Making photographs is a full time job for me. Or at least it should be.

Ben, Pre-College. ©2015 Kirk Tuck.

I've long come to grips with the realization that I'll never be mistaken for a genius or an earth shattering, artistic, photographic savant. I've tried a number of different careers and over the arc of the last 37 years and I've come back again and again to the practice of photography. I wanted it to be a working career mostly because I was so intent on photographing that any other career would be a distraction or a detour from what I enjoyed doing most. Or at least I thought.  My secret has always been that I care less about composition and style and all the surface trappings of two dimensional art; the reality is that I come to photography all the time as an observer. A sociologist, a historian and a writer. I'm looking for a spark in a photograph that makes you stop and look at an image because you are curious about what is behind the photograph. I want you to wonder what the back story is. I want you to ponder what happened five minutes after the frame you see was captured. I want you to be curious about the person in the photograph in a way that is deeper than their costume of the interplay of tricky lighting on trendy make up.

In a portrait I rarely think about backlighting or what people should wear or how to make things sharper or more----something. I think about what I would like to know about the person and how I can capture an expression I saw when I talked to this person or observed them and decided that I wanted to ask this person to come to my little, white walled room and be photographed. In my personal work it's rare to find a big grin plastered across someone's face or a chesty blond girl in a halter top with her head slightly lowered in the submissive pose/attitude that every glamour photographer seems hard-wired to try and coax out of young women. I want to talk to people about subjects in which we have an intersecting interest. 

In the last year, since Ben went off to college, I've worked through a series of thought exercises to try and understand my long time discontentment with my personal photographic work. In some part the sheer effort and time of culturally shedding film was an impediment to savoring the actual process of taking portraits. Instead of trusting to the technology we had gotten down cold (film and film cameras)  I was (and still am) wary about how the digital images will translate on the screens and then on to prints. I've been side-tracked by the pursuit of finding the tools that mimicked what we could do with our film cameras. By that I mean one day in the past we could easily load a Leica R8 with fast, black and white film and, using a fast Leica lens, capture highly detailed slices of life that intermixed grain and wonderful tonal transitions into an amalgam that was the essence of a black and white sensibility; when printed onto paper. An hour later I could put a 100 macro lens on the front of the camera, load some Kodak Ektar 25 film into the same camera and have an image making machine with no grain and almost infinite detail.

All that was second nature in the days of film was re-thought for the digital age. Early on the cameras with acres of detail also had excruciating noise when used in a high ISO configuration. Cameras with clean high ISOs had smaller files. All of the cameras had piss poor handling and viewing and focusing. Few of them felt like tools---an artist could instantly feel the electronic disconnection with the eye and hand synchronicity. As an example, until recently, if you were a Nikon user and you wanted the best tool for high resolution you had to buy a D3X. If you wanted great high ISO performance you needed to buy a D3. The same relationship occurred in the Canon camp as well. The tools in the film age could have handled both jobs with a $400 35mm body and a change of films between projects. Four years ago the same binary approach would have set you back about $12,000 for two different and complementary digital bodies. This was a huge financial cost which we were paying in an age of declining fees and an economy in turmoil; sometimes in seeming freefall. 

I've been side tracked by the technical issues from just mellowing out and engaging people and making images. Then I got distracted by the process of writing and illustrating photo books. I've also written 2200+ blogs that were partly meant to create content to anchor marketing for my book projects.  I spent a lot of time (which I don't regret) getting up early in the morning to take Ben to school or cross country practice or science fairs or other extracurricular adventures. I tried never to miss a track meet or a school function. And I worked on so many commercial projects that were boring and mentally exhausting; draining, in order to pay the mortgage and put away money for all the things our culture tells us to put away money for: A rainy day. A rainy year. Retirement. The college fund. The family vacation. Club memberships and swim dues. And every single engagement that had nothing to do with making personal photographs ate at the joy of photography like the sea lapping against an ever eroding shoreline. 

It seems that our middle class mantra, our excuse as we go through life, is that all these things we put off and delay will become magically available to us when we retire. As though, magically, we will emerge the day after we finally say goodbye to our real jobs as full fledged artists will a full set of skills and visions and enthusiasm, ready to charge out and begin competently making the art we craved to make all along. 

But I don't think it works that way. I think art is a process that takes time, in the same way that becoming really good at surgery or musical performance takes time and practice. I think about art sometimes in the same way I think about swimming. If you swam at a high level; if you swam in high school and college and then, for the sake of work and family life and other obligations, you walked away from the pool from age 22 till age 65 you would not be able to jump in on the day after your retirement from responsibility and slam out five or six thousand yards at the level of effort you could bring to bear in your late teens and early 20's. You wouldn't be able to make up for lost time in the space of a few days, a few weeks or even a few years. You might first need to lose that 50 pounds you accidentally gained, over time. You'd need to rebuild muscle mass. You'd need to rebuild flexibility and you would need to clear out arteries and veins clogged by forty some years of being sedentary. 

At some point you'd realize that swimming fluidly is the result of thousands of days, back to back, of doing and honing the same strokes over and over again. A daily trial and error that informs your flow and your position and comfort in the water. And that doesn't begin to speak to the mental training required to be truly disciplined. 

If you don't get the athletic analogy then think of pianists. Even great concert performers who've been working musicians for decades and decades still need to get up every day and spend hours and hours practicing. Practicing the same music over and over again. And with every cycle of practice there's more fluidity and interpretation. It's a deeply embedded requirement of doing art at a sophisticated level. 

Artists should wake up every day and realize that today is your only chance to engage and practice your art and craft in the way you need to in order to really connect and do the work at the level that will make a difference in your life. If you lose today you still have tomorrow but you are one step closer to blackness and have one less day to practice the way you need to in order to really work on your vision at a high level. Every day lost is one more day of erosion and entropy. 

I know my readers pretty well and most will rationalize that what they do in photography is a hobby; a clever and enjoyable pastime. Something they do for their personal enjoyment. And that's valid but I know some of you are like me. You want to be immersed. You want to make work that's different and better. And you chaff under bounds that are self-imposed or culturally reinforced. That's the struggle I understand. The desire to sit in the studio having a wonderful conversation and making what is, to you, a beautiful portrait that reveals something real and wonderful about the person on the other side of the camera. Instead you find yourself in a meeting with the sales team or at a corporate dinner trying to stay awake or cloistered in a cubicle trying to make the balance sheet balance until well into the night and then you go home exhausted and the camera that came along for the ride never left the briefcase. You think you'll shoot on the weekend but the kid's soccer game is scheduled and then the piano recital and while we convince ourselves that taking the obligatory images from the sidelines or from the folding chair in the front row of the auditorium is somehow satisfying enough. 

It's enough to satisfy your parental pride and your need to capture family memories which you will indeed cherish in the years to come but no one is really fooled into the self delusion that this is the satisfying use of photography you once imagined. That you once saw yourself doing. 

All of you practical people will say that it should be enough. That we should be happy. At least we could justify buying that 400mm f2.8 for the soccer game, right? And you might think I am one of the lucky ones. That I get to practice my craft all day long on every day. But I can only wish it were so. 

95% of the work I do for clients is not work I would do for myself. It's just not. I might be able to sell the work I love but I'm pretty certain that I'd be making a fraction of the money I can make selling the clients what the clients love. I spend time in meetings, time in front of the computer screen, time retouching the faces of people who I never had time to really know or really talk to. I spend time sorting through images that have no meaning to me but which mean something (very briefly) to my clients. I spend time in airports waiting for the next plane that will take me not to an exotic and richly visual location, but which might take me to a waste water treatment plant in Biloxi or to shill for a camera company in an aging and crowded convention center in some city I was never really interested in. I am like you. I am bogged down in the obligations and the details of life. Trapped by innocuous continuity.

But we make these choices over time. We agree to obligations. We  think we understand the tradeoffs while we are making them but there is no way we can understand how much we will have given up until we wake up thirty years into the future. By then there is no going back. No retrieval of the lost days and the lost opportunities. Realizing that means grabbing opportunity by the balls right now and taking control. It means saying no and being selfish and working on your work instead of doing everything for everyone else. 

But everyone is so different. If you are reading this in a public library because you can't afford a computer at home your reality will be different from the two or three readers who have enormous net worth but still haven't engaged in their singular pursuit of their art. The common denominator is the need to disconnect from the distractions and focus on the work you want to get done. Even if no one else agrees or likes it. Even if it's not profitable or sellable. The artist does what he does in the purest sense because he has to do that thing. Some artists are lucky and the work they crave has immediate acceptance while others work on stuff that is unaccessible by the public at large and in the community of photographers. 

It's always good to remember that though there are millions and millions of hobbyists in the world and on the web, the vast majority are shooting the same stuff as everyone else and adhering to the same hoary rules that photographers have been given (and have repeated ad nauseum) for decades and decades. Rules mostly made up by industry writers trying to wrap sellable content around the boundaries of ads.  They are mostly wrong rules and mainstream rules and boring rules and in art the only real rule is that there are no rules. So fuck em if they can't take a joke and ignore them if they don't get your work. Just do what you have to do. 

In the end we all walk off the cliff and into darkness at some point in the future. It would be sad, at least to me, to go into the abyss knowing that there was much I didn't get done because I was too busy talking about it instead of actually doing it. Do you see where we're going from here? Do you have some guarantee that there will always be time?


Whatever do you mean when you say Nikon doesn't understand motion pictures?

The Nikon R10. Sync Sound and so much more.

Technology changes. All the time. Camera makers concentrate on features and new products in rotation because they can't afford to update all their lines at once. When Canon came out with the 5D mk2 and the DSLR video craze took off Nikon and their sensor supplier were busy kicking the crap out of the rest of the market with amazing high ISO cameras that also blew the doors off all of the competitors in the dynamic range arena. In some areas by as much as two stops! That distracted them from the whole video circus for a while.

There was also the insinuation that Nikon didn't know anything about motion and were engaged in a  steep learning curve but as the owner and user of a Nikon R10 Super8 film camera I'm here to tell you that they do understand that market; and very well. The R10 was/is an amazing camera and in the heyday of professional Super8 (yes, it really existed) they created camera and lens combinations that were the envy of the industry. 

Now Nikon is roaring back into the video space. The D810 and D750 have a bunch of improvements that plant a flag for them in the firmament of the motion space and, if they keep iterating in the same direction, they'll have some wonderful opportunities to succeed. While Canon got an early start and has been a player in the advanced amateur video markets for years (my first two pro-ish video cameras were the L-1 and L-2 high 8 cameras) they seem to have stalled in the DSLR space just as Nikon changed their focus from mercilessly beating on Canon's sensors to now beating them in the video space. 

The critical evaluations of the in-camera codec point to much better files being written to the cards with higher sharpness and detail. And with better image quality than the EOS 5D mk3. Canon fans could (correctly) say, "If you are totally into video you should just get a camera from the Canon Cine line-up ---like a C100 type 2----and get to work. But a lot of us are content to use our DSLRs to do the kinds of video projects that mostly wind up on the web somewhere. 

Here's what I've found with the D810. The 24 mbs, 24 fps, high quality files right out of camera are detailed, have very little aliasing and have flesh tones that look great. When you switch to 60 fps the bit rate jumps up to 45 mbs so the quality of the footage is preserved. The "Flat" profile is just right. It preserves a good looking file while flattening out what needs to be flattened out in order to grade well in post production. If you need higher image quality so that you can really beat on a file in post you are able to attach a relatively cheap Atomos Ninja Star digital recorder to the camera via the HDMI port, and get clear, clean, uncompressed 8 bit, 4:2:2 files from the camera. And you can get these files on the exterior recorder while writing regular, compressed files to the memory card inside the camera simultaneously. That gives you instant back-up. 

When I compare the D810 to the Panasonic GH4 it's easy to see that the Panasonic has the ability to write much less compressed files to the internal memory card and the ability to do 4K recording. On the flip side the D810 files have much less noise at higher ISOs and the ability to do amazingly narrower depth of field at the same angles of view, compared to the M4:3 camera. There's always a trade off somewhere. 

Nikon pretty much dropped the ball on previous camera bodies when it came to producing workable and competent video. I think the D750 and D810s are the shots over the bow that signal Nikon will be a forced to be reckoned with going forward. My one big request would be to enable changing audio levels during recording rather that having to stop, go into a menu, change levels and then start again. My take at the moment is that one could grab any of these cameras and make a really good low budget movie. Scratch that. With an out board digital recorder they could make a good any budget movie. 

My experiences so far have been very good. Just thought I'd let you know. Looking into NikonHacker.com right now. The possibilities are endless.

Swimmer Ben. Shot with the Kodak DSC 760 and an older, Nikon 50mm f1.8 lens.

©2015 Kirk Tuck.

I've posted a bunch of images over the years that came from a brace of Kodak DCS 760 cameras and older Nikon lenses. While the camera's files fell apart, peppered by noise, at anything over ISO 125 as long as you stayed in the sweet spot of ISO 80-125 you could get files that were glorious.

The sensor (with no anti-aliasing filter) was glorious with flesh tones. It was an APS-H sensor which created a 1.3x crop factor compared to a full 35mm frame so the 50mm lens I liked to use with it was more like a 65mm and that made it a perfect combo for this kind of wider, horizontal portrait. 

Right now I'm binging on shooting with the Nikon D610 and D810 cameras because I love the wide open dynamic range in both cameras. Too bad my kid is grown up and off at college or I'd be down at the very next swim meet banging out images of the kids.

I'm getting re-acquainted with the 105mm focal length right now and I'm actively looking at getting a new 135mm f2.0. You might not need one but I'd sure like one...

Ahhh, the flesh tones. No magic bullet, just good sensors, good lighting and a light hand in the processing....

I miss the DCS 760's. I wish the would come out with another one, maybe the DCS 712. It would have the same lousy ISO performance, the same marvelous CCD sensor look but this time it would have 12 megapixels. It would still be retro but it would be a lot of fun to shoot with.


Does marketing really work or can I just be better than everyone else and skate by? I mean, "I'm an artist...."

I can easily think of a number of ways to enjoy a really nice lifestyle and still have a full time career as an artist. The most effective way is to inherit lots and lots and lots of money. That way you can buy the gear you want and go long periods of time (years?) without having to worry about cash flow or income from outside sources. Another good avenue for people like freelance photographers is to have a spouse who is deeply committed to your career dreams and who has a highly paid, professional job that has nothing to do with creative services. My favorite spousal careers would be neuro surgeon, cardiologist or plastic surgeon but a partner in a law firm or a major hedge fund is always an interesting prospect.

While you won't live like Steven Meisel or Annie Leibovitz or David LaChappelle you can still make a decent artist's existence with a spouse who works for state government or in the education field. What you'll lack in breathtaking income you'll partially make up for with good health insurance plans and long term security.  Indulgent, hardworking parents are also good to have around.

But let's assume that you don't fit into any of these situations and that you have rent/mortgage, car payments, the desire to eat food and enjoy air conditioning in the Texas Summers or heating in the New York Winters. You want to be a "professional" photographer or videographer but no one is calling on the phone, texting you with work or even e-mailing you asking for a bid. Now what do you do?

Well, you could try marketing. You could try actually selling  the promise of your abilities to create great content to businesses that desperately need it. Businesses digging themselves out of stock photography hell who need good stuff to differentiate them from all the other companies in their sectors.

After a rough recession there's a tendency to keep doing the things you did when the economy was slow. Like sandbagging the windows in case of food riots or deciding that clients will never spend real money again and decide to start lowering the quality of your lifestyle to compensate. Hello spam. Hello Walmart.

I have a friend who was having a long business dry spell. The thing that didn't make sense to me was that he is a top level videographer with an artist's eye. He comes complete with university degrees in art and other smart stuff. His reel is astoundingly good and looking at it constantly makes me feel like the beginner I am but he was getting nothing. Not even requests to bid.

I asked him my favorite questions from the advertising years: What's your ongoing marketing like? When's the last time you revised your website? Are you sending along e-mails and regular mailers to past and potential clients? Who is your target market? What's your most profitable market? And, the best of all marketing questions: "Who would you like to do work for and what would you like to be doing for them???"

His website was dated and he didn't like sending people there. He hadn't done much marketing other than a few small e-mail blasts. And the entropy was starting to destroy his spirit. I asked him to totally revise his website and put all of his best work on it. He did it. The current website is gorgeous and so cutting edge that several of my website designer friends who work for cutting edge tech companies called me to praise it and to say they were working on similar styles which they perceived to be "cutting edge."

The new website is beyond good. I'd hire this guy to be my permanent web designer.

So then we took the next step which was to craft an e-mail campaign to reach out and show off the work; the site. I insisted that he craft an individual and separate e-mail for every current and past client and only do "clump bursts" to the community at large and people on his side of the business.  Last week he was nervous about the mailing and still seemed a bit.....defeated. What a difference a week makes.

We met this morning to follow up and he was beaming. He'd gotten bid requests. As we had coffee he got several texts including one that basically said, "If we can hit this budget number we're ready to go!" He reconnected with a huge, out of state client who has mighty budgets and great taste. He's gotten dozens of congratulatory e-mails and now he's back to work. From purgatory to happy in a week.

The next step will be the follow up. I've given him a couple of weeks to write, cast, edit, produce and prepare a 60 second piece to wrap his follow up marketing e-mail around. The e-mail will link to the new video which will be embedded in his very cool site. The only problem I can see is that he might get too busy in the short term to do this next assignment on time. But I'll ride his ass to get it done because I like his work and I want to see him do well. He's also a great guy. Tortured artist. My favorite kind.

What's in it for me? I need to do the exact same thing for my business and every word out of my mouth to him about marketing was aimed directly at me too. Here's where I can be so stupid, I know good marketing works I just take it for granted when I'm busy that I am busy because people love my work so much. Then it slows down and I realize that I need more than good work, I need golden bread crumbs that show the good clients the path to my work. They have to find the work and remember that they need it before anything happens. And that's the role of marketing.

Would have been easier over the years with a trust fund but we can't all win the genetic lottery. At least I got the good looks and talent....(sarcasm strongly implied). 


I posted so many blogs today on my "image only" blog that Google demanded I prove I am not a robot. More difficult than I thought....


I'm building a blog site that's different from this one. It's all portraits with captions as titles. No comments, no feedback, etc. I've put up the first 50 today and you can go see them at the link above.

I'm building that blog so I can send clients there to look at work I like but without the usual commentary from me or anyone else. It's a fun experiment since I also get to use the dynamic views offered by Blogger.

Drop by and see what you think. Comments here remain open.

The disconnection between what we see online and what we see in a big print.

©1995 Kirk Tuck

It's so hard to have conversations about what we show and see on the web. Sometime in the future, when everyone has a Retina screen and everyone's computing machine auto-calibrates that screen and we all adjust the rooms we sit in while viewing on screen artwork to the same basic parameters, we'll be able to have meaningful conversations about technical issues with imaging. And by extension more in-depth discussions about aesthetics, but right now? It's all a crap shoot. 

This is an image I shot in Rome with a Mamiya 6x6 camera and their amazing 150mm lens on Kodak 400 CN film back in 1995. When I got back home I headed into the darkroom and worked and worked on getting a perfect print of the image. I exposed so the highlight areas had plenty of detail and I dodged at least a dozen prints to open up the shadows and get detail into the dark area of the young woman's hair just to the right of her face. I also dodged and dodged to get more discernible detail from the trees that line the steps in the background, in the upper middle and right side of the frame. I'm looking at a final, vintage print of the image right next to my desk. It's 24 by 24 inches of double weight fiber paper and it has an apparent depth that I can't adequately describe with words. 

The web image is made up of infinitely fewer points of information. The whites are on the verge of blowing out and the trees and hair shadows go to black way too quickly. But, frustratingly for me, the web image is the only venue most people will have to look at an image that I really love. I love the actual print not only for the visceral sensuality of the young Russian woman's look but equally for the complexity of tones and the sense of depth I see everyday when I walk into the studio and look at the print. The web representation is like placeholder or an avatar for the image on the print. A thumbnail representation of the original intention. 

In art history classes I had been shown a large number of Caravaggio paintings via projected slide copies of the original paintings. I understood intellectually what my professors were saying about chiaroscuro and the dark to light translations but I didn't really have an affinity for the painter and his work. The slides were generally copies of copies and didn't deliver the power and detail of the actual work. A few years later I had the opportunity to see a good collection of Caravaggio paintings in Florence and I was spellbound by the work. I went back to the gallery again and again to soak in the work. The work itself was worlds different than the slides we looked at in representation. 

Last year I confronted for the nth time just how big a disconnection there is in our lives between the screen image and reality. I heard that there was going to be a show of Arnold Newman's work at the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. It was a comprehensive show of his work; hundreds of prints perfectly presented. I spent some time re-acquainting myself with Newman's work in the books I own of his images and also on various web sites. In fact, even though Arnold Newman had presented a slide show of his work to my ASMP chapter here in Austin back in the 1990's I don't think I had ever seen an actual presentation print of his in person. Photons bouncing off the front surface of his paper prints and hitting the rods and cones of my own eyes unimpeded by layers of technology, current or primitive. 

When I went to the show I was stunned at how wonderful the actual prints were. Not just the content of the prints or the composition but the prints as objects themselves. They were remarkable. It had nothing to do with relative size because many of the images were shown as 8x10 inch prints. But the prints were engaging and captivating because they possessed what seemed to be an almost infinite range of tones and effortless transitions between those tones. The heart of the work was more than just good printing or prints as jewel like objects. It was the combination of a artist so far beyond the need to overthink technical details that he was able to concentrate almost solely on the engagement with the people in the prints coupled with a time in our culture when people could take time to make images in an unhurried and thoughtful amount of time. A luxury of temporal space in which to come to know the subject and thoughtfully interpret the subject. 

I still have the memory of just how wonderful the prints were and how different they are from our experiences of seeing things on the web. Yes, the web is flatter and more people can experience an artist than ever before but the experience is diluted and reduced. 

If you've grown up with photography being exclusively a web based construction it might really be an amazing and wonderful thing to go see real prints well displayed. In Austin the logical thing is to go see shows at the HRC or the Blanton. But everyone would be well served standing directly in front of actual art as many times in a year as they can. A trip to NYC will give one ample opportunities to see a wide range of photographic shows and collections. For about the price of a decent new camera body one might just have an eye opening and transformational experience that adds new levels of awareness in their own pursuit of this most curious art form.

What one sees on the web is not what one sees in real life. In art this is a critical thing to understand. 

Off the topic of photography. Working on that pesky freestyle stroke.

The heck with cameras and silly arguments about megapixels. Let's talk about something more important: good freestyle technique! Practicing a stroke incorrectly, day after day, makes that stroke harder to correct down the road. Today is a good day to start working on better technique.

I've been swimming for a long time and I'm here to tell you that your impression of your arm position and its actual position in three dimensions can be completely different. Case in point, I thought I was placing my arms directly in front of me on my freestyle recovery and had been practicing that way for years. A month or so ago one of the coaches stopped me mid-set and told me that I was "crossing over" way too much. That meant that if you drew a line from the top of my head down the center of my body my arms were crossing over that center point in front of my head as I placed each hand in the water. Crossing over reduces the efficiency of your stroke because a certain amount of your catch and pull is spent pulling your body left and then right instead of having all the power of the stroke pushing water back in the direction of your feet. That side to side wiggle is just lost energy and requires even more energy to keep pulling your body back to center.

If you want to see just how much you are crossing over a good drill is to have a fellow swimmer walk backwards in front of you in the pool holding a kick board at the center point of your head. (The board is held perpendicular to water instead of its usual flat on the water position). As you stroke, if you are crossing over, you'll repeatedly hit the board with one or both of your hands. That's a sure sign that you are crossing over.

The cure is to swim wide. You have to swim with the feeling that your arms are entering the water much wider. And even better is to tilt your head back and watch your initial entry to make sure you are getting wide enough. Over time what felt awkward will become normal. (don't keep tilting your head up, you don't want to affect your overall balance in the water...).

Another thing to consider is that the pull of the stroke, from the entry to the final push at the top of your thigh, needs to be more or less a straight line with the intent of anchoring your hand in the water and pulling your body past that point. Moving your arm in a wide "S" curve during the front end of your stroke takes time and uses unnecessary energy to move the body laterally. Every unintended lateral move has to be corrected by use of power expended in the opposite direction.

A quick catch, following by a pull with a high elbow position, and increasing speed and power at the end of the stroke is the optimal way to swim freestyle, provided you don't waste energy and mess up your body position by crossing over.

When you are working on correcting or fine tuning a stroke you may find it uncomfortable at first. The key is to drop down a lane and swim with slower swimmers so you can concentrate on technique instead of speed and endurance. Trying to do a stroke correction while maintaining training at a high level is a recipe for failure as you'll get tired and allow your stroke to fall apart. When the workout is tough most swimmers working on strokes revert to what's familiar and that's exactly where you don't want to go. If you normally workout in a lane that repeats 100's on 1:15 you might want to drop down to a lane that repeats on 1:25 so you have the energy to focus on your course correction. 

And now a photographic tie-in: It's helpful, when reconstructing your freestyle, to see what your stroke looks like both when you are doing it right and when you are doing it wrong. Get a friendly swimmer or coach to video tape you swimming toward the camera. Best to get your person to stand at the end of your lane and for you to swim toward them so you can see clearly your arm entry and catch. Watch the footage pool side and then hope in and fine tune it.

I spent the morning workout really concentrating on my stroke technique. I've been at it for a month. It's feeling easier and more efficient every day. It was wonderful to be in the pool early this morning and to watch the sunrise as we swam. Coach, Tommy Hannan, (Gold medals at the 2000 Olympics) was on deck and coaching with gusto. It's a great day to be a swimmer.


Another Project Just Now Published. A story about a collector and her home in Fredericksburg, Texas.

I first started working for Early American Life Magazine in 1981. I got a call that year from a very nice editor from Harrisburg, PA. She'd been referred to me by one of the people working in the art department at Texas Monthly Magazine. The EAL editor gave me the assignment to make images for their magazine all over central Texas, but mostly around Fredericksburg and Roundtop. It was my first major magazine assignment which entailed shooting 4x5 inch sheet film on locations. It was also my first marathon length shoot using big studio electronic flashes outside the studio. I was nervous but when I picked up the editor in my old Chevy pick-up truck at the Austin airport she assured me that everything would go well. 

We had a blast, I got my first national magazine cover from that first assignment and came home with a fistful of beautiful 4x5 inch transparencies. I went on to do about a dozen more multiple day assignments for the magazine and scored three or four more cover shots. It was a good relationship and one that lasted for well over a decade and a half. Eventually the magazine was sold to a new owner, they moved to a new location and I resigned myself to the possibility that the new publisher and staff would have established relationships with photographers in Ohio, where they are now headquartered. 

I was pleasantly surprised, after a number of years, to get a call and an assignment from them near the end of 2013, shooting images at a restored historic home outside of Fredericksburg, Texas. The assignment went well and led to another assignment last year to photograph the home and collections of antiques expert, Edyth O'Neill. 

It was a warm day in late Spring when I packed up the Honda and headed an hour and a half west from Austin; back to Fredericksburg, Texas. I brought an assortment of lights which included a lot of small LED panels and I brought along two camera systems. The main system was the GH4 with assorted lenses and the second system was the Sony RX10 camera with its fixed zoom lens.

I started the morning with interior images, using the Sony RX10, and never shifted to the micro four thirds system. The combination of sharp focus at wider apertures and very clean files at ISO 100 were enough for me to get the images we needed. The combination of the variable color temperature LED panels and the wide depth of field and great optical performance of the Zeiss lens on the RX10 camera allowed me to move through the house and capture at least twenty five different angles/set-ups in the six hours I spent there. The EVF was very effective in giving me a clean view of what I was shooting in areas with high ambient light levels and the LCD was great for everything else. 

Contrary to my usual practice I used the camera in the Jpeg mode and not the raw mode so I could make use of the sophisticated, built-in HDR system to bridge the gulf between high and low tonalities in a way that would provide a usable files for the magazine. While it may seem counter-intuitive to use this small sensor camera for a national magazine assignment it's really just what the doctor ordered for this kind of editorial work. The lens is superb and when the camera is used on a hefty tripod and you use continuous lighting judiciously, you get files with tons of detail (20 megapixels worth) and a nice, long tonal range. Couple those benefits with the wider depth of field provided by the smaller format and you can get away with things you would never be able to achieve easily with much bigger cameras. 

The magazine used 16 of my images on five spreads and the reproduction throughout is very, very good. The client was very satisfied with the work and the files. When I got the magazine I went back to my archives and compared the images in the current publication with some done over twenty years ago on 4x5 inch sheet film. There are some differences but the lighting style is consistent and in print any quality differences are well nigh invisible. Fun to be able to compare how we did it then versus how I do it now...

If you are interested in early American life; the crafts, the furniture, the homes and so much more, you might want to look into Early American Life Magazine. The writing and research standards are very high and the geographic reach nicely diverse. It was fun to flex a different part of my photography brain. I found myself liking the challenges of architecture again. 

The End.

Here's a project that I shot just before the holidays. I did the images for the website producer.

ART MASTERS WEB SITE  I love to share work once the clients have gotten everything squared away and have publicly published the work. I shot the images for this site for my long time friend and continuing client, Lane Orsak, who owns Creative Marketing Consultants. (nearly every image on his site is also one of mine, which speaks volumes to customer loyalty. And makes me happy).

We spent one day shooting at the offices of Art Masters and my main job was to make people who don't spend any time in front of a camera feel safe and secure there as we pursued made images of them that would help illustrate their business.

I shot  with a Nikon D7100 camera and a little bag full of Nikon lenses. I lit almost every photograph but I tried to make every image look unlit; natural. All the additional lighting (in conjunction with fluorescent ceiling fixtures) was provided by Fotodiox battery powered LED panels. I used four of the smaller 312AS panels and one 508AS panel. The big panel had two layers of 1/8th plus green filtration on the front to effectively match the unfiltered color of the other four panels. All the panels lasted for every set up over the course of six hours without the need to change batteries, which makes them a very efficient lighting tool because it obviates the need to run cables or nurse them along too much. The 312AS lights are small enough to allow me to just balance them on the top of a bookshelf or on the floor, if need be.

Working with a professional like Lane makes shoots very straightforward and productive. He had a list of images in his head that he could share with me as we went along. Even though he knew what he needed he was very open to us just playing around with different angles, set ups and expressions to get the best material we could. He also has an eagle eye for details so he helped make shots better by un-wrinling stuff that shouldn't be wrinkled and removing background clutter that might confuse the viewer's eye.

We had a great time shooting the images and working with the clients. The post production on the images Lane selected was very straightforward. That's because we were careful to do custom white balances as we changed from scene to scene, and I metered carefully in manual mode as we shot.

We talk about doing the work here a lot. But this is typical of the day to day assignment that sustains the business and makes the job ultimately enjoyable. Gear is fun and good but a great client is priceless...

Everything about art is a process. In photography---even more so.

Cronut Inventor
Dominique Ansel
At work in  a kitchen in Austin, Texas
©2014 Kirk Tuck.

We spend time finding our subjects. We spend time figuring out what the composition should be, how to deal with the light, how and when to shoot. How to process. How to display or share. It's easy to let the process create its own roadmap for you. The nature of art is to fight against the comfort zone enough to make the images work. 

Sometimes we fail and sometimes we succeed and sometimes there is middle ground. That's the nature of doing a process that's always open to interpretation.