7.16.2015

Some food images shot with the Olympus OMD EM5-2 in the high resolution mode (40 megapixels). Shot at Cantine Restaurant in Austin, Texas.


My friend, James, and I have been working on a video for an Austin restaurant's website. We shot lots of kinetic footage on our first day, both using handheld EM5.2 cameras and a box full of different lenses. Our footage, while technically similar in terms of color palette, etc. couldn't be more different stylistically. I stay on scenes longer and I shoot more conservatively. He shoots with much narrower depth of field and moves quickly. In the end both styles work well together to moderate the whole piece. The second day we went back so I could shoot high res stills of some of the food while James shot video of the same set ups. 

I felt that I had recently mastered the hi-res feature in the camera so I chose to use it for all of the non-moving imagery. I switched back to normal settings when shooting subjects like the "wine pour." 

As with the first day of video I brought along a box of lenses for the cameras. Some were older manual focus lenses from Pen FTs while some were newer. The most used lenses (by me) were the Sigma 60mm, the Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 and the 40mm f1.4 Pen FT. James seemed drawn to longer focal lengths and shot with stuff like the 70mm f2.0 Pen FT and even a Nikon 105mm f2.5 ais. 

At the end of the shoot the restaurant manager asked me if I would shoot the community table near the back of the restaurant and I was happy to comply. 

I went back again today for lunch and had a great meal with my super-tech friend, Amy. She's an electrical engineer and it's a joy to understand the latest technology through her eyes. As we were having lunch I was watching out of the corner of my eye as another photographer and his assistant came through the door to shoot the food and make a little slider enhanced video.

Their methods, location selection, etc. were much different than the ones I made but I guess that's what makes this job so interesting...

At any rate, here's the stuff we shot on our afternoon of food photography:

The Cantine Salad.

Rotisserie Chicken.

Salmon, cauliflower, capers and tomatoes.

Porchetta.



The community table.


Cocktail shakers at the bar. At the ready.

Used in the high res mode the colors are exemplary and the endless detail makes post processing a breeze. I'm warming up to the EM5.2. I can hardly wait to share the video with you and am amazed that you can now buy such a talented camera for only $900. 

The world of work is changing with every new toy.



Panasonic announces a new camera that might make m4:3 users upgrade. It looks great on paper, with one exception.....


What's not to like about the latest announcement from Panasonic? It popped up on my radar this morning because the announcement is all over the web. Here's the main stuff we like: The body style is super groovy. Very retro and aimed at photographers who are nostalgic for the cool, self contained, rangefinder style cameras of the 1960's and 1970's. The EVF is one of the new, high density internal screens that provides something like 2.6 million pixels to provide a detailed finder image. The camera  features Panasonic's respected 4K capabilities and it should be a very decent video camera. The thing that most people will be excited by is that it's the first micro four thirds camera to feature a sensor that provides more than 16 million pixels. Thom Hogan reminds us that the scale up from 16 to 20 million pixels only gives us 13% more resolution. Pretty sure that's not going to make a huge difference but then again, you may be one of those shooters who needs every last pixel for some giant prints.

The camera is a bit bigger and bit heavier than its predecessor, the GX-7, but I think that's a good thing on both counts; more space to lay out buttons and give our fingers a bit of relief space and the extra weight will probably mean steadier shooting.

The camera has built-in image stabilization but it goes one step further (when using Panasonic lenses that are so endowed) by using the I.S. in the lenses at the same time. Apparently the combined stabilization from both body and lens makes for a steadier image than either method used individually. I can only imagine that combining the two is a direct result of the inclusion of a much faster processor that can do the math required to optimize both sets of moving parts in tandem. Seem Moore's Law keeps improving cameras in a way that is different than just stuffing more pixels on a die.

So, better finder, better I.S., 4K video, more resolution (and presumably the same or lower noise!) and better handling all add up to a mature and potentially delightful new imaging product. What about my caveat in the headline?

It's not really that big of a deal but when I read through the specs I see that, while the camera has a port for the use of external microphones there is no port for headphones with which to monitor said external microphones. That instantly relegates the GX-8 to Fun secondary art camera for me. But the omission isn't a big deal if you never really intend to do much video or if you are happy shooting double sound with an external recorder instead of using audio that comes directly into the camera.

I think the camera is quite handsome and I'd like to have one in the silver finish. It looks very much like the Company's L1 (See DPR for illustration and review), digital 4:3 camera from about eight years ago. I handled that camera and liked its ergonomics as well.

If one were transitioning from a massive DSLR this might make a good choice for a first, higher end, foray into micro four thirds, but the equation is much different if you already own current Olympus products. Switching to the GX-8 as the primary camera would be scary since Olympus must surely have something new up their sleeves such as a revision/upgrade of the OMD EM-1. Remember that the launch of that camera happened during the October Photo Expo show nearly two years ago. Seems like it's just about time for something new to come out.

I'm hesitant to buy a GX-8 until I see if Olympus leapfrogs them again with something special. Choices, choices.

I wonder who will be pre-ordering this one? 

7.15.2015

Celebrating Wing Span. On stage.




Play: Sophisticated Ladies.
Location: Zach Theatre, Austin, Texas
Date: July 14, 2015
Photographer: Kirk Tuck
Cameras: Nikon D610, D810
Metering: Yes.



The Piano Series from Sophisticated Ladies at Zach Theatre. In the red dress? Afra Hines, incredible dancer!







I had much fun photographing the final dress rehearsal of Zach Theatre's rendition of "Sophisticated Ladies." As usual, the sheer quality of the actors, the stage sets, the lighting and the music were as good as the best anywhere. For a photographer who loves to photograph people there is a little that beats an evening spent in a comfortable seat, watching incredibly talented people move through space with grace and precision. Add to that great songs written by Duke Ellington and performed by a live orchestra. And finally, I get to experience it all with two really cool cameras and two of my new favorite lenses. 

I blocked off the seats on either side of me and the seats in front of me so the noise of the shutters wouldn't disturb people. I generally had the Nikon D810 in my hands, coupled with the older 80-200mm ff2.8 ED push pull lens. When a dance scene with a large ensemble spread across the stage I reached for the D610 sitting on top of the Domke camera bag in the seat next to me. That camera had the 24-120mm f4 lens on the

7.14.2015

A fun job from the earlier days of digital. Fuji S2pro camera.


Day by day packing for lights.

Small. Light. Fast. Cute. 

I went on location today. I was in a mid-sized conference room making portraits of four men in coats and ties. One after the other. The camera portion of a job like this is hardly a big mystery and really, any camera that allows you to change the lens and use a focal length that is somewhere near the equivalent of 85-90mm (on a full frame, 35mm camera) will probably suit you just fine. The predominant use for the images will be on a website and, really, just about any camera made since 2004 should do a decent job delivering a sharp, mostly happy file. It's always the lighting that's more interesting. 

Last year I might have taken my case with three of the Elinchrom monolights and used them for the project but it seemed like so much overkill to haul the big case up the stairs, plug multiple cords into wall sockets, piece together a softbox and a speed ring and decide where to put it all. Since last year the folks at Cactus sent me an RF60 flash unit and three of their V60 triggers and after I figured out how to use them they way I like to light stuff I've honestly been trying to shoe horn most of my interior shoots into minimalist lighting scenarios. 

I've been throttling down the size of my modifiers in an attempt to make my light a little harder. Given the high dynamic range of the Nikon D610s and D810 I don't really need to worry about softening the highlight transitions as much. When I don't have to worry about burned highlights I can spend more time getting a harder, more dynamic feel to the light. After working with friend Frank and seeing a couple of the modifiers for small flash that he uses I decided to pick up a Westcott light modifier called a Rapid Box Duo. The model I got is basically a 32 inch octagonal softbox that sets up much like an umbrella and provides several levels of diffusion as well as a little metal dish one inserts into the softbox to help spread the light from a small, electronic flash evenly across the front diffusion of the modifier. The box takes a couple of minutes to set up and most of that time is putting together the two piece flash holder that couples the flash to the soft box and the whole set up to a light stand. 

I use the Rapid Box about six feet from my portrait subjects and it gives me a harder light with more contrast than the much larger diameter umbrellas and soft boxes I have generally used. The Cactus RF60 flash is a perfect companion for the quick box because it uses an internal radio trigger and the power levels of the flash can be remotely controlled by the V60 trigger sitting on the camera. At a quarter power I get quick recycling and lots of flashes from a set of Eneloop batteries. Today I used a second flash in a 48 inch umbrella with the power dialed down low (1/32th) to add just a bit of fill to the shadow side of my subjects' faces. That flash was also triggered by a V60 transceiver.

I chose a shutter speed/f-stop/ISO combination that would give me a perfect exposure with the sun lit trees outside the windows of the office and then brought the flash exposure in line to match that level. Takes longer to write about it than to do it. 

The benefit of two inexpensive, battery powered flashes and a portable, collapsible octabank? Mostly portability. I didn't need an assistant to help me haul the gear up to the second floor of the converted  old house that houses my client's company. Everything came along either in my Think Tank rolling case of in a stand bag in my other hand. No muss, no fuss. But it isn't always like that....

And that brings up my shoot from yesterday.  

I have a client who like to have portraits made of their board of directors and their senior executives outdoors with lots of out of focus green in the background. Last year we shot for them on a day with gusty wind and direct sun. Yesterday the Photo gods met me half way and just delivered the hot, direct sun....no wind to speak of. But trying to over power direct sun is different than matching the lively green on foliage outside a tinted window that also has solar screens. In a true, outdoor setting you generally need a flash with a lot of power and, if you are shooting more people than you can count on one hand you also need an electronic flash that has lots of electrical capacity.

Yesterday's lighting kit was the antithesis of this morning's light weight assemblage. Here's why. I wanted a 4 foot by 4 foot black flag to take the direct sun off the subject. This required an extra tall Century stand that can be raised as the sun climbs in the sky. A stand with a 4x4 floating up ten feet in the air can do a lot of damage if it comes down in an uncontrolled fashion so I also needed two twenty pound sand bags on the stand to keep my insurance agent happy. 

That takes care of managing the direct light but I also have found it a very good practice to put another 4x4 foot, black flag directly behind the camera so that the subject's eyeline is aimed at something that won't promote squinting. I don't want to get hit by a falling stand any more than the next person so I want to make sure there are  20# sand bags on that Century Stand as well. The third Century stand held up an Elinchrom S head, fitted with a 30 by 40 inch softbox. The softbox can also do a good "sail" imitation so that stand needed its own collection of sand bags. Wow. That's about 120 pounds just in sand bags and another forty in Century stands. 

I added a white reflector on a stout, Lowell light stand to the shadow side of my subjects to add a bit more detail to the shadows. Better bag that one as well...

I used the Nikon D810 at ISO 64 to squeeze out the most extreme image quality I could manage and also because the lower ISO allows me to get ambient exposures like 1/250th, f5.6, in broad daylight. This makes syncing up the flash easy and mostly problem free. The Elinchrom Ranger AS flash is rated at up to 1100 watt seconds of output power but I like being able to use it at half power because it recycles very quickly and I can generally get about 400 to 500 flashes out of one battery charge. I do drag along another heavy, lead acid battery as a back up but it's rare I need to depend upon it. 

I might have been able to make the smaller flashes work but not at ISO 64... No unless I pull a "Joe McNally" and gang a bunch of the smaller flashes together in tandem and add a radio trigger to each one. The way I figured it I knew I would have to cart and man handle the Century stands and the squadron of sand bags anyway, I might as well have all the power I needed at my fingertips. 

It worked well. And the gear went from the cart to a stout cart to the set up and back again. No carrying all this stuff up the steps solo. Not by a long shot. I know most people buy one type of lighting product and then get all dogmatic about their choices. They insist on shoehorning their paid inventory into every working circumstance. I come from a different age. It was a time when we customized our kits for the task at hand. It still works. 

The Elinchrom Brute Force Lighting Solution. 
The Ranger RX AS Two Head System. 

1100 ws. Two heads with modeling lights. Short duration flash heads. 
Big, stout, speed rings. The works. 
the filled case weighs in at a little over 40 pounds. 
Not the extremely portable solution for everything. 






Taking the Plunge.

Ben, mid Dive.

I learned long ago, on cold, dark mornings, that the hardest part of any project --- every project, is that first part where you are standing on the deck in the bitter, cold wind considering diving into the pool; the dread of embracing that first uncomfortable, wet chill, and the act of getting started.

That's what makes Summer swims more fun. It's already hot, the water is warmer, the chances of hypothermia remote. Even if you go to the early practice you're still pretty certain to start soaking up some solar-quality vitamin D before the workout is over.

I just got off the phone with a friend who is an exemplary photographer. He does it for money and he's a self-starter when commerce is involved. But he's been talking about his "art" project for so long that no one believes that he'll ever wrap his toes around the tile at the edge of the pool and launch himself. The cameras will never taste the rich nectar of something done for the challenge and not for the pay check.

There's always a reason for him to delay. He waited until full frame cameras hit the market, he waited until 20+ megapixel cameras hit the market, he didn't want to start his personal project when he was busy because he just couldn't stand to step away from the cash flow addiction. He didn't dive in when the markets and the economy tanked because he was too nervous to stray too long from his phone and his physical connection to the client space --- he feared he'd miss one of the few, stringy jobs to come through at the time.

Now he's waiting till he makes his first million. Next he'll be waiting till he makes his second million. ..

But his project is arduous. The one he talks about. It's a globe trotting trip that seemed so do-able when he was in his forties and even his early fifties. But the project keeps being put off.  Now his left shoulder bothers him after a day of working. He's walking with a little bit of a hitch because his right knee gets a wee stiff when he sits too long. He's waiting for the situation in Greece to get straightened out. He's thinking he needs to hold onto the money his project will cost in case an emergency comes up.

Part of the trip is a walk across a couple hundred miles to go from one sea to one ocean. It's a trek that one does through the mountains, on foot. But work and family have kept him busy and the few days a month he does get out to walk he realizes that the heat bothers him much more than it did ten years ago. He's tired now. And he gets tired more easily. The idea of camping out and not having a coffee shop nearby in the mornings seems like a much bigger impediment than it every did before.

Psychologists might call this a middle aged failure to launch but I'm calling it the sneakiness of progressive entropy. And I'm pretty sure it's sneaking up on a fairly large number of my friends and will overwhelm them before they realize it.

At times such as this, when I have had yet another coffee with my friend and heard another series of plaintiff excuses for delaying his adventure yet again, I come back to my office and pluck one little book off my shelf and sit down for a quiet and short read.

The book is: Andrew Marvell. A Selection of His Finest Poems. 

The poem I read is called:  To His Coy Mistress.  It is one of the first of a genre of poems referred to as Carpe Diem poetry. Translated: Seize the Day! I advise everyone who has a wonderful project in mind, but is consistently failing to launch, to stop and read the poem I've mentioned. I hope it's enough of an antidote to defeat that series of sensible spreadsheets one's mind is constantly constructing to put off anything risky, dangerous or imbued with the promise of too much fun.

The time to plunge in is while you still can. And the "sell by" date on that package is largely unknowable and unpredictable.

I have, once again, advised my friend to "Take the Plunge." Whether he will is solely up to him but each time I hear about the plans they are subtly diminished. Practicality is okay for some things. For art practicality is early death. Quit your job. Do your adventure. Write your book. Take your trip.

Let's not bury you before you've had a chance to launch yourself.

7.12.2015

Tailwinds. An interesting chair.


Detail of a chair observed on my walk down Lamar Blvd. in Austin, Texas.



A fun and funny encounter at the bookstore.


We're lucky here in Austin. We still have a big, thriving, independent bookstore. It's called, "Book People" and it sits right across Sixth Street from the Whole Foods H.Q. I love to shop there because Book People carries a lot of titles and they have an extensive magazine selection. Last week I bought a copy of American Cinematographer Magazine and a copy of Photo District News there, along with a couple boxes of cool, photo-themed greeting cards to send as "thank you" cards for client. I find something new and fun every time I step in the door.

Today I stopped by on my way back to my car from the Graffiti Wall. On quiet Sunday afternoons I like to spend some time looking at all the magazine covers to see what's trending, what's current and what looks frankly passé. I was standing near the photo and design magazines, looking at a photo of Nick Knight on a cover, when I saw a man about my age over my left shoulder. He took at look at the hulking combination of the Nikon D610 and the Sigma 50mm Art lens over said shoulder and, with a nod as a greeting, said, "I used to carry something big like that around but now I'm really enjoying a smaller, lighter Olympus camera." We got to talking and he seemed interested in educating me about the attributes of the smaller system.

I mentioned that I too had several of the Olympus m4:3 cameras and liked them very much. I also mentioned that I had been writing about them for nearly five years on my blog. I identified the blog and the man broke into a smile. "You are Kirk Tuck." He said. I agreed. "Your writing is partly responsible for my migration to Olympus." We spoke for a few more minutes about the relative merits of particular lenses, and a lens acquisition strategy in general, before we shook hands and headed in our different directions.

The encounter may have been a little embarrassing for him but it damn sure made me feel like a rock star. At least for a few minutes. I appreciated being recognized. Nice to know people really do read the blog...

Thanks!

Lab Work.




Inside the MOS 13 Clean Room.
Before the turn of the century. 
Love the booties....

It's pretty much official that NXP is buying/has bought Freescale Semiconductor. I'm pretty sure that after the "merger" goes through NXP will take over executive operations, rationalize all the collateral and naming under the NXP brand and Freescale, as a brand, will dissolve. It's a bit sad to see for many here in Austin. At one point Motorola, Inc. was one of the largest companies in the world and employed 150,000 people. For one reason or another (or one bad bet after the other) the company is a tiny 12,000 person remnant and long ago spun off the Semiconductor business as a separate entity.

The separated semiconductor business started life as a publicly held company until the Blackstone group, the Carlyle Group and others took them private with nearly $17 billion in dept. Then, because of world economy in 2008-2011 and some changing markets, the company and their investors took some real hits but eventually took the company public again in 2011 with an underperforming IPO.  Now this new merger will take the resulting company in yet another direction.

Why do I care? I could trot out some tech nostalgia. I owned several very good Motorola cellphones (they invented the cellphone). I owned some very good Motorola radios (they kind of invented the portable two way radio, or walkie-talkie). And as a photographer I got to photograph a ton of very interesting stuff, including the first PowerPC chip to come out of the Somerset consortium of Apple, Motorola and IBM. It was the first RISC chip widely used in personal computers and was the bedrock of Apple's mid-era machines.

From the late 1980's through to 2006 I was commissioned to do a huge spectrum of imaging work for the company. I photographed lots of products, including chip dies, chip packages and every manner of pin configuration one could imagine. I also made hundreds of portraits of senior staff across a number of divisions. I was along for the giant conferences and even photographed their educational outreach. One fun day I remember was the event where high school kids were mentored in rocket building (proto-engineering) and we all took dozens of rockets and launched them in the parking lot of Motorola/Freescale's Oakhill location parking lot.

I still get asked from time to time to cover an interview with the reigning CEO or to make portraits of new, key hires but I have a feeling that we'll be starting over from scratch as more and more of the (non-engineering) staff are leaving under their own steam or being shown the door.

As a photographer I grew up with Motorola and then matured in business during the Freescale years. I worked conferences all over the United States and even wrote video scripts and trade show scripts for their marketing and events department. Through the years I came to enjoy the culture. They were (and maybe still are) a company that respected family time and understood the need for balance between personal life and business.

My first assignments for the company were done on 4x5 inch view cameras. Later we progressed to using mostly medium format film cameras and then a smattering of 35mm equipment also became acceptable. Since 2001 everything we've shot for them has been done with my ever changing roster of digital cameras. However the re-naming and reorganization goes down I hope that they are successful both in business and in retaining the best parts of their culture. There are more than enough soul killing corporations out there. I always thought of Motorola, and then Freescale, as one of the good guys...

Interesting how the business landscape changes with cultural change, and the relentless march of technology. You can try to swim for it and get rolled by a rogue wave or you can get up on your board and try to ride the crest. One way or another the waves always come.