Stories from the field. Working in Austin's legendary heat. And humidity.

Leading a group of doctors to the shooting location. 
(all "behind the scenes" images courtesy of James Webb. 
©2015 James Webb. Taken with an iPhone 6).

Way back in June of this year a client called and we talked about shooting a new version of an image we'd done nearly six years ago. We all knew the location at which we wanted to shoot. It was the front "patio" of the Long Center, which has a great view of the downtown Austin skyline. But we all agreed that the Summer heat and the long days would work against us and so we delayed the shoot until October 12th. We calculated that the sun would set at 7:06pm and that we'd be in open shade and would have perfect light on the skyline right around 6:30 pm. 

The photograph was a group shot of twelve doctors who work together in an oral surgery practice. They would all be wearing suits and ties for the photograph. 

Yesterday morning I woke up and looked at the weather forecast. It's usually in the 80's this time of the year. My infallible iPhone app told me we were looking for a high of 97(f) with high humidity which yielded a "heat index" of somewhere around 104-105. Since we planned on two locations, a five minute walk apart, and since I'd be hauling lights, stands and sandbags with me, I called a great assistant and booked him. 

For the first shot we set up the Elinchrom Ranger RX AS flash system with one head running at the full power of the pack. It puts out 1100 watt seconds into one head. I used a 42" silver umbrella as a modifier. We had a nice breeze (a blessing and curse. Blessing for the subjects and crew; curse for the umbrella wiggling twelve feet in the air...).  We sandbagged the light stand with the 18 pound strobe pack and a 30 pound sandbag.

When we finally got everyone rounded up and positioned my art director came over to me and showed me the screen of her phone. The temperature at 6:25 was needled in right at 99 degrees. We both laughed. We could have done this shot in August and it may have been cooler. I don't understand weather but a really nasty high pressure system seemed to get most of the blame. A lot of people were walking around with sinus headaches yesterday....

Once we got everyone positioned (notice the sweet little arc I have working...) we fired up the old Nikon D810 with the 24-120mm f4.0 on the front and banged out a series of test shots and then ten or fifteen serious shots. Since we were working the flash at full power we had five second recycle times and I had to be mindful of my shooting cadence. 

The images looked great. I will have to spend some time changing one guy's shoes from brown to black, take some reflections out of some eyeglasses and generally take the red out of several peoples' cheeks but all in all, the first shot was a success. Yay!

My assistant and I packed up the gear, stuck it on our cart and headed off, cross country, to our next location; a manmade hill about five hundred yards due west. There's an easy, circular path that winds up the hill but we didn't have time for that nonsense so we went right up the side to the top. The view there is equally nice. While we were setting up the doctors were changing (in the air conditioned comfort of the Long Center = Thank you! Long Center!!!) into jeans and casual shirts for our second shot. 

For some reason I decided that this needed to be a two light set up. We also had to keep dropping the shutter speed as we photographed right at the moment of the sunset. When we finally wrapped and pushed the laden cart back to the parking garage the temperature had fallen to a more comfortable 96 degrees. Don't you just love it when you pick up the phone and the client says, "Let's shoot outside!!!"

The doctors were all in good shape. The heat didn't seem to effect anyone. And the images look good. I guess that's all we can ask for....  Yes, we still do this for a living. Almost every day.


Hubris and the job I almost took. But didn't.

Noellia. ©2015 Kirk Tuck.
Fun but not related to the content below...

In the aftermath of the great recession businesses are having to re-learn some old lessons. One I had to re-learn last week is that it's very possible for a one person business to be too busy. In fact, it's very possible for a whole town to be too busy. Let me explain. 

I am booked on video and photographic projects every week day this month except for a little chunk of time that spans the 19th through the 21st. I try not to book work on the weekends because invariably that becomes the time when we repair stuff that broke the week before, and it's the time that post production always seems to spill over into. But having lived (barely) through the Great Recession I still find it hard to turn down work. Even if I intellectually understand that it would be better to do so. We're always trying to make hay while the sun shines. We're always trying to offset those lean years in the past and put away a bit more for the future lean years that seem to come as regularly as tax season.

On the 22nd of the month I begin a large, corporate project that will occupy my every waking moment until Monday the 26th. The job has lots of moving parts, is partially in conjunction with Formula One, and is a high profile assignment. I need to do pre-production on this one to make sure all the parts work. And, it's been on the books for months.

But, of course, someone called from a production company in the mid-west with a very large project and the shoot dates would be the 19th and the 21st. The project is for a very large technology company and would require me to use a number of assistants and no small inventory of rental gear to do correctly. The creative brief is still in transition, which is also a very scary thing. 

At first I thought I might be able to handle it but before I committed I wanted to walk through all the steps with my video guy because, even though the project is still photo-centric, all the pieces will be edited together as stop frame video. We agreed on a lighting design and the staffing requirements and I got on the phone to check on those resources. Well, my two favorite groups of grips and other crew members are all booked on movies, TV shows and on a giant trade show, that week. I also needed a grip truck and 12 four by four Kino fluorescent lighting units. Only eight of  the lights are available in Austin. We could truck in the rest from Dallas or Houston....

The more I looked at pre-production the more the job seemed to grow in scope. While I would love the prospective client's money, and might have been able to sub out a lot of the moving parts to unknown and unproven contractors I knew in my gut that I just didn't have the bandwidth to do this project justice. And I couldn't think of anything that would be worse than going into a job half-assed and then having to leave the client in strangers' hands as I rushed off to start another tough and lengthy project. Too much to go wrong.

I called back and declined the project. But instead of just walking away I spent some time putting together the information I'd distilled about process and also gave the production company the names of the people (other than me) who are best suited to do work of this scope, here in Austin. I wish them luck but I know they are better off with someone who can focus all their energy on getting the job done. You can't accept everything. You can't do it all. 

A quick user's guide to the blog.

Sometime in the recent past I put up some images, that I took using the Panasonic fz 1000 camera, here at the blog. Now, as long as I keep the images at 2100 pixels and smaller I don't have to pay anything for the storage, and they upload faster, so I've pretty much settled on making my image files that large for posting. What this usually means is that the pictures are down sampled from 16, 20, 24 and 36 megapixel files to 2 megapixel files. It's inevitable that some information gets lost. But the devastation doesn't stop there. No. The files that mostly started life as glorious raw files, gliding through Adobe products as sleek, fat, RGB tiffs also end up being converted to much more compact Jpegs with harrowing amounts of compression used to stuff them into themselves. Why? Because Jpegs are one of the few file types that Blogger supports.

If you look at the gallery on your big, calibrated, 4k monitor you are seeing image windows that are less than 900 pixels wide. Betcha won't see the same detail you might have if you were sitting next to me as I worked on the full sized files! But, at least you'll have a fighting chance seeing what the images kind of look like if you click on them and go into the "gallery" mode. In that mode you'll see the 2100 pixel (max side) images instead of the even smaller than 900 pixel images.

Here's how it works. I load one image or multiple images into the blog post. When you open the blog post the images are in-line with the (very, very important) copy. If you use your mouse, pen or finger on a touchpad, to click directly on any of the images it will enlarge the image up to the maximum size I've loaded into the system, in a separate window. You'll also see a series of thumbnails across the bottom of your screen. You can either click on the big image in the new window to go to the next image in line or you can click down in the thumbnail strip at the bottom to move to another image. When you get tired of looking at my pictures big (Yes, I know, it sounds improbable...) you can click the little "X" in the top right corner of the separate image window to return to the blog format you already know and love. 

While you are marveling at technology you might also be inclined to click on one of the Amazon.com ads at the bottom in a mad rush to pick up my novel, The Lisbon Portfolio, before it sells out. One click on the ad takes you straight to the hallowed halls of commerce where you are free to spend your hard earned money with abandon. Amazon stockholders will be thrilled. I'll make a small amount for the referral. I'll probably just spend it on coffee or modest red wines...

When you read the blog and/or look at the pictures you may be moved to make a comment or agree with some insightful sociological assessment I've made. You may just want to let me know what a good job I'm doing entertaining you each day. If that's so you can go to the "comments" at the bottom of each post and click the "leave a comment" hyperlink. There you can write all kinds of stuff. Except for stuff that pisses me off because if it pisses me off I will moderate the hell out of it. 

This blog doesn't cost you anything so don't expect much. If you are despondent about the shallow subject matter or the lugubrious and tortured writing style; good luck! Don't expect it to change. 
Hope you are having a great Monday. I need a little challenge so I think I'll try the support phone line at my health insurance company. That should be uplifting....

Hey, I'm thinking about starting a kickstarter campaign to buy one of these systems (but the newer one) and fly to Asia for several months of art photography and meditation. 
I'm thinking I'll need a couple hundred thousand dollars to do it right. 
I certainly don't want to use my own money, right?
So for everyone who contributes more than $10,000
I'll send you a  personalized camera strap. 
I'll be happy if you must send less and if you send any money at all you can lie and say you know me personally and I won't actively contradict you. 

It should be exciting and fun (until someone pokes an eye out). 


Nostalgia, pure and simple. Like a salmon swimming back upstream.

Today was my mother's birthday and what kind of son would I be if I didn't head down to San Antonio to visit? While my parents are ancient by any standard they are still fully independent and wanted to meet me, my brother and sister-in-law, at their favorite restaurant in the Alamo Heights neighborhood; Cappy's. It's a very nice restaurant and we've been going there for decades. The owners know my parents and always greet them warmly and see to their every need. 

But I would be remiss if I didn't mention that my parents are almost pathologically obsessed with the punctuality of their children. It's something I've inherited, to my chagrin. Which ever group is late to lunch, a dinner or a family event becomes the target of anger and scorn. For this reason I am always early for any engagement with them. Always. This means that I leave my home in Austin with a wide safety margin of time built into the trip. I want a buffer in case someone has flipped a truck on the highway or if Martians have attacked and caused the major exits on the highway to be closed. 

The trip, when nothing interferes (Austin rush hour(s), stalled cars, police radar traps, general populace stupidity, etc.), from my front door to the front door of the restaurant, on Broadway, can be handled in about and hour and fifteen minutes. So, of course I left two Austin two hours before our allotted meeting time. Today the traffic gods were benevolent. The line of cars in the left hand lane cruised along most of the time at 85 mph. I got into the neighborhood a little more than 45 minutes before our reservation.

Usually this constitutes wasted time. A toll for familial harmony. On different occasions I might drop into a Starbucks for an unneeded but reflexive coffee. An event closer to dinner might send me to the bar across the street for a fortifying glass of red wine or a (James Bond induced) Vodka martini --- shaken, not stirred. Today my trajectory was different. We were meeting for brunch and I wanted to have my first cup of coffee in the restaurant. As my thoughts were drifting through the perils of time (mis)management I came up to the traffic light at my old high school. Alamo Heights High School. Home of the Mules! (Yes, that is really the mascot). 

All of a sudden I remembered the one thing at school that I always looked forward to. The recurring event that I indulged in for hours nearly everyday. Swimming. I swam for the mighty Mules all through high school. And it dawned on me that I hadn't really been back to the indoor pool in nearly forty one years. Funny, since I visit the city so often... I decided to drop in and see if it was as I remembered it. 

I took my Panasonic fz 1000 in with me. 

playing around with the automatic straightening control in Lightroom.

The pool seemed so much smaller than I remembered. But it has been maintained beautifully; almost as if preserved as a museum piece. The water was crystal clear and the smell of airborne chlorine was intoxicating. Six lanes across and 25 yards long. A lifeguard greeted me and I remembered that one of my first jobs was as a weekend lifeguard at this pool, a long time ago. I remembered the swim meets and the 5:30 am practices. I remember the old way of training we did back then: Long, long yardage (up to 12,000 yards in a day) and then a week of tapering before the big meets. I remember the beautiful girls on the team in their skin-tight speedos, hair under tight latex caps; and the guys with early 1970's hair and skinny, chiseled bodies. But mostly I remember how right it felt to flow through the water and how elegant the feeling of pushing off the wall was --- the closest thing humans experience to flying without falling. 

I'm glad I brought a camera with me. I wanted to bring the photos home to explore them. I did ask about lap swimming on weekends. 20 swims for $60 on a punch card. You can get the punch cards on weekdays at the athletic office. The perfect thing for those family weekends when one REALLY NEEDS to get away and knock out a mile or two. 

Oh, yeah. The camera worked fine. 

Our table was ready right on time.
The Eggs Benedict were nicely prepared and tasty. 
The brunch conversation was my family's usual combination 
of catching up, trying to one up each other in the contest 
of adult success, and, failing that, shameless bragging about our kids. 
My parents were happy. My mom had a nice birthday. 

I also got to catch up with an old friend. The pool I remember so fondly.


The break-in experiences with the Panasonic fz1000 are ongoing. Today I was working on making building photos for a project pitch. The lens range was very useful.

I needed to shoot some samples for a specific style of shooting buildings. I had a request from a client who wanted to incorporate these kinds of images to their website. I also wanted to give the Panasonic bridge camera a "Jpeg" workout. I find that the Panasonic fz1000 shoots files that are a little flat and need to be sharpened a bit in Lightroom. But that's fine. It beats over sharpened files which can't be pulled back and the lower saturation also gives me a lot more options in post processing.

Many of the buildings here I've photographed many times. Some are brand new because the buildings are brand new. I used a circular polarizer for every shot. Mostly to make the sky look interesting; it was a flat sky day here in Austin today. 

I walked through the Austin downtown for about an hour and a half. It was enough to get the shots I needed. I have lots of others I've already shot but it's always nice to add more. And it's nice to see what this camera, with its long reach, can do on subjects I've already shot with other cameras. 

I'm very happy with the results from this $749 camera. Big fun. 

One other observation: The battery lasts longer than the review I've read indicate it would. 


I continue my exploration of the Panasonic Fz1000 and I must admit that I'm having fun with this camera. 4K video to follow in the near future.

A different way of shooting and a different buffet of focal lengths makes all-in-one cameras fun, full sun shooters. I took off some time yesterday to get over to the Graffiti Wall and take a few photos. It was the lull before the continuing storm of ACL Fest and the crunchy work calendar we've got in front of us this month. Most images here done in Jpeg with the lens at f4.5 and the focal length stretched out into the longer focal lengths. No big post processing beyond a bit of judicious sharpening. Still like the camera. Still like the Wall.