7.09.2018

Debate at the Vatican.

© kirk tuck.

Actress in Studio.

©kirk tuck.


Making film for the printing press.

©kirk tuck.


Photograph of dancer's feet.

©kirk tuck


Test lenses with your own usages in mind. Not through the eye of a reviewer checking all the boxes...

Ballet practice at Zach Theatre. 

I love reading lens reviews by good writers, and the reviews are usually both accurate and at the same time not always cogent to my photographic needs. Here's a case in point, I wanted a lens for my Nikon cameras that could handle the longer end of the focal length ranges; the 70-300mm area mostly. The Nikons are a second system for me (after the Panasonics) and I didn't want to dig in too deeply as I did the last time I owned a little collection of Nikon stuff. My belief is that many of the less expensive options in lens from Nikon are more than sufficient for most tasks and that the very expensive lenses in each category represent a poor expense, unless you constantly use the high end lenses at their tip of the spear performance range. 

If I were an indoor sport photographer shooting in dimly lit arenas then the faster aperture of the 70-200mm f2.8 lenses would seal the deal for me; but I'm not. I cover different kinds of work and, for the most part, I rarely have to follow fast action in poor light so I am loathe to spend something like $3,000 on a lens unless I know I'll be using it at its peak potential over and over again. 

It's funny how the reputation of lenses can change over time as well. The first generation of the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 lenses were heralded by less careful reviewers as a miraculous new optic that changed the paradigm of fast, medium telephoto zooms forever!!! Most people bought that view point  and repeated it. Until it was found that the lens had severe breathing issues. As one focused closer and closer to the minimum focus distance with the lens set at 200mm the actual focal length shifted all the way down to 135mm. Then followed some better testing methodologies and it was found that the Canon equivalent, while at least as sharp, did not change focal lengths with closer focusing. The initial reviewers revised their premature worship for the Nikon lens and Nikon has just now caught up to Canon on their third try...

Consider a lens that I've been playing with for a while. It's the Nikon 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 G VR. It was introduced to much fanfare in 2006 or 2007. It was formulated for full frame at a time when many of the Nikon lenses were designed mostly for DX (APS-C) cameras. It had an ED element. At the time the reviews were pretty uniformly positive. Thom Hogan called it, "Highly Recommended."

It was not an inexpensive lens in its time, priced around $750. It was enormously popular because it handled a good range and did so with very good performance over most of the common metrics. it was much lighter than the "pro" lenses. It had capable VR. But, like many longer zooms, part of its design compromise was a slight decline in overall image quality near the long end of focal length range. During the first few years of its existence this was accepted as being a marginal tick against what was an excellent overall performer. 

Lazy writers grabbed ahold of the idea that the performance was less than perfect at the long end and amplified that idea until it became the one flaw for which the lens became known. The lens, once a great choice for a wide range of photographers, is now relegated to used shelves at the princely asking price of between $200 and $250 for a mint condition copy.

Being a gear contrarian I couldn't help but pick one up. I went to Precision Camera to find one and was amazed that they had four used copies, all priced at $249. I picked the cleanest, most sparkly, and happiest looking one in the bunch and bought it. After reading reviews I expected to be punished by a performance at 300mm that would make the bottom of a Coke bottle look like a better optical option. 

Imagine my surprise when I tested the lens on a Nikon D800e and found it to be, actually, quite satisfactory at 280-300mm and excellent at every focal length between 70 and about 240mm. And I generally use lenses wide open these days so that's were I test them.

Satisfied that the lens would embarrass me less than my own technique shortcomings I started to use it on all kinds of commercial jobs. Anything I shot in full sun, mostly at one stop down from wide open, was great. Focus acquisition was fast and accurate and the VR worked nicely. The big test for my use was in the dark and poorly lit rehearsal studio at Zach Theatre. The space is big and the ceilings about thirty feet high. The lighting all comes from older florescent fixtures affixed to the ceiling. I worked with my usual exposure triangle, first setting a handholdable shutter speed (1/125th), aperture wide open at f5.6 which resulted in the need for an ISO setting of between 3200 and 6400. 

When I examine the image above at its full size (images here are uploaded at 2198 pixels on the long side) from the Nikon D800e I can see perfectly rendered, individual strands of hair on the one young woman who is in sharp (intended) focus. I can see the weave in the fabric of her tank top. In short, the image passes the "use test" for my intended purposes. 

It's also light enough to use all day long. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this twelve year old lens is the end all and be all of 35mm optics, and I'm not saying the extra two stops of aperture wouldn't be critical for sports or other high motion shots. What I'm trying to get to is the idea that fewer shots need the "absolute best" performance one can buy and many, many shooting situations can be well done with lesser than state of the art tools. 

My take is that one should be able to judge a lens (or camera) based on how that person works. What that person's photographic interests are. What level of perfection they are compelled to achieve and how much they can afford to spend on the effort. The 70-300mm did not mutate itself over the its retail life time from a "pristine optic" that was "highly recommended" into a pile of crap that no one in their right mind should consider using. We have more or less just fallen victim to the sales mantra of a new medium = sales guys who leverage the web to convince us that we can not drive unless it's in a Maserati.... Not so, a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry still work fine for daily commuters; and that's who most of us are as photographers.

If you are wiling to test with an open mind you will often find treasures of a slightly earlier time that are more than adequate for the job you have at hand ---- and often for a fraction of the price of the newest and shiniest lens.

I get it. I get it. You are a sports guy shooting in the far north of the U.K. in the dead of winter in a blizzard at dusk and you need every photon you can capture just to see an image at ISO 25,000. I'm a guy in Austin, Texas who has to buy lots of expensive variable ND filters just to be able to shoot at reasonable apertures in the blazing sun. Buy what you need. I won't judge. 

7.08.2018

Sunday morning stream of consciousness. Another D700 joins the team.

Ben and the Leaf A7i Digital Camera.

Thursday, last week, was a lot of fun for me. I had nothing pressing to do. The hoopla of Independence Day was past. I had signed up to photograph the kid's programs at long time client, Zach Theatre, and I was ready for a day spent playing with two cameras, three lenses and no shot list, no minute by minute schedules.

I clipped my official, silver colored Zach name badge onto my shirt pocket, picked up a magnetic key card and spent the day walking between the theater's three stages, two rehearsal halls and two temporary classrooms. I was aiming to get a representative sampling of the program's participants; kids from five years old to high school age, and I was looking for a nice mix of activities; from acting to dancing to playful improvisation. 

The theater will use the images to promote their programs and recruit students from across every neighborhood in Austin. 

I started in the biggest rehearsal hall where the kids were learning the basics of ballet and where the theater had set up about forty feet of portable ballet bars against which to practice the various dance positions. Since the kid weren't moving fast here it was a great place to concentrate on tighter compositions of individual kids concentrating on their poses and showing off a bit of innate physical grace. I started off shooting with an 85mm 1.8 lens but I felt like I had to get too close to get the tight compositions I wanted and my proximity seemed to invasive. I then opted for the 70-300mm VR and it allowed me to comp as tightly as I wanted without being right in the mix.

That lens, the 70-300mm afs ED VR has gotten mixed reviews over time. When it was first introduced reviewers like Thom Hogan called it, "Highly recommended." Other reviews claimed it to be very, very sharp at every f-stop up to and past the 300mm mark, giving up only a bit of sharpness as one neared the maximum 300mm.  Over time, as the fashion of "no holds barred" everything must be the best in the universe took over the photo universe a new mythology started to take hold in which the 70-300mm lens was "okay" but "not in the ballpark" with the $3,000 Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AE-P etc. lens. It seemed as though someone reached in and threw a switch which turned a good lens bad just because much pricier lenses could perform better at the edges of the use envelope.

At first, because of the revisionist reviews, I was reticent to use the lens at its longer settings but as I started shooting I started ignoring all the written metrics and started just enjoying the reach and the scope of the lens in my hands. Ditto with camera noise. Soon I was routinely pegging the lens over to 300mm and shooting it with reckless abandon; handheld. The light in the hall dictated that I abandon fear of image noise and head right into ISO 6400 territory with both my D700 and my D800e cameras. After reading the hysterics on the web I was almost certain that I'd spend hours doctoring files peppered with chroma noise but I was happy this isn't what happened. 

The beauty of a lens you can use at 200, 250 or even 300mm is the ability to compress images in interesting ways and to also pull out individual subjects by rendering them in sharp focus while dropping the objects around them nicely out of focus.

The 85mm was great for closer, tighter spaces. But I never felt the need to go wider than 70mm during my day of photography.

With the Nikon D800e I felt comfortable using the auto WB even though I was shooting medium sized fine Jpegs with that body. I could tell from spot checking the rear panel with a Hoodman loupe that they color was quite usable. The D700 isn't quite as good at nailing auto WB in hard mixed light situations so in those venues, when using the D700, I made custom white balance settings by doing a preset from a Lastolite white balance target. 

I think the secret of working with kids of all ages is to always have a sincere smile on your face, to be calm and relaxed at all times and to not care too much about making every shot work. It's truly a situation in which the mode and affect you convey are more important than worrying the technical stuff too much. A vibe of being overly concerned with nuts and bolts is contagious and it makes the kids feel like like being photographed isn't as much fun as they otherwise thought. Being mellow and ready to move on if something isn't working perfectly is the preferred method. Things fall apart and re-group all day long. If you didn't nail that perfect expression at 10:15 am so other kiddo will give you and even better expression to try and capture five minutes later.

I used to work with a small camera bag but I used my small, Amazon Basics, photo backpack instead. I'm using some heavier, traditional cameras these days and along with the full frame sensor size comes bigger, heavier lenses. The backpack makes for balanced portage as, as the day went on and I used the 70-300mm more and more I found myself dipping into the backpack for stuff less and less often. 

At the end of the day I had captured about 1200 images. I narrowed the take down to 600 and sent them along to the theater. The marketing director was very happy and had an immediate use for three of the photos. The catalog will serve the theater for at least a year or so and give the marketing team a nice folder of images for fast breaking project. 

The business adopts a second D700. 

It's embarrassing but I have to admit that I've loved using the first D700 I bought, on a lark, a few months ago. I owned one years ago when they first hit the market but I guess I wasn't ready for it back then. Now, after having been through so many systems, the old school nature of the D700 has much more appeal to me know. It's so much more a match to the old film based systems I worked on in the early days of my photography. The D700 is heavy but so solid. And while I own two cameras that are 36+ megapixels each I've come to understand that a great looking 12 megapixel file can also be a very good thing.

On Friday I took a walk and made some images with the D700. When I examined them in detail I liked what I saw very much. The huge pixel pitch and the enormous size of the pixels gives a different look than files from cameras with much higher pixel density and smaller pixels. I can't explain it technically but the difference seems apparent to me. The files feel tighter and the edges sharper. 

The interesting thing for me was comparing similar files taken in crappy light on Thurs. While it's obvious on a 27 inch screen that the D800e files have more resolution it's not the astounding difference most would expect when they hear that one camera has THREE TIMES the number of pixel more than another camera. While it's true you can blow up the files from a 36 megapixel camera to larger sizes you really have to look at linear pixels to understand that you're getting slightly less than twice as big a file if you just compute the number of pixels on the long side of the rectangles.

The reality is that a 12 megapixel files makes a perfect 10 by 15 inch print at about 300 dpi. Can you go bigger on a print? Oh heck yes. Even on my older Kodak DCS 760 (Six megapixels) I was able to have prints made as large as 30 by 40 inches that looked great at appropriate viewing distances. But cameras are so much more than just the sum of their resolution. For anything we're looking at on a Retina screen that's 27 inches across, our 6 megapixel cameras were the tipping point of sufficiency and 12 megapixels is generous. Bigger than that and we're constantly in the weeds of interpolated screen images.

However I want to rationalize my choices I really wanted a second D700 body. The one I bought previously has a bit over 100,000 shutter actuation and I wanted something closer to "new." A week or so ago I was in Precision Camera looking over the used inventory when I came across a mint looking D700. We checked the shutter actuation count and found it to be just a hair over 10,000 clicks. Barely used. I was grappling with too many other things at the time, all financial, and just didn't have the bandwidth to do the amount of self-inflicted justification to buy the camera at the time. But yesterday was different. And the camera was still there. A brief hiatus in the ongoing popularity of this particular model...

The price was $600. The camera was put aside on the hold shelf for me and I headed out to pick it up. When I got to the store (God Bless Bricks and Mortar Camera Stores) to pay for and collect the camera the sales associate informed me that it was "Used Equipment Day" at the store and that ALL used equipment was 10% off. I walked out of the store having spent $540 on a nearly new D700 and with a smile plastered across my face. I only wish I had more time to work this year (I've spent about 45 days this year in San Antonio working on legal and estate issues for my parents...) because the store also had a used Hasselblad 205 TCC with prism and a 110mm f2.0 FE series Zeiss Planar lens, all for about $3300. I could have saved some cash if I had picked it up yesterday. 

But....film?... probably not. There are more D700's out there that could use a good home....

7.06.2018

What do I expect from Nikon's new mirrorless offerings? And do I think the rumors are even true...?

Image taken with a traditional Nikon DSLR; the D700.
Lens: Nikon 85mm f1.8 D. 

I think the Nikon D5 symbolizes why it's so hard for Nikon to truly make a transition into offering a line of professional mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. On one hand their real history, as a camera maker, is tightly wrapped around a stream of heavy duty professional cameras ranging from their first rangefinder cameras, through the mechanical tanks represented by the F and F2, and continuing along with heavy, reliable, and overly engineered cameras like the F4, F5 and so many of their top-of-the-catalog digital cameras like the D2, D3, D700, D4 and D5. There seems to be a dominant current of thought in their engineering DNA that drives them to make cameras that are engineered to take years of abuse in stride and to offer a protective shell for their electronics that, in most cases, will far outlast the innards.

But now they seem to be aiming at competing with Sony and Fuji in the mirrorless space and they seem set to abandon their timeless approach. Big, highly engineered and overbuilt picture taking machines. Stuff working pros love.

The catalyst for fashionable change? the witless wags at countless blogs and websites which have continually conflated mirrorless with small, light, handy, pocketable, dainty, delicate and able to fit nicely into a lady's handbag. Even a small clutch. In my mind, and in the minds of other actual, working photographers, we've always valued the idea of the mirrorless camera as being a combination of new technologies rather than defining the genre by size or lack of structural integrity and comfortable handling in the service of dainty-ness.

The rational selling points for a mirrorless professional product should revolve around its newly added capabilities rather than its pared down size and diminished robustness. Two things come instantly to mind: the always on nature of mirrorless camera's live view and the ability to integrate an EVF for more responsive viewing and previewing. A secondary benefit, which is a result of removing the moving mirror and all the linkages required by lens stop down mechanisms, is the very pertinent removal of expensive moving parts. Parts that are expensive to create and expensive to assemble and calibrate.

Marketers of professional mirrorless products should be touting a more direct feedback mechanism as a result of continuous live view through an EVF as a more fluid and instinctive way to create images while also heralding both a cost savings and an increase in reliability as a result of few moving parts and fewer parts requiring calibration and adjustment.

So, if Nikon rushes out two tiny, plastic cameras and a new line of three or four mostly hobbled and slow zoom lenses and expects professionals to embrace a new generation of inexpensively made point and shoot style, interchangeable lens digital cameras while shirking a continuing development of their more traditional DSLR models they will just accelerate their descent into irrelevance.

I expect that Nikon will come out with two camera bodies that are similar in size to the Sony A7 series but will design them with more rounded corners and a traditional, small body work up that tries hard to blend a retro SLR look with an equal amount of retro rangefinder glitz. They will likely not succeed in pleasing advocates of either fashion camp.

If rumors are accurate we can expect to see two models in the beginning; one that gives a nod toward the idea of "professional" by investing in it more features. The features will be the usual meaningless stuff like extended bracketing modes, faster frame rates, a better than Nikon-Typical set of video features, but also a good EVF. If they continue with their practice as in past introductions the second body will be aimed at consumers and might even lack an eye level viewfinder, depending entirely on the youthful eyesight of millenials for composition rather than actively catering to the user demographics that can actually afford to buy camera bodies and lenses on a regular basis.

This mistake will doom the entry level body just as the J1 models eventually doomed the V series line.

The biggest mistake Nikon could make (and so almost certainly will.... ) would be to introduce the two cameras with several consumer oriented, variable aperture zoom lenses that cover wide ranges with mediocre specifications and performance. A cynical new, full frame approach to something like the venerable and mostly unloved 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 DX lens models. Coupled with bad little trio of such lenses and no plan to leverage the millions and millions of decent Nikon lenses already in the hands of millions and millions of active Nikon users the product introduction wouldn't make any sense at all --- and so, that's how Nikon will go.

Sure, they'll introduce an F mount to new camera mount adapter but it will be hobbled with asterisks. It will only work with the new AF-P E lenses. Only with G lenses. Only with etc., etc. It will offer limited AF performance. And the adapter itself won't be available for months and months after the introduction of the new mirrorless Nikon camera bodies.

The paucity of lens choices, the lack of a functional and available adapter with which to use current Nikon lenses, and the hobbling of said adapter will kill overall sales of the new line, which will lead the older Nikon engineers to shrug their shoulders and say, "See, we told you no one wants mirrorless cameras!" But by then it will be even later in the game.

So, if that's what I expect to see then just exactly is it that I want to see from Nikon? I want both bodies to be big enough to hold comfortably, all day long, in adult sized hands. I want both bodies to be crafted out of fabulous metal alloy cores and built to take "drop it in the camera bag" punishment. I want the two initial cameras to be mostly identical in terms of external features like a 3.5 or 4.0 megapixel EVF, a uniform (and robust) battery size, and the ability to work with all older AF lenses. I'm willing to wave goodbye to using manual focus lenses on the cameras, natively, but not AF ones. I would want Nikon to ship the cameras with an F mount-to-new mount adapter in the box!!!!!

And finally, for every boring, plastic and utilitarian lens in the new line up I want a fast, sexy, enormously well performing prime or fast zoom introduced and delivered at the same time, alongside the cheap stuff.

If Nikon is really planning to compete in the mirrorless segment I can only hope they bring their Nikon SP rangefinder chops to the game. If they bring their "Action Touch" sensibility then they deserve to go home with their collective noses bloodied. They should not stop making "real cameras" just because everyone else has defaulted to pixie sized toys. The Panasonic GH5, now that's a good target to aim for.......

And yes. I think the rumors are mostly true.

A very nicely done use of my photos of Brianna as "Belle" in the upcoming Zach production of, "Beauty and the Beast." And a well done website!

https://www.blacktexasmag.com/home-1/2018/7/2/zach-theatre-announces-cast-for-disneys-beauty-and-the-beast

The two images in the article are the ones done in the photoshoot on stage at the Topfer that I recently wrote about. It was the assignment that finally pushed me to buy a monolight with a real modeling light in it. Shot with a D800 and the 24-120mm f4.0 AFS VR lens.

I love it when editors use my images large and well.

Happy Friday!

7.05.2018

A Day Spent Rediscovering the Nikon D800e Camera and Two Lenses.


I was at loose ends this week. My regular corporate clients all seemed to take advantage of a mid-week 4th of July; they all took the whole week off! American productivity took a five day nose dive...
I knew this was coming and you know how much I hate to have idle photo hands, so I sent an e-mail over to my friends at Zach Theatre and offered them my photographic services on any project they might have in mind but didn't have the budget for. If it was fun then I was in. (They are, after all, a non-profit community theater). It took a bit of schedule adaptation but they quickly got back in touch and asked if I could spend a day shooting their Summer kids programs and create images for future use in brochures and on-line collateral. I agreed.

I've photographed so often, and in every nook and cranny of the theater, that I felt like I knew just what to bring. I'd be making candid, non-lit, images of kids under florescent lights (for the most part) and we'd be working on two stages, one rehearsal hall and in two temporary buildings. The kids ranged in age from 5 to 18 and I knew I'd want to use longer lenses so the kids wouldn't be too intimidated by a photographer who was right in their faces. I settled on one main camera; the Nikon D800e. I chose it because it does very well in mixed light, makes great Jpegs and has enviable low light/low noise skills.

The way I chose to use it today was to shoot in Jpeg. I used the fine setting but I shot in the medium size setting. This gave me files that were 5520 by 3680 pixels for a 20.3 megapixel file. More that ample for the theater's use, quicker to shoot, and since the camera is downsampling from the full size file it generates even lower noise files that it would at full res. A monster win on all counts.

Having cut my digital teeth on early Kodak cameras and cameras like the Nikon D2X I always have a certain amount of reservation when using any camera at ISOs higher than 1600 but I know that with my main lens selection and the lower levels of illumination I'd need to shoot in the range of 3200-6400 to get the shutter speeds (and depth of field) that I'd want. I've read in many places that this camera is capable of doing well in those settings but I still a bit reticent.

I packed four lenses today and used two of them. I carried along a 50mm f1.4 G lens as well as the 24-120mm f4.0 VR lens but both of these stayed in the backpack. I also packed an 85mm f1.8 D lens and a 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 VR lens and I used these two for everything. I used the 85mm when I was photographing in horrible light and the 70-300mm for the rest of the shots (about 85% of the total).
Since the 70-300mm maxes out at f4.5 and slips to f5.6 as it zooms to its longer focal lengths the ability to handle higher ISOs with some grace was a vital parameter in the selection of the camera

Photographing kids of various ages in a theater setting can be a hit or miss sort of assignment. The kids are outside their usual routines and are very active and engaged. Since most activities revolve around actively acting, or dancing and acting, and since nothing is choreographed or rehearsed, I'm constantly trying to anticipate movement and spatial relationships between the kids, the stages and to assess the general lighting. A longer zoom lens is very helpful in isolating just the action I'm interested in.

So, how did it all work out? Well, I must say that reports of the mediocre optical qualities of the 2006 vintage, 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 VR AFS lens are highly exaggerated. If you can't make sharp images with a good copy of this lens at nearly every focal length you might re-visit your handling techniques, minimum shutter speeds and better take into consideration the vagaries and pitfalls of subject movement. I was shooting images at up to 300mm, handheld, at 1/160th of a second and, with a human subject comped from the waist up, able to get sharp eyelashes most of the time. And this, generally, at ISO 3200 or 6400.

In comparison to the D700, which I also used for about 10% of the images, the D800e does a much better job handling Auto WB. Any corrections I needed to make were much less dramatic with the D800e, even when shooting in exactly the same environment.

With a battery grip attached the camera is the perfect size and has the perfect configuration for both vertical and horizontal shooting. The finder is very good and nicely bright. While I would prefer an EVF for the instant feedback it would provide I am happy to use a good optical viewfinder, when necessary.

With the noise reduction set to NORMAL and the camera shooting medium/fine Jpegs the files have a good combination of fine detail and low overall noise. Shadows at 6400 are just starting to show some color artifacting but it's only really apparent to me when viewing the files at 100%. In fact, I would say the camera does a better job handling noise in the Jpeg files than I am generally able to do with similar raw files.

Why review a camera that's six years old? Well, because it's still a really, really good camera and now available for bargain prices. High resolution, full frame, low noise at high ISO all for half the price of a flagship micro four thirds or APS-C camera? Yes. A bargain.

I'm toying with the idea of buying one more. I have a D800 and a D800e but one more D800e seems like a worthwhile expenditure --- if I can really justify having a third body as a doubly redundant back up. Probably a dumb idea. In the next six months to a year we'll probably see D810 prices drop toward the $1200 mark. Newer technology isn't necessarily a bad thing....

Now uploading 900+ files for the theater. Answering questions for attorneys on a pending house sale and then straight to bed. Priorities, priorities! I've got some swimming to do tomorrow....

Forgot to mention: The 85mm f1.8D lens is just fine at f2.2, 2.5, 2.8 and beyond. And it's quick to focus on the D800e body. I like it. I'll keep using it until I win the lottery and can afford the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens...

7.03.2018

Way too hot outside so I'm inside getting ready for a portrait session with physician. Thank goodness for air conditioning!


I knew we were in for an uncomfortable day when I was driving to the swimming pool at 6:45 this morning and the announcer on the radio told us that the current temperature was 79 degrees with 96% humidity. The high today should top out at 102, which would be pleasant if we had the desert dryness of someplace like Tucson, AZ., but heat index indicates that it's going to feel more like 108. These are all Fahrenheit temps.

Crazy as I may be I'm loathe to go out walking in this stuff and even a bit happy that I don't have to drag a couple hundred pounds of gear in and out of a remote location. There are some days in Texas when it makes sense to swim early, have coffee at the chilly-est coffee bar in the neighborhood and then get home and work in the studio before the sun climbs high. But I guess it's not just Texas that's dealing with the heat today but most of the contiguous U.S. Is this literally or metaphorically welcome to hell? 

My portrait appointment this afternoon is with a doctor from a large radiology practice in Austin, Texas. It's a practice with about 150 doctors and we've been making portraits for them for nearly fifteen years now. When we started I used a pop up background that I wasn't thrilled with but it became our official background for hundreds of engagements. Lately the art director for the practice has decided to go back and change all the backgrounds via PhotoShop. That's freed me up to totally get rid of the old background and to now shoot the headshots against a white seamless paper. Easier to cut people out and drop them into different backgrounds. Easier for me to get consistency.

My main light today is the Neewer 400 watt second flash I wrote about recently. It's in a collapsible 48 inch softbank. My fill is just a passive reflector to the opposite side of the subject. I've got Neewer Vision 4 light aiming into an umbrella as a single light on my background and an additional Neewer Vision 4 with a standard reflector and diffusion sock as my accent/backlight. The background light is flagged off with a black flag to keep it from spilling onto my subject.

Since the art director is dropping out the subject from the overall image in PhotoShop I'm making her job easily by shooting at a smaller f-stop than I usually do. My lens on the D800e is stopped down to f8 and 1/2 so we can keep hair in focus. It makes getting believable selections easier...

I took a few minutes to meter the lighting set up. I'm using an incident meter and getting f9 from my main light, f9 on my background and f7.1 from my hair/accent/backlight. Once the doctor steps in to the set up I'll fine tune a bit.

I'm nearly always set up and ready to go when my clients arrive. I like to offer a bottle of cold water and let my subjects take some time to get acclimated to the space. For a nice headshot we can usually get started, fine-tuned and finished in about 20 to 25 minutes.

I just finished shooting "Alan" a few minutes ago. I'm going right into the ingestion and post processing of the images and should have a gallery up for the art director in about half an hour. Once I know we've got a range of good keepers, and that the gallery is live and functional, I'll send along an invoice as a .PDF. 

"Alan" came today in a nicely tailored, navy sport coat, pressed dress shirt and perfectly tied tie. He also had on a pair of seersucker shorts and some sandals. His nod to the oppressive heat. A perfect combination for the season, and the purpose of the appointment. 

One more project done before the holiday!