Breaking in a camera that is new to you. Each camera has a personality, you have to spend time understanding it to make good work with it.

This is a Nikon D810. Widely believed to be the best "all around" DSLR
in the marketplace today. Can I just pick one up and shoot it
and get perfect files right out of the box? Nope.

The web is packed with articles about how to choose a new camera, reviews of the latest camera products, and charts, graphs and infographics about how they perform. But in very few cases are there articles that tell you how to go about breaking in a new camera so that it consistently does what you want it to do. 

I'm sure we each have a different approach to getting familiar with the way our cameras operate but I'm equally sure that we're all looking for similar things: Good color. Good exposure. Good focus, Just the right sharpening. Pleasing or accurate tonality. 

If there was one universal camera menu, and if changes in that menu effected all cameras in the same ways, we'd only have to figure out one universal camera workflow and then overlay that to all the cameras we shoot with. But, clearly, this is not the way our camera universe works right now. Every maker has their own color palette, their own ideas about what constitutes the right exposure formula and so much more. We all want consistency but sometimes we really have to work at it to get what we want. 

I am using the D810 as an example because


A repost from the earlier days of the Visual Science Lab. Six years ago, January 2010. The anatomy of a wet shoot...

Fun for me to go back and re-read stuff from a while back...

Another five star review for "The Lisbon Portfolio." An action packed "spy" novel starring commercial photographer, Henry White.

Another image that convinced me the time had arrived to re-appraise one inch sensor cameras. It's a "lab test."

A laboratory in New Jersey. ©2106 Kirk Tuck

I'm pretty sure I'm going overboard with all this "one inch" enthusiasm but please know that I'm not rushing to abandon all other formats or denigrate their use as great imaging tools for photography. I guess I'm sharing this succession of images and stories from my experiences shooting smaller format cameras on real jobs because I am personally so amazed at how well they work in lots of different situations. I believe that the smaller format cameras are important tools to have along on most projects and offer an ease of shooting that, in many cases, is unparalleled. 

We all have a prejudice, based on digital camera history, that tells us that all big sensor cameras make better images than all smaller sensor cameras. If you are just measuring noise response at higher ISOs you'd be more or less correct but there is so much more that goes into the success of an image and a lot of it has nothing to do with the noise formula. Even in that arena the one inch sensor cameras I am currently using outperform the noise characteristics of even full frame camera from only a few years ago. I have only to pull up images from the Sony a850, a900 or Canon 1DS mk3 to know that this is true. So, here we are five years down the road from the introduction of the full frame


Graffiti. Panasonic fz 1000. Austin, Texas.

I know that the "Graffiti Wall" has truly become an Austin icon. We're just into the first few days of the SXSW Music Festival and the crowds making the pilgrimage from the Convention Center in downtown to the Hope Outdoor Gallery (official name) are amazing. The tourist attraction has gone from hundreds of visitors a day to thousands. All coming to see four stories of concrete covered with the visual musings of a wide spectrum of "artists."

I think that this week the Wall is a more popular tourist attraction than the state capitol building or Barton Springs Pool.

I shot this a few months back as a first run test of the Panasonic fz 1000, the slightly slanted doppelganger of the Sony RX10 and RX10ii.

It's a fun camera in its own right with a longer lens and a more cavalier build quality. But on the sensor, where it counts, it's just as nice a photographic machine. If Panasonic had only included a headphone jack I might never have leaned back into the Sony camp.....

Both great cameras and, to my mind, the direction photographers and the industry should be going...

One Man Band. A Workable Rig for "Man in the Street" Interviews. Sony+Rode+Beachtek.

I had the idea that I might want to go down to the big SXSW Festival this year and do something a bit different. I've walked around and photographed many times before but at some point the single, untethered image just starts to seem superficial.

This year seems to be the year to go down and make a long video snapshot of the event, as it occurs in the streets, over the course of a few days. I'm a loner by nature and wanted to put together a video shooting rig that I could handle by myself. No army of assistants or producers in tow. No one to hold a big boom microphone or stand around with a notebook, getting names and jotting down timecode.

The camera has to be small and mobile. The microphone should be something that works well in a crowd or on a noisy street. And I should be able to operate it all with very little intervention. Given my current inventory of cameras it seems as though the Sony RX10ii fits the bill nicely, where the camera is concerned.

After a fair amount of research, and some discussion with people who


Random Shots with Captions. Total non sequiturs. Shot with a Sony RX10-2.

This shop used to sell kitchen supplies. Corkscrews. Dinner Plates. Esoteric Coffee Machines.
They are no longer in business. There is a short term rental for SXSW in there now. 
What will go in next month?

Virtual Reality demo while sitting in a pedi-cab, just off 2nd street. 
It's all part of the SXSW Interactive Festival. 

This giant rhino was being prepared by a team of pyrotechnics pros. He will be featured in a parade down Sixth St. Believe it or not --- he will breath fire!

Pizza. Pizza right now. On Sixth St. No wristband necessary.

It becomes obvious that it is painfully hard. Almost impossible. To look
cool while standing in a big, big line to get into a third rate bar that 
smells vaguely of urine, overlayed with floral scented disinfectant spray. 

That horrible moment when you find out that your name really isn't on the list....

The first (and only) evidence of political advertising at SXSW.

And this year the badges are so big you can also use them as serving trays.
Yes, I have my phone.

God Bless Willie Nelson. Austin area treasure.

You may be a cool guy at SXSW but this guy is here to remind you that you are still in Texas.

Red Utility Cover.

Blue(ish) Utility Cover.

Greenish Utility Cover. 

Yellow Utility Cover.

Purple Utility Cover.

Old Electrical Infrastructure.

Looking Northwest from the Seaholm Center.

It rained all last week. Dank grey skies. No horizon line. A week lost to computer chores and accounting indoors (as opposed to outdoor accounting?). So, after dropping Ben off at some computer conference at SXSW Interactive I headed downtown to just soak in the sunlight and made random, unstructured photographs with my Sony RX10ii. 

I brought along a 62mm polarizing filter. Hey, guess what? If you use a polarizer that's not got thin rings you will get "filter-on-the-edges" vignetting at the widest focal length of that particular camera. I saw the first hints of vignetting at 25mm on the Panasonic fz 1000 but the Sony had obvious corner occlusion. Live and learn. Get skinnier polarizers or just use the camera without. At anything over 28mm (equiv) it wasn't an issue. 

I was partly invested in finding good SXSW photos and partly invested in getting a good walk done in the sunshine. I succeeded in getting a good walk done. At some point I turned off the camera, slung it over my shoulder and just enjoyed the scenery. 

Not everything needs to be photographed.


Spring time in Austin. A print from the old Leica "R" days.

Winter was more or less non-existent here in Austin this year. The last week has been warm and wet and everywhere you look every plant is blooming, yards are saturated green and our peach tree in the backyard has already bloomed. 

The heaters are off at the (outdoor) pool and we're back to applying sunscreen before our noon practices. 

The Spring weather always makes me think of photography outside. Not that I don't shoot outside year round, but this is the kind of mild and happy weather which coerces you to spend full days out of the house, just wandering with a camera. 

The image above is from a shoot done long ago for a state wide lifestyle magazine. We were shooting models and fashion. It was the middle of the summer and we found a front porch on an older house that gave us shade and relief from the sun. One of our models was on a porch swing resting. 

I photographed her with a Leica R8 camera and Leica's 135mm f2.8 lens. I used Astia slide film. 

It was just a quiet shot that seemed to sum up the feeling I was having today, embracing Spring. 


I've talked about my Studio Lighting course at Crafsy.com but I wanted to let you know that I also did a course that's great for beginners...

I have a lot of friends who have a lot of basic questions about photography. And I know a lot of parents who wish they knew their way around cameras and could take better family photographs. The kind of photographs you end up putting in albums and saving for years. 

With that in mind the producers at Craftsy.com and I put together a two+ hour course that walks newbies through everything from camera settings to the basics of using speed lights. We shot on location with a family up in Colorado. We even spent an afternoon at a horse ranch working with the kids, the horses and the great outdoors. 

If you are a beginner or your are surrounded by people who are always asking for basic advice when you would rather be waterskiing behind your own personal submarine, this may be a course for you or one that you can recommend to get yourself off the hook. 

If nothing else, think of the entertainment value of making fun of the instructor.....(hmmmmm). 

I'm offering a link that makes the course half price. If you watch it and don't like it the folks at Craftsy will cheerfully refund your $$. The course is online and can be watched by you as often and for as long as you desire. You could watch me explain "ISO" hundreds of times a week if you wanted to.... All for the price of about five extra large, fancy coffees from Starbucks. And less fattening.

Although you will doubtless come away from watching with the niggling feeling that a bit more gear would be good. 

Thanks, Kirk

OT: It's Friday Afternoon and the City of Austin is hosting SXSW and President Obama Simultaneously. Hmmmm. Traffic?

A sign of the gentrification of an aging conference.

What can you say about a city that routinely cancels all schools at the hint that temperatures might drop below the freezing mark and some ice may form, somewhere? We love to panic and we panic well, and at the drop of a hat. 

About mid-week it dawned on most Austinites that this Friday (today) we would have the official start of the world's largest combined music, film and technology festival and that the keynote speech to kick the whole thing off would be given by the commander in chief of the most powerful country on the face of the planet, right in the middle of town. Right in the middle of the afternoon. 

The hew and cry on Facebook was tremendous. Maps were posted showing all the road closings. Even the major highways (already the third most crowded in the country) would be closed to accommodate the motorcade. People were predicting that the typical five mile commute time on the Mopac Expressway would balloon from forty five minutes or so to five or six hours. People began hoarding cool, frozen food from Trader Joes and fresh craft beer from Whole Foods Market. 

The mayor of the city actually went on all the local media and begged the citizens of Austin to work from home; for their own safety and convenience. State and city offices closed at noon today in a desperate attempt to avoid CAR-MAGGEDON. So, President Obama cruised in around one o'clock and hustled over to the Palmer Auditorium to give the keynote for the conference. Next stop after that was a closed meet and greet at the Austin Music Hall and he will be following that up with a super private fundraiser at someone's home in the posh, Tarrytown neighborhood. Air Force One should be "wheels up" by 8:15pm and I hope the air traffic returns to normal so we can pick up our own arriving V.I.P. (Mr. Ben Tuck) at the airport tonight at 10:30pm. 

This being the capitol city of the reddest state in the country it's only natural that the aficionados of "open carry" (sporting around your "long guns" and your holstered .44 magnums) chose today to march through the same downtown streets to celebrate Texas's embrace of the new "show off your guns" law. One that will allow kindergarteners to bring their own fully operational Uzi's to school for show and tell. The same law that, I think, also allows convicted felons to bring their weapons along with them to prison. Anything less would, of course, be an abrogation of their second amendment rights. But I digress. 

I pointed out the gun march to draw attention to the fact that there was more security downtown than one could imagine. In fact, I haven't seen this much protective firepower since .... ever. And, of course, as a sometimes writer of spy fiction I just had to go downtown and see the rich pageant for myself.

Whole city blocks were cordoned off in anticipation of Mr. Obama's arrival at the Austin Music Hall with giant, city owned dump trucks blocking crucial intersections. Everyone in a uniform had the familiar bulge of a kevlar vest under their shirts and walkie-talkie earbuds in their ears. There were snipers on the roofs of the surrounding skyscrapers and federal agents with K-9 commandos patrolling all the alleys and sidewalks around the cordon. Helicopters filled the air like drones at a topless beach. 

But there were the usual lapses so readily apparent to anyone "blessed" with hyper-vigilance disorder. The cops glued to their iPhones inside their air conditioned squad cars. The cops facing inward, toward the "principal" instead of facing outward toward potential threats. The democratic party operatives bending admission rules to venues because they "recognized" someone and brought them through the lines; even though they weren't on lists. And all the cops with their faces glued onto their iPhones --- but wait, I think I already said that. 

Half the streets were blocked for the president, the other half were blocked for guys and girls who
truly believe that their idea to make an app with styling tips for unfortunate dressers
will sweep the marketplace and make them the next Zuckerberg. 

Here's the funny coda to my afternoon of observing the mix. Everyone took mayor, Steve Adler, at his word and stayed home. Or at least out of downtown. The roads were totally clear when I headed down to Whole Foods for the two meat BBQ plate (at least as good as Franklin's and, no line!). I had my choice of several thousand parking places (which has not happened in Austin since the crash of 1986). And the only people walking between the bank towers and residence high rises were the congenial tourists here for SXSW. You can tell who they are. They have on skinny jeans two sizes too small, they don't know how to tuck in a shirt tail, and they like to wear hats that we generally never see in Texas. And sweaters. And lumberjack shirts.  On the way home I drove 90 mph and ran all the red lights because I figured that every cop within a hundred miles was camped out "protecting" the president. Or at least getting some overtime pay while firming up their training on Kandy Krush. Well done, Austin! No CAR-MAGGEDON. 

This is a place where new arrivals to the city can practice our new, popular pastime; 
Waiting in lines.

I took along a camera but I didn't get much shooting done. What's the use of a middle-aged, middle class guy taking photographs of middle class young adults standing docilely in lines. I'll wait for next week when the clarion call of "Free Beer" and such echoes through the concrete canyons and the bikers show up. Add some rappers and the mix gets much more visually sweet.

Did some mischievous demigod let all the air out of the balloon of excitement for conferences or has SXSW just discussed everything to death over the past few years? I'll go with option two. How many times can you hear: DISRUPTION and INNOVATION without your brain getting angry?

My investment for the future? Neck braces for an entire generation who have spent their lives with their heads bowed, as in prayer, worshipping the droll messages bouncing across the screens of their phones! I'm going long on neck braces.

Hope you had a hip Friday. Wave to Air Force One if it flies over. I will.