3.16.2017

A few more thoughts about super "bridge" cameras and why they make me smile.

People are slow to adapt to change. They hold onto ideas that have lost their deep roots and reject innovation because it comes in a form that they don't recognize; or reject it because of anachronistic prejudice. It's kind of dangerous because change is accelerating at a rate that's so fast we can barely recognize what exists today and few can imagine the change and innovation that will happen by next year. Who, in 2005, would have imagined that Nikon and Canon's biggest challenge

A funny thing happened in the kitchen on my way to my next photo assignment.

Temporary billboards for SXSW.

We had a nice photo assignment booked for today. One of my healthcare clients sent me a box full of products last week and we'd made arrangements to meet at my place at 9:00 am this morning to start shooting 25 thingies on white backgrounds.

Here's what I do when a day long assignment like this comes up: After we confirm the day, and get a good idea of what we're going to shoot, I dive into how I'm going to shoot. None of the products move and none of the products needed to be shown on live models so I knew I'd be safe lighting everything with LED lights. I also knew that we'd be shooting with a longer focal length and not with wide angles so after figuring out the distance of the object to the background, as well as the maximum object size I knew I could shoot everything with a 50 inch wide, white seamless paper backdrop in the background and I built out from there.

Here's the tricky part of the shoot: The products are generally black. They are things like back braces and neck braces and things that are generally worn by patients recovering from things like accidents and back surgeries. So, all of the objects are either black or gray and black. The clients has a style established and it consists of shooting these products on shiny, white, featureless mannequins. So, deep black products on shiny white mannequins against white backgrounds. Got it.

Shoots like this mostly mean that you need to control the light on the background separately from the lighting on the product. Usually, I would make the background one third of a stop hotter than the light on the foreground but since I needed to do clipping paths of the shiny, white mannequin and the product I couldn't blow out the background to put white or I'd never stand a chance in cutting out those backgrounds. Where would the edge be? I wanted the mannequins to have some detail in the whites but I also wanted there to be good detail in the deep black material the products were made of. I decided to pull down the exposure on the background to keep a good edge between the background and the foreground. This would help give me an edge to cut against without adding too many wraparound highlight on the main subject.

To evenly light the background I used two Aputure LightStorm LS-1/2 lights, set in vertical orientations, to either side. I used them far enough from the background to give me an even wash of light and used barn doors made of BlackWrap (tm) to block any direct light from hitting my subject. A quick incident meter reading let me know that if I wanted f11 @ 1/4 second, ISO 100 on my main subject I would need to dial the background lights down to 60% each. The LS-1/2s are controllable from 10% 5o 100% in single digit increments so no problem there.

I lit my main subject (the mannequin with the product applied) with two LightStorm LS-1S lights shining through diffusion material on Chimera 48 inch ENG panels. The panels were set 45 degrees to each side and fairly close (about two and a half feet from the subject). This allowed me to move the actual lighting instruments back to make the light spread on the panels more even across the surface. When I wanted one light to take precedence in the lighting scheme I could bring that light in closer, creating a bright spot in the center of the panel fabric which made the light brighter overall and contrastier (since the size of the light relative to the subject becomes smaller). This gave me more control and quicker control that I would have had using an umbrella or soft box.

Finally, I used a small Aputure Amaran portable light panel just in front and below the camera position to provide fill into specific areas. This worked to help me control small shadows adjacent to the products without having to increase the overall illumination.

I used a Sony A7Rii on a very big Benro tripod for the photographs. I used it in its full on raw mode; 42 megapixels of uncompressed pixel happiness. This might seem to be overkill for a photograph destined for a catalogue or a small inset image in a brochure but the extra resolution and detail comes in handy when one is making finicky clipping paths.

I used the trusty and sharp, 70-200mm f4 G series zoom lens for nearly every shot. Its well controlled flare characteristics and high overall sharpness make it a perfect choice when you don't need a lot of close-in magnification or wide angle coverage. Every Sony shooter should consider this lens as part of their toolkit. Boring but close to perfect.

There were several shots that needed to be made with much higher magnification and in these cases I used the Rokinon 100mm f2.8 macro lens. On one shot which needed deep depth of field I stopped down to f16.5 and, on 100% examination, was pleased with the results!

I had three guests in the studio for the duration of the shoot. One was the product manager, one was the graphic designer for the company and the third was the advertising and marketing coordinator.

When I have guests in the studio I always make an effort to keep them happily hydrated and fed. We offered them five different kinds of energy bars, whole wheat croissants with the option of adding peanut butter and blueberry preserves, fresh apples and bananas as well as yogurt. Hell, if someone had come really hungry I would gladly have fired up the range and made them a pan of migas. Or huevos rancheros.

We have a big Keurig on the counter and lots of coffee brands to choose from. Sparkling water, sparking water with lime, and still water.

We have a guest share for the Wi-Fi network as well. It's great to work at the home base because I have all the tools and modifiers I'd ever want immediately at hand and, when we hit a spot where styling takes time, I can head into the house and check on Studio Dog.

But every once in a while the photo gods love to toss a wrench in the works. Just before hitting the rack last night I was washing some pots and pans in the kitchen and the sink began to back up. Wouldn't drain! I tried a plunger and boiling water and finally (grumbling) pulled on my shoes and headed to the grocery store to buy a bottle of Liquid Plumber. I followed the instructions and.....still no joy.

I let everything sit until this morning. I guess I was expecting that time and the Liquid Plumber would do the trick, if I was patient. I headed to the kitchen and the sink had drained. I tried running some water before turning on the dishwasher and creating a catastrophic emergency (you can see how tough life can be for us photographers....)

Still no joy as the sink filled up again and refused to drain.

Didn't much matter in the long run. We shot photographs. We made coffee. We ate croissants. We shot more photographs. The only thing different is that instead of rinsing coffee cups as we went along I had to round them all up after the shoot.

One thing I should mention that really helps in studio still life shoots is the use of a monitor tethered to the camera. I hate tethering to laptops or desktops. I want the screen close to the camera and moveable. I used a clamp on the tripod leg to hold a small (7 inch ) monitor a couple of inches to the left of the camera. This gave the product manager and graphic designer constant access to either the preview of the shot or a review of the shot. It made for an efficient feedback chain. I loved having the live histogram and all of the camera info right there on a bigger screen.

When we finished the shoot it was about 1:30pm. No one wanted to go back to work so we headed over to my favorite Chinese restaurant for a late lunch. Never a better time to get to know your clients better than over lunch.

When I got back home Studio Dog was waiting by the door and helped me decide which plumbing company to call. She must know her stuff because we had a plumber here in less than an hour and the sink is righteous once more. Old cast iron pipes. Some oxidation. Some clog somewhere.

Now everything is once more right with the world and it's time to download those files and to sit down and start working on clipping paths. I've spent too much time thinking about the kitchen for the last 24 hours. I think that means Belinda and I should head out to dinner tonight. Gotta be able to read the signs.

The monitor is now pretty much mandatory for shoots where art directors or product managers are attending. The ability to share images without slowing down the shoot is good. It's quicker and easier to use an HDMI monitor, originally purchased for video production, than to go the fully tethered route. A benefit beyond good seeing and sharing is that running the monitor shuts off the screens in the camera and vastly increases the run time for the camera batteries. Important for some stuff. Very useful when doing long form video.

Nothing fancy here. Just a Super Clamp attached to one of the tripod legs, anchoring an arm that allows me to position the monitor where I can get the most use out of it. We get much use out of Super Clamps and Grip Heads. Everybody should have a bag full. (We don't sell them...). 

I use "nets" for lighting control. Nothing's better than pulling unwanted light off a subject without introducing hard edged shadows, etc. I used this net to pull light off the shoulder of the shiny, white mannequin we had in the studio earlier in the day. It's not in its "working position" for this photo...

While I am happy to work on various locations nothing really beats working at home base. My 600 square foot studio/office is about ten steps from the front door of our house; which makes the daily commute very manageable. It's fun to be able to reach into a bag and grab three or four extension cords. Reach into another bag for an assortment of microphones. Turn around and grab five or six different rolls of tape off a shelf. Etc.  It's also convenient to be able to walk into the house and check on Studio Dog. She always appreciates a visit and some time outside.  

Above is an itty-bitty Aputure Amaran LED light. Amazingly, it matches the color spectrum of my much more expensive lights. It's great to be able to grab a little, battery powered light and reduce a shadow in a single spot --- instead of having to make more "global" corrections. 


3.15.2017

A Newly Published Work produced in January. Shown here.


Karen Roy Talks About the Ottobock OBSS Chair Back from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

On a cold, clear day in January Ben and I had the opportunity to do an interview with Karen Roy for our client, Ottobock. I'll have Karen tell her story in the video.

Ben and I got up early and packed the car for the half hour trip to Georgetown, Texas where we would set up and be ready for a short interview in a private home. My focus early on was to set up and light for lots of b-roll (most of which we ended up not using...). Ben was on the second camera and he was getting details (which we did end up using...).

The main interview footage was done with a Sony a6300 camera recording 1080p. The interview was lit with three Aputure LightStorm LED panels and the audio was provided by an Audio Technica AT835b microphone.

We picked up additional video in a nearby park and at the offices of our client.

Since the day was bright and sunny I was happy I had thought to bring variable neutral density filters for both cameras/lenses.

While it might seem that Karen is miraculously delivering a perfectly crafted statement her interview is actually made up of audio (and video) from about nine or ten different clips. And some of the clips are interwoven in a different order than which they were recorded.

Ben handled the editing for the project. It was the last one he worked on before heading to Seoul, S. Korea for his long semester abroad.

For the kinds of projects I do I think the perfect crew size (including myself) is three. A first camera, a second camera and a sound person. That gives us plenty of hands for moving gear around as well as lighting in the minimalist tradition. More crew makes for more logistical moving parts. I like to shoot and move a lot in a day and I love a very small crew who can move with me without having to give them detailed instructions.

I'm sure that on bigger projects every crew member adds to the efficiency but on smaller, more intimate jobs, a larger crew is just more friction.

This is the last of the videos I'll share for a while as every video shared seems to drop readership of the blog by about 25%. At the rate we're going we'll be into negative numbers by the next three shares.

I guess I'll just go back to the old "Nikon Versus Canon!!!" & "DSLR Versus Mirrorless" routines. People never seem to get enough of that. Or maybe I'll explain how to use fill flash in sunlight for the thousandth time. That seems like a mystery that never gets solved....oh well.

3.13.2017

A Third Installment of my Video Project from Canada. David's Story.


David Sims C-Leg Video. Rev. 1.2Z March 13, 2017 from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

I'm not sure there's ever a point at which video producers feel their editing is done. I could wake up every morning and change something on every video I've ever done. There are two things that bring projects to completion. One is budget; but if you enjoy a project budgets prove to be weak firewalls against spending more time fine tuning, or trying different approaches.

The other thing that serves as a giant stop sign in the editing process is a deadline. Hitting the deadline nearly always trumps one more set of tweaks.

As in the previous videos we used a Sony A7Rii, shooting in 4K (APS-C) mode to record the main interview footage and used a Sony RX10iii in 1080p mode to shoot our b-roll "footage."

The word, "footage" sounds a little zany to me given that there are no longer linear feet of film dragging through a film gate. We may have to revise our language around motion pictures as we head toward the future....

Everything that was lit was lit with Aputure LightStorm LED panels. Our primary microphone (into the Sony A7Rii) was a Sennheiser MKE600. We were working in the middle of an ongoing business and we could not always control background sounds but we did the best we could.

The main target for these videos is our client's website. They were not shot with theatrical distribution in mind and, in all likelihood, they will never be broadcast. The switch between black and white and color (which I also like) is part of the client's style guide.

I like David's interview because it was so personal and honest. This was a very rewarding project that put me in touch with some wonderful people. People with great stories about overcoming trauma and setbacks.

I want to do more like this.

3.11.2017

Thoughts about recent developments in cameras such as the Olympus EM1.2, the Panasonic GH5 and the Sony a6500.


Something is happening quickly in the camera market. It's either good or evil depending on your point of view. Or your career trajectory. But it is happening nonetheless. Still cameras are tranforming (like Optimus Prime) from dedicated still photography devices into nearly full-fledged video recording devices. And the trend seems to be accelerating and punishing the laggards in the field while rewarding video-centric early adopters. 

It's easy to say that it all started with the Nikon D90 or the Canon 5D mk2 but the reality is that smaller bridge cameras incorporated video modes long before those modes made the jump up to interchangeable lens, large sensor, still cameras. Doesn't matter when it started though, the trend is here and it's moving quicker and quicker; and may determine whether your favorite camera model comes to market and succeeds, across international lines. 

This is very evident in the progression of Olympus and Panasonic cameras. The GH5, which will hit the market in a couple of weeks, is much more of a video production camera than a still camera (although the two camps are in no way mutually exclusive). It offers more flexible menu options and capture file types for video than many dedicated video cameras at multiples of its price. It will soon be one of the very few consumer cameras to

First Day of SXSW. First Downtown stroll with the Panasonic fz2500.


OMG. A post that's entirely about the still photography characteristics of a new camera. No video anywhere in sight!!! 

The Panasonic fz2500 hit the studio on Weds. and it wasn't until Friday morning that I actually had time to walk around downtown Austin and take some images with it. I grabbed an extra battery before I left the house and made all the fundamental settings to the camera, including turning down the default noise reduction by two clicks. I never seem to mind uniform noise in my images nearly as much as I do obvious smoothing from noise reduction. I'm guessing it's subjective.

The first thing I noticed was just how much difference only a couple increments of magnification make in a viewfinder. I thought the difference between .70x and .74x would be no big deal but it makes the finder brighter and more comfortable to compose in than the previous, fz1000 or any of the Sony RX10 variants. 

I found myself using the longer end of the zoom lens. Seems like my "go-to" approach to these super zoom cameras. All the images were shot in raw and converted to Jpegs in Lightroom. I think I got a little overzealous with the introduction of magenta into my color correction mix. I'll watch out for that in the future. 

The camera was well behaved and the files straight out of camera were

3.09.2017

Initial Reactions to the Panasonic FZ2500 that Showed Up Yesterday.



I hadn't really intended to buy an FZ2500 camera but in the end my list of rationalizations made compelling sense (to no one but me) and I decided it would be a profitable addition to my little corral of cameras. In spirit the FZ2500 is very similar to the Sony RX10iii, which I hold in high regard. They are both all-in-one camera packages that have big, one inch sensors and wide ranging lenses. Both are very able 4K video machines and both are highly competent photography tools. On any given review site these two cameras get compared side by side whenever either one is analyzed. Each has its strengths and weaknesses and I figured if I had them both the they would happily complement each other. Right?

Aesthetically they are two different animals. The Sony is designed with a more lux attitude in mind. Metal everywhere and a refined physical interface. It's the product whose makers recognized the selling value of good industrial design. It's sleek....for a big, rounded brick of a camera.

The FZ2500 (from now on, "The Lumix") feels like the designers cut a few corners, spec'd a lot of plastic, borrowed from a 1980's industrial design style, and pretty much scrimped on the stuff that didn't directly effect image quality or basic handling. I'm slightly annoyed at the shiny control knobs on a camera that is otherwise finished in matte. The switches are less than elegant and the overall feel is of a company that values raw performance over finesse. But I'm okay with that because the real reason to buy either camera is to make movies and photographs. 

Both cameras use 20 megapixel, one inch, BSI, CMOS sensors, but

3.07.2017

Ah, the family album. Temporal intermixing.





SXSW starts this Friday. I'm thinking about renting out one of our cars as an "Air BNB."

A sign of the times. Taken last year. Parking for a month? A week?
Naw, that was the rate for the day.... welcome to New Austin.

In about three days the onslaught will begin. Hordes of pale skinned people with tight legged pants will descend upon the city, finding and taking every parking space within a sixty mile radius. All 200,000 temporary visitors will walk around downtown and all will have smartphones pressed against an ear or held just in front of them as they stroll, oblivious to traffic lights, "walk" signs, other pedestrians and multi-ton chariots of steel barreling down upon them. 

I will be on a busy street corner hawking elevator passes, helicopter transport coupons, maps to the downtown houses of famous rock musicians and, of course, translation "cheat sheets" for those who do not speak Texan. 

Restaurants will languish as most of the attendees live on endless coffee until mid-afternoon, replaced by beer and more beer around prevning (pre-evening). Rounded out by donuts and breakfast tacos. And swag food at the parties for the platinum pass holders.

I very much recommend photographers in the area head downtown to document this gathering. It's the documentary equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. Just walk out into the middle of Sixth St., spin around in a circle and keep the shutter button pressed down. The difference between a good SXSW photographer and all the rest? The quality of the captions. 

I actually do think it's all fun. I just feel sorry for people such as my wife whose advertising agency is located in one of the downtown high-rises. For about ten days in a row getting downtown and into one's parking garage is akin to one of the labors of Hercules. Messy work. 

One real benefit of the gathering is that it provides much work for many of my friends in the video field. There's always a new batch of up-and-coming start-up companies hungry to have their events shot on video. Let's give those Sonys and Canons a workout. 




And they all come with nice little labels on lanyards.


Strange Name. Nice Microphone.

Aputure Diety Shotgun Microphone. 

Lots of microphones out in the world. Picking the right one seems to be a mystery. The ultimate in subjective auditioning and shopping. In the projects that I've done in video I've found shotgun style microphones to be better solutions for most of the situations in which I've been filming. There's something about the universal lavaliere microphone that just seems acoustically "flat" to me. Used correctly I'm pretty sure that a good hyper-cardioid microphone has richer tones and better dynamic range than the tie-clip minis. 

On previous projects I've used a Rode NTG-2, an Audio Technica 835b, and, most recently, a Sennheiser MKE600, with mostly good results. If I put on the good headphones and really listen I'll have to admit that the AT has a bit of coloration that makes things sound...different. The Rode seems a bit insensitive and requires more amplification, which, in turn, adds more hiss or noise to the recordings. The Sennheiser is pretty neutral and has a lower quantity of noise in the files. It's a good, inexpensive choice. But far be it for me to leave "well enough" alone. 

I made the mistake of visiting Curtiss Judd's YouTube channel recently and watched his reviews of a number of different microphones. One that seemed particularly interesting was a microphone from an unlikely source --- the people at Aputure. 

Aputure is the same company from which I've recently sourced five great LED fixtures that I've been very happy with. Continued use has proven to me that the company's claims that the lights are in the CRI range of 96 and 98 are accurate. They are full spectrum and deliver what I need for the work I do. After working with their lights for a while I gravitated in Aputure's direction when I started looking for a replacement, 7 inch, field monitor. I've been happy with their VS-2 FineHD in every regard. I also appreciated that they came out with a firmware upgrade that allows the monitor to be used with 4k video streams now. A wonderful, after-the-sale upgrade that makes the monitor a great support tool for 4K shooters. 

When I saw the Aputure Diety microphone, watched the reviews, and saw the price ($359) I decided to try one and see if the rumors were true; would it go toe-to-toe with the standard of the industry, the Sennheiser MKH 416? Could the Diety match the quality of a $1,000 microphone? I'll probably never make the direct comparison but I keep seeing the comparison pop up on the web. Owners of the 416 usually end their reviews with a grudging approval of the Diety but with the insistence that the 416 still rules. Reviewers who own both usually find them to be very close, and reviewers who own neither seem to find them evenly matched. 

Mine came via Amazon delivery today. I unpacked it, plugged it into the Tascam 60DRii audio recorder and started listening to everything I could. The new microphone is handily better than my Rode, and my Audio Technica, and quieter and clearer than my second place contender, the MKE 600. Noise is almost non-existent and, if there is a visual analogy for  its performance, I would say that the difference between the Diety and the other microphones in my collection is similar to first looking through a dirty window or a lens with a smeared filter, then cleaning the window or filter and looking again. Everything is just...clearer. 

I tried the microphone in the Zoom H5 recorder with the same results and also with a Saramonic SmartRig+ audio pre-amp and phantom power interface, into a Sony RX10iii and loved the performance of the combination. I think we've got an audio winner!

Bizarre Coincidence: So, I usually swim in the early morning but today I decided to go to the noon swim. I can count the times I've ordered microphones from Amazon on one finger. The manager at our swim club is not in the audio visual business, nor does he make video. But all of this made a lunch time coincidence eerily strange...

The Amazon delivery guy hit my house just as I was getting ready to go to the pool. He handed me a brown box with the distinctive Amazon packing tape on it and I brought it into the studio, opened it to look for shipping damage and, finding none, headed over to the club for our masters swim. I dropped by the manager's office to ask about some paperwork. As we were chatting there was a knock on his office door and when we opened it there was an Amazon delivery person. He had a box the same size as the box I'd just received back at the studio.  He handed it to the manager who said, "Ah, good. My microphone came!" 

I was shocked and stood around while he opened the box and revealed a brand new, Shure, dynamic microphone. I backed out of the office cautiously and headed to the pool. Random coincidence? 

Not what I expected to see at swim practice.