someone else pick out the books for you. We pick safe or fun stuff for ourselves. Reading a novel about someone different from you puts you in their shoes.
Try new food. Eat Sushi. If you love meat become a vegetarian for a week. See stuff from a different side.
Find some friends who are a lot smarter than you. And find some friends who don’t know the stuff you know. Hang out with them.
If you grew up on Transformer Movies and James Bond movies go and see some romantic movies. And vice versa.
If you grew up going to a certain church go and be a guest at a totally different religious center. If you’ve been a Baptist all your life try visiting a Jewish Synagog or a Buddhist Temple. Your mind is like a parachute—— they both work best when they are open!!!
Go to museums and look at paintings and sculpture. Try to understand how the artists used light. Leave your camera at home so you make sure it’s all about learning something new not just finding something else at which to point your camera.
Find a website that’s about something you know nothing about and dive in. What do you know about cooking? Have you ever baked a cake? Find a website about making salads. When you learn to love food you’ll have more to talk about to more people than ever before. And you’ll get some good meals.

Learn to Speak Italian. Learn to make cowboy boots. Take a trip to somewhere freakishly exotic. And when you come back you’ll have stories to tell and a totally different way of looking at everything. 

A totally different way of looking at everything!!!! That’s the secret we’re looking for. Because if we look at stuff the same way everyone else does than why should anyone care about your vision. Who needs to make the millionth photograph of a coffee cup?
Unless that coffee cup is made out of a skull and filled with strange multi-colored coffee from a distant rainforest.

So the first part of my secret is to become a more interesting person. And I think you guys get it. 

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The next secret I’m going to tell you is the secret formula for getting really good at photography. I don’t mean that your pictures of kitten whiskers get sharper I mean that everything you photograph just gets better and better. 

But first let me tell you a story.  I read it in a great book entitled “ART and FEAR.” 
At one of the prestigious universities there was a professor who was a great ceramics teacher. He turned out some of the artists who people call geniuses. 
And he did an interesting experiment.
He had a class of students who really, really wanted to be there and they all wanted to be the best. He divided his class into two halfs. And he said, All the students on this half of the class will proceed during the semester like this: You will only have to make one really perfect piece. Just one great sculpture and your entire grade will depend on that one piece of sculpture you create. But you have the whole semester to make it so it better be top notch. 

To the other half he said, “I hate to tell you this but I’m grading your work on a curve. And I’m grading it on the sheer volume. In fact, at the end of the semester I’ll weigh everything that you’ve done and the person with the most stuff will get the top grade. And so on. So you’ll need to really get some work done. The students got to work and the results were interesting. The group tasked with perfection were paralyzed. How do you make a perfect piece? The second group, the “how much can you make group” rolled up their sleeves and pounded away at the work for hours every day. 

And at the end of the semester a strange thing happened. The students who needed only one perfect piece didn’t do well at all. They were so afraid of failure that they had a hard time starting or committing. Their work was mediocre. 

But the second group had amazing results. Their group turned out hundreds and hundreds of great pieces because they were never afraid to try new stuff and possibly fail. As a result they took chances and tried everything. And they evolved. And their work soared. 

So, my second secret, the one that will lead you to photographic greatness is to jump in now and do photography all the time. Always be experimenting and trying new ways to do images. Don’t be afraid to fail. If you shoot ten times more stuff in a year than everyone around you then you essentially progress ten years beyond your competitors. Really. You are only limited by how much you can apply yourself. And really, you don’t need sleep, right? 

I know that by now you have me figured out and you know that their must be a third secret. Right? Well, there is but I’m not sure you’re ready for it. Maybe we should take a break from the secrets and have a discussion of which lens is sharper, the Canon 85mm or the Nikon 85mm. Right?

Well, I don’t have a clue so back to the secrets. But I will ask you not to share this one because it is so critical to finding a path that will make you great that it should be patented. But, if you think you are ready—- then let’s continue. 

A great writer, Joseph Conrad, once wrote “The treasure you desire to find is within the cave you fear.”
The way I like to say the same idea is:
The Passion is in the risk. 

Both phrases really mean the same thing. There are things that scare you in life and as a photographer. I know. I’ve been there. Some people are afraid to approach strangers and ask them to sit for a portrait. Some people are afraid to travel someplace foreign and different. Some people are afraid to show their work.

But the biggest thing I hear and the biggest fear I had to get over was to ask perfect strangers if they would let me take their photograph. Their portrait. And I wasn’t looking for just a chance encounter on the sidewalk. I wanted them to come to my studio and collaborate with me and give me an expression I loved. And I was scared to ask because I hated the idea of being rejected or people thinking I was weird or something. 

But when I started breaking through that fear I found the treasure. I found that photographing people in my studio was the thing I most wanted to do in photography. It was my treasure and it was hidden behind my fear of asking complete strangers to trust me and let me into their worlds, even if it was just for an hour or two. 

I’m going to bet that each one of you has one thing in photography that scares them. Asking strangers, showing a portfolio, sharing wild ideas that might get ridiculed. Or you are just so afraid of failing that you refuse certain kinds of projects. Learn to identify the biggest fears because those fears are the caves that hold the best treasures. And everyone’s fears and rewards are different

But I can guarantee that if you push yourself to go into the caves you fear you will emerge as a much more powerful photographer than you can imagine. 

So, do the things that make you nervous, push at the stuff that scares you. Do as much work as you can. Always be photographing.  And keep becoming a more interesting person. You’re 90% of the way toward being a great photographer.

But…….there’s one more thing. And it has nothing to do with gear and everything to do with all the stuff above. It’s the final secret. The one that makes Joey Lawrence and Zack Arias and Chase Jarvis successful and great role models. 

I will share this final secret with you tonight. It’s the easiest one to understand and may be the hardest of the four secrets to actually do. But if you do it. And you combine this one action with the three I’ve already disc used I can almost guarantee that you’ll be a successful imaging expert. A photographer of distinction. Here’s the secret: Go out and start now. Go show work now. Get work now. Find assignments now. Assign your self a project Now, Today. 

When I taught at UT I had a class with 30 students. It was a studio course. Most of the class put things off. They were waiting until they had just the right lens. They were waiting for the perfect camera. They didn’t show a portfolio because they were waiting for the perfect prints and better images. And many of them are still probably waiting for the perfect moment to launch their careers almost thirty years later. Sadly, most of them waited so long that they eventually gave up. 

But there were two students in the class who were so ready to work and shoot and play and collaborate with their photography that they immediately went out and put whatever they had learned that day into motion. 

They volunteered, they found clients and they launched. Immediately. By the end of the semester they were shooting for someone every day of the week and they were learning logarithmically. They might get stumped and when they did they’d rush back to the studio and figure out what to do and then go back out and shoot. One had one camera with one 50mm lens. He shot everything from fashion to head shots with it. The other person had one old Hasselblad that she mastered and she was still using it to shoot a Neiman Marcus catalog ten years later when I went to  visit her in Dallas. 

But their secret of success was to start now. Today. Not when all the stars lined up or when they owned every L lens in the Canon product catalog but right now with whatever was in their hands. And it became a habit. And now they always start. And 98% of people put off getting started until too late. 

So, if you always wondered why some people make it and most don’t you need to know it’s not a difference in talent or knowledge it’s the courage to go out right now and get started. 

I have so many friends who tried to do photography as a business when we all started out. I lived and breathed photography. My friend Will would used cheap cameras that were falling apart to shoot for Texas Monthly and other great magazines. He didn’t wait until he could afford the finest of all cameras. He went for it. And since he showed up and and had the desire he got the jobs. The jobs don’t wait until you are ready. Your projects won’t wait. What are you waiting for?

At the beginning of my talk I made the statement that these are the Golden Years of professional photography. How can that be when everyone in the world has an iPhone and everyone thinks they are a photographer? Magazines and newspapers are laying off pro photographers like crazy. Prices for work seem to be falling.

But. I think photography has finally split. We pros make what I would call Artifacts. These artifacts have a long life. They are meant to be used over and over again by advertisers and historians and that’s their power. That’s what gives them value. 

Most of the photography that’s being done casually by most people is what I would call consumables. Like coffee and hamburgers these images are just quick visual snacks that vanish into the web after one round of viewing on Facebook or Tumblr or Snapchat and then they are gone pretty much forever. 

We use talent, insight, intelligence and style to make artifacts. That’s what gives them their value. They are thoughtful and engaging images that serve a continuing purpose. And people will pay for sticky work like that.

The other reason that I say this is the golden age of photography is that this is the first time in the history of the world that you can share your work with people from around the planet. From China to El Paso. If your vision is unique you can have fans from around the globe. And you’ll be the first image makers who don’t need to depend on magazines and newspapers to reach people. You can create your own online media and you can control it and you can figure out how to make money with it. 

There are legions of people making money from their blogs and there are countless people who make income from YouTube for their videos. 

They reach audiences that most photographers never dreamed of in the past. And they make connections that we never thought possible.

I write a blog and just last year Samsung reached out and asked me to test their new camera. The one with cell data on board. They sent me a camera and a case of lenses and then sent me to Berlin for eight days to shoot. In the days before I put photos and stories up on the blog I doubt they would have ever found me. 

I teach online workshops for a company in Denver called craftsy.com. They pay me a percentage of every class they sell. My blog generates income. And now we make video for clients. 

Every year is like starting over. And I love it because it’s a level playing field. It’s a golden age because you get to make your own rules for success. You get to expand into making movies. You  get to decide how well your images are used. 

There’s only one danger in all of this for you. That’s the danger that you’ll do what so many people always do. You have to be on guard not to get comfortable with the status quo. Not to get too invested in one way of doing things. 

The danger is that you’ll get warm and comfortable and you won’t want to change, you won’t even want to acknowledge change when it is happening all around you. And one morning you’ll wake up and there will be no market for the stuff you spent perfecting for the last ten years. There will be new markets and they will eat the old markets. This is why you must always work at being a more interesting person. Because interesting people keep up with their culture. 

The best treasures go to the people who create the new markets not to the people who have to be pushed into learning after the fact.

Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t be afraid to break from the herd. The lonely hunter  generally has a better hunt. 


Your training and your self education is preparing you to make the most of the market right in front of you right now. You must jump in fearlessly. You’ll love it. And in thirty years I hope one of you will stand up here and tell students like you that They are living in the golden age of photography.

The end.

2.09.2014

Decompressing from a week filled with photography. Sometimes you just need a break...

I went to Whole Foods for some soup. I also photographed some random flowers.

It was a wacky week of headshot photography, speeches about photography and a full day of doing photography in San Antonio. When I finished with the post production of yesterday's files around 2pm today I was totally burned out so I decided to talk a nice long walk in the sunshine (75 (f) degrees today...).   Of course I wouldn't leave the house without some sort of camera so I grabbed the RX 10 of the dining room table, shoved an extra battery in my pocket and headed out the door. 

The chicken and veggie soup was great and I snuck in a piece of jalapeƱo corn bread for contrast. I wandered around downtown, marveling at all the new buildings going up. Luxury hotels, more high rise condos and a smattering of office buildings and parking garages. 

The RX 10 rode along with its promotional Sony strap clinging to my left shoulder. I set it up for simple. Aperture priority, ISO 125, auto neutral density filter and AWB. No thought-o-graphy at its best. 

Didn't shoot much. I was trying to just look today. Make my eyes do that infinity thing to counteract that two feet to fifteen feet thing I'd done all week long. I guess we'll take a deep breath and hit the ground running tomorrow.






In case you didn't know (I might have been too subtle), I think the RX 10 is the best camera I've played with for the price ever. While I resize files to 2100 pixels on the long side for the blog I've succumbed to some pixel peeping at 5640 or whatever and the files are incredibly detailed and sharp. At the lower ISO's they just don't break down until you go past 100%. The color is great and the metering is 98% on the money. All in all a great product from Sony. It would be interesting to see just how good a full frame, 28-70mm fixed f4.0 camera would be. The ability to match the lens and the sensor into a non-removeable system may mean less flexibility but I have a feeling that it's one of the last remaining paths to ultimate image quality. 

That said, I eagerly await the arrival of the GH4's. Double slap in the face to the $12,000 Canon video/faux still cameras....

2.08.2014

Mixed camera job. Lots of stuff crammed into the weekend.

Penthouse. Sony RX 10.

I got up at 5:30 this morning. I packed the car the night before. I live in an area where you can pack your car full of lights and stands and tripods and leave it overnight with a high expectation that everything will be right where you left it the next morning. But I still bring the camera bag into the house and bring it out to the car in the morning. 

I made an extra big cup of coffee for the road, cobbled together a decent breakfast taco, waved goodbye to my dog (the only member of my family stirring at that ungodly hour) and headed down the highway to San Antonio. 

I was working for an ad agency that I really like. They are located in San Antonio and they call me on a regular basis with fun jobs. Today we were doing a good, old fashion project with lots of interior shots of condominiums and four pairs of people in their condominiums posing for testimonial ads. 

The first kind of shot is pretty straightforward. You just have to make interiors look good. Half the work is already done by whichever designer styled the show units. You just need to balance the interior and exterior exposures correctly and you need to pick the right place to put the camera. 

The second type of shot is a bit more demanding because you have to make the people in the shot look great, balance the outdoor and indoor light and compose around a portrait within an architectural shot. Thank goodness for good art directors. I can think of a thousand ways to compose a shot but my art director was pretty good about picking the correct composition. 

I used a full frame camera for the testimonial shots. I wanted maximum quality in case I screwed up something and needed to pull out all the post processing stops to save a shot. Which did not happen. But the images looked good and the color was nice. 

For the people-less shots of the luxury condominium unit interiors I made a very counterintuitive camera choice and went with the small censored RX10. I set the ISO to the camera's native sensitivity  (125) for highest quality. I used f5.6 because it is the sharpest aperture and also yielded a deep focus. 
I shot raw for more color control. I turned off the image stabilization and used a good, stout tripod. 

The images look good in Lightroom. Both sets of images look good in Lightroom. And the colors between an a99 and the RX10 seem to match up quite well. 

The RX10 was easy to use for the most part. The weak point for all EVFs is the situation where you have a person in an interior location and bright sunlight falling on the scenery outside their window, with the window prominent in the scene. The way around it is to turn on the (on Sony cameras) Setting Effect and then go to manual exposure and change the shutter speed or shutter speed and aperture until you blow out the background but have the right exposure on the face. That's when I do my fine focusing. Then I go back up on shutter speeds until the person is silhouetted and the outside scene is perfectly exposed or even just a little hot. Then I use flash to match the exposures.  To a certain extent, once you leave the slow shutter speeds and the interior darkens you are flying blind. 

It's one situation in which a regular viewfinder is superior. But you've just read my work around. 

It's been a long day as it's nearly 9pm. I've logged nearly 200 miles of driving and eight straight hours of lighting, cajoling and shooting. I'm still at my desk because the executive staff at the Visual Science Lab have a strict policy that all camera memory cards be downloaded and backed up at the end of every shooting day. Saves us from any errors of delay. But while I'm shepherding the images through the first part of their processing journey I'm also making sure to put batteries on the chargers and put the lenses and the cameras back in the cabinet.

I included the shot above because I loved the tall ceiling and the rich sky. It was a fun thing to shoot.

Hope the weekend is going well. I'm checking off boxes day after day. I won't complain. My memory of the great recession is too strong for that....

2.07.2014

I have succeeded in speaking to the Association of Texas Photographic Instructors and 300 of their students without embarrassing myself too badly.

Here I am obsessively compulsively adjusting the projector....
photo: ©Bill Woodhull 2014

 I was the keynote speaker for the Texas Association of Photographic Instructors and I took my job very seriously. I spent a couple of days editing down images to show and I wrote two complete, and completely different 40 minutes speeches. I showed the first one to my son, Ben, and asked for a critique. With brutal honesty he let me know that the first script might cause high school students (of which there were about 300) to run screaming from the building in the first three minutes. Asked why he went on a  riff about narcissism, self aggrandizement and the unassailable fact that 58 years old of any ilk should never reference rappers in a presentation. To anyone. 

I changed to plan B which was a heart felt script entitled: The Golden Age of Photography is Right Now.  There wasn't a single reference to my work and few references to my career. No rappers. No jokes and, as prescribed by Ben the word "cool" was expunged in over 23 places.

At the end of the presentation I got a standing ovation from the kids at Frisco High School who were brilliant and incredibly motivated. Go Frisco!!! The rest of the kids applauded vigorously----but from a seated position. 

At the end of the presentation we called for questions and opened the floor to "selfies" on stage with the speaker. I now have many new followers on Twitter. #vizsciencelab

The teachers were incredibly welcoming and obviously dedicated. I am less worried about the future of photography with such steady hands on the helm. The entire afternoon of workshops, contest and portfolio reviews in the conference rooms of the state capitol building was great. 

In order to true new stuff I left the car in the driveway today and road the #30 bus from my neighborhood to the capitol. It was a great experience and one that I'll do again. Saved me between $12 and $18 for downtown parking. I got to do some work on the speech while someone else did the driving. 

Finally, I want to say how much I appreciated VSL regular, Frank, for taking time from his schedule to come and listen to my speech. I felt better with a friendly face in the audience. Thanks.

Also thanks to my long suffering wife who also came out on a frigid friday just to watch me talk. Like she doesn't hear enough at home.  But seriously, it was nice. The kid, of course, was nowhere to be found. But that's okay, now I don't have to sit through the post mortem critique. 

I wanted to go out with the instructors and have dinner and drinks but sadly I have to be on the road to San Antonio tomorrow where I have a full day of photographing in a luxury high rise. I'll be on the road at 5:30am. No party for me tonight. 

Just thought I'd wrap up the loose ends on the whole "public speaking" thing. Good night.

My next camera? A really professional combination for still+video producers.

Panasonic GH4.

You'll probably remember that I fell for the Panasonic G6 at the Photo Expo last Fall, bought one and then subsequently bought two of its big brother, the GH3. I have been using the GH3's for video and still work since November and I am convinced that it beats the video performance of any un-hacked DSLR currently in the market. The video is wonderful. And lately I've had the opportunity to compare the video output to much more expensive, dedicated video cameras and I've found the GH3 video to be close. Certainly competitive for all but the most rigorous and technically demanding programming. According to my friend, Frank, the difference between good video cameras may be less important than the difference that good versus mediocre lighting design...

At any rate I am happy with the GH3s and they've staved off my yearning for an OMD EM-1 by virtue of their dual photo/video nature. The one feature that would be nice to have in the GH3s would be the same kind of in body image stabilization that the top Olympus cameras feature. As for image quality I'm pretty sure that when I shoot in raw I can match files pretty evenly.

But here's the deal. I don't really need the GH4 just for video. The video in the GH3 will work fine for the next year or so of production. The market is shifting to 4K video but not so rapidly that we need shift today to stay relevant. No, the real reason to add one of the new cameras to inventory is the handful of improvements and additions Panasonic have made.

The two that come to mind for me as a still shooter are the improved shutter with 1/8000th of a second top speed and a faster sync speed: 1/250th versus 1/160th. The shutter life is also rated at twice the life of the GH3 or 200,000 actuations. 

As a videographer the major reason to add a GH4 is the accessory that interfaces with the body and gives one dual XLR inputs for professional microphones. It's a usability issue more than anything else. 

One thing I like about the introduction is that the basic camera body is largely the same as its predecessor. That means the buttons are all in the same place, there's good chance they didn't screw up the menus and that means I'll know my way around the camera from the minute I pull it out of the box. Maybe they'll even keep the same battery type. 

Should you get a Panasonic GH4? I guess it all depends on what you do with your cameras and where you are in your camera buying cycle. I'm definitely on board but it's because of the shift in my business. I'll be testing the heck out the camera to see just how much good still work I can squeeze out of the sensor before I dump the FF stuff I'm using for some portraits. But all in all I think the writing is on the wall. Smaller, faster, better and more workman-like than most of the cameras I've come across. Now, if we can just keep the price point under $1500. 

on an unrelated note: I will be speaking this evening at the state capitol. My speech ending up being positive and uplifting. Most of it is true. And wouldn't you know it, the schools are closed again today because of the freezing weather. It's 30 degrees (f) and there's no snow or ice anywhere. But they closed the schools just to be safe. Amazing and, even as a Texan I'll admit====it's downright wimpy. But ATPI tweeted that the conference is totally on and the classrooms are open and ready to go. It should be fun. 

2.06.2014

Testing. Testing. Always Testing.



Poor Belinda. We have so many half finished portraits of her... So many times I say, "Don't worry about your expression/shirt/hair/something else, this is only a test." And I mean it at the time but then I look at an image and think that I really like it and I want to talk about the technique so I want to share it and the next thing you know it's up on the web, here at VSL and I'm sure she's mortified that people in France or Malaysia might be saying, "Can't that woman do something with her hair???"

So, I was too cold and lazy to go all the way to the other side of town to buy a warm, brown background for this afternoon's shoot of two different executives so I did what any self respecting eccentric does and bought a tube of paint instead. And I proceeded to paint onto a white seamless background.  It's actually a mix of paint and cold coffee. I thought, since we're in a drought we don't want to waste water.

I painted the background before lunch and it had big brush strokes in it but I figured it would dry smoother and after I had some cheese enchiladas everything would be okay. But it wasn't quite what I wanted in terms of texture so I decided to shoot some tests. Since every one in the universe is suddenly bored with the Sony RX10 I switched gears and decided that today's portraits would all be made with a Sony a850, at 100 ISO and to put an extra spin on things I'd use an ancient Hasselblad 150mm Sonnar f4 lens on an adapter with the Sony. Yeah, that all seems rational to me.

So I decided I'd need someone to sit in and let me play with the light so I could see  just how that background was going to work out. I walked into the house and cajoled Belinda and she came to my aid.

What a nutty camera rig. So, I have the Flex Lens Shade on the front of the lens. It can be bent to any sort of angle or position to block stray light. It's attached to the hood of the Hasselblad C T-star Zeiss  150mm f4. I have the lens attached to the camera with a Fotodiox H-blad to Sony A adapter.
The camera is an ancient Sony a850 shooting raw files.
The trigger on the top is a Wein SSR Infra Red trigger that I've had for 25 years. 
Sooooo much more fun that a radio trigger.

Here's my main light. It's some sort of Elinchrom moonlight firing into a Balcar Silver and White Zebra umbrella left over from the 1980's. It's covered with a Photek 60 inch soft lighter 2 sock.
Bang. Bang. Bang.

This is the reverse view from the back of the studio. Note the 
pop up reflector for fill. Simple tech.

To get exactly what I wanted out of the background light I used a grid spot on it and then covered with with a sheet of diffusion.

As we say in Texas, "This here's a backlight. It's another Elinchrom moonlight firing into a 22 inch dish, also covered with a diffusion "sock." 

No shoot would be complete without the hand painted (and truly disposable)
burnt sienna background. 

Of course, no article would be complete without the view from 
where the magic all happens, right behind the camera.

So the test revealed that at f5.6 I'd get exactly the amount of texture I wanted in the background. The test was successful. f11 would not have worked. An hour later the client came in and we laughed and talked and shot images. The web gallery has already been posted and we're moving on to the next thing. Just another fun day in the studio. 

I decided to type this right now just to keep my fingers warm....

BIG REMINDER: I'll be speaking at the state capitol at 7:00 pm tomorrow evening. There will be a room filled with young minds. I will try to say some smart stuff, some inspirational stuff and some motivational stuff. If I feel like it's not working out I'll just default to telling funny stories. Wish me luck.

Aida. For Zach Theatre. Classic studio lighting.

All material ©2014 Kirk Tuck and presented exclusively at www.visualsciencelab.blogspot.dom  If you are reading this on another site, without proper attribution it is not an authorized use of the material. If you are reading this on unauthorized site DO NOT CLICK on any links in the body copy as it may infect your computer with serious viruses. Sorry to have to put this warning here but a recent search turned up dozens of similar infringements. Thanks for your authentic readership. 

©2014 Kirk Tuck, All Rights Reserved.

I've been cleaning up the studio/office and throwing stuff away like crazy. I've tossed out white formica and endless worn frames and pounds of shredded old invoices and correspondence. As the studio becomes less visually cluttered my desire to do more portraits seems to grow. Clean slate syndrome.

I was heading out the door to buy another roll of seamless just now. A light brown. Kind of a burnt sienna. But I detoured to Michael's art supply store instead and bought a tube of acrylic paint that matches perfectly. I'd rather paint what I need on the endless sea of white seamless I already own. Seems more fun and wastes less paper. Also saves me a long drive through our "treacherous" arctic conditions....still 26 degrees here in Austin.  Now, where did I put my paint brush?

The above was shot in the studio against a black background. Main lighting is a medium octabank while the backlight and side light are both small soft boxes used in close and at very low power. Shot on a Kodak DCS 760C camera with a Nikon 60mm micro lens. f 5.6-8  

All material ©2014 Kirk Tuck and presented exclusively at www.visualsciencelab.blogspot.dom  If you are reading this on another site, without proper attribution it is not an authorized use of the material. If you are reading this on unauthorized site DO NOT CLICK on any links in the body copy as it may infect your computer with serious viruses. Sorry to have to put this warning here but a recent search turned up dozens of similar infringements. Thanks for your authentic readership.