7.29.2014

Reading the Austin Chronicle on a sunny afternoon.


Jaston Williams (of Greater Tuna fame) in costume for his upcoming one man play: Maid Marian in a Stolen Car.

Jaston Williams as "Maid Marian"
Camera: Samsung Galaxy NX

Zach Theatre will be presenting Jaston Williams' one person play, Maid Marian in a Stolen Car, at the end of August. I spent a couple hours with Jaston shooting promotional photographs for print collateral, the web and the transilluminated posters that front the theatre on Lamar Blvd. and I can ensure you that it will be absolutely funny. When we did the shoot that yielded this particular shot and several hundred others I was in a big experimental phase with new cameras. I'd been bringing two or three bodies, sometimes from two or three different manufacturers and shooting the all to see how they were different and how they were alike. 

We had fun shooting with the relatively bizarre Samsung Galaxy NX because we were able to compose on a five inch LCD screen on the back of the camera. The art director and I were standing side by side in low light while Jaston performed in the high light levels of the modeling lights on the flashes I was using. This allowed us to see the rear screen with no glares or reflections. Nice feedback loop between photographer/trusted art director/animated talent. 

It was also great to be able to move the focusing point around with a finger. Something I also like to do on the Panasonic GH4. The Galaxy NX camera had some operational quirks and I stopped using it much after getting the newer and more streamlined NX 30.

Recently I've been going though thousands of shots from hundreds of shoots and trying to find fun new stuff to stick into a portfolio. I came across this one and, after playing with it for a while in PS I realized that while the camera and I didn't make a happy couple from a UI perspective the sensor and lenses were very, very good. It will probably be lost to the small file size on the web but the sharpness is high, the noise low and the colors are great. Always interesting to discover attributes in a camera that you didn't appreciate the first time around.

Fun stuff. 


The Photo Fiction/Action Adventure Novel 
of Summer 2014.

The frames between the frames.

Samsung Galaxy NX camera. 60 mm macro lens. 


Photography, as we practice it at the Visual Science Lab, is hardly ever deadly serious business. For the most part I chose this career because when I was working at an ad agency back in the 1980's the people in the ad business who seemed to be having the most fun were the photographers. They'd show up with a retinue of assistants, set up magical lights and fill the room with glorious energy. Once they got the perfect frame they played around some more, until they got bored or ran out of time. 

The fun thing; the wonderful thing is that the images we all loved and wanted to use in the ads were mostly the ones that came in the moments after the serious shooting. Those were the moment where everyone involved felt free to just play. Like kids. 

I'm all for photographers getting their technical ducks in a row but in a business like this, with all the budget cutting, uncertainty and competition, there's no reason to be in it unless you are actively having fun with the actual process of taking the pictures and making your art. 

I shot this for Samsung. Gloria was a wonderful model. We have tons of frames of her looking seriously alluring but the ones were we break away from the expected seriousness and play around with no seriousness involved are the most fun. A photo with the joy of the experience showing through is the target we're aiming at. You get there by letting go. You get there by sharing the fun.



7.28.2014

A photograph from The Gospel at Colonus. Zach Theatre. Austin, Texas 2014


A shot during dress rehearsal. There's really nothing else to say.

Camera: Sony a99. Stage lighting. 

Meeting young Richard Linklater.

Richard Linklater, Director. 
© 1992 Kirk Tuck, All Rights Reserved.

I got a call from an art director at Elle Magazine. "Would you take some portraits of a young, Austin director for us?" he asked. This was way back in 1992. I told them that I'd be delighted and asked for a little direction. They gave me very little direction.  The art director said, "Just something casual." and then they gave me his telephone number. 

Richard had already done the movie, Slacker, and was in pre-production for a new movie called, Dazed and Confused, but he still answered his own phone and we made a date to meet at the apartment he was renting just off campus and to walk around shooting some photos. I talked an aspiring young actress named, Renee, into coming along with me to help carry a flash. There were no publicists involved, no fashion editor from the magazine, no entourages.

Richard's apartment was one of five or six that had been carved out of an old house just on the corner of 24th street and San Antonio St., a block over from the venerable and famous Les Amis CafĂ© and only two blocks from the University of Texas. When we got there he was sitting out in front on the steps waiting for us. Richard, Renee and I talked for ten minutes or so and discovered that we had all been in the English department at UT at one time or another. 

We walked down the long alley behind the main drag where we found this wall that all of us liked and we took a bunch of photos in that area. Richard even agreed to do some shots in a little brick area made for trash cans. The pictures of him laying on his side in a glamor pose are still funny.  

Everyone is very buttoned up now when it comes to things like make-up and costuming/wardrobe but on that day Richard was carrying a couple different shirts in a backpack and if we wanted to do a costume change he'd just pull off one t-shirt and pull on another one. It was Austin. He'd directed Slacker. Everyone was quite laid back. 

My favorite images from the shoot were taken with the Varsity Theater in the background. The vaguely out of focus murals in the background were of movie stills. It was cool. I've moved a couple of times since I shot those and I'm still looking for that box of medium format transparencies. I know they are here somewhere.

We ended up shooting some soft box lit portraits back in the studio but I think we all (including the magazine) knew we wanted to use the outdoor shots.

The magazine selected their favorites from six or seven rolls of 120mm transparencies. That's about 70 different 6x7 cm images in total. The image ran big enough to be decently credible with my peers and I enjoyed telling my women friends that I had a shot running in Elle. It was cool.

I shot with two different Pentax 6x7 cameras. One had a normal lens and one had a short telephoto on it. Almost certainly the lens we used was the 165 mm f2.8. What a wonderful lens...

I shot the whole collection of images handheld with ISO 100 transparency film and I can see that by today's standards the details in the images are a little soft. The main reason was that the Pentax 6x7 camera was the ultimate granddaddy for what we are now calling, "shutter shock." Back then we called it "mirror slap" but it all in the same category: unsharpness caused by camera vibrations.

Richard's newest movie, Boyhood, has opened to rave reviews from ...... everyone. And it's an amazing project done over twelve years. It's a small town here in Austin, the actress who plays the younger girl (11 or 12) is the daughter of a videographer whom I have worked with on many projects, for decades.  Another friend and one time writing partner spent part of that year as the official chaperone on the movie set of Richard's second feature.

It's fun to look back at where currently famous people started out. I will remember Richard as being one of the least pretentious and most accommodating people I've worked with. And it was nice of him to hire my assistant for a part in his next movie. It is obvious that his current celebrity was fairly and well earned.

Finally. Kirk stops horsing around with dumb format philosophizing and puts up something useful. It's about time. "How to keep your camera comfortable."



I'm tired of thinking about camera sensors and arguments about why one format is better than another. I know it doesn't really matter because no matter what anyone else says I'll still go on shooting some stuff with tiny cameras and other stuff with big cameras and I'll use all the stuff in the middle too. I decided that this morning I really just wanted to share a stupid idea that came to me yesterday afternoon. I know it's painfully obvious but I just figured it out right then. 

Let me set the stage:  It's about a hundred and one outside yesterday afternoon around 3:30. It's not the pleasant, desiccating, dry heat that the people in Phoenix get to enjoy. This is Austin humid/heat. We had some nice rain last week and when the sun amped up the humidity came along for the ride. Anyway, it's hot and a little uncomfortable outside unless you happen to be in a pool. Or on the lake. 
I was playing with a different camera and lens and I decided it would be fun to go out and walk around the lake and try to get some great Summer shots. You know, people on paddle boards, people in swan boats, people in skimpy swimwear, crazy people running in the heat, kayakers, canoe enthusiasts, etc. And I knew all of them would be out in the afternoon. 

I grabbed a camera and headed to the downtown hike and bike trail that surrounds the lake. I also grabbed a little scarf-like thing thinking I would soak it with cold water and wear it around my neck as a tool for evaporative cooling. I buy these stretchy cloth things from REI for just that reason. They also come in handy in the winter. I wear one over my mouth when I run in the cold to warm up the air before it hits my lungs.  The ones I buy are from a company called, Buff. They are essentially a big rectangle of cloth that's sewn on on side to create a tube. You can roll them up as in the image just below and wear them around your neck or your forehead or you can unroll them and adapt them in other ways. 

Buff cloth, rolled up and ready for neck ware.

Here's what the cloth looks like unrolled. 

And this gives you an idea of the construction. It's just like a ski gaiter. 

So, I start walking. Now I've got on my sunscreen and a good hat and a pair of cool sunglasses but I look down at the camera dangling off my left shoulder and I realize a couple of things about dragging a camera around in a hot climate. First of all most of the cameras I use are black and even the least knowledgeable among us know that black soaks up heat instead of reflecting it. We also know that heat messes stuff up. While it might not cause lasting damage to a camera using one with a core temperature over 104 is woking outside the expressed operating range. That might cause the lubricants to get a bit more lubricant-y than intended and the increased temperature might cause more noise in your videos or image files. 

The next thing I realize is that I'm grabbing the camera with my sweaty, drippy hands and that salt water in the form of sweat is almost certainly not good for the exterior of the camera or the little control knobs and what not. Even with total disregard for the health of the camera I had a moment of selfish satori as I realized that the camera would be harder for me to handle when wet and/or sticky. What I have over my shoulder is a precision instrument baking in the sun and exposed to caustic chemistry every time I handle it. 

Now I'm beginning to understand the rationale of those leather, ever ready cases that were somewhat popular many years ago. Of course you could always pop the camera into a camera bag or into a backpack but then you've made it many steps more difficult to access the camera when inspiration strikes you. I wanted my camera somewhat protected by easily grab-able.  Just in case inspiration does strike a glancing blow...

It must be something in the air. Here's what Zack Arias has to say about sensor size this morning..... It's a good read.

http://dedpxl.com/crop-or-crap-math-or-moment/

Zach is a photographer in Atlanta. His written work is fun, high energy and occasionally bombastic. I love it when we're on the same page.

Go read and enjoy.

Happy Monday.

(Thanks to Jean Marc Schwartz for pointing me to Zach's current blog post!).

7.27.2014

Most of the stuff we shoot is just for fun. Sorry, no available metrics for fun.

Upside down woman at Eeyore's Birthday Party in Austin, Texas.



Starting new projects. Building on old ways of seeing.



 I photographed this image behind the scenes at an international fashion show held on the beach in South Beach Miami. It was many years ago at a time when digital and film were just intersecting. I was in Miami to shoot a sales meeting/celebration for a long since expired telecom company. During my work times I shot with a brand new Olympus e-10 digital camera. During my non-telecom time I shot with a film camera I'd brought along for comfort. Almost certainly it was one of the Leica R8's and the 90mm Summicron lens along with some Kodak 400 speed Ektapress color negative film. The R 90mm was a nice enough lens for its time. Contrary to legend it wasn't really critically sharp wide open but there were other things to keep track of back then so we didn't worry a lot about it.

I love the simplicity of the shot. If you take a close look at it there are so many diagonal lines that lead your eye around the frame. The shooting was not painstaking or involved. I flashed my press credentials and got ushered right into the show. I even got a commemorative t-shirt. I spent an afternoon photographing beautiful people getting their make-up applied and then strutting down a giant runway in an enormous series of air conditioned tents. When I finished I headed to the bar at the Delano Hotel in hopes of catching a glimpse of Madonna who was rumored to be staying there as well.

7.26.2014

The roaring debate over small differences in digital sensor sizes masks the reality that we've lost powerful visual tools. Caution: Many Words.

Beautiful Person. Camera: Hasselblad. Lens: 150mm Zeiss Sonar.
Lighting by Kirk.

There's been a roaring debate on one of the popular professional forums about what kind of gear is "professional."  As I'm sure you know this kind of hysterical defense of whatever is most popularly aspirational in the gear catalog has been going of for the better part of a decade in the digital space and for the better part of 70 years in the film space. The argument goes in two directions. There are two traditional and strongly held beliefs on the bigger and more advanced is always better side. One says that a 'true' professional must always bring the highest quality equipment that is capable of the highest metrics of performance in order to fair and appropriate for clients.

Recently the advocates of this position found themselves arguing that even if one were only to be hired and paid to make images for the web they are duty bound to use something like a Nikon D800 so that their client will be future-proofed by the resultant images. The idea being that while this year your client may think they only need (and want to pay for) low resolution images to put on a website they may increase their marketing reach next year or ten years down the road and we, as true professional photographers, are duty bound to protect these poor client from their own lack of foresight and provide images that will best stand the test of time and the ever increasing resolution of all media. In other words, you'd better make sure you shoot huge raw files when you shoot for that one time, work for hire, giveaway job because that same client who spec'd the web job is almost certainly going to come back to you and have you making 40 by 60 inch posters of the same images a year down the road. Right.

If you've been working in the industry for any amount of time I think you have a good handle on what has historical legs and what doesn't and I'm here to tell you that the headshot of Vicki in accounting is never going to be a photo that will be used bigger than 640 by 480 no matter how hard you dream otherwise.

The second leg of the argument is that every client deserves a photographer with the best gear imaginable because it confirms the photographer's commitment to excellence and his commitment to craft. Hiding behind this argument is the fear that if the photographer making the argument shows up with anything that the client's mail room clerk or girlfriend can afford to shoot said client will realize that only gear matters and will give all future photo duties to the girlfriend of the mail room clerk.

If you are relatively young you'll think that this irrational worship of gear is an affectation of the digital age but nothing could be further from the truth. In the "oldest days" only a view camera with a bellows was considered pro. Then it was slowly displaced by medium format camera and then again those were displaced by 35mm film cameras. There has always been a progression in which the two conflicting parameters of image size and film quality shift and one medium can displace the other by dint of supplying a quality level commensurate with current industry standards.

When I first started shooting integrated circuit dies at high magnification my clients at Motorola insisted that the images be made on 4x5 inch transparencies. As the geometries of the dies got smaller and smaller the process required more specialized lenses and much greater bellows extensions. At some point I reached the point where we were trying to image 4 x 4 mm die squares onto 4x5 inch transparency film with two or more feet of bellow extension and so little space between the lens front element and the die that we had to invent new ways to pipe light to the surface of the die. Yikes.

The shoe dropped when we were confronted with a new line of integrated circuits whose geometry was 20% smaller. Our choice was to totally retool, with tens of thousands of dollars of spending to fulfill a handful of jobs per year. In desperation I called the president of our local ASMP chapter, Reagan Bradshaw and asked him if he had any secrets he could share.

He thought about it for about twenty seconds and then he advised me like this: "Get a micro lens for your 35mm camera that will fill the frame with the chip die. You might need a bellows. Fill the frame with the dies and shoot it on Kodachrome 25 film. Take the film to such and such a lab and have them dupe the image up to 4x5. Deliver the 4x5 and keep your mouth shut."

I did as advised and discovered that it was a much better way to shoot the tiny dies. There was more depth of field which was critical at those magnifications. The parallel planes were more accurate. It was easier to view and focus the images. We could cost effectively bracket and not have to worry about the focus drifting. And, because there was additional control in the duping process, we could deliver an image that was more technically perfect. The upshot? The clients loved the new and improved imaging.

The whole debate today seems to center around whether or not a professional must have and shoot with full frame cameras in order to be certifiably professional or whether one of the "lesser" formats can provide a workable solution.

We've been doing our research lately as regards various camera formats. The bottom line is that full frame 35mm style cameras with the latest sensors are marginally better than the next smaller sensors when all cameras are used under some sort of duress. By this I mean in situations where the camera must deliver the highest quality with no supplemental lighting in dark situations. Or, jobs that require massive enlargements of printed material that can be examined at unusually close viewing distances.

Most professional photographers, the vast, vast majority, are shooting with flashes in their studios and flashes on location. Part of their jobs is creating beautiful light. Good photographers are not just strict industrial documentarians who show up, meter wretchedly ugly light, set the correct settings on their cameras and then blaze away. Also, an amazing number of people are shooting in glorious, bright daylight.

The people who "can't imagine living without my 36 megapixel D800" are the same ones who once defended their APS-C, Nikon D2X cameras as "the best camera I will ever need." And the funny thing is that the final use targets for the images haven't really changed at all, it's just that the same photographers have spent the better part of a decade doing what their clients and audiences will likely never do: examining each digital frame at 100 or 200% on desktop computer monitors. If 150 mph capability is good in a car then 200 mph capability must be even better even though the speed limit is invariably 65 mph. This is probably why rational drivers buy Hondas and Buicks and Volkswagens and why generally only dissipated former rock stars, Justin Bieber and incredibly sociopathic hedge fund managers commute around town in Bugatti Veyrons.

So, in my research and in my forum reading the real conflict seems to be between people for whom good enough really is more than good enough and the people who must have the absolute best even if they are never in a position to use even half the capability of the best camera and even when the budgets for photographic assignments are static or declining.

The crux of the ongoing push and shove is the pervasive idea that professional metrics are all about things like weather proofing, size, indestructibility and impressive exteriors but the leading conflict is always about the size and the density or resolution of the sensors. The biggest contrast is between the folks who've jumped into small mirror less cameras versus those who hold steadfastly to the faux standard of the late 1990's, the 35mm "full framers."

Both camps are totally wrong. Absolutely, totally wrong. Once we crested the 12 megapixel mark I strongly suggest that just about everyone hit a sweet spot for resolution that works of most rational practitioners. I'll agree that people who routinely print and sell prints bigger than 20 by 30 inches have benefited from higher resolution cameras. But I'm also willing to bet that among all my professional friends and all of my advanced amateur friends I could count perhaps 5 who print larger than that on a regular basis.

I know that I've not printed anything bigger than 12 by 18 inches for a long time and I know that my clients aren't asking for large prints either (I shoot for commercial clients so if you shoot weddings or babies or big families you have different needs). Almost all of my clients are using the materials we generate to make ads on the web. Or they use the stills in television commercials. Large prints are largely an unfulfilled afterthought.

The real obvious but silent elephant in the room is the look of the photograph. People praise full frame because they can put stuff out of focus in the backgrounds more easily and at a slightly steeper ramp than can people using APS-C sensored cameras and those APS-C guys can do the same in comparison to m4:3 shooters who can now brag that they have less depth of field than the new 1 inch shooters. But of course it's all unadulterated bullshit because anyone who knows the history of photography can plainly see that if the gold standard metric is narrow depth of field and a quicker ramp from sharp to lusciously blurred then that visual effect can be much, much better achieved by shooting with a full 6x6 cm or 6x7 cm camera. And ultimately can be achieved at the very, very edge of diminishing returns with an 8x10 camera and a long lens (which matches the angles of view of the smaller formats).

If it's the look that is vital and not the technical gobble-dee-goop then all these people jockeying for ultimate pro status would logically reject then small format cameras (including FF) and make a bee line for the big stuff. Yes, big digital (as in medium format) is expensive but I just saw dozens of Hasselblad film cameras advertised on KEH.com for around $1000 each. A medium format image is just a scan away....  And I know my local dealer still carries bricks of medium format Tri-X so I know someone is still uncompromising with their aesthetics.

So to all the web experts who rise up and excoriate their professional brethren for shooting less than the holy grail of full ass 24x36mm I say "suck it up and get a bigger camera if your goals are imaging the way it was meant to be." And at the same time, by embracing the larger cameras they will ensure that their volatile clients will always have the actual, highest quality, future proofed formats at their disposals.

When I posted a blog two days ago about full frame cameras I was very clear about my particular expectations, I clearly stated that resolution or dynamic range were not a real consideration for me and that if I bought another full frame camera it would largely be to enjoy the "LOOK" of the format when compared to the smaller formats. There is no race here in my studio to see who can blow stuff up the biggest, the goal here is the LOOK. How does the focus slide off in the distance? How are the tonalities affected by the focal length AND the angle of view of the lenses we use? How do imagers respond to the out of focus areas.

If you are still measuring the success of a camera by how tightly the makers can pack pixels into a 24x36mm rectangle you may be missing the photographic art boat altogether.

In regard to pixel density and pixel size I've been reading some stuff from some more advanced photographers I follow who are interested in the visual effect and differentiated rendering of cameras with big sensors but small pixel counts. Cameras like the older Nikon D700 or the first Canon 1DS. They are seeing the imagers and lenses work together to create a different overall look than what they are able to achieve with the newer, denser cameras. The conversations started in response to some of Michael Reichmann's comments about the new Sony A7S camera with its "meager" 12 megapixels.

I don't know how to describe it all but I also read ATMTX's blog and I notice that he's picked up an ancient Olympus E-1 (not EM-1) camera and has been surprised and very pleased with it's very, very good color rendering. He notes that it does color and tone differently (and in some ways much more pleasingly) than current "state of the art" cameras. One famous fashion photographer recently wrote that he's buying a second copy of the original version of the Leica medium format digital camera because he sees such a profound difference in color rendering between the older CCD sensors in those cameras and the ubiquitous new CMOS chip that's infesting every new MF camera on the market.

To wrap this all up I'll end with two observations I've made many times. First is that until the advent of electronic viewfinders digital took away our choice of shooting formats (yes, I know you are a linear thinking, rational photo god who can crop in your head and you don't need guidelines or boundaries to see in a square or a 16:9 ratio......get over it). This robbed us, for at least ten years, of really easing back into the formats that worked for us individually and it was driven by the manufacturing need to homogenize the offerings and that, in turn worked hard to homogenize our collective use of formats as part of our art work.  Now the cameras with EVFs have given those back to us. Hopefully it will only be a matter of time until MF cameras and their signature looks are more widely available to photographers (financially).

The second observation is that faster lenses on smaller formats don't have the same focus fall off or reverse ramping that lenses with the same angle of view on different formats do and the leap between full frame 35mm style cameras and the beautiful 60 x 60mm cameras is a much more profound and visible leap than that between APS-C and full frame or that between m4:3 and APS-C. All three of those formats give you a rather constrained degree of variation. To get the real stuff requires making harder choices.

I'm happy to shoot with small cameras or large cameras but I do so (pun intended) with my eyes open. I know from experience what I gain and what I lose with each choice. If you've never used a medium format film or digital camera and you are busting someone's chops for choosing a one step smaller than full frame digital camera (APS-C) as being a profound difference in imaging I suggest that you: A.  Shut Up. B. Rent a bigger camera and shoot with it using lenses that match the ANGLE of VIEW of your favorite 35mm lenses and from the same distance to subject and then come back and tell us what you saw. It just might shift your visual sensibilities....

We tend to think these days, because of cost, that our only choices are between m4:3, APS-C and 24x36mm sensored cameras but that's just not true. The other variants are still out there. They exist in film cameras and they exist in ever less expensive medium format digital cameras. But the truth is that they take more sacrifice to buy and to use. And most of the self-proclaimed pros who "can't imagine not shooting with the best tools" and who don't take that plunge are being duplicitous. And perhaps duping themselves.

The bottom line is that the markets and the technology change all the time. The way I see the digital landscape today is that the m4:3 cameras ARE the 35mm cameras of our time. The APS-C cameras are the medium format cameras of today. The 35mm's are the bigger versions of the medium format cameras just as the Pentax 6x7 cm camera was the big daddy to the Pentax 645 cameras. And, finally, the best of the medium format cameras are the 4x5's and 8x10's of right now.

With the ever declining budgets and the ever diminishing use in print media you really have to ask yourself, as a business person, "do my clients really deserve THE BEST of all camera gear?" If we were in the pizza delivery business I think the analogy would be: Do my drivers need to be driving late model Porsches? The pizza could get there quicker and the customers would be most impressed.....

Practical?