11.18.2016

We're about to have our first day of Autumn here in Austin. Here's how I know...

From the Zach Theatre production of: A White Christmas.
Sony a99. Sony 70-200mm f2.8

The leaves are just now falling off the trees. Two days ago it was 90 degrees but tonight it's supposed to dip into the forties and by Sunday, into the thirties. People are changing from Sandals to real shoes; from shorts to old jeans. From t-shirts..... well, they are still wearing t-shirts, but they may have a light jacket in the car...

People are making plans for Thanksgiving and the Christmas plays are about to launch over at Zach Theatre. I've been shooting marketing images for, "Santaland Diaries" and "A Christmas Carol" and I've seen the first of the invitations to Zach's famous New Year's Eve party. Add it all together and I believe it's the real arrival of Fall in our town. 

The photo above has always been one of my favorite theater images. It was taken back in 2012 for the production of "A White Christmas." I came across it recently while doing a quick search for images I'd shot with either the Sony a99 or their 70/200mm lens. This came up for both. The dynamic range in the original raw file is great and the lens sharpness at a wide open aperture is really good. A constant reminder that if we don't get carried away with spec-manship the gear we have in our hands at any one time is perfectly usable for much longer times spans that we are generally willing to admit. 

So, how am I dealing with this new severe weather? Well, we may have to turn the heater on this weekend so I've gotten a new filter. Nothing special since I put in one of those pleated, 3M. Allergy Relief filters in about every three months. I'm buying fewer bottles of Sauvignon Blanc and Proseco and stocking in more Cabernets and Merlots. I'll make sure I have a dry towel in the car every time I go to swim practice and --- I can finally start comfortably wearing suits and ties again. Oh Joy! I've also washed a few of my favorite sweatshirts in preparation. 

The big task on my seasonal plate right now is to come up with a clever photographic idea that I can put on a holiday card to send out to clients. That's a tough one. If you have any great ideas just toss them over the transom and I'll co-op them immediately!



Wrapping up the week. Some observations from mid-November.

Choreography rehearsal. Zach Theatre. Sony A7xx + Sony 50mm f1.8

Yesterday afternoon I finished reading an older Hennig Mankell novel, Firewall, sat on the back porch with Studio Dog, ate some Siggi's vanilla yogurt and relaxed for a few minutes. It's nice to put some calm time in the middle of the day. It's a chance to collect my thoughts. 

Then it's back to work. I packed up to shoot an event at the Four Seasons Hotel. For the last decade and a half I have volunteered to provide photography for Texas Appleseed's annual fundraising dinner; it's an event I always look forward to and the Appleseed foundation is a great non-profit resource for legal change in Texas, and beyond. I won't go into their mission here on the blog but if you are interested you can go here: Appleseed.

The event attracts the top attorneys, judges and politicians from all over Texas. Last night over 400 attendees packed the ballroom at the Four Seasons to honor one of their own and to raise a half million dollars or so for the organization. Since I've photographed the event each year for the past 15 years I've gotten to know the names and faces of at least half the attendees in any year. It makes my job easier because I know in advance who needs to be photographed and what small groupings will give my photography the most utility for my client. 

I packed up two different camera systems because I was indecisive, when I left the house, about which system to use for the evening. I ended up using both. On one side of the case was the Sony a6300 with its 18-105mm f4.0 lens and on the other side of the case was the Sony A7ii with the 70/200mm and the 24-70mm lenses. I brought along a Yongnuo flash and an even cheaper, Neewer flash to use through the evening. I've never bothered to buy a Sony flash or a high priced TTL flash for the Sony cameras because I've learned, through the years, that shooting events via TTL makes for a nightmare of correction in post processing. I paid $55 for the Yongnuo flash and $35 for the Neewer flash and both have been just fine for everything I've done with them. Both are fully manual. Both have built in optical slaves. Both take 4 double "A" batteries. Both have a single contact on the shoe. Both seem uncomplicated and reliable. 

I used the a6300 combo for most of the evening because for the first hour and a half there was a cocktail reception the lobby which was a great time to circulate and make photographs of couples, and small groups. This was an "all flash" situation and I selected the a6300 because it's probably the fastest and surest focusing of the current Sony family. I used to dread shooting with flash in the lobby area in front of the main ballroom at the Austin Four Seasons because the ceiling was painted with an sea foam green paint that precluded the use of ceiling bounce with flash. They recently renovated and painted the ceiling a very nice and mellow white. Perfect. I ditched my bounce card, put a small diffuser on the front of the Yongnuo and calculated the exposure for bouncing off the ceiling while being seven to ten feet from my subjects. The little diffuser directs most light to the ceiling but there's also a little bit of front light which makes a great, subtle fill. 

I was able to use the flash at 1/8th power for nearly everything. This gave me f5.6 at 1/50th of second, ISO 640 for everything. If I was standing closer I'd drop the flash power to 1/16th and if I was standing further away, perhaps for a wider group shot, I'd push the power up to 1/4. Unlike my experiences with Sony, Canon and Nikon dedicated flashes, used in TTL mode, I had NO variance in exposure or color from frame to frame. This meant no need for frame by frame exposure correction or color modifications. The light was nice, soft and the color was perfect. It's a nice way to shoot with flash and it's lovely that the Four Seasons decided to paint their foyer ceiling a delicious shade of white, just for me.... πŸ˜‰

I shot about 550 exposures with the a6300 and the flash. These also included awards presentations on the main stage. I never needed to change camera or flash batteries. 

But I did pull out the Sony A7ii and the 70-200mm lens for photographs of the speakers on stage. Shooting speakers is NEVER a situation in which you want to use flash. 400 people in the audience don't want you to either --- I'm pretty sure of it...

I set the camera to ISO 3200 and the used the lens wide open at f4.0. While the stage lighting wasn't great (for profit events generally invest a bunch more money in lighting...) the images were perfectly usable and the additional reach of the lens certainly helped. 

Dinner was quite good, with nice wines and a very nice steak and salmon combination. I enjoyed dinner very much. 

The evening wrapped at 9:30 pm and I packed up my little assortment of camera tools and headed back home. It was a nice way to spend a Thursday evening. 

Observations: I don't know if it's burnout from the elections or if I've just lost my touch as a writer but comments from readers have more or less ground to a halt. I'm not taking it personally since the daily visitor numbers are steady and it's not like I'm selling a lot of product on the site that needs pushing, but it is nice to get feed back. Maybe I'll ask questions in a better way. 

Speaking of the election, most people I know are dead tired of hearing about it and I know I've more or less given up on opening Facebook because of the torrents of emotion being expressed there. I've stopped listening to or watching election news for now. Someone be sure to tell me if an all out ground war with Canada is imminent. My focus for the rest of the year is to meet nice, new people and make nice portraits. In addition, I'm more and more interested in making video interviews. I have a bunch of material for a video about Wyatt McSpadden and I'm looking for a big gap in the schedule so I can sit down and edit with few interruptions. I have a backlog of personal portraits to post process and deliver as well. 

I haven't pre-ordered any new gear (or computers) but I am watching the Fuji medium format camera with great interest. I'm not sure if the advantages are overwhelming, when compared to something like an A7Rii but I'd like to test it for myself when it becomes available. After shooting several nice portraits with the Rokinon 100mm f2.8 macro lens I'm not sure I need anything better....

People seem a bit unsettled about gear right now. My friends have a weird expression on their faces. They'd like to buy something new just to keep the process they've been indoctrinated in moving along but they haven't seen much that tweaks the buying impulse. The consensus is that the stuff we all have in our hands right now is just "super" and the improvements are marginal enough for most people not to be discernible. A bad kind of place for the camera makers, I think. 

The only action that seems fun was the introduction of small, but powerful, portable flash systems from Profoto and Elincrhom. I love the looks of both but find the pricing ..... adventurous. I'm negotiating to get units from both for evaluation. 

On the marketing front. What is the ROI on our latest little flurry. This is fun. I sent out 65 marketing pieces which consisted of a cover letter and a postcard with the Michael Dell image, in an envelope. The marketing message was about my event photography services. The cost of the mailing, with ink, paper, stationary and postage was about $125. The first of the mailers went out on Monday and the last batch went out yesterday. I got an e-mail yesterday requesting a bid for executive portraits from an existing client who referenced the mailing. The portrait project should net between $2,000 and $3,000 so I'll mark the self-advertising venture with a big plus even if this is the only project that results. 

Truthfully, I don't expect directly correlated results from marketing I look at it as long term brand building; but I have found in the past that getting a marketing piece reminds people of projects that need to get done and motivates them to "pull the trigger." 

The next marketing effort hits in two weeks and will showcase portraits. I'll keep you posted. 

While we are usually winding things down this time of the year I am waiting to hear back from a client about a potential job in Salt Lake City for the week of the 5th through the 9th in Salt Lake City. It's a straight up advertising project and one that I'd love to do. It would make a nice coda to an interesting year. 

Tomorrow I will be back over at Zach Theatre (after swim practice, naturally) to photograph a behind the scenes look at Martin Burke in "The Santaland Diaries." It's my favorite holiday play and one of my favorite actors. This is something I asked to do instead of it being a request from my client. Just wanted to give a few of the fast lenses a bit of a workout and get some fun stuff for myself. Of course, I will share with the theater.

Back to Lightroom. We've got work to do.

11.16.2016

Hindsight. 20/20. Still.....

Sony a99 camera.

Of all the camera and lens combinations I've bought and sold over the years there are few that make me the least bit regretful. For a while I regretted selling my Contax RTSiii and some lenses, like the 85mm f1.4, but the regret diminished when it became obvious that digital was here to stay and we were never going back to 35mm film. But in the digital world there are very, very few partings with gear that I can remember that really made me think. Even if the bodies were beautiful the interiors were mostly getting obsoleted as fast as the engineers could upgrade. But still, there are some that I deeply regret consigning, trading in or selling. I thought I'd reminisce and list...

In the realm of lenses, there are more than just a few. I should have figured out some way (and rationale) to hold onto my Nikon 28-70mm f2.8 lens. I've never been very happy with the 24-70mm lenses that replaced it and, when I look back, the overall image quality from that lens was just great. 

Once you've owned an Olympus 35-100mm f2.0 lens you will have really understood just how good a 70-200mm equivalent could be. Forget all the equivalence nonsense for a moment and just look at files that people actually shot with this multi-pound behemoth... Even wide open the images were incredibly sharp. The issue became that no one knew what the future roadmap looked like for lenses from a discontinued lens mount system. If we'd known that the OMD EM-1 was coming down the road it would have been a whole other story but attempts to use the lens on bodies made prior to that were less fun, so the lens had to go. No way I was going to try to keep a handful of E bodies around and working just to use that one lens...

People talked smack about the Sony Alpha system (and sometimes with good reason) but one of the joys of that translucent mirrored system was the selection of vaguely disguised Zeiss lenses for cheap. My absolute favorite from the system was the 85mm f2.8. It was plasticky but it was also small, light, cheap and sharp. Really sharp. By f8.0? Otus-y sharp... and all for less than $300. 

A more expensive, but equally mourned Sony lens was the 16-50mm f2.8 DT lens. It only covered APS-C sensors but it was everything you might want in a wide angle to short telephoto, premium kit lens. I thought about picking one up recently and using it with an adapter on an a6300 but the 16-50mm f2.8 DT really seems to have held its value in the used market. I'll pass on it for now. 

Another Sony lens, one that was neither cheap nor small, was the 70-200mm f2.8 for the Alpha system. I have more stand out keepers, shot wide open, from that lens than from similar lenses I've owned in either the Canon or Nikon system. It got sold when we purged the Alpha system. Something we did when it seemed like Sony was putting all of its eggs in the mirrorless, A7xxxx basket. I've now got the 70-200mm f4.0 FE lens but it's just shy of the old magic...

There are two workhorse lenses I've always liked in the Canon system and I wish they had counterparts in the Sony FE universe. One was the 20mm f2.8 which, when stopped down moderately, was almost without distortion and pretty convincingly sharp on my old 5D. The other was a wonderful, small portrait lens; the 100mm f2.0. It needed to be a stop or two down from wide open to get sharp and contrasty but when you arrived at f4.0 you were working with a very nice lens system and the results for portraits were always pleasing. 

Can't think of any recent AF Nikon lenses I was heartbroken over. Most were serviceable but had clunky exterior designs and felt plasticky in my hands. Maybe I just avoided spending the outrageous money asked to buy into the really good stuff. That, and the fact that most of my camera bodies either focused in front of or behind whatever it was I wanted to photograph...

There are two lenses from the Panasonic system that I found very pleasant and very ergonomically well behaved. Both were zooms. I have to say that I really liked the 12-35mm f2.8 and the 35-100mm f2.8. They never failed to deliver great files for me and, perhaps I should have kept them and a GH4 body around last time instead of doing into a binary purge. With those two bodies and those two lenses (and maybe a nice macro) a person could sustain a decent imaging business. But the (mostly false) lure of full frame cameras was a powerful lure...

Moving on to "lost" camera bodies is also a sad mess. The first one I wished I'd kept was, at one time, the ultimate "bridge" camera. It was the Olympus E-10. Alloy-tough body, great lens and rock solid overall performance from the early days of digital. That camera was a workhorse and we did so many portraits with it for website headshots that it was probably the prime money maker in my inventory for at least a year and a half. We needed more control over depth of field so we left it for another 4 megapixel camera, the Nikon D2Hs, which was also a great performer. It's only flaw was high ISO performance, but then nothing was that good at available dark photography back then. 

Two from Sony that I regret abandoning so quickly were the a77 and even more, the a99. I will confess that I loved shooting with that camera more than just about any digital camera body in the last ten years for many, many reasons but I was finally put off by Sony's failure to deliver a decent video file out of the camera. Everything was there to make that the first great still/video hybrid camera except for the codec. A sloppy, less than sharp ACVHD file. God knows I tried everything to make it work. It was fine for low res stuff when YouTube was running smaller formats but the images just wouldn't stand up to big viewing. As as still camera? Some of the nicest handling ever. The knobs were perfectly weighted and finished and the front, programmable knob for clickless microphone level control was dynamite. I can see why they introduced a mark two model. Just wish they'd let us know it was coming. I still would not have waited three years for them to fix the video but I might not have switched so soon...

The last one in my category of actual regrets is probably the Olympus EP-2 camera with its attendant electronic viewfinder. It had a wonderful, minimal interface. It made EVFs believable and usable. It had great color. Even the 12 megapixel limit didn't bother me, as long as I had a second system for seriously crazy work. But it was part of one of those big trade deals that moves the game forward. Not always smart and sometimes retroactively painful but that's how we learn.

My only piece of advice for other photographers is: if you love the feel of the camera and the trade in value sucks just keep the darn thing. Whatever you didn't like about it will probably become unimportant to you down the road and you'll miss the 50 things you did love about whatever camera it was. Unless it was a Samsung camera and then you'll just end up cursing the void...

In reviewing my current collection of cameras I have this to say: I love the A7rii and very much like the A7ii. I am technically "in like" with the performance of the a6300 and a6000 but certainly not "in love" with either of them. The could both be recycled for more FF bodies. 

While the RX10iii is an amazing workhorse and the files are amazing, for some reason I am more bonded with the RX10ii and find it to have that stickiness that makes me understand that I shouldn't let it go. The model 3? If the 4 is better the 3 is out the door. Amazing how we have attachments to some cameras but not others... More to come. 



Jaston Williams, photographed for his one man play, "Tru."

©2012 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.

Texas actor, Jaston Williams, is frequently cast in productions at Zach Theatre and I've gotten to know him from my vantage point as the photographer. It's not like we go out for drinks or play golf together but I think we've developed a good and insightful rapport with each other and have established, through long history, mutual respect for each other's talents. 

I took this photograph at the end of a quick, marketing shoot for Zach Theatre's production of "Tru." "Tru" is a one person play about the writer, Truman Capote. We had already gotten all of the shots on the marketing director's wish list and everyone was moving off to whatever was next on their schedule. I asked Jaston if he would linger for a few more minutes so I could make a few shots exactly the way I envisioned them. 

I know that this somber rendition won't appeal to all of my readers but it is one of my favorite portraits because I know it as part of Jaston's rich range of characterizations. I also enjoy the tonalities and the range from small pools of black to detailed, but on the edge, highlights. 

I did this image with a Sony a77 and the 16-50mm f2.8 Alpha lens.  It's a lens that I've always appreciated and now miss. 

Jaston and I photographed together a few weeks ago for his role of "Scrooge" in "A Christmas Carol." A totally different characterization. I'll post a few of those soon.

Portrait of Fadya using HMI lights. One on the background and one into an enormous umbrella.

 ©2015 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.

I am setting up the studio to make a portrait today at 2pm. Before I do anything with the lighting or background I look in a folder I keep on my desktop called, "My Favorite Portraits." There are a little over 100 images that span dozens of intended uses. While the portrait I'm making today is a headshot for an attorney that will be used on a corporate website I find that just looking at previous work informs my approach to new work.

Today my eyes settled on this image of Fadya and stuck. Different days bring different choices.

What I take away from looking at this image is the reminder that I really need to connect with my subject. I need people who look at the portrait to feel attached to the person in it in a warm and comfortable way.

For every project there has to be a starting point. Some parameters to aim for.

It helps to look at your own work from the past and to see what might have worked and what didn't. Both success and failure can exist in the same image. My usual task is how to maximize the first attribute and minimize the second.

That, and to make sure the restroom is clean and has fresh towels...

11.14.2016

Marketing in the time of e-mail overload. Buying stamps.

©2013 Kirk Tuck. All rights reserved.

In one person businesses the ebb and flow of financial success has a tendency to either make marketing seem superfluous or mission critical. I hate getting behind on basic marketing for my business but it can be hard to keep up with day to day keeping in touch when big projects loom. In the best of all possible worlds I'd have a marketer on staff and we'd be relentless but I can't stand the idea of having employees anymore so....

Because of all the turmoil in the USA recently we've had a number of projects delayed and some cancelled and now my attention is where it should be: on marketing towards the kinds of projects of which I would like to see more.

The perennial question is, how to best market in today's web centric environment?

Let me step back for a second and set out what I'm looking for. Two weeks ago I did an event photography assignment for AmeriCatalyst. We did a thorough reportage of their private conference on banking and finance at the Barton Creek Conference Center. It was a three day program with very interesting speaker and good stage design by Media Event Concepts. I had a blast learning new information, shooting a variety of cameras, and hanging out with lots of smart folks.

This reminded me that I've always enjoyed being invited to drop into the middle of conferences about subjects outside my areas of expertise and becoming a temporary part of much larger teams. Sadly, I haven't done a good job of marketing these services in the past two or three years. I have been more or less focused on advertising and portrait projects. But can an assignment to photograph metal gears in a factory hold a candle to photographing former presidents giving speeches? Are the sandwich platters from Jason's Deli any match for the delectable lunches and dinners served at the best restaurants and hotels? Maybe not.

So, when I woke up this morning I had two plans. The first was to go for a run around Lady Bird Lake and the second was to claw my way back into the event photography market. I can clearly identify the 30 or 40 locally headquartered companies I want to work for here and I can make good assumptions about the 60 or so on the next tier. I have a number of contacts at some of the companies and also a good collection of names via LinkedIn connections. But how to reach them with a sticky message?

I could try buying advertising on social media but there's really no way to micro-target the message to the right audience on the e-media that I know about. I could try an e-mail campaign but my perception is that people are overwhelmed with the sheer amount of daily e-mail they already receive.

I've decided to go decidedly "old school" and craft a direct mail letter, on stationary, with a printed sample, and make a direct contact through the U.S. Mail. A well written letter can be a great vehicle as it allows for a quick marketing message in the first paragraph but also gives readers who want more detail additional paragraphs that make the case for using me as an event photographer.

My business has had much support over the years providing images to Dell, Inc. and the city of Austin is full of people who've become financially secure working for that company. I've decided to select an image from one of the big events we covered and to use that as the sample image for the e-mail.

The first mailing will go to 90 select prospects and, if the response is good, we'll send to 90 more in a second mailing.

The nice thing about first class mail is that you are pretty much assured that it will get to the addressee and there is a more than even chance that it will get opened and at least lightly read. If my mailing list is less than accurate I'll get back the undeliverable and that's helpful too.

I like getting letters. It's different from getting more e-mail. Perhaps the difference also differentiates my message to the prospective customer. I guess we'll see. At any rate, the budget for a targeted mailing like this is relatively low. Less than $100. And except of the very top executives there are no real "spam" filters for regular mail.

I'll let you know how it all works out.

P.S. Nice run this morning. 56 degrees and thick fog everywhere. It was a nice, slow run; 10 minutes a mile, at best. But we didn't have swim practice today so what are you going to do? One of two goals accomplished. Now on to the writing segment of our day. KT

11.13.2016

Just a Monday Morning portrait from book #2.

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Wow. Blogger now has emojis.

Staying on the topic of gear catastrophes and close calls I thought I would share my Leica M3 story.


Many years ago, here in Austin, Texas, I was working the night shifts as a short order cook at a diner/restaurant called, Kerbey Lane Cafe. I worked the Thurs., Fri., and Sat. night shifts because they were the busiest and those shifts paid the most. They also left my days free to go out and show my portfolio to the handful of magazines and advertising agencies sprinkled around our (then) small town.

The time period was in the waning years of the 1970's. At the time all of my photography heroes, Garry Winogrand, Alan Pogue, Ralph Gibson and William Klein used Leica M series rangefinder cameras and I was certain that if I could just get my hands on a nice, clean Leica M3 with a 50mm, dual range Summicron that I'd be equally famous in no time at all. With the fame would come lucrative assignments and I would finally be able to quit my job in the restaurant and become a full time photographer. I'd never have to come home smelling of gingerbread pancakes and bacon again.

I finally lucked into a few small writing jobs for the healthcare industry and for a home builder (I'd shown a portfolio of photographs but they liked the writing better....) and I scraped up enough cash to buy a used, but minty, Leica M3 (single stroke) camera and an un-cloudy seven element, dual range Summicron, for the princely sum of $345. It took every cent I made from the writing I'd done over the course of several months. But, at last, I had the tool of the imaging demigods. I too would enter their rarified Pantheon and take amazing images that would cause the users of lesser cameras to gasp in astonishment. Or, at least that was my hope...

In the first few weeks I took the camera everywhere. One evening I went to a pizza place at the corner of 19th Street and Guadalupe St. and my (then) girlfriend and I had a large cheese pizza, and we split a salad. I was new to the art of carrying a camera everywhere and since I was focused on the pizza I carelessly hung the camera over the uprights of my chair. Since I was a camera-carrying neophyte in the presence of an attractive young co-ed I quickly forgot all about the camera as I looked into her big, sparkly, hazel eyes.

We finished our pizza and walked, hand in hand, to my old, beat up, blue Volkswagen Fastback automobile and headed back to my place. When I walked in the door of my apartment I immediately realized that my prize camera; the M3, was no longer attached to my shoulder. I was devastated. I thought of the money I'd spent and the time it took to accrue that money. I headed back to the pizza place more or less certain that I'd be met with blank stares and NO camera.

I went straight to the table we'd been sitting at. No camera. I looked on the floor but no happiness was found there. Finally, I walked up to the front of the house and asked for the manager. "Did you happen to find a camera in the last half hour?" I asked. I was nervous and distraught.

"Actually, we did." the manager said. "Can you describe it?"

I said, "I think it's probably the only Leica M3 camera in your lost and found."

He smiled, walked into the office and emerged with my camera in hand. I was so happy. So absolutely happy.

And you would think after this experience I would never leave a camera behind again, right? But many years later, when Ben was a young child, we all went to eat at a restaurant called, Asti. I'd upgraded cameras by then and was toting a Leica M6 .85ttl with a 50mm Summilux on the front of it. We sat at a banquet and I took numerous photos of my young son during the course of dinner. We always requested the table next to the front window because the late Summer light was so good....

We had a delightful meal and headed home. When I walked into the house I noticed the answering machine had a blinking light on it indicating a message. I pressed the button to hear it and there was the voice of Asti's owner telling me that I'd left my camera behind, on the banquet, and that it was safely awaiting me at the hostess's station. That camera didn't seem as precious as the older M3. It was less of a struggle to buy. But I was still very happy not to lose it. There was a photograph on that roll of film that has been one of my favorites now for at least 15 years. That one frame is worth (to me) the entire value of the Leica and lens I had carelessly left behind.

Absent minded, but that's how I roll.

Tales of catastrophic gear loss...


VSL reader and now contributor, Kurt Hansen, suggested that automatic file transfer from cards in cameras to alternate storage, while shooting, traveling, having coffee, etc. would safeguard valuable files from loss in the field. He used as an example the scenario where a camera is accidentally dropped overboard on a ferry crossing. A few literal minded readers immediately went to the position of, "I've never dropped a camera overboard from a ferry." I suggest they take a wider view and assume that a ferry accident is "stand-in" shorthand for any kind of camera-tastrophe. And I imagine we've all had one or two, at least.

Thought I'd share one of my most depressing. I was working with an assistant on an annual report for a company that does water and waste water treatment plants in cities and regions across the U.S. It was early days for digital so we were supplementing our digital camera gear with a few well chosen pieces of film gear that still seemed better suited to outlier shots. One day our team of client, ad agency representative, assistant and myself found ourselves at a plant with a large, primary wastewater intake tank.  A catwalk stretched about 60 feet across the tank, about 35 feet above it. For some crazy reason we decided that it would make a great image if I climbed up the ladder and walked across the catwalk to the center of the tank and then shot directly down with a super wide angle lens.

Wide angles weren't as wide on the APS-C sensors of the earlier cameras so I grabbed a Leica M6 rangefinder camera with its usual 50mm and, in a small shoulder bag, a 15mm f8.0 Hologon lens along with a circular, graduated neutral density filter on the front and a (not very accurate) bright line finder. I kept the expensive 15mm in the bag as I climbed the ladder so it wouldn't accidentally bang around.

I've never been particularly comfortable in high places but we used to push through our lesser phobias on a routine basis in order to get the shot for the client. The catwalk flooring was made of metal deck plate with the usual diamond shapes on it and it had metal railings on either side that camera up waist high. I slowly edged my way across to the center and surveyed the scene. My assistant and some of the others would be in the final shot unless I moved them. I pulled a small Motorola walkie-talkie off my belt and toggled the talk key to get my assistant's attention. We spoke and she moved the group out of the shot. I put the walkie-talkie back on my belt and started to prepare the camera.

I took the 50mm lens off the front of the camera and tucked it into the bag. Then I pulled the 15mm out and started to put it on the camera. I can't remember if it was a gust of wind or just a momentary lack of courage but I felt a bit of vertigo and, in a panic, grabbed for the railing. But in order to grab for the railing I had to ..... drop the lens. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. The lens turned over and over again as it rushed toward the churning contents of the tank. It hit with a plop! wavered for a second or two and started to sink. By this time I'd regained whatever composure I had left and pulled the walkie-talkie off my belt again. I yelled to my assistant, "Quick, jump in there and grab the lens before it sinks too far!!!" Of course, I was kidding. She grabbed her walkie-talkie and replied, "I quit."

While the lens would not have been saved by an automatic back-up I think Kurt's approach has much merit. I am reminded of a first world tragedy that struck one of my peers. He placed his new, super deluxe camera and zoom lens on the roof of his car as he took a cellphone call. He became so engrossed in the call that he got in, started up the car and drove off. The camera finally slid off as the car was negotiating a turn at around 45 MPH an it hit the pavement with lethal impact. My fellow photographer didn't realize what he had done until he pulled into the driveway of his home and went to unload his gear.

He would have been well served with an automated, remote back-up system for his files....

But I am assuming that none of my readers have ever done anything nearly as zany with their cameras, right?

11.12.2016

A VSL reader takes issue with my diminution of workflow as an issue for camera buyers. I think he's on to something. Well thought out.

VSL reader, Kurt Friis Hansen schools me a bit in response to my comments about workflow not being  important to camera consumers. I liked his e-mail to me, and the fact that it educated me, so I asked his permission to publish it as a "Guest Blog."  Here's what he had to say....

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Hi Kirk Tuck

I decided against including this in my comment on your web site, but I think the old saying: “What you don’t know is possible, you cannot ask for!" - or something to that effect. 

I think you need to visit and review the camera-image workflow from another viewpoint. You wrote:

"Thom Hogan repeatedly takes Nikon to task for "workflow." To summarize his position he seems to think that the main issues holding Nikon back are a paucity of APS-C lenses (side issue) and the inability to push one button on the back of a Nikon camera and instantly send images directly the social media or other sharing applications. I'm too old school to appreciate this point of view and disregard it just as I disregard GPS on cameras. Since this tech doesn't require much in additional hardware costs I'm all for its inclusion but I think a much more important impediment to Nikon's success, even with existing cameras, is their foot dragging approach to video."

I think you simplify the things - especially in lieu of what modern software already delivers to milllions and millions of people in all walks of (professional) life. Let me try to describe one - my - future scenario. My dream..

  1. Camera design as such is not affected, but enhanced with a communication interface (standardized, fast, not slow and proprietary as today).
  2. Camera can use memory cards as today (a kind of a belts and suspenders solution - especially intended for pro's).
  3. Your preferred "talk to" device is selected by powering on the device and the app (iOS, Android aaand Windows, macOS). Once paired, connection is automatic in the future - unless blocked by camera setting.
  4. Capabilities, configuration,  storage targets, behavior etc. is defined in the app/program - any camera settings required is handled by the app/program as needed.
  5. If no connection exists, camera behaves as normal.

Now we have "intelligence" in a place, where it is easily handled, extended and modified. Imagine named custom settings for your camera.

In theory any number of custom settings, not just three,  that need redefining on a frequent basis. Imagine customized prioritation rules regarding aperture preference and range, shutter speed and range balanced to ISO, focal length of lens, and situational requirements (sports, landscape, walkabout etc.).

Camera side

When a connection is active, and sync is activated (not just remote control), the camera saves any image/video on card. When save has completed, whether a new image/video is made or not), the camera starts transferring/syncing recent data to the connection controller (smartphone/computer) and so on for new images/videos.

Running in the background - selectable mode to sync only when camera inactive, concurrently or manual only. Akin to the workings of Google drive, OneDrive, iCloud etc. with an extra twist.

Optionally, data acknowledged as received by the controller can be deleted as required (oldest first), leading to "unlimited" camera memory.

Optional streaming and streaming quality can be activated by controller.

Whatever happens to the data in the connection controller is of no concern to the camera.

Until connected (or paired), the camera behaves as a standalone camera.

Connection controller

The last connected controller is active. To switch from i.e. computer to smartphone only involves stopping connection on computer and starting smartphone connection (no re-pairing is necessary second time and onward).

In addition to remote control and camera configuration, the sync behavior is controlled. I.e. (Examples) as one or more simultaneous options:

  1. Data is saved locally on controller.
  2. Data is saved (backup) to one or more connected resources (i.e. USB 3 HDD or SSD)
  3. Data is saved to one or more resources (NAS) on local network.
  4. Data is sync'ed to one or more configurable cloud storage providers.
  5. Configurable/pluggable extensions to other targets (i.e. Facebook etc.) may activate a manually "clickable" touch-button on camera screen, allowing targetable sync of individual images to special targets on an individual basis (one-click push to local press/media account possible).

Combinations and implementation is controlled solely in the controller app/program (and options allowed by the camera).

Whether you use the camera by hand or remotely is of no consequence to performance.

The general view is, that the camera can be activated as a controller extension - a specialized image/video extension delivering special powers and capabilities to i.e. a smartphone. Similar to an AirPlay device, that can be controlled and/or extended in scope by an iPhone.

I'm not naΓ―ve, but I still have the dream, that the communication protocol would be an open standard. Alas…

I have the impression, that camera companies prefer to risk their own future for even a remote chance of making life difficult for a competitor. The camera industry would never, ever have invented web and mail protocol standards, and the web and mail based internet we have today, would never had existed, if camera manufacturers had been in charge.

But… maybe the "camera makers" will begin to learn to sow - otherwise they cannot be helped, and deserve their self-inflicted decline.

Real life

Imagine you have been shooting all day. On your way back to base, you accidentally drop the bag with your camera over board on a local ferry. Properly set up, your images and videos - all of them - would have ended up on your phone, and optionally also on your home server, your cloud service, and the one special image or video you kicked along would already be visible online at your business connection. Whatever. Depending on preferences and options.

Camera, gear and memory card with contents may be lost, but without any extra effort on your part, your data, your income and livelihood, would be safe and sound. No affordable insurance would help on that front.

You have worked just as you usually do - except for kicking one image along to the right receiver - and you've lost no work. When you arrive home at your base, all your data is already stored as expected, ready for work. Accident or no accident.

Now you only have to handle the insurance company.

Addendum

A similar solution could have been in use today, if camera manufacturers had had the slightest interest in the well being of their professional and consumer users. It's nothing like rocket science; just intelligent use of known and working technology.

Venlig hilsen - Sincerely - Mit freundlichem Gruß
Kurt Friis Hansen