2.09.2018

Here is the video I made over the last weekend. It's an interview with an extremely talented projection designer at the Theatre.


Interview with Stephanie Busing, Projection Designer for ZACH Theatre. from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

Here's a link to the video resident on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/254954087

I hope instead of watching the lower res video embedded here that you'll click through to Vimeo and see a larger and less compressed version!

Things sometimes move quickly as deadlines and first previews approach live theater productions. It was Thursday of last week when the marketing director at ZACH Theatre sent me an e-mail asking if I would be interested in making a 2:30 minute video about the production designer/video designer for the first big show of the season: "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time." 

The play is a Tony Award winner and has earned lots of positive press. Earlier in the week I'd shot photographs for general marketing and public relations at both the tech rehearsal and the dress rehearsal and I loved the look and feel of the stage design, the lighting and the moving graphics so I was happy to accept the assignment.

Of course, then the client casually dropped the caveat. It was late Thursday and the only day we could schedule and shoot the interview was the next morning; Friday. I had a gap in the schedule and I nervously agreed and then we were off and running.

I packed everything I thought I would need in one very large, rolling case and one small backpack. I took along a bunch of Aputure 672S battery powered LED panels, assorted light stands, some umbrellas and pop-up modifiers, a selection of microphones and cables. In the small backpack I put together a Panasonic GH5 with the XLR adapter, a bunch of prime lenses, a light meter, a gray target and a set of headphones. I wore the backpack and dragged the case on its cute wheels.

We decided to shoot the interview with Stephanie Busing (Amazing Projection and Video Designer) in her working aviary in the technical booth at the back of the main theater. The booth sits high up above the audience seats and offers a mountain climber's view of the stage. She generally works her with a computer and various techie tools. It's an honest space and it seemed to suit her no nonsense approach to the mountain of highly creative work she does.

I was ready to start setting up lights and stands until I slowed down and just looked at the light that was already there. It was a bit rough but definitely usable. Mostly ceiling mounted florescent fixtures as well as a few little work lights. When I finished looking the space over I decided to leverage just the available light and to add more front file with the silver side of a 40 inch, pop-up, circular reflector.  I caught a few reflections in her glasses but I thought they added to the authenticity of the scene.

The space was narrow and the ceiling low, with lots of reflective glass and a pervasive rumbling burr of computer fans and vague light hums. Not particularly good for shotgun microphones but just right for a hard-wired lavaliere mic (wired = less electrical interference...).  I miked Stephanie and we chatted about her methodologies before we got rolling. She's brilliant.

I tried a different technique with my camera this time and it mostly worked for me. I was bored with using a tripod and having an unmoving camera base. In real conversations both parties move, sway, acknowledge and are replete with the normal human flaws that mean one is never totally still on either side of the discussion. I discarded the tripod and used a monopod with the little feet at the bottom. It anchored me but left in enough movement to make the footage more real to me.

The interview was conducted by ZACH's marketing manager, Drew, but I wanted Stephanie to directly address the camera; I thought it would be more compelling for viewers and, given her experience as a video artist I was pretty certain it wouldn't intimidate her in the least.

We rolled the camera on about 12 minutes of interview stuff before we figured we had ample content for a 2:30.

Another set of camera notes: We recently have been shooting most productions in 4K but I've been playing around with the 1080p footage of the GH5's after installing the firmware upgrade that gifted us users with All-Intra footage at 200 mb/s. There's a lot to like about All-intra files. They might be memory hogs on the actual SD cards but they are easy on the editing software. Another reason to shoot All-intra files is being made currently on the technical video sites around the web and that reason has to do with "cadence." The All-Intra footage is much less prone to artifacting during camera movements and seems more "real" in the viewing. The high bit rate file format also delivers sharp and detailed footage. I was happy with my results and will do this again when I have more moving subject.

I shot with the Rokinon 50mm f1.2 lens I've written about recently. It doesn't cover full frame sensors but is optimized for cropped frame camera use. Mirror-free cameras in particular. You can judge for yourself how well the lens performed at f2.0. (and how well or how poorly I was able to maintain focus on a "target" with some random movement. Using V90 rated SD cards means never having to say, "oops! I dropped some frames." 

The animation and stage footage in the spot was provided by Stephanie and I got to watch her shoot during the tech rehearsal. She used a Panasonic GH3 with a 12-35mm f2.8 lens and a Zyhongyi video gimbal to shoot her footage handheld. Yes, another Panasonic camera fan!

For this show she traveled to London (the play is based in London) to capture video in train stations and in neighborhoods mentioned in the original book from which the play evolved.

Editing:  I sat down to edit with my original interview footage and cut it into a four minute+ spot. Drew helped me distill it down to the current length. It's much better than what I started with... With all the cuts (and there were many) done I started looking through assets with which to drop into my B-roll. I used many of the still, photographic images I'd shot in the previous rehearsals and mixed them in with Stephanie's stage footage and animations.

I sourced the music from a service called: Premium Beat and paid (as everyone should) the licensing fee for this single use. I sent along the usage license and paid invoice to the client for their records. If you do stuff legally there's a lot less to cry about down the road.

If the video prompts the sale of an additional number of tickets it will have done its job. For me the real reward was in just doing the production. What fun is great gear and good intentions if you don't have anything to aim them towards?

A New Generation of Stripped Down Cameras based on Smart Phones? It's a marketing idea I think would work well. Right now.

Photograph from our marketing shoot for ZACH Theatre's production of:
"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time."

I was hauling my enormous Panasonic G85 around with me this morning as Studio Dog and I patrolled the neighborhood looking for deers and skunks at which to bark. I was giving some long thought to a few things I'd read recently on the web about using cellphones as cameras, in place of "real" cameras and it struck me that we've come to believe that it's a multiplicity of uses that drives adaptation of smart phones to take some people's daily photos. 

I began to think: What if it's not the immediacy of being able to send a photo that moment that's driving the adoption? What if people just like the form factor and the fact that newer generations of processors and software have made the images from the small form factors much more appealing and technically sufficient? 

The top dog in the cellphone market right now, for photography, video and day-to-day stay in touch at all costs syndrome, is probably the iPhone X. Big screen, fast processing, many (too many) features, much technology dedicated to things like facial recognition, banking security, fast access to multiple networks, the ability to crunch more data more quickly, etc. The downside of owning the "best" cellphone camera on the market is obviously the price. It's north of a thousand bucks. 

This led me to start thinking about an alternate product; one that I would want to have, one that would appeal to purists looking to downsize from Godzilla DSLRs into a product that was capable of taking good images but really, really fit into a pocket. And how about one without a recurring, monthly price burden? 

There are many times when I think I would like to own a super small camera that did 4K video, had image stabilization, made good images and had ample storage. Something the size of my iPhone 5S but without the initial purchase price penalty or the monthly subscription to AT&T to keep the whole mess breathing.

Here's the camera I designed in my head as Studio Dog sniffed fresh deer poop: It would have the same form factor as the iPhone 5S. All internal electronics would be dedicated to the perfect processing of images and videos. There would be no web access, no wi-fi, no bluetooth, no apps. It would shoot in raw and basic Jpeg as well as H.265 video. There would be three external ports across the bottom end of the device: One 3.5mm jack for microphones. One 3.5mm jack for headphones. One USB3 C port for charging and seamless downloading of images. The interior space would be dedicated to battery, processing and storage. No antennae, no gingerbread, but also no high prices.

The mini-camera should hit the market at $199 or less. A one time buy. No contracts. No monthly dues. No endless parade of apps to buy. Just buy the device, charge it and go shoot. Finished shooting? Go home, plug it into your computer, tablet or laptop (or even your phone) and download your images. Recharge, do it again.

There are already cheap phones on the market with cameras but most of them absolutely suck as a camera. Think of this device as the iPod of cameras. A dedicated device tuned to the way real photographers want to use them. 

Yes, we are all pretty affluent and we already have phones but think about the legions of younger, less affluent people who can't afford the stretch to the very best phones --- especially the weird conundrum of unlocked phones with no service plan. I think they (the ardent imaging fans) would lunge for something like this. 

Think also of the people who need "crash cameras" for dangerous shooting situations where the likelihood of losing a camera is high. A bag full of $199 fully capable mini-cams could be just right. They would be elegant versions of GoPros but with better performance and a more enticing design aesthetic. 

I'd buy one in a heartbeat. Part of the attraction to me is the singular nature of the device's nature. It would have one role; imaging. It would have one attractive feature set: easy to carry and nearly disposable. It would be the perfect camera for kids and people who sometimes get pushed into the swimming pool with their street clothes on. Might not survive the chlorinated water but it wouldn't cost a thousand bucks to replace. 

I don't always want a phone. If I used my iPhone as a camera I would be pissed off when people called as I was trying to take a photo. If I turn off the phone I also turn off the camera. Yes, I could ignore the ring but yes, I could ignore mosquitos and loud banging noises but they don't help me concentrate on the task at hand. 

Would you buy one? Something the photographic equivalent of an iPhone 6 or 7 but without all the social magnet bullshit installed? I would. I would jump at the chance. For those times when I'm in a suit and tie and a camera slung over the shoulder just isn't right....

2.08.2018

Now daydreaming in black and white...

Sidney. ©2018 Kirk Tuck

Tech specs: Panasonic GH5. Lens: Rokinon 50mm f1.2 UMC (for cropped framers). Aspect ratio set to square. Converted to black and white in DXO Film Pack. Tri-X setting. Finished in Snapseed. 

Still post processing. Still posting portraits. This one photographed with a Rokinon 50mm f1.2 at f2.0.

Sidney. ©2018 Kirk Tuck


Mid-Afternoon Stream of Consciousness Portrait Posting, part 2.

Sidney. ©2018 Kirk Tuck


Stream of consciousness portrait posting this afternoon. I'm post processing, looking, changing and then posting.

Sidney. ©2018 Kirk Tuck

Portrait from January 27th. In the Austin studio. GH5+Sigma 60mm f2.8 DC DN lens.


Portrait of Sidney. Exploring the capabilities of the Panasonic GH5 as a portrait camera. First portrait with the Rokinon 50mm f1.2 UMC lens.


Image taken in our little studio using a 4x6 foot panel with several LED lights blasting into the diffusion material on the panel. One small, battery powered LED panel on the background.

I worked with Sidney for an hour and a half and we got some fun stuff for her portfolio. It was nice to just do a simple shot in the studio for a change. Seems like everything else we've done this year has been on location.

It was fun to shoot nearly wide open and see just how well the lens and body worked together in manual focus.

More to come.

2.07.2018

Video editing as a painful short course in paying more attention during the actual shooting part of the job....

checking the details.

I shot a simple interview last Friday. It took about half an hour to set up and maybe half an hour to shoot. I didn't do much pre-planning and I let a marketing person steer the interview and now I'm in editing hell. The interview subject was articulate and video-genic but... in response to rather open-ended questions from the interviewer she gave us a fast paced recital of much (good) technical information. The pain comes when the marketing team comes back and asks for about thirty minutes of great stuff to be cut down to two minutes. At that point you realize that all that water cooler talk about pre-production is a lot more than random bullshit.

The marketing team and I are both guilty of an age old issue: we should have decided exactly what we wanted this video piece to do, mapped out exactly what we wanted and stopped treating the shooting process as a classic, open ended interview. Not a "Sixty Minutes" piece. In fact, we might have served the final purpose better by defining the answers we wanted and semi-scripting our talent.

Instead I'm slicing and dicing and using ample B-roll to disguise all the quick cuts I'm making in order to piece together a jigsaw puzzle with way too many pieces.

But before you I'm strictly a still photographer - this has no relevance for me types rush to move on to the next gear review I have to point out that what I'm learning today has relevance to both sides of the aisle. I realize that I could have been delivering better and more effective still photography for my clients if I spent a lot more time and effort up front. We have a tendency to let clients indulge in the fantasy that a photograph can serve many, many situations and still work. The reality is that matching the style, content, look and feel and intention of a photography to its final and highest priority use will make for a less generic/homogeneous image and will more solidly glue eyeballs to the screen or the page.

Here's an example that seems always fresh in my mind: Four years ago, when I was shooting mostly with the Panasonic GH4 cameras (and liking them very much) a regular client hired me to shoot a series of tongue-in-cheek images, full length, of a very talented talent who dressed and played the part of: an adventurer, a plumber, a mountain climber, etc. We shot twelve images with props in all. Here's where it got dicey! This client had nearly always worked with me on web-based projects. All our images (with a few small print exceptions) went to phone screens, laptop screens, desktop screens and 1080p monitors at trade shows. The GH4 was the perfect camera for any of these uses, especially so when we were able to bring the talent into the studio and pump up the light letting us shoot at ISO 100 and at optimum apertures. We all looked at the images at the end of the shoot. The client, the agency, the photographer and the talent. We all patted each other on the back.

It was only there at the end that I overheard the agency creative director say to the client that these images were going to look great on posters! Yikes. Here I was shooting 16 megapixel files on a small sensor camera....

When the client got into their shiny German car and sped away I casually asked the creative director to fill me in. He was happy to. The images would run on the client website...and as a series of big, 30x40 inch, printed posters. I smiled as I waved goodbye to the C.D. and then frantically got on the computer to download the latest version of DXO. I was wholly dependent on software to up rez these files into something solid for the final use.

Had I gone through a logical pre-production conversation with the agency I would have asked, first, "What is our primary use of the images? Are there secondary uses? Will there be retouching/compositing involved? Who will do that process? What kinds of files will you need? How do you need them delivered? But, of course, we had gotten comfortable with the consistency of this client's previous use of our images and were only concentrating on getting the creative stuff done.

Had I done my upfront homework I might have decided to rent a higher res camera for this engagement. The client and agency certainly had the budget to pay for it. There would have been no post shoot panic. No lunging for more software.

As it was the IDEA of failing destroyed my appreciation for the cameras I had been working with (happily) and sent me on a senseless journey of camera migration, buying and selling, that lasted years until I ended up back where I started. With a Panasonic GH camera.

This is not an isolated story. And it's not always about the efficacy of the gear. Sometimes we get wrong-headed about the concept. A lot of the time we allow the presumptions of the clients to drive our mistakes.

A few weeks ago we shot in a medical practice and the talent provided to us by the client had skull and crossbones tattoos on each bare forearm. The client was standing right next to the camera. Approved every shot. We took a break and my assistant pulled me aside and asked about the tattoos (this is Austin, after all...). She suggested we rush over to a nearby big box store and get a generic long sleeve shirt for the talent. I didn't take her suggestion and act on it. I figured the client had provided the talent and knew what she was getting.

A week later, long after the images were delivered, the tattoos became "an issue." Not for the initial use but for one of the many, many subsidiary uses for the photos which we never discussed. A long sleeved shirt would have saved us (client and photographer) hours and dollars of careful and complex retouching.

But the painful awareness about the results of not doing pre-production are hardly owned only by working professional photographers. Hobbyists could earn efficiency and make better images by taking the time to knuckle down on research and planning as well. When I am in "hobbyist" mode I often head out of the house with little or no plan other than to walk around with this week's magical lens and try to find fun images, or images that make me look like a good photographer. I often get downtown and realize that there is a motorcycle parade and that a good, longer lens would be more likely to get me the photos I want than the 35mm equivalent some spirited discussion on the web led me to buy.

I might not check the weather and then spend time loitering at the Whole Foods coffee bar, or under welcoming awnings,  waiting for a cold rain to stop. All the time cognizant that I could have been doing something better with my time. And don't get me started on the number of times I headed out without a spare battery....or even an SD card in my camera.

Now I like to go out with a plan. I'm open to chance but, based on the prevailing weather, the event schedule in Austin and some little bit of self-awareness I'm at least having more fun. Now I need to translate that level of preparation back into some of my jobs and stop showing up on autopilot.

New check list: Do I know completely what my client expects? Do I have the right gear to do it? Am I prepared for the weather? Do I have an extra battery? Do I have a big-ass memory card loaded, formatted and ready to go? Have I checked to make sure downtown isn't going to be closed for some awful political rally or construction project? Do I have an idea of what I want to get from the adventure ( pro or amateur ) and am I prepared to improvise? Finally, have I decided on where I'll go for lunch? 

So, back to my video project at hand... I wish I'd used a different microphone. The sound was great but the talent kept hitting the cord and making noise. A cardioid on a stand would have been a better choice than the lavaliere I used. I wish I had asked questions during the interview that would have led to more compact and linear answers. I wish I had reviewed all of the B-roll assets that were available to me so I could steer the interview in a direction that would take advantage of the material I had in my toolbox. I wish we had scripted to a tighter time frame. I wish I could have previsualized how the interview should go in advance. There is no team in I. And the buck stops at the editing workstation.


2.06.2018

Lenses: Sexy versus useful. I'm leaning toward useful.


It's a near constant in photography; we all love the idea of the fast glass with the rare earth elements and the big expanse of glass across the front. It comes from a constant source of self-delusion, we think that lenses with big apertures and the ability to suck in billions more photons per nano second will make our photographs mystically marvelous. I've fallen for the trap over and over again. I got caught again in the snare just a week or two ago and a few weeks before that as well. 

I think the lens sickness is even worse for people who shoot smaller format camera systems. We're subconsciously (or with both eyes wide open) trying to compensate for the more limited ability to put stuff out of background in our photographs by constantly looking for lenses at every focal length that might be a stop or two sharper than the standard/serviceable lenses at the same angle of view, always hoping that the newest lens computations, coupled with premium glass, will give us high sharpness and the ability to do what our full frame cameras seem to do in a more effortless way; drop things out of focus.  

Here's some advice from the field: Don't bother spending the big bucks to go from f2.0 to f1.2. You won't get what you are looking for and you'll spend dearly for the privilege of trying. 

I packed up my fast glass this last week and went off to shoot an advertising/marketing job. I had dreams of shooting heroic faces framed against gelatinous nothingness, important machines separated from their stark backgrounds by the laws of optics and physics but in nearly every case the regular and routine photos that I take for work (and for play) seem to call for more detail, more context, more  parts in focus. 

There were a few shots where I needed to isolate a small, handheld object; in almost every situation I found that "longer" was just as good or better than "faster." If I wanted to isolate an object then stepping back a few feet and zooming in with a longer lens nearly always was more interesting and effective than staying close and trying desperately to accurately maintain focus through the process. 

The new, sharp, Rokinon 50mm f1.2 UMC was out of my camera bag and on my camera for a little while during the shoot but it quickly became obvious to me that in the modern age a lens like the 12-100mm f4.0 Olympus Pro zoom could run circles around the more traditional lens. Even though it's (gulp!) three stops slower.  It was just so much easier to get exact composition along with a perfect balance of sharp and unsharp with the zoom. 

The Online Photographer recently ran a series of posts about picking lenses. One of the articles proposed a "nested" approach to lens buying. The idea is to buy an all purpose zoom like the 12/100mm. Ostensibly you'd buy one which had a focal length range that is centered around your preferred angle of view, and the lens would also have a high enough performance to be sufficient for the bulk of your work. The lens would probably be bulky so the other part of the advice was to also choose a second lens that would be a single focal length lens also having high performance and, perhaps, a fast aperture. One would use the all purpose lens for .... all purposes and use the nested, "prime" lens for those times when you wanted to divest yourself of the burden of hefty machines and get more in touch with your photographic spirit animals. 

I'm on the fence. I think it's great to be able to change your perspective on lens choice day by day but at other times I pine for the discipline to understand and accept that a lot of lens buying is just emotional compensation for not being as good at this art/craft as I should be after years and years of practice. 

Lenses, especially zoom lenses, have gotten really good lately. Cameras have more or less pounded down the need for high speed apertures to prevent noisy files. That means the only real reason to own "fast glass" now is depth of field control. I guess it makes a certain about of sense to have some fast, middle focal length options. Maybe a 50mm equivalent and an 85-90mm equivalent as well. For those times when the background is just trashed; or needs to be trashed. 

But if I were putting together a system and wanted to stay within a limited budget I'd be looking at all purpose zoom lenses first and foremost. If I still shot Nikon my first lens would be the 24-120mm f4.0. If I were still in the Canon camp it would be the granddaddy of wide-ranging normal zooms, the 24-105mm f4.0. If I were still banging away with some full frame Sony bodies I'd be all over the new 24-105mm G f4.0 lens. In the m4:3rds realm it's always a toss up between range and speed. I made my choice with the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 but I have a feeling I'd be just as happy with the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 or even the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm f-something to f-something.

I've found that these are the lenses that most people; pros and amateurs, use 90% of the time. The next up would be longer and faster zooms like the venerable 70-200mm f2.8s and equivalents. In last place are the wide zooms and after that, and only then, do people pull the primes out and frustrate themselves with tightly constrained choices. 

These are transient thoughts. A hangover from my daylong shoot last Saturday. Ask me again tomorrow and I'm sure I'll be extolling the virtues of my collection of prime lenses once again. But stick around and watch me pack that camera bag for the next job. It's zoom rich. It's prime poor. 

I chalk it up to the mythic boundary that supposedly exists between our professional work and our avocation.  

2018 Lens of the year. Yes, I know. It came out a while ago...

Random hat shot. Concentric circles and oddly sensual curves.