2.18.2014

Two of my favorite people came together to make a video, start a Kickstarter campaign and champion some great music.

I think many of you will remember Rosie (Selena's) face from some of my LED portraits a few years back. Here's what she looked like back in 2011:

Well, Rosie is now the ultra-talented leader of a country band called, Rosie and the Ramblers, and they are doing their first full-on, high quality, studio album. To pay the studio and the musicians Rosie and the Ramblers is doing a Kickstarter campaign. They are hoping to raise $8,000 in the next 30 days and the list of perks for donors is very wild and fun. Donate $1,000 to the cause and Rosie will (permanently) tattoo your initials on her arm. For a bit more you can have the whole band come to your house and play a concert. But for those who are not high rollers there are other cool things.

As with most up and coming musicians independently making their first album these guys are happy with any level of giving people can muster.

Here's their promotional video for the campaign. Pay close attention to the production values....



My friend, Chris Archer, produced the video for Rosie. I helped a little bit. I brought along the microphone for our shooting session with Rosie on camera and created the cut away video of Rosie from either side. That's all I did. Chris shot, edited, art directed and basically did everything else.

I think the video is great and I think the band is great. Rosie is smart, focused and talented. Invest a few bucks if you possible. Always good to help out young artists.

Here's the Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/461033799/whatever-you-need-a-new-album-from-rosie-and-the-r

Glad I upgraded to the legendary 1956 model many years ago. The interface is perfect and the reliability is off the charts. Sometimes the vintage stuff is best.

B. Circa 1980.

Happy Birthday to my Best Friend.

2.17.2014

Inadvertent exercise.


I guess the real definition of a creative person is to have a short attention span and a distaste for doing anything the same way twice. That, and always wanting to do something in a different way from everyone else.  At least that's the way I see it.

I bought some Panasonic cameras last year and to make the most of their  (nearly) square footage----available sensor resolution---I really should be shooting in the 4:3 format. Anything else crops out useful information. But that seems to dictatorial when it comes to creative composition. And it may explain why, after months of compulsory full format shooting with the those m4:3 rascals I've come to enjoy the 16:9 format. It defies logical good practice when it comes to maximizing image quality but it's weirdly dynamic. You lose the top and the bottom of the frame but then you have to use your brain to make things fit in and make the size and shape make sense.

Last Fall I was doing a demo and the camera I was using at the time was hooked up (wirelessly) to an HD television set. The technicians and I decided to set the camera to the 16:9 format to match the full screen of the television. I shot that way for two full days and now, when I look at the images I shot, I am happy to have cropped different. 

I guess it's also an active exercise in learning how to compose for videos and films. All of the cameras I'm using for those disciplines are locked into the 16:9 format. Since I'm traditionally a square shooter it's almost a necessary exercise to see in a new way and to break out of that mould.

Makes my brain hurt a little but it does change the way I see things in the finders. I like the variation.
But....this essay in no way creates of permanent contract for me to only shoot long and skinny. I'll be back to my fat and sassy 1:1 format soon enough.





I'll take a pass on getting excited about the new Fuji Camera. Or the new Sony Camera. Or the new..........


I'm feeling kind of flat about cameras right now. Maybe I've been through too many of them or maybe I've seen the way we've become in our constant and relentless thirst for the newest thing. It's almost scary. I have cameras I bought because I convinced myself there was some feature or another that I couldn't live without only to find that I could. And some of those cameras have the equivalent of one roll run through them before finding semi-eternal rest in drawer six of the red tool cabinet. That's the drawer that's set aside for cameras I have every intention of using but which somehow sit fallow until the batteries can no longer take a charge.

Why am I feeling this way today? A couple of reality checks. One client called to confirm a two day shoot next week and to talk about technical parameters. They'll be going up to poster sizes with some of the images and wanted to be sure that I'd be using a high res camera. Funny that last week my thoughts were about how good the m4:3 cameras have become and how a photographer could probably do a whole business with a Sony RX10 and yet here we are again spending the afternoon testing the sharpest apertures on the sharpest lenses I'll want to use on the Sony a99 or a850 at ISO 100 on a stout tripod with electronic flash lighting in a studio. You know, to wring the last drop of image quality out of them.

The big Sonys no longer seem sexy to me but I know that the 14 bit raw files from the Sony a99 have the best chance of fulfilling the client's expectations short of rushing out and getting a Nikon D800 or a Sony A7r (the shutter shock champion...). And I'd rather shoot with something familiar.

The other convergent event was finally getting around to opening up the folder of images I shot with an APS-C camera at the Photo Expo last Fall. To be honest I never liked the finder on the camera and I really could care less if my camera has Android Lollypop running inside but I think I figured out that what was really important was what I've been saying all along: Lighting and rapport. The cameras really are the team's second string. The varsity team is Lighting and rapport.

If we could make images that I really liked with a camera I found somewhat problematic to operate then why confuse the issue with yet another foray into the camera market and another search for the holy grail? I know, I know, I rushed out an bought a Sony RX10 but let me let you in on a little secret: That's a video camera, not really a still camera. And for what it does in video it's a freaking bargain/must have.

So, what cameras am I lusting after right now? Can't think of any and that's probably boring the hell out of the people who come here looking for product porn. I'm just not up to it this week. Not when I have so many pretty images to look at from cameras past. It just doesn't make sense. Or does it?



Every portrait photographer has stuff they need to work on.

Gloria. NYC 2013. Samsung Camera.

I'm working in putting more "air" around my subjects. I guess we got into the habit of cropping tight back in the days of skimpy sensors with low pixel counts. We wanted to make every micron of space count. But these days I feel like some of my images from that time and some that were offshoots of a style that became habituated at the time feel claustrophobic to me now. A little more space might be a  good thing. Next I'll work on adding context and stuff in the background. That should be a seismic change....

One note on the series I've been playing with today: I was using the Samsung Galaxy NX camera at the time I took this image and since then I have more or less ended my active participation in their Imagelogger program but when I examine the images I can't help but admit that Samsung got their flesh tones and gradations on human skin down to a good science. The files are very pleasing to me. While the camera's EVF bothered me and the connected side of the camera slowed down the interfacing process the actual imaging----the thing we mostly used to use cameras for --- is pretty darn good. Just thought I'd toss some credit where it is due. 



OMG!!!!!!! All of my books are back in stock at Amazon....

....Just in time for----------next Christmas season? Thanks a lot, Amherst.

As you know if you tried to order one of my captivating and remarkable lighting books to give to your most loved loved one over the recent holidays, three of my five books were out of stock at Amazon for nearly the entire month of December...

How nice that we have them back in stock just in time for the spendy tax season. Hmmm.

My Amazon Author's Page


After working alongside Nick Kelsh I've added a few medium sized soft boxes to my lighting inventory.

Gloria. NYC. For Samsung.

When I presented in New York at Photo Expo I tag teamed with an incredible photographer named, Nick Kelsh. I had originally spec'd a very large soft box for my lighting demos but the size of the booth made that potentially unwieldy and when I arrived I was confronted by a mid-sized box. Probably two by three feet. I was a little unsettled about it because, well....I am used to getting my own way, but then I watched Nick work the smaller box in very close to his model and get pretty spectacular results. 

When it was my turn I worked the light in closer than I usually do and, frankly, I like the results very much. So when I came home I looked through the stack of umbrellas and soft boxes looking for my little collection of mid-size modifiers. Sadly, these things don't last forever. Rods break and fabric deteriorates and rips. I had one or two very small boxes that I used for backgrounds but the 3x4 footers I used to have had all been destroyed and discarded over the years. 

Last night I ordered a new box from Amazon.com. It's an inexpensive Fotodiox branded box that measures 32 inches by 48 inches. It should be here Weds. in the late afternoon just not in time for my Weds. portrait session with a communications company. But that's okay, I've been practicing with umbrellas too. 

Here's the one I bought. It even comes with a speed ring for my Elinchrom flashes. If you have a different flash they sell with different rings.




2.15.2014

Food? Food Photography!








I love food. I owe everything I know about food to my friend, Patricia Bauer-Slate. Patricia owned the best bakery in all of Texas for 32 years, introduced the real croissant to Austin and created a number of restaurants that people still talk about a decade after she exited the restaurant business.

I'd been going to her bakery, Sweetish Hill Bakery, for years to get bear claws and petit pain au chocolate and killer coffee before I actually met her and became a Bauer-Slate fine food disciple.

The change from customer to friend came from one of my earliest magazine assignments. I was assigned by one of the city magazines to go to her new restaurant, La Provence, and make photographs of the beautiful dining room, the chef and the front of house manager. I was working exclusively with 4x5 inch transparency film at the time and did my lighting with several Novatron power packs and flash heads firing into big white umbrellas.

I made (through sheer dumb luck) some of the best interior images I've ever been able to make and some very passable portraits. Patricia was so pleased that she asked to buy some of the images and, to sweeten the deal, she also invited me and my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) to come by and have a dinner ( we could never have afforded at the time) as her guests. Belinda still remembers the angel hair pasta with truffles and caviar as one of the best dishes she's ever had while I remember the entrecĂ´te mirabeau (a perfect steak criss-crossed with anchovies) as the best steak I've ever eaten (sorry Morton's and Sullivan's). We shared a bottle of wine that had a little booklet tied around the neck which explained the provenance of the wine. We still have that booklet now 34 years later.

We spent years eating Patricia's cooking, devouring her bakery's chocolate cakes and whole wheat bread. She taught me how to perfectly poach an egg and to make a Hollandaise sauce that wouldn't separate. I've photographed hundreds of products and dishes in return.

I love photographing food almost as much as I love eating it. But the important thing in my education as a food photographer has been a thirty five year education in what makes good food good---taught to me by a master. The photography part is easy if you know why you are making a photograph.



2.14.2014

Graffiti Wall Video. Austin, Texas. By Kirk Tuck

Untitled Project from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

Go to Vimeo via the link to see and HD version. This one is only 500 pixels wide.
Shot with the Sony RX10.

Happy Valentine's Weekend.

2.13.2014

Getting more focused on good camera and studio technique.

Caught mid-sentence in the Craftsy.com Studios.

I was having a discussion with friend, Frank, over coffee yesterday in the late afternoon. We'd both put in long, hard days and it was refreshing to share a little time with someone as interested in the holy triad: photography, video and marketing. When it comes to marketing I defer to him. He's an actual pro. But I can hold my own in discussions of photography and to a certain extent in video. 

We've both been buying m4:3 cameras and we both are excited about the introduction of the Panasonic GH4. But over the course of our conversation the talk turned to the use of small cameras for professional work. When it comes to format my brain ebbs and flows. Sometimes I like the look a full frame file can give me and sometimes I like the ethos of the smaller cameras. After all, what were the original Leicas if not the answer to an earlier generations fixation with larger and more ponderous cameras?

And all that started me thinking about how much good image quality we leave on the table by not practicing each piece of our craft with diligence and purpose. One reason people seem to shoot raw files is to be able to fine tune color and exposure better, after the fact. After having shot an image casually. Many think it's a badge of honor not to use some of the functionality of the cameras when making images. For example, to eschew the use of face detection auto focus when doing portraits or to not take advantage of a camera's software filter to improve an image. 

I'm still amazed at how opposed most people are to the idea of using a tripod where it's possible. I'm often guilty of believing what an LCD shows me when evaluating exposure instead of taking time to meter a scene. 

I was still thinking of this last night. I'd made basil linguini tossed with a smoked salmon and parmagiano cheese cream sauce for dinner and then, while my family relaxed, I went out to the studio to pack for a shoot we did this morning. I went out on location to a rehab hospital to set up a temporary studio and shoot twelve staff portraits against a seamless background. 

While I was packing I was thinking about our conversation and about getting all the details right up front. Would this make shrink the quality differences between full frame and smaller formats? I had already made up my mind to shoot these portraits with a Panasonic GH3 camera and a moderately long zoom lens. At the last minute this morning, before heading out the door, I tossed my RX10 and a couple extra batteries into my jacket pocket. 

After I set up the lighting in the small room at the client's location I pondered the cameras. I would be shooting under controlled florescent lights and I would have the camera on a tripod. My brain reached for the GH3 but my inquisitive and mischievous side came up holding the RX 10. "What the hell?" I thought, "Let's give it the old college try."

I set the camera for medium sized, super-fine Jpegs and started doing the due diligence check list. I metered the position in which I would place my subjects with a Minolta incident light meter. I ended up with 1/60th at f4 at ISO 250. Perfect, considering I was photographing adults and I would have the camera on a tripod. Next I pulled out a Lastolite gray target and made a custom white balance. And then I did it again a couple more times just to make sure. 

I enabled the camera's face detection auto focus and figured out a standard for head sizes that I'd apply to each sitter---for consistency on the website. Finally, I enabled a filter called, "Soften Skin," took a few test shots of my client and evaluated them at the largest magnification the camera is capable of. The effect was perfect. Nice and sharp on features, eyelashes, eyebrows and hairs but a slight softening of intrusive skin texture. Not plastic, but, on the other hand, not cruelly clinical.

I shot these same settings for twelve people which equalled about 500 frames. Since the camera was doing the focusing and aesthetic work for me I was absolutely free to focus on composition and building a nice rapport with the sitters.

When I got back to the office an hour ago I dumped all the files into the latest rev of Lightroom and started peeking at the images. There's strong detail in all of the images but the areas of skin are smoother and less contrasty than a typical shot. The color is perfect and at 1:1 there's very little real noise. 

The images are right on the money. Exactly as I'd planned them and the camera was all but transparent. Granted, the front shoulder is not going to ooze away into Bokeh Heaven but the background only six feet behind the subject is smooth and texture free. 

Based on the intended and contracted use for the images they are for the most part interchangeable with the full frame files I did for the same client just last year. The camera didn't miss a beat. Didn't miss focus or deliver unwanted artifacts. It proved to me that many of the situations that we think to be the provence of bigger cameras are only thought of that way because of history and tradition. 

I'm sure that if I had not taken the time to meter and white balance I would have had to struggle more with the files and I would have found more "forgiveness" in the full frame images. But that's where photographic best practices and diligence come in. Those things enabled me to press a smaller, cheaper camera into service without penalties. And yes, I'd do it again. 

This business is changing. If things need to be faster and cheaper than the projects should be easier to do. And that's the arena in which small, mirror less cameras with fast, sexy lenses thrive.