1.26.2015

Gone photographing. Back in a few days.

Paris Metro.









Kirk Tuck and the Visual Science Lab finally enter 21st Century with a fast internet connection.

We had all these cables running into the VSL headquarters just for 1.5 meg DSL. (kinda kidding). 
(from a studio assignment for 3M featuring heat shrink cable protection).

I'm not an early adopter in so many areas. I got my first car with Bluetooth in 2013. I'm still using an iPhone 4S. I don't order restaurant take out online. I'm not really sure why Twitter has value or if I am using it correctly. We have one television set. It's never been hooked up to cable. I only know about Pandora as she relates to Greek mythology. I think wi-if on a camera is the devil's work. And, most disturbingly, I've been using old AT&T business class DSL for the last 15 years. It got marginally faster a few years ago but only via the expense of a couple weeks of downtime and frustrating phone calls to help desks that repeated the same mantra over and over and over again: "Restart your modem."

But when we moved from Austin proper into the hills just west of Austin getting high speed connections was either impossible or required a King Midas/Goldman Sachs budget. Once I had a workable solution in the office I was loathe to change it. I made due with 3 mbs per second down and 1.5 mps up and I paid about $55 a month for the privilege. But recently Google came to Austin and even though they are only really interested in the low hanging fruit it has pushed their cable and other broadband competitors to change. A nice person from AT&T came by and showed me how switching our sloooow, home DSL and our sloow office DSL to their newer services would increase the speeds of our connections by a factor of ten while cutting our monthly bills in half. That's a nice value proposition, even for a lazy non-switcher like myself. 

Of course, now I'm kicking myself for not switching earlier but I still remember the hassles I had to deal with the last time I changed just the speed of my connection which resulted in more down time than most submarines. I'd gladly give up speed and a bit of cash not to disrupt my routine. But this time I didn't resist. They made it too easy for me. 

The technician came out this morning. He marveled at the bullet proof, weather proof, comet proof junction box at the back of the house like a Russian with steel fillings looking at a free gold crowns. About three hours later we'd switched from two old DSL accounts to one fiber account on a shared modem that delivers good signal strength everywhere. Just to test it Belinda and I watched two different movies in two locations, simultaneously. Nosferatu and some Meryl Streep movie on Netflix and nothing slowed down, coughed or hiccuped. (Now I sound like someone emerging from a time machine and talking about being able to read the newspaper on line!). 

It's like the time I traded in my bigass BMW on a four cylinder Honda and rediscovered good gas mileage (and reliability, and low maintenance costs, and cheaper operating costs, and a better air conditioner, and........). It's always a little startling to change things. 

But I miss things about the slower connection. Yesterday uploading two one megabyte images took about 20 second and it gave me time to think of a catchy headline for the blog I was writing. Today? One second and no downtime for the ole brain. No catchy headline. 

The most exiting part of all this? Now I can watch Kai at DigitalRevTV and Chris Niccolls from The CameraStore TV in full on HD and I don't even have to wait for my machine to buffer the signal. No stuttering, no stopping and no more jaggies. 

I'm pretty happy about the change, after the fact. My iPad streams news quicker and my laptop downloads new software like a geek box. But the biggest change is how quickly I can now upload enormous videos to Vimeo.com. Push a button and look away. By the time I hammer back a slug of cold coffee from the recesses of my desk the web has mysteriously sucked up a 600 MB video file and cracked the whip on the hamsters that process it at Vimeo ( a very nice service = thank you!).

I still think wi-fi in cameras is for children and other geeks and don't get me started on the stupid trend of putting GPS in a camera. I don't care what your rationale is, you and I both know you are wrong. But I'll come around in a few years. Once they've got it all perfected I'll give it a test drive. I just can't think of what in world I'd do with the coordinates. Maybe I'll give them to my phone and the robots will track me for the digital overlords. Could be fun. 

This is a cool ad for a Japanese tech firm that I worked on with my art director friend, Greg Barton over at Dandy Idea. Wafers, meditation and sunrises. Nice.

Absolutely the best camera evaluation video I have ever, ever seen on the world wide web. Thanks to Philip Bloom for tweeting it.

Lighting, pose, gesture and content. The camera is the last thing on the list.


I like this photo because it shows off new technology for my client and the people in the shot look real and engaged. I was happy to have been able to light the entire scene with one overhead fluorescent fixture and four Fotodiox 312AS LED panels. I wanted the image to be "readable" and printable (no shadows blocking up, no highlights burned out) but I didn't want it to seem obviously lit.

In the shooting process my first consideration was to find the right angle to show off the machine and also be flattering for the models. The room we were shooting in is very small so the slim profile of the LED panels was a real plus. One panel that was behind me and to the left was used bounced against a wall and the space was so tight we couldn't get a stand in. I attached the light to a small table top tripod and balanced it on top of a small medical tray. Two lights, covered with diffusion material were used outside the door while the fourth was aimed at the equipment in the background so it didn't drop in tonal value. Everything was balanced in intensity to match the white curtained window at the back of the frame.

The use of a shorter than typical (for me) focal length helped to create a feeling of depth to the shot. My biggest challenge was to get enough light on the face of the technician on the left without blowing out too much highlight detail on the "patient's" white robe.

All of the above parameters were put into place first and then we stuck in the camera. I did a quick custom white balance from the robe and set a manual exposure on the camera. I was using the Sony a77 and the (nice) 16-50mm f2.8 kit lens. It's a bit noisier than my current cameras but light years better than earlier generations of cameras.

I am happy with the shot and in retrospect there are very few (if any) things that I would change.

There is the belief that the camera and lens are the vital parts of the process but by my reckoning they are a distant fourth place behind being able to visualize what you want to achieve, figuring out how to light it for depth and detail, getting the right poses, expressions and gestures from the talent and getting the shot styled the way you want. Once you've done those things just about any camera with the right focal length lens on the front will do the job.

The nicest thing for me about this job was having a client who understands the difference between a narrative style photo illustration and just another documentation of a machine. That's the best case scenario for working photographers.

1.25.2015

I shot with a new "old" lens yesterday and it was good.

Dog and friend at the Graffiti Wall. D610+Cheapo lens

Model at the Graffiti Wall. 70-210mm at 210mm, f5.6

Editorial Note: I wrote a post yesterday about a lens and an experience at the Austin Graffiti Wall. It was too negative and angry. I decided that's not a direction I wanted to go in this year so I took the post down. This is what the original post should have been...

It's not hard to be a lens-aholic when shooting with the Nikon system, after all, they haven't changed the lens mount in just about forever and any Nikon lens made from about 1977 onward will mount and work (some with limitations) on even the newest Nikon bodies. When I look at lenses for that system (one of two systems that I am currently using for work and play...) I find myself drawn to older classics rather than the newest formulations and models. I've shot, on and off, with Nikon equipment since the late 1980's and I have a lot of experience with the lenses (and the bodies) through the ages. I've always loved the look and feel of the manual focus lenses and now I even like the prices. 

Recently, I borrowed the newest 70-200mm VR type 2 to compare with an older AF 80-200mm f2.8 D lens that I recently bought for a song. I wanted to make sure I wasn't deluding myself and compromising the overall system performance by choosing an older lens. I shouldn't have worried as the older lens is as sharp and low maintenance as I remember it. What am I giving up by using an older lens? Mostly just the VR but in the ways that I plan to use the lens it's not much of an issue. I plan to use the fast zoom lens mostly for theatrical performance documentation sitting on the front of a Nikon 610. I've tested it onsite and it works exactly as I wanted. 

But there is one issue I have with the 80-200mm f2.8 and that is the bulk and the weight of the unit. Don't get me wrong, for the applications I have in mind it's not an issue and there's really now way around a certain size and heft if you want optical performance and speed on a full frame camera. It's a trade off. But in the back of my mind I started thinking about the times when I might want to tote around a nice focal length range like the one on the 80-200mm during one of my "spells" when I also want to use a big Nikon camera. So I started looking for a cheap, smaller, lighter lens with the same basic focal range to use when tooling around outdoors, without my team of equipment hauling Sherpas. 

The search led me to a number of choices but the one that seemed to have the most promise, when reading other people's reviews, was the D version of the Nikon 70-210mm f4-5.6, push-pull zoom lens from the 1990's. It focuses pretty quickly; on par with the consumer AFS lenses. It''s noisier when focusing but not too bad. It's less than half the size and weight of the 2.8 lenses but it's mostly built with metal and feels very solid. I bought one for right around $100. I generally test lenses just as soon as I buy them but last week we had nasty weather. It was cold, gray, rainy and windy for four days in a row and I just didn't have the motivation to go out and shoot with much of anything.

The weather broke yesterday (resulting in a glorious and very well attended morning swim practice) and in the late afternoon I finished up all my chores and decided to go out for a bit of shooting. I put the lens on the D610 and headed for the Graffiti Wall. It was absolutely packed with people, including a mass fashion photo workshop. I stayed for a while and snapped some fun shots which I then brought back to the office to look over. The lens is fairly sharp wide open and the appearance of sharpness improves with a bit of post processing. When sharpening is done right the lens delivers fine detail along with a contrast that seems to be a balance between the lower levels of the older, manual Nikon lenses and the exaggerated contrast (and saturation) of the newest generation. I found myself liking the push and pull to zoom control. 

All in all the lens was a bargain for $100 and reminded me that some of the older stuff is still primo. 

I bought this lens for my particular uses and I'm not suggesting that you rush out and change camera systems or rush out to buy this lens. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that there's a lot of good, older stuff out there that's selling at bargain prices and rewards buyers who are patient, willing to test their own gear, and who buy from vendors who will allow you to return stuff that you might find lacking in performance to your standards. I like my big, heavy fast lens for a number of shooting opportunities and I like the more compact lens for daytime travel and street shooting. I'm lucky enough to be able to have both. 

Another editorial note: My book giveaway came to an end on Saturday morning and in the two days it was active we gave away over 6,000 Kindle versions of, The Lisbon Portfolio. I hope that we'll start to see a rash of (nice) reviews in the next few weeks at Amazon. I hope everyone enjoys the story and doesn't get too annoyed with any editing issues. I'm working on the second book and want to have it done by October of 2015. I continue to rely on your motivational support and encouragement. 

Thanks, Kirk

curiosity. What long telephoto zooms do you reach for when you go out to shoot and you know you want/need some reach? I'd be curious to know what my readers think the best fast tele zooms are for your systems. Comments?