10.14.2017

It's fun to look back a year and see what we were photographing at Zach Theatre.

A Marketing photo from "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." 

I was over at Zach Theatre a week ago and I walked around the offices. In every hallway they have framed production photos which span decades. All are printed 12x18 inches and are well matted. All but a handful were made by me. There is generally only one image per production but they were carefully curated by the marketing director.

When I walked through I could "see" every camera that I used to take the photos. We started with M series Leicas and Hasselblads, worked our way through a few generations of Contax film cameras and Nikon film cameras; and then there is the long progression of digital cameras, starting with an Olympus e-10 (the first really effective digital "bridge" camera) and continuing through all the different formats and brands, and ending up, recently, with the Panasonic GH5s. 

It's interesting to see that, while there are some minor technical differences in the images between all the generations of cameras, the differences are not nearly as great as camera advertising, photographer blogs and photo-oriented websites would have one believe. The magic is never in whatever camera was used. Whether the photos work or not (aesthetically) is all tied to several decidedly non-technical factors. To wit: Did I compose the scene in an interesting and dynamic way? Did I capture the peak of action within the scene? Was I able to get on film (or "on sensor") the expressions on the actors' faces that help define and refine the story being told on the stage? Using mostly manual focus, was I able to do all of the above while getting sharp focus on constantly moving actors?

If you really think that today's photography is challenging you should step back a decade or two and try nailing focus, and shifting exposure parameters, through the dim prism of, or reversed waist level finder of, a Hasselblad 500C/M camera and a lens with a long manual focus throw. Everything else will seem like gravy on biscuits by comparison...

Part of theater photography is having an intuition for where actors will move next and what their future actions will be. You have to put yourself and camera into the place where the actors will end up next. Not where they were a few seconds ago.

There was a time when we set up, lit and meticulously styled the promotional photographs. Those are still my favorites.


Photograph of Ben on the dock at Emma Long Park. Contax G2 + 21mm Zeiss Biogon. B&W film. Deep Yellow filter.


So much of what we talk about revolves around the technical nuances of cameras but all of that seems to be secondary to grabbing up the camera quickly when you see a shot and just using it adroitly. This image was shot during an assignment. It was unplanned (to say the least) but ended up being the opener for a multi-ad advertising campaign.

Had I planned it all out, lit it and shot with a tripod mounted Hasselblad I am certain that Ben would have been way past me before I got anywhere close to pushing the shutter button.

The client was in another (geographical) state. No idea how the shot came into existence. No idea what camera I was using. No curiosity about the technique. They just recognized that this finished "spur of the moment" shot was what they wanted/needed for their advertising. And, in my 30 some years of daily experience, that's just the way things usually go... We plan and plan but the authentic, uplanned moment usually trumps all kinds of technical perfection.  And, no. You usually can't have it both ways, no matter how hard you try.

10.13.2017

I thought I would share a verbatim promotional e-mail with my VSL crowd. This is what I've been sending (with personal salutations) to my list.

Dear (lovely and coveted clients),

It’s been busy around our studio. My client, ZachTheatre.org just opened their 2017-2018 season with the musical, “Singin' in the Rain.” My company shot the production stills, advertising images, and several promotional videos about the production. One of the coolest parts of the play is when the lead actor, and then the cast, actually dance in the rain. The tech crew created a rain device that delivers the drops from the front of stage to the back, and from side to side. 



Here’s a link to the video interview with the choreographer and the director: https://vimeo.com/237315221 Complete with tap dancing in the rain! 

The video racked up over 8,000 views in its first 48 hours online! 


The musical is a lot of fun and it’s playing thru October 29th. 

Please keep me in mind if you need photography and/or video production.  Umbrellas provided, if necessary... 

All the best, Kirk 

Kirk Tuck Video and Photography 

Web: www.kirktuck.com 
E-mail: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 
Phone: 512-XXX-XXXX 

Industrial Strength Imaging. 

https://vimeo.com/237315221

If you are a decent technical photographer it's so easy to fall into the trap of loving each incremental camera improvement...

A reader assumed that this was an m4:3rd camera shot. He suggested that 
captioning it as such would further nail down the argument I am making below.
Sadly, it was not made with an m4:3rds camera.

It was made with a ONE INCH CAMERA.

...but the huge majority of lackadaisical amateurs, finnicky hobbyists and working professionals routinely, "love", "like" and gush over a multitude of photographic images they see on the internet; enjoying the bounty of the proffered work at sizes nudging up toward 1,200 pixels in a long horizontal row. Most routinely lie about making reams and reams of splendid and delicious large prints from whatever camera represents this quarter's technical miracle. At best they read someone else's lie about master print making at the size of a house and pass that lie along as their own. The adoration of that last 2.3% addition of pixels to the edge of the frame is such a "last century" affectation. The reality; the hard, fast reality is that the screen is our new medium of access and appreciation for the photographic image and the screen has the distinct advantage of being almost completely format and resolution neutral.

People who find themselves all pumped up by the "perceived" difference between a Nikon D810 and a D850 need to have their heads examined. People who denigrate the "smaller formats" as being somehow inadequate are self deluding. No strength of magic wand will make an idea better. No amount of purchase power will replace the hard won skills of seeing well and imagining better.

It's a pursuit as senseless as the pursuit of raw horsepower. The internet is like a crowded freeway at rush hour. Your Dodge Viper may have crazy amounts of horsepower but in Austin, Texas, on the Mopac "Expressway", you'll be right in line behind that 120 horsepower, 1996 Toyota Corolla (with no wheel covers) and you'll both be going the same 15 MPH for miles at a time. The only difference being that you wasted a lot of money buying and gassing up the Viper.




10.12.2017

Austin still has a quirk or two.


A prime downtown billboard without a selling message. It has "Art" instead. 


Trader Joe's downtown location pays tribute to Matthew McConaughy in his role in Richard Linklater's early (2nd) movie: "Dazed and Confused." 

"It'd be a lot cooler if you did....."

Playing around with a "bridge" camera. Getting out of the studio and away from the computer. Mid-afternoon holiday.


Most of us have the tendency to spend more time in front of the computer screen than we intend. At least our kids, who are mightily addicted to their smartphones, can take their hand held devices out the door with them. We seem anchored to our desktops. I guess it's easier to surf the web and handle hot coffee when one is sitting down....

Recently I've started pushing myself out the door when I'm finished with actual work on my computer. I like to take different cameras out with me when I'm walking and it's been a bonus to head toward an "all Panasonic" work environment since the menus are all (rationally) set up the same way. There's less and less fumble for control. 

On my short walk I saw a new restaurant downtown called, Le Politique, on Second St. Built and furnished like a classic French cafĂ©. There was the JW Marriott Hotel, just crawling with conference goers who all had the biggest lanyard-anchored badges bouncing on their chests that I've ever seen (not pictured here). As I left the hotel and was standing at a crosswalk waiting for the light change a woman standing next to me turned and asked if I could pull her water bottle out of a side pocket of her backpack; she couldn't reach it. 

I walked through the convention center where a local company called, SpiceWorks, was holding their conference. They are also celebrating 10 years of existence. It was the usual crew of software developers, etc. You can tell at a glance in Austin. 

I came across the woman in leather pants (above) holding a bouquet of flowers. She is the designated greeter for some boy band. The arrival of their tour bus is imminent. She'll guide them through the loading dock and into the safe confines of the green room complex of the ACL Theater. 

I came across a man eating through his own smallish carton of Blue Bell Vanilla ice cream. A man sleeping on a bench. A crowd of (mostly) young women waiting for the same boy band as the flower bearer above. A coffee meeting in suits. A solitary cigarette break. A woman grappling with a dog and digital parking meter. It was a brisk but lackadaisical afternoon stroll. 

I was using a Panasonic FZ2500 that had a small microphone in the hot shoe. I thought I might shoot some video but the monochrome setting on the camera created a feeling of yesteryear so endearing to me that I just got into the concept of Tri-X-ism and was off on autopilot. It's glorious to be outside when the city is alive, the temperature moderate and the sun shining but mild. 

I didn't want the buzz of the day to vanish so we headed out to dinner instead of staying home. We headed over to Asti Trattoria (see the video on my website....) and had an appetizer of calamari, then shared a tomato, mozzarella and basil pizza, covered with fresh, tossed arugula. Belinda had a prosecco while I had an IPA from a San Francisco brewery. It was so much fun being immersed in real life. Makes me wonder what I'm doing sitting here now. Oh, that's right, I'm just tying up some loose ends before a midday swim. Oh crap. I just remembered something important --- I forgot to work this week.
Yikes. I guess I'll make up for it next week..... 

What do you do when you find yourself overdosed with desk time?















10.11.2017

An interesting dilemma. Client with an existing background for portraits.

Noelia H. helps me test the Mamiya 28 MF.

An interesting conundrum for portrait photographers. I got a call a while back from an engineering company that needs 24 portraits done. They would like to do the portraits at their headquarters building here in Austin (no problem) and they would like the images to have a consistent look (no problem) but the issue I'm grappling with came later, after we'd struck a deal and were moving forward...

The client had used a different photographer in the past and that photographer, who is more focused on a PPofA portrait style (which works well for families, and kids), used a custom painted canvas background that is now impossible to source and also looks (to my sensibilities) a bit dated. I have scoured the web to see if I can find a close match but at the same time I'm more inclined to go back to the client and discuss alternatives that would benefit them.

I find detailed backgrounds (and the previous photographer obviously believed in f16 as an optimum portrait aperture) distracting; especially when the primary use of the images is in a website gallery with dozens of other small images. My first choice would be a steel gray background with no texture and my second choice would be a gray canvas background with minimum texture. Also, I like to through backgrounds out of focus so I like to shoot FF cameras at f4.0 and m4:3 cameras at something like f2.0 or 2.8.

One way or another I'm scheduled to shoot one week from now so I feel that I have to go back to the client today and discuss how we'll proceed. I think I'm going to suggest my preferred style but I'm also researching with a couple of good, local retouchers, the cost (in bulk) to take the existing portraits currently being used by the client and have them drop out the backgrounds and replace them with a clean image of my chosen background. That's a hassle and the it's likely to involve some compromises in some of the images.

My other suggestion is that they consider the new background as a standard going forward and work over time to re-photograph the people who were photographed in the previous style.

Has anyone else had a similar situation arise? Suggestions most welcome!

10.08.2017

"Singin' in the Rain" A video for Zach Theatre. Stills and video shot with the Panasonic GH5.


Singing in the rain interviews from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

Here is the video I mentioned last week. I shot all of it on a GH5 and edited in Final Cut Pro X. There is absolutely no color grading or post production on the actual video for either interviewee. I was happy with the files straight from camera. This piece was shot in 1080p. Its intended use is on the web, via YouTube and Vimeo.

I am happy to mix my stills with the video. I think it's a fun way to get in lots and lots of content.

Added on 10/10: Let's talk effectiveness for a moment. I did the video as an exercise for a non-profit client. I have a 30 year history with Zach Theatre and love the work they do. At any rate I handed off the video to them yesterday afternoon. Four hours after they posted the video file on their Facebook page they had gotten over 1,000 views. Now, about 16 hours later they have 4200+ views on their Facebook page. A live theatre review site picked up the video file (with permission) on their homepage and the video has gotten another 1,500+ views. My blog has delivered several thousand views (but most are from out of the state of Texas....). These all occurred in less than 24 hours. I am guessing that targeted videos are a good resource....

Added later on 10/10: We have now published (yesterday) my 3,400th blog post. Google tells me that 23,250,000+ have come and read material directly on the blog since its inception and that 82,000,000 total page views have occurred, which includes referrals. It's kind of fun....


10.07.2017

OT: Major Disruption in My Swimming Universe.



As readers of my blog may have surmised, I love to swim. I've been doing it since I was six. I swam in high school and college, and for the last 20 years I've gotten up most days and happily dragged myself (I've never been an exceptional "morning person") to the Rollingwood Pool (AKA: Western Hills Athletic Club) to swim at 7:00 am with the WHAC Masters. It's a masters team comprised of former Olympians, All Americans and just regular vanilla swimmers like me. Some of the folks in the workouts are relentlessly chasing some demon or other; some swim to stay in really good shape while others, like me, swim five or six times a week so we can eat whatever we want, whenever we want it and still fit into the pants we bought in 1982...

The pool has been a great comfort to me in periods of stress and anxiety. The camaraderie has been priceless. The consistency of the practice helps to anchor most of the rest of my day-to-day life and add structure to a relatively unstructured freelance existence. And in good times and bad I have never winced at coming up with the $100 bucks a month to pay my dues.

In the middle of the Summer the pool manager sent out an e-mail telling us that the board of directors for the club decided that they had deferred major maintenance for as long as they could and that the pool needed to be closed for a period of time to effect repairs. They decided that the last day the pool would be open would be Sunday, the first of October. After that all the masters swimmers would have to fend for themselves, find other programs or hibernate until sometime near the end of January.

We swimmers consider our pool special. Its water is chilled in the Summer and heated in the winter. We've swum during heatwaves and snow storms. We've collectively watched the steam from the warm water melt snow flakes a couple inches above the pool in January and February. Many of us also run at the hike and bike trail about a mile away and, after a run in 100+ degrees, it's become a habit to finish the run at the pool, diving in just before the onset of heat exhaustion (kinda kidding, but not really...).

Our workouts are coached and supervised. Some of our coaches are former Olympians. One was the world champion in the Ironman a while back. Some of the workouts are brutal. Others are fun. Oh heck, even the brutal ones are fun.....as long as we survive them.

So I am in my first week of real, agonizing withdrawal from the familiarity and comfort of my swim club; my pool. At first I thought I would follow our pack to a different, competitive pool or head over to the 5:45 am workout at the University of Texas at Austin. But I chose a different path and I've been frequenting the Deep Eddy Pool. It's a 33 and 1/3 yard, deep well water fed pool (no chlorine or chemistry) and it's been an Austin landmark forever (1915). In the Summer it's too crowded to swim laps in (for me). But starting in October the recreational swimming crowd winds down and the water temperature of the well water starts dropping. Right now it's about eight degrees cooler than my beloved WHAC pool.

I thought I'd be averse to the colder water but I have a discipline streak that tends to ignore the odd discomfort in the pursuit of raw yardage; after all, there is still chocolate cake and Champagne to be savored...

I've hit the pool almost everyday this week, trying to get in two miles a day. I'm recalibrating from a 25 yard pool to a 33-1/3 yard pool and it's actually working.

Why do I swim? Well, I hit the doctor's office last Monday for a yearly physical. According to their measurements I have a body fat ratio of about 11%, a resting pulse rate of 54 and, even though I love coffee, a blood pressure of 115/65. Considering the weird profession I pursue I'm happy with all those little metrics and consider them a benefit to my work. My doctor suggests that I not in bad shape for someone about to hit 62. And swimming also keeps me in shape for hauling around gear.

Best of all, I found an old punch card for the Austin city pools that I had not used up. I've got just enough remaining swims on the card to get me through October. The admission to the pool is free from November to March. A net cost savings of $600 from now until March 2018.

This morning six or seven of the WHAC crew showed up at the Deep Eddy Pool around the same time I did. Old habits die hard. We got in a an hour and a half of swimming and then we met, as we have for several decades, at the local coffee house to socialize. I'm happy to see that the universe provides for those who grab their suit and goggles and head out the door.