1.06.2020

Working in the middle of chaos.


I've recently been posting some images I took in NYC at the 2013 Photo Expo for Samsung. It was a busy Fall. I'd just come off a ten day stint in Berlin for the IFA show (kinda like our CES show only bigger!) and a camera beta test,  and a couple of weeks in Denver being filmed for our Craftsy.com classes (Now rebranded as BluPrint and majority owned by NBCUniversal - A Link? ).

The folks at the public relations firm for Samsung's Galaxy NX launch liked me well enough and hired me to head up to the city and work at their trade show booth taking images with the new camera and the system lenses. We shot for hours each day with two different models and generated about 4,500 files in the three days of the show. All the images were put up on big 4K television screens as we shot so people could see, in real time, how the cameras worked and how the files looked. Occasionally one of the cameras would crash because it was still early software, but we had a technician on tap and he'd fix the issues expediently.

Space is tight at trade shows and our shooting area was tiny. We had a couple of small soft boxes and some inexpensive monolights but little in the way of additional reflectors or light modifiers.

In order to back up enough to use 60mm and 85mm lenses on the APS-C sensor equipped bodies we had to back up right to the intersection of the booth and the public so we ended up, frequently, answering questions from fellow photographers as we were shooting. It was mostly good natured fun with a few exceptions such as the "photo enthusiast" who came by repeatedly to tell us that "pros only use medium format cameras. Digital isn't good enough yet!!!" And this was, of course 2013 when most digital was more than adequate.

On our breaks we'd walk the floor and look at all the cool camera and lens porn or try to beat other equipment reps out of free lunches or dinners (I got invited to the intimate Olympus dinner at a famous, and very good steak house, to get a hands on evening with their new EM-1 camera; and the Panasonic sponsored happy hour was pretty cool...).

The noise levels everywhere were high, high, high. But I when I shot I wore a headset microphone so I could make observations about the cameras and the process to whatever assembled audience was on hand, and also to direct our models. It was a blast to do all this once but it got old quick. By the time I was on a plane and headed home I was deep into writing one of my most read blog pieces ever, "The Graying of Traditional Photography..." But looking back through the photographs this week I can see I had a much better time than I remembered.



1.05.2020

I like to use a "stand-in" for the final portrait subject when I'm getting my lighting set up. Sometimes everyone is at lunch and the stand-in is me.


I pretty much know how the light from a soft box is going to look, and the same goes for a light in an umbrella, but sometimes you end up in a location where you are shooting against windows and there's all kinds of light bouncing around outside (and inside) and you really need to make sure there's not going to be a big reflection staring back at you in the glass....

After I get my lights roughed in I like to ask someone to stand in just so I can see how everything is working out. And I like to do that before the star of the photo session walks in so I don't have to waste his or her time resetting errant lights. It's also good to know just how much depth of field you are going to end up with at a given subject-to-camera distance and also how it will affect the background. Right?

So, I was setting up to photograph the CEO of a hedge fund late last year and when I finished my set up I found that everyone in the office was either in a meeting or out for lunch. My assistant for the shoot was me. So I grabbed my assistant and demanded he stand in for some test shots. He grumbled a bit, told me he didn't get paid enough to do this, but I finally got the guy to cooperate while I set the self-timer on the camera and walked back to stand on the mark I'd made with white gaffer's tape, on the floor. 

I was then able to assure myself that we'd have a fighting chance of getting a decent shot of the CEO as soon as the cast came back from meetings and lunch. It all worked out fine but even though I've done this sort of shoot for decades it's nice to have the extra layer of assurance that comes from a decent test shot. 

I now realize that self-timers on cameras were invented specifically so photographers could do a one-man set up and test for on-location portraits. Anything else they tell you about self-timers is B.S. 

I don't always look so stern but when I have to switch roles and become the stand-in/assistant I want to make sure the photographer knows I'm taking my job seriously. Those photographers are demanding bastards; that for sure!

No assistants were harmed in the making of this self portrait. 

(Damn. I should have retouched......).



A Camera with a different character. The Sony RX10 series.


A friend who is not a "photographer" and doesn't want to start collecting gear, asked me to recommend a great camera that would make good images and allow him the most flexibility for shooting everything from wide angle scenes to kids playing sports. I thought about all the interchangeable lens cameras I know about but my friend is a guy who is unlikely to want to change lenses or keep several lenses in a bag. It was a weird moment for me to realize that there are lots of other, sometimes better options, out in the world besides our traditional, mirrorless or DSLR system cameras, with their raft of lenses, accessories and operational traditions. 

I thought back over all the work I've done in the past ten years to come up with a camera that I had personally used and enjoyed, but one which would also meet the more limited operational parameters requested. After I cut out all the interchangeable lens cameras I was left with a handful of choices. There are the artsy-hipster-advanced artist, fixed lens prime cameras like the Ricoh GRIII and the ever-iterating Fuji X-100x series but the wide, fixed, prime lens is far too limiting for anyone other than a person who might want to have a small camera to play with but who also possesses a massive inventory of "real" cameras for those times when portraits and other long lens scenarios come into focus...

Eliminating the "art school" camera set left me with just a couple of options. There's the compact, zoom lens cameras like the Sony RX100x's and the Panasonic Lumix LX100ii but I think they are too tiny and fiddly to work with. Then I found a folder of images I made one year when I took a Sony RX10iii to the big Spring party in Austin called, "Eeyore's Birthday Party." Smiling as I flipped through the images in the folder I realized that really good, longer telephoto capability is one of the things that separates really useful, impactful and highly competent cameras from "fun, handy" cameras. 

I sent along the information about the Sony RX10iii, let him know that there's a newer model but that I hadn't used it yet, and I also sent along a folder full of color and black and white images I'd taken with the camera. He was hooked. Then he saw the pricing on the RX10 series and paused. He's using a borrowed RX10iii right now but every time we speak I can see that the camera is sinking its highly capable hooks into his wallet. And his visual vocabulary.

I love the RX10 series. Each new model had something to recommend it (and a deletion to bitch about....) but I'd almost forgotten that the lure and allure for me on the two later cameras is the absolutely first class long end of that 24mm-600mm equivalent zoom. I can isolate subjects, defocus backgrounds and get stellar stabilized results with much less hassle than trying to do the same with a professional, full frame body and a bag full of lenses that, when used together, give me the same kind of reach but with the burden of more weight and complexity than most people (who aren't being paid to make photographs) want to endure.

I should never have opened the folder and re-visited the images. Now I feel the attraction of the RX10IV. Resist. Resist. Resist.








1.03.2020

Some images from my vacation to Montreal, Canada. Re-imagined in black and white.

Coffee at Crew Café. Montreal, Canada.

These were all taken with the Pentax K-1 I was using back in October. Along with either the 28-105mm lens or the 50mm f1.4 lens. I photographed in color (Jpegs) and converted to black  and white in Adobe Lightroom. It's fun to see them in a different way. One of the pleasant things about seeing new work and then setting it aside for a few months before coming back to it fresh.












 

1.02.2020

One small soft box from top left and one small soft box on the background. That's all we could do in the space.

For Samsung Project in NYC.

If you click on the image you can see it bigger and I think that makes this better...

OT: An amazing day on the stock market. Congratulations to those folks who bought Apple Computer stock last year. Or the year before. Or the year before. Or.....


I remember sitting in a meeting for vendors, at one of Apple's main competitors back in the 1990s, when the CEO was asked (in a Q&A session) about Apple as a competitor. The young and brash CEO chuckled and said that Apple was on the way out and if their management was rational they would give the cash and assets on hand back to the shareholders and turn out the lights. That was then....

Today the company run by that CEO has a current market cap of about $39 billion while Apple hit a record today with a market cap of $1.3 trillion. Apple, as a company is now worth nearly 40 times what  that particular competitor is worth today. And, with just cash on hand, Apple could buy that company outright. It's an interesting turn of events. Apparently, beautifully designed products really do matter to a very large swath of consumers. So much for specsmanship and racing to the bottom with pricing. 

So, in March of 2019 you could have bought say, 6,000 shares of Apple at $142 for around $852,000 and now, less than one year later, your investment would be worth $1,800,000, not even factoring in Apple's ongoing dividends to shareholders. That's a better return than one could expect from even a decent photography business!


Of course past results are no guarantee of future performance and what goes up usually comes back down. It's just an interesting time and I took note of it because one of my friends who used to be a photographer called me today to breathlessly talk about his good fortune. I wish we were all so clairvoyant? Strategic? ...... Lucky? 

I just wish Apple would make a camera other than the ones in iPhones. I'd probably buy one...

Off to a good start this year. I hit the pool this morning for the 8:15-9:30 a.m. workout and it was sublime.


WHAC Masters a.m. workout.

Coach Jimmy was on deck today and he wrote out a daunting set on the white board. 800 yards of warm-up, followed by a 300 yard pull set, then a 200 yard mixed I.M. and freestyle set, and then 20 X 75s on 1:10 followed by 20 x 25s on :30 followed by a couple hundred yards of shooters (try to make each 25 yard length completely underwater/no breaths. We knocked out about 3500 yards in an hour and 25 minutes and then surrendered the pool to Ian Crocker's (gold medal Olympian and past world record holder in the 100 butterfly) elite group of younger swimmers (high school)

So of us were a bit worse for wear for having been out of the water since Sunday morning but nobody dropped out. No one drowned.

Before firing up the new computer I did some dry land exercises here in the studio: 25 crunches, 25 push-ups and some work with hand weights. Hey, if you're going to buy heavy cameras you'll probably want to get in some weight training, right?

Now I'm off to clean and organize for our first photo shoot of the year: tomorrow. 




A contingent from our Masters team started the year off New Year's morning with a plunge into the cool waters at Barton Springs. Not so dramatic yesterday with an air temperature of 56(f) but in years past it's been as cold as 24 and we still had some brave participants...

Swimming Pool in breeze.


No lofty resolutions here, just the same daily practice we've done nearly everyday since childhood. If you never stop you never have to go through the agony of starting up again. Hope you're moving and moving happy. KT

A Few Quick Observations about The New VSL Computer, the iMac Pro...


 Trying a softer look. Just for fun.

Belinda remarked to me yesterday, as I was grappling with the idea of spending money on a new computer, that I think nothing of buying camera bodies that are about the same price, sometimes in lots of two or more, and yet I've been nursing along an iMac 27 inch computer that first hit the market in late 2013. Sure, it has 16 gigabytes of memory and it's been solid and reliable but she was quick to point out that I'd save a lot more time and money by getting a new computer rather than impulse shopping for more cameras....

I brought the iMac Pro home last night and got to work migrating all the apps and files from the old machine to the new one. I knew the iMacPro would be much faster but what I did not expect was that the screen (a 5K Retina) would be so much better than the screen on the older machine.

The improved image almost immediately pushed me into looking at old files on the new system. I was amazed at how much more revealing the higher resolution is (and the wider gamut). I'm happy I've bought a few new cameras that create nearly 50 megapixel files because the new monitor allows me to see some artifacts in shadows I never saw before as well as some color casts that I thought I'd taken care of by calibrating the old screen every once in a while. It also brings home to me the advantages of working with bigger files. Now I can see more profound differences between cameras.

Just as getting new cameras and lenses seems to supercharge my interest in getting out and taking more photographs getting a much more capable desktop is pushing me to dive into post processing with greater diligence than I brought to the digital darkroom before.

Also, I tested the new system against the old in a task that I do nearly every week. That's to convert batches of corrected files from raw to jpeg in Lightroom. I selected a folder with 650 24 megapixel raw files and converted them to large, fine Jpegs on each system. As I anticipated, the task took the better part of a half hour on the older machine and about four minutes on the new one. That's enough improvement right there to make me sit up, take notice, and then pat myself on my own back for my smart purchase.

I've also bought a couple of external 1 terabyte SSD drives to use as scratch and "in process" disks. That makes everything go faster as well. I can hardly wait for our first job of the year to come through the door on Friday. I'll be spending Friday evening with a big smile on my face in fast, post processing paradise....

1.01.2020

Kicking off the New Year with a few portraits. Just for fun.

All images ©Kirk Tuck. All rights reserved.

Yay! We Made it Through Another Year!!! Let's talk about new strategies and new branding.

Lou. One of my most consistent muses.
I return to the work I did with her time and time again 
to renew my excitement about portraits.

I've thought a lot about it and I have a confession to make; I hate producing video. I'm not particularly good at it and, to be even more frank, I hate the degree of collaboration that generally has to happen to make programs work the way clients want videos to work.

Over the course of my career I've shot a lot of corporate video, been part of teams making television commercials, and done a bunch of interviews. I've shot on 35mm film, 16mm film, Super8 film, Hi-8 video, BetaSP video and most recently with a gaggle of video-ready still cameras, and I have to say that it's generally more trouble for me than it is worth.

Don't get me wrong. I like the concepting and writing of video. I even like lighting and shooting video...but...I hate the process of collaborating on a "team vision" for a project and I just detest the whole editing process ---- mostly because these two things are not strengths of mine. While I am mostly an extrovert and love being around all kinds of people when it comes to creative projects I more or less like to execute them with an iron fist. And I'm not an organized enough thinker to be a good editor either.

So, my new strategy for the business is to ignore commercial video entirely. And to ignore the temptation to create a YouTube channel and become a blithering, blathering and pontificating expert about cameras, in vivid 4K (I can get in enough pontification right here on the blog...).  If clients call and want to do video I'll offer to help them find a producer. If they want me to be involved I'll happily concept with them and even write scripts but I'll be damned if I want to stand next to the camera and prompt one more CEO as he/she rattles on  about "executing on our unique vision to be top performers and to achieve excellence in the field of janitorial data management facilitation...." 

I'd rather take a camera out and make a small movie with a beautiful pair of actors making small talk about coffee and life, and do it all in black and white. Wrap it into a three or four minute edit and share it with my film friends. 

I hate most of the effects that clients seem to like. I dislike current fashions in editing. And I really dislike performing for "likes" like a porpoise leaping out of the water to get a small fish. So, I'll be taking mentions of video production off the kirktuck.com website and re-focusing my attention to the wonderful world of making portraits. If the right video project comes along then I'll consider it, but....

In transitioning to a new computer I spent a lot of time sorting through files in order not to migrate a lot of junk to the new hard drive. In the process I saw the overwhelming trend of my work, which has always been making portraits of all kinds. It's people, their expressions, their gestures, and the life one can see in their eyes (if I get everything right) that I love. 

"Over my shoulder I do hear times winged chariot drawing near..." (From: To His Coy Mistress, by Andrew Marvell). There's not enough time to be an expert in too many fields at once. I feel I've hit the Y (or Why) in the road where I needed to make a choice. It's easy. It's still photography of people. 

Will I ever touch the video button again? Yes! But it will be for fun and games and not driven mercilessly forward by the sting of impending poverty, under the lash of corporate silliness. (Loved the drama of writing that. So silly!!!). 

This shift is one of the reasons I retooled with the addition of the two higher resolution Panasonic Lumix S1R cameras. They offer a high enough resolution to work well when used in the square, 1:1 format, and the lenses I paired them with are the finest ones I could find in the entire market. If I can't achieve my vision with them then I am doomed to failure at any rate. 

I've been viciously reducing my equipment foot print left and right in the studio and hope to hold the line by bringing in only equipment that facilitates my focus on portraiture. I've never been a great multi-tasker and the fewer things I need to consider in the day-to-day running of my business the better off I'm sure I'll be. 

I have a couple of year's left before I retire from the commercial field and I want to make the most of it. Not the most money --- I don't really care about that anymore --- I just want to be the absolute best portrait photographer I can be. When I step away from doing it as a business nothing will really change except for the fact that, at that point in time, every subject in front of my cameras will be someone I want to photograph, not someone I've been contracted to photograph. 

This is certainly not a bold step or a surprising announcement but a distillation of both my own thinking and the advice of friends and loved ones whose opinions I value very much. 

As the whole world moves toward video I'll take a contrarian point of view and head in the other direction. Maybe I'll even try to write better.....

Happy New Year. KT