New LED light test with Canon 60D and Zeiss 50mm.

    A quick test with the ever patient Ben.  Camera:  Canon 60D.  Lens:  Carl Zeiss 50mm Planar 1.4.
    Lights:  ePhoto LED 500's and 1000.  Custom white balance with Lastolite Gray Target.

I did a quickie test when I first got a couple of the 500 LED light panels and I didn't do any correction to the files.  Yesterday I took delivery of the 1000 LED panel and I decided to do things right.  So I set up a quick lighting design along the lines of what I would do for a corporate client and I asked Ben to come and sit for me.  To start with this is a four light set up.  I used the 1000 panel, which is 14 inches by 14 inches, as my main light.  It's covered with white diffusion material from my Westcott FastFlags kit, held in place with clothespins attached to the light's built in barn doors.  I felt that the size of the light source was right on the borderline for me.  A bit small to use without a bigger diffusion panel.

The background light is a 500 LED panel (8 inches by 14 inches) placed on a floor stand about four feet from my 18% (painted) gray wall.  It is used at full power as was the main light.  The I added an overhead hair light.  Also a 500 LED panel at full power but with the addition of Rosco frost gel over the front.  Finally,  I added a kicker light from the opposite side of the main light and about eight feet behind Ben.  This light is also diffused with a Rosco diffusion material but it's a light enough diffusion that one can still make out the individual rows of LEDs shining thru.  Over the the right hand side there's a 4 by 6 foot black panel to kill any light bouncing into the photo from the white wall.

I set the camera at ISO 400, the aperture at 2.8 and the shutter speed at 1/160th of a second.  Right where I'd want it to be if I could have anything I wanted.  To my eye the Canon 60D is pretty noiseless at ISO 400 and I would have no hesitancy shooting there for client jobs.  I set a white balance using the gray side of a Lastolite collapsible target.  I keep a small one in my case all the time and a large on in the studio.  It's quick and easy and saves a lot of bad guess work after the fact.  The balance was pretty much perfect.  I DID NOT use any sort of color filtration on the lights and shot intentionally in Jpeg.  I did not color correction or color temperature shifting in PhotoShop.  What you see (except for taking out a skin blemish or two.....) is essentially what came out of the camera.  I misjudged the shadows a little bit so I used the shadow/highlight control to open the shadows up with a setting of 3 and a small radius.

What my test shot showed me was that, in the absence of a bunch of mixed lighting,  I could forgo the magenta filtration I talked about in a previous post and use the lights in their raw form with very good results as long as I took the time to do a custom white balance with a known source.  I think that, with the custom white balance, the flesh tones and the gray background are right on the money.

The benefits of the continuous light shooting were several:  In the first instance I was able to take a very, very accurate light meter reading of the gray target.  No flash meter.  Secondly, the lighting was very much "what you see is what you get."  My only caveat there is that assessing the amount of shadow detail is alway just a bit tricky because the human eye seems to be able to look into shadows better than the camera sensor.  Finally, Ben is a "blinker" and the ability to find an expression I like and shoot as fast as I liked was instrumental in catching a good smile.

The manual focus lens was a blessing as once focused I didn't worry about the AF sensor changing focus on me to some other area.

The quality of light was just what I wanted with smooth, even fall off and enough control to make customizing my portrait lighting design a breeze.  The next step will be heading out of the studio to use the LEDs as supplemental lighting in bright daylight.

Random news:  I've been invited to speak and do a workshop in Kuwait.  We haven't worked out the dates and details but I'll let you know more as it transpires.  I am very excited by this.  I've just completed several advertising  projects and am looking forward to doing a large project in November for a high technology business incubator here in Austin.  As part of the parameters of that project, which will be shot on locations at the client's headquarters and on the UT campus,  I will be lighting everything with the LED panels.  Should be a good, high production, trial by fire.  Finally, will be holding a workshop here in Austin in January to show how to light with all the  major kinds of light available to photographers.  From big hot lights and studio flashes to small flashes, LED lights and Florescent Lights.  As soon as I finalize dates and pricing I'll let everyone know.  This will be the first workshop in which I'll demo how I use each light and then break up into teams of models and photographers so that everyone can give it a go with each kind of light as I supervise.  Should be fun.


The Canon 60D revisited. Funny what a lens will do.....

 I liked the 60D the minute I picked it up and (with a few caveats) I've liked it more and more as I've used it.  But it wasn't until I capriciously stuck the Carl Zeiss 50mm 1.4 ZE lens on the front of it that it became my favorite camera to take out shooting.  It's more responsive and feels about one and half generations better than a Canon 5Dmk2.  It's at least as good a camera for most non-ultra-sport shooting as the Canon 7D.  And I like the way it feels in my hands.

I originally bought the 50 Zeiss to use on the 5D2.  I thought it would create very cool looking images with impressive DOF effects and it did that just fine.  But what it didn't do well was manually focus.  And when I used the focus indicator or the focus indicator+obnoxious beep I found that the combination missed the point of sharp focus, no matter how I had the camera set.  The 7D was a bit more accurate but even with the micro adjust feature of both the more expensive cameras I was never quite sure I'd get what I wanted in sharp focus.  Which led me to believe that the mis-focus anomaly must either be non-linear or intermittent.

On a whim I put the lens onto the 60D and set the menu items for "stupid operator in need of much help" or SOINOMH mode.  That means, center focus point, beeping confirmation and steady green light indicator hand holding.  I proceeded to shoot and the oddest thing happened:  Every time the camera told me I was in focus I really was in focus.  I was soon able to lose one set of training wheels.  The beep.

Although I leave the beep on if I'm around a bunch of really pretentious gear nerds because it seems to drive them crazy and, as they flinch and clutch at their 1DS mk3's, I have a moment of selfish entertainment......)

A benefit of this newly realized focusing capability is the new knowledge that the Zeiss lens is sharper wide open than I originally thought and the saturation and color rendering is pretty darn good.  This leads me to leave that lens on that body all of the time.  This combo gives me a solid platform, great images, smaller form factor and the satisfaction of having a tool combination that's working at optimum efficiency.  If you don't shoot sports and you don't need the full frame chops of the 5Dv2 this is really a wonderful little camera with good high ISO performance into the bargain.  I grab it first when I leave the house or studio.  When I'm being reckless this is the combo I keep in the car.

But I'm not writing this with the intention of slagging the 5 or the 7.  It's just that this whole circus of lens  madness and focus brought me to realize that there may be an optimum lens and camera combination for each body.  I spent a while looking through images I've taken and I think it really breaks down like this:

1.  The 60D and the Carl Zeiss 50mm is my favorite combination for casual portraits and walking around  just making photographic trouble.  I like shooting with the rig between f2.2 and f3.5.  I like what it does to the backgrounds when I get in close.  Works for me.

2.  The 7D is the perfect match for the 15-85 and that combination is rarely rent asunder.  For some reason I feel like they ultimately compliment each other.  I love the wide angle end and I find more and more that it's a lens that was made for wide open shooting.  The 7D sensor and AF seem to wring out every scintilla of performance from the optics and vice versa.  If it's commercial and I've got to get the shot this is the camera I'll grab.  Doubly so if it involves "smart flash" or HS flash.  Really.  Almost as good as the Nikons........sniff......(meaning as good with flash as the Nikons are.  Not anything else.)

3.  The crazy anomaly.  The 5D2 has the best overall image quality of the three and not just by a whisper.  But it seems harder to extract that extra five to ten percent of quality for me.  Sometimes, when all the stars line up I get incredible stuff.  And for high ISO I am consistently impressed and amazed.  But it can be a goofy camera to work with.  The body doesn't really feel as solid as the other two.   And instead of one there are two lenses that I think are synergistic with it.  One is the 85mm 1.8 which seems to ride on the body about 60% of the time.  The other is the 70-200 f4 which comes out of the case when we do traditional portraits, lit with softboxes and perfectly metered.  Every frame is sharp from f4 on down and it has no weird CA's or soft spots.  I thought I'd love the Canon 5D2 with the 50mm focal length but that's been a non-starter for me.  I love using it on a tripod and with the mirror locked up.  That's "sharp mode" and it really reaches down and pulls out great performances when used that way.

If I had to choose one of the three to go and shoot personal work with?  It'd be the 60D.  More to come.

I was thinking about this whole subject as I was "nerding" around in the studio getting used to my new LED light fixation.  I decided to do a photograph with which to illustrate this blog and I wanted to see how the new lights would do on a product shot.  I wanted to see what, if any, the advantages of using LED's over florescent or hot lights would be.

Right off the bat I found that I could use the lights closer than I every have before.  That means even a small panel with some diffusion on it yields the same soft light as other fixtures in bigger fixtures used further away.  I could also use fixtures right next to my camera without worrying about being blinded by the flash or heating up the camera.  In the same situation the florescents would probably have held their own.  But compared to tungsten and flash the whole setup, visualization process and shooting was easier, more comfortable and more straightforward.

I even included a set up shot.....just for fun.

not shown is one more light to the far left of the scene which is providing additional illumination on the background to keep it even.

The lights are the ePhotoinc LED 500's I've mentioned before.  I took a chance and it turned out well.  So far I've done a handful of assignments and my only real issue is that getting perfect white balance has to be more intentional at the front end of the process now.  Also, the lights can cause polyester fabrics to go a bit purple.  I'll experiment with some UV filtration when I get back by gear.   For everything else?  Charming.  And cool.

Small Flashes on Location. Again.

     Dr. White on location at his office in Austin.

I've been doing a series of ads for a large oral surgery practice here in Austin.  We are introducing the partners/doctors to the community in a casual ads that showcase the doctors engaged in their hobbies.  We photographed a rancher/doctor feeding a baby dear with a bottle in a pasture.  We photographed one person with his Ducati Monster motorcycle out on the golf course and we photographed one subject with his horse.  All the shots were fun and showed a side of the guys that people rarely see.  It served to make them more than two dimensional.

But then I came along a doctor who had sacrificed his free time to be the president of his professional association.  He was adamant that for the past two years any time he didn't spend practicing medicine he spent working for its improvement.  He felt most at home right in his office.  So that's where we did his photograph.

I am standing out in the hallway and Dr. White is sitting just inside the door.  I'm using a Canon 580 EX2 flash in a Speedlight Prokit beauty dish about two feet above camera, tilted down at him, for my main light.  Behind him and over to the left of the frame I'm using a second flash, a Vivitar 383 df, bouncing off the ceiling in the middle of the room.  I used a third flash, also a Vivitar 383 df from the back right of the room, with a home made grid attachment to provide just a little bit of accent light to the left side of his face to give a bit of separation with the back wall.

All of the lights were used in manual mode with the main light at 1/4 power, the room fill at 1/2 power and the accent at 1/8th power.  I used a Canon 7D body with a 15-85mm zoom lens set at f5.6.  The ISO setting was 200 and the shutter speed was 1/50th of a second.  The camera was on a Gitzo tripod.  I was looking for a realistic but flattering lighting design that didn't call too much attention to itself.

The shot was done in raw and processed in Lightroom 3.

From a technical point of view there is a big shift in how I pack to light things.  In the past I would have taken monolights or a strobe pack and heads but now it just feels natural to take small lights for indoor shots.  Nine times out of ten the big lights would require me to really throttle down their power in order to match them up with room light levels.  Then there's the hassle of running extension cords all over and the need to bring bigger stands and accessories.  When I go to shoot interiors now I'm generally feeling well equipped if I take one Canon flash, like the 580 EX 2, and three cheap manually controllable flashes for fill and accents.  All of this and the Speedlight Prokit beauty dish and a few other modifiers fit comfortable into a Think Tank wheeled case along with the camera and a few lenses.

I triggered the main light with a long Canon off camera TTL cord (the flash was used on "manual") and then let the two Vivitar 383's provide their own slave function with their built in optical slaves.

Obversely, when I go out to shoot on locations that are exterior I find that I generally leave the small flashes at home and use the more powerful Elinchrom Ranger RX pack system (1200 watt seconds) or the Profoto 600B pack system (600 watt seconds).  These lights provide me the punch I generally need to blow light through a softbox and still match sunlight.  I take the Profoto if I want to move fast and the the Elinchrom when I need a lot of pops.  (I also have an extra battery for the Elinchrom....).

Outside I use a radio trigger (Flash Waves 2) or an old fashion PC cable to trigger the flash.

I used the 7D on this assignment because I like the versatility of the 15-85mm lens and I like the fact that it's really very sharp wide open.  Couple that with better autofocus than the 5D2 and you've got a camera and lens package that's easy to shoot.  I was originally seduced by the full frame of the 5D camera but in practice I've come to appreciate the advantages of the cropped frame cameras and often choose the APS-C system of the 7D, backed up with a 60D for a lot of my work.

Doesn't matter what you're shooting with as long as you're having fun and making money.

Announcement:  I'm pleased to say that my first book: Minimalist Lighting.  Professional Techniques for Location Lighting,  is back in stock at Amazon after being sold out for several weeks.  Sigh of relief.


It winds down and it winds up again...

Wedding guest at the Mean Eyed Cat, a bar in downtown Austin.

It's been one of those wild weeks in a busy month that's starting to remind me of the way this business was before the recession made people generally skittish about spending money.  I started the week with a sense of elation by signing a contract to write and photograph a new book.  This time I made it all the way through the contract signing instead of getting bogged down in the minutiae of the contract as I did when I was considering doing the Road Trip book with a different publisher.  What's the difference?  Well, my current and future publisher sent me a three page contract with no ambiguous passages.  And, oh my,  they actually share the proceeds in an equitable manner.  If you're about to sign a contract to work on a book and your prospective publisher hands you a twenty pager and all the stuff protects them and nothing protects you......you might want to re-think who you're planning on dealing with.  Just saying.

So, after the momentary elation of the new project wore off I was left with the frightening realization that I would, once again, be spending months sitting in quiet rooms writing about things I've learned and am learning.  And I will spend just as much time convincing friends and acquaintances to drop by and be photographed in the service of my project.  I always learn so much when I write a book.  Enforced class time for 50 year olds.....

I spent a full day on marketing this week.  I discovered all the new templates for folded, five by seven inch greeting cards in iPhoto and played around for hours.  You probably already know this but it is now possible to do a number of different four color images on the inside of your cards.  Very cool.  I designed a card with a cool photo we'd done of a highway construction worker on the outside and six fun portraits on the inside.  I love the templates.  I love the look of the Apple graphics.  I ordered a couple hundred onlne and was pretty amazed when the Fed Ex guy delivered them to the studio today.  Literally a four day turn from start to finish.  I loved the whole process and the final quality of the cards so much that I sat down and designed two more.  I did it because I like to have stuff in the vault for those days when I panic and realize anew that marketing never sleeps.

On Wednesday I got up early (for me at any rate) and drove a fully packed Honda Element to the far north side of town to set up in a conference room and shoot portraits of the senior staff of an addiction treatment center.  New CEO and about ten others.  It was a fun thing for me because the newness of shooting with LED lighting hasn't quite worn off yet.  I used two ePhoto LED 500 units diffused through a 4x4 foot Chimera Panel, positioned close to the subject.  I brought my own posing stool because I like it and I brought an Apple box so my subjects could do fun stuff with their feet.  On the opposite side of the diffusion and light set up I used another Chimera panel with a white cover to bounce in fill light.  The background was a simple blue paper on background stands lit by two joined DLC 60 LED panels.  These are little ones.  About four inches by six inches and they run off inexpensive Sony Li-on camcorder batteries.  Mine lasted for the entire session even though I wasn't particularly good about turning them off between sitters...

I used a "1/4 minus green" filter on all the lights to get rid of a little green spike that rears it's ugly grass stain self from time to time.  I shot at ISO 400, 1/60th @ f4.5 on a Canon 5dMk2 with a tripod mounted 70-200 L lens.  Everything looked great.

I headed home, stopped for lunch and got a phone call from the marketing director of the organization I just shot for asking if I could send over a head shot of the CEO right away.  I got home and fed the memory card to my computer and started downloading.  There's a lag in the time it takes to fully ingest a large card into Lightroom 3 so I also stuck the little LED panel batteries on their chargers.  Didn't anticipate needing them for a few days but you never know, what with Murphy's Law and all.

After sending the needed file I started on my next task.  I set up a gray canvas outside (with plenty of sandbags) and I set up all three of my ePhoto 500 LED fixtures with Rosco diffusion material on the fronts of each.  I was supposed to shoot an image of a doctor with his Ducati Monster motorcycle for use in an ad and on a website.  We thought it might be cool to use the gray canvas outdoors.  I'd seen Michael O'Brien do an outdoor shoot with canvas years ago and figured I'd just steal a concept from one of the best.  So now I have all this stuff set up outside my studio, with extension cables heading out from the studio and the whole deal.  It's getting near 4 pm and I get a call from the doctor.  His motorcycle started smoking and cutting out on his way over.  Could I meet him about a mile away in the parking lot of an office building and maybe shoot something over there?  And could I bring him a bottle of water?  And, by the way, the wrecker truck will be there in about 45 minutes......

I'm looking at all this expensive stuff set up in front of the house and studio and I'm wondering when I'll be able to tear it all down and how I'll still be able to meet the ad subject and get the shot when my kid, Ben, comes riding home from school on his bike.  I ask nicely and he goes into assistant/clean up mode while I grab the small LED panels, the batteries and a few accessories and go off in search of the crippled piece of Italian motorcycle sculpture.  Good kid.

I find the doctor and we do an old favorite standby technique.  I put a diffuser over his head, put some open shade in the background and then punch in fill light from four conjoined LED panels.  It works great.  We shoot for while and then talk about motorcycles till the wrecker comes.  I head back home to download again.  I'm working at the computer when I look up and realize that I'm supposed to be at a presentation by Jack Reznicki at Austin Community College.  I'm on a departmental advisory board and I like to be an active participant.  Besides, there's a rumor Jack might want to use my Commercial Photography Handbook in one of his classes back at SVA.  It's the standard book for the "business of  photography" class that ACC requires for all photo students.

Jack is incredible.  He knows his stuff and there's none of the ego nonsense you sometimes have to wade through with other photographers.  He convinces by the quality of his photos, not the quality of his BS.....which is also really fun and interesting.

Thurs. becomes a long post processing and gear recovery day.  Lunch with Paul, recharge all the stuff that needs recharging.  Burn DVD back ups and do accounting.  Pizza and wine  with novels for dessert.

Today was blocked off for post processing of a fun job.  I'd shot the entire 30 person staff of an ad agency and I finally got all their selections this week.  I set aside today to do the work.  Take out wrinkles, make em look smarter, stronger, taller and angelic.  I think I got close.  I was about to shut down and do something non-photo related when my favorite art director called with a new project.  Cast, scout and shoot an ad by Tues. or Weds. of next week.  I put down the phone and went out to scout.  I called the talent agency I like and told them what we needed.  They're on it.

Last thing to do before I leave the studio for my fifteen step commute to the house is to write a blog.  Box checked.


We offer portraits. It's a fun part of the business.

    ©2010 Kirk Tuck.  All rights reserved.  

I was originally drawn to the business of photography because of portraits and I've always wanted to run a little storefront studio that would cater to well-to-do clientele (who would pay me very well)  who would also be wildly beautiful.  Instead I pursued advertising and corporate work.....were I mined the niche that was all about taking portraits of beautiful people as representatives of their companies and those company brands.  Now I do both things.  I do advertising assignments and I also provide portrait services to private individuals.

On good days I have stunning people in front of my camera and a crew of helpful people who make the work better and more productive.  On my best days I have an enormous space with a wonderful, liquid-smooth background, a huge, directional light source and I'm sitting across from someone interesting.  And by interesting I mean both the way they look and the things they are able to talk about.

Quiet listening is a wonderfully productive thing.  Being in the moment is the best......when you can pull it off.  My idea of Nirvana?  A big, cool room,  a twelve by twelve foot scrim as close to a subject as I can get it,  a gray background many yards back and time to really get to know the person in front of my camera.  And a nice lunch.


The Benefits of Shooting for Yourself.

When I speak to college classes about the business of photography it's inevitable that someone will bring up what they call "The Catch-22" of portfolios.  The premise is that the student (or person making the switch from another field into professional photography) is stymied from looking for photographic work by the idea that his portfolio must be filled with photographs from advertising shoots in order to get advertising shoots.  "How" they ask, "do I get the work if I don't have the work in my book to show?"  They seem to think that everyone in the field walked into an art director's office carrying a portfolio fully loaded with images from Vogue Magazine shoots and projects hot off the printing presses for IBM and Apple.  But that's just not true.  The first time every photographer walks into an agency or client office he or she will be showing work that didn't come from a commercial job.  So what to do?

The solution is really very simple.  Invest time and energy into doing shoots for yourself.  You no longer have the fixed costs of film, processing, and Polaroids so there are few financial barriers involved.  All you need to do is assemble the props and the people you need and get to work.  If you can't make it work on your own then you really aren't ready to go out after commercial work.

Throughout my career I've logged a lot more time doing experimental shoots for myself than shooting actual, paid work for clients.  I'll meet someone whose face is interesting and I'll invite them over for a shoot.  I'll give them a display print in exchange for their time.  If I use the photo for a commercial purpose I'll get a signed model release and pay them a fee each time I get to use the photograph in a commercial stock application.

This is how I met Renee (above) and also how I met and photographed many of the other people on my website and in my portfolios.  Many times I'll think of a style or a lighting technique that I want to use and I'll self-assign a series of images in that style.  Then I'll use the images as the core of a new portfolio to get people to assign me the same kind of work......for money.

The problem with only doing work when there is a client and a payment involved is that you have, at that point, entered into a collaboration.  You compromise your vision to incorporate the client's vision.  The piece you end up with might be totally different that the vision you might have if you had been shooting just for yourself.  And, generally, the images from commissioned shoots entail less risk taking and less experimentation.

Doing it for yourself means giving yourself permission to push the envelope.  It gives you permission to try something and fail and then to try it again in a different way.  And sometimes it means just practicing your style exclusively, which may bring you more work than you realize.

I'm working on a book now and I'm committed to including all new images.  Nothing I've used in a previous book will get recycled.  This means I'm doing a lot of self-assigning.  I love it when I can include client work but I know I'll need a lot of variations and some images that reflect niches I don't really market into.  I'll self assign.  Then at least I know I'll get stuff that I'm happy with.  And that's the whole reason to be delve into this craft in the first place.

Plus, you meet interesting people when you walk up to strangers and propose that they help you realize a vision.  The ones who accept are more open to art and risk.  And usually they're the most fun to be around.

Don't get suckered into doing free work.  If you want something that will look really great in your book you know that you can go out and shoot it for yourself.  It's really about the art not about the "access".


Don't call the therapists in just yet. He does smile most of the time.

Poor guy.  I'm always dragging my son out into the studio to sit in front of my camera while I test stuff like lighting for the next morning's shoot, or to see how a Canon 60D handles high ISO settings.  Or lately in front of a bank of LED lights that were way too blue and way off color.  I started hearing from concerned friends.  "Kid looks gray!" "Does he ever smile?"  etc.

So here's a quick post of the guy with a smile on his face, getting ready to head off to school.  He's generally pretty happy.  Really.  I swear.  And I'm sure he'll pay me back.....he's doing a film production class this semester....

The constant lure of continuous lights.

This is a scan from a print.  Sarah is a painter.  She has a wonderful face.

Since the very early days of my photography I've been drawn to continuous light.  There's something wonderful about seeing very clearly exactly what the camera will end up recording.  And it worked really well in the days of black and white film.  I abandoned hot lights during the infancy of digital because the weaker blue channel in most cameras (pre-2005) caused a high degree of noise when confronted with light that was strong in red and yellow but deficient in the blue spectrum.

After working for a number of years with studio flash and portable flashes I started to push back toward my earlier techniques.  By 2008 digital cameras were so good that they handled incandescent light with relative ease.  But until recently I had a very hard time making good black and white files.  Now, with the combination of PhotoShop CS5 and a new infusion of constant light sources I've started to venture into work made specifically to be shown as black and white.  And I've come to realize that I make important decision about how I'll shoot and how I'll light depending on what the final form of the image will be.

I like strong, deep shadows when I shoot portraits for black and white.    I also like much higher sharpness and more contrast.  But the general feel of the light; the soft quality of big sources, is a given.  Almost all the time.......

This is a scan from a print.  During the printing I used a device called a Pictrol between the enlarging lens and the paper.  It had plastic blades like the blades of a lens diaphragm and where the blades overlaid the image it created soft zones.

But the image of the rancher, above, was taken while I was deep in my first exploration of cinematic lighting.  I assembled a collection of spots and fresnel fixtures and even broad softlight fixtures and mixed and matched them for the effects I wanted.  In this instance I used a small Lowell ProLight with a four way barn door to come in from my left, right under his hat.  The barn doors narrowed the light beam and helped the light drop off across the front of the jacket.  I threw several spots of light on a gray seamless background and added a backlight, also from the left side.  The style worked well for character portraits and I kept the lights in my bag of tricks for sometime.  But it didn't translate well in the early days of digital.

Now we've come full circle and I'm testing the waters.  The Canon 5Dmk2 seems like a good match for this style.  The real trick is to find the right conversion parameters for black and white.  I have friends who swear by SilverFX but I'm busy making my own presets to mimic the look and feel I've always liked.  I want to understand better how the various light channels can be intermixed to get the effects I want.

Same general information as the image above.  All done with Hasselblad cameras on Tri-X film.

The next step is to figure out how to duplicate the look I had with tungsten spot lights with the new generation of LED lights.  I am drawn to them for both the softness of the larger banks but also for the idea that one can use LED lights very, very close to the subject without worrying about heat and discomfort for the subject.  LEDs are a technology that seems to be in its infancy right now but is spreading quickly.  I recently purchase three 500 LED panels that are AC powered.  They measure about eight inches by fourteen inches and they put out a nice light.  The cool thing about them is that I can use them so close in to my subject that the fall off (inverse square law) means that the light once again becomes contrasty and dramatic.

I've also been experimenting with the small, battery operated units because I can take them anywhere.  I kind of feel like a vampire though.  I like shooting at dusk or at night in the studio where I can have total control of the lighting ratios, unfettered by the ambient light that always acts as a degrading fill.

The next step in my process of LED exploration is to find a source of affordable fresnel or spot light fixtures to use.  I want to be able to have the same precise controls I once had with the tungsten fixtures.  There are companies out there that make fixtures that fit the description but their target markets are the large production companies that do feature films.  And their products are priced accordingly.  Built to incredible standards in order to survive the daily grind of movie production without a hiccup.  For an example search for NilaTV  (I can't make the link work on here for some reason......)  You'll find incredible LED fixtures with prices that rival small, new cars.  But the technology is already in the process of trickling down.

I remember when I had my friends pose for me in the days of hot lights.  In Austin.  In the Summer.  That's why I excited to play with LED's this time around.  No heat.  No discomfort.  Lots of control.  Remind me to take the flashes out every once in in a while....if for no other reason that to keep the capacitors formed.  More to come.

Looking back in the time machine.

Love this clip from the 1960's movie, Putney Swope.  Let's us know that there's been no big paradigm shift.  Photographers as a group have always worked against their own self interests.

Negotiate wisely.  Know the value of your work and the value of their project.  Learn to say "no".


Kirk Tuck and the Butthole Surfers.

They couldn't say the name of the band on the radio here in Austin so they referred to the band as the "BH" Surfers.  I photographed them for Spin Magazine.  And again for Rough Trade Records.  They came to the studio and we shot for a while and then we headed out to do the largely cliched railroad tracks and urban downtown shots.  Later I did the album cover for Paul Leary's,  "The History of Dogs."  Just came across these photos and thought I would show them and try to dispel the notion that I've only shot stodgy, corporate work.  Loved the 1990's.  Everything was up for grabs.

That's all for now,   I'm going to go find "Hairway to Steven".   One of my BHS favorites.

Shot mostly on a Pentax 67 with a few rolls of 35mm thrown in.


The trough.

It's inevitable in a self employed arts based business to have cycles where you go from being overwhelmingly busy to overwhelmingly slow.  It's the territory.  We chose it.  But it's not the amplitudinal changes of work commissioned by customers that gets me, it's the indecision.  It's so easy to stray from what we probably should be doing.

I've chosen exactly the wrong way to run a business.  I have corporate clients who want nice, tidy photo shoots.   When the economy is booming they're shoveling assignments in the front door.  When the economy goes into free fall they hibernate.  Then I have advertising agency clients and, guess what? their clients are also corporate clients....subject to the same financial mood swings.  So we learn to even out the cash flow and supplement income by doing things like writing books.  And then the books become like a small business and we do things like write blogs in order to tangentially move book sales forward.    Everything moves me further and further from the core.  But that may be the progression in our industry that everyone is seeing.

Once you have a few successful books under your belt you get a bit of notoriety and the universe seduces you into doing more and more tangential stuff like participating in workshops and giving guest lectures to various college classes.  And you spend more and more time doing things that look less and less like photography as you understand it.  A friend calls up and asks me to work with them on a video. That seems like a good idea.  Diversification, right?  But not having a straightforward path seems so ambiguous.....

And it's amazing how flexible you mind can be when your clients and the economy are also practicing flexibility.  Last Summer I participated in a workshop in Dallas where I spoke about lighting with small flashes to nearly 1200 people over the course of two and a half days.  These were all scrapbookers who wanted to take better photographs to stick into their scrapbook projects.  Why did I do it?  Well, it appealed to my ego, of course.  But business was slow and the money was good.  And it was an opportunity to promote two books that dovetailed nicely with the overall tenor of the conference.  The focus of the conference was to gently teach non-technical people the technical things they needed to know to have more control over their work.

But in the course of preparing a 50 slide presentation, practicing some strobe techniques, traveling and being present at happy hours and social dinners I moved further and further away from my solitary practice of photography.

Now we're three quarters of the way through another years.  I've done a few more workshops.  I've worked on twice as many commercial assignments this year compared to last year and now it feels like we're heading back into the trough.  The low spot between the waves of work.  I'm thinking about teaching another workshop but it feels so disingenuous if I'm only doing it because I think I need to supplement my core business.  In the best of all possible worlds a workshop would be a small group thing where really complex and involved ideas that intersect creativity and technique would be shared.  Not a group introduction to stuff I've already written about plenty of times.

I had a good Summer and early Fall as a photographer doing real assignment photography.  But as a result of the last two years I always feel the cold sweat of impending doom wafting over me like a chilling breeze.  And so I pitched a book project on a new lighting technology/technique.  And the publisher accepted.  And the moment I got the e-mail of acceptance I remembered the old Texas curse, "Be danged careful what you hanker for.....you might just git it."  And all the calmness and optimism that led me to pitch the project, the joy of new learning, the challenge of writing, the happy anticipation of shooting a whole new body of work-----that all paled in an instant; replaced with the anxiety of knowing that now I have to perform.  I have to make the great new photos.  I have to master the new technology.  I have to deal with the gnawing doubt that I may have "bought a horse who won't make it to the finish line..."  I have to help sell the property once we make it.

And there is always the indecisiveness that comes from knowing that a project like this can push you to a new level......or level you.  But it's nice to get started.  Back to the typewriter and bit of isolation.

I suffered through two years of deep and relentless anxiety starting back in 2007.  It was interesting for me and also very scary and devastating.  But through it all I worked, wrote four books and kept the business moving forward.  I sought professional help.  I went to therapy.  I swam more.  But in a flash I found the secret and the anxiety abated.

A brilliant woman, named Pat, sat with me over coffee one morning and explained what she thought were the underpinnings of anxiety.  She said that anxiety was the combination of Ambiguity, Loneliness and Indecision.  She felt like it could be treated by understanding those three causes and working to erase them.  That, and the choice of the right bottle of Scotch.

While the new projects I've signed up for are daunting I'm decisive about how I'll do them and there's no ambiguity about why I'm doing them.  And, unlike the first four books I did,  I'm inviting friends and colleagues into the mix to help me make the projects really sing........and to keep me company.

And maybe the successful completion of these projects will bring me full circle.  Back to the core of photography.  And back to the fun of new discovery.

Just some Friday morning introspection.  Indulge me.


I like images that use natural light and added light. They seem harmonious.

This image of a radiologist was lit with the light of the screen in front of her and also by a small flash in the back of the room that bounced off the ceiling and boosted the overall illumination and added an accent light that separated her hair from the dark screen of the monitor behind her.  I used a Fuji S5 camera to make the photograph and I still marvel at the sharpness and dynamic range when I look at the full sized image.

I shot at f2.8 and, of course, the camera was on a tripod for the exposure.  The tripod often being the most important tool in creating good shots.

Lately I've become very interested in using small LED panels to take the place of flashes.  Part of the reason is the general compulsion to keep learning and to keep commercial photography interesting for me.  But another part of the equation is the belief that these light sources will be become the ubiquitous light sources of the future.  At some point flash might become the specialty tool and LED's the day-to-day lighting instrument of choice.  Maybe not, but there's no real cost for experimenting.

I did a portrait today and I lit it the same way I would have with flash or with tungsten but this morning I decided to use LED panels as my primary light source.  I set up a nine foot wide gray canvas background and lit it with two conjoined, small, battery powered LED panels.  Like these:  Little LED. They made a nice soft glow that surrounded my subject.

I used the six foot by six foot PhotoFlex light panel with diffusion that you've probably seen me use for Zach Scott portraits and other favorite work.  Over to my left and positioned at about a 45 degree angle to my subject.   It's no secret that I love huge, soft light sources. It's a beautiful way to light faces. Behind the large diffusion panel I used two of the ePhoto 500 LED panels.  The photo shoot was very successful but I learned some of the limitations that come with using inexpensive (read: not very color accurate) LED panels.  And I learned that the shortcomings are in no way insurmountable.

Seems that no matter what the distributors say there is a nice big spike in the green spectrum of the lights.  If you do a custom white balance you'll be pretty much okay but you might find some anomalies in the color balance that lead to a few splotches.  I shot my Canon DSLR in RAW so I was able to lower the saturation and increase the luminance of the green channels (and, to a certain extent, the blue channels) in order to compensate.  But here's what I learned through subsequent trial and error:  adding a 1/4 strength minus green gel filter does a reasonably good job compensating for the aberrant color spike.  The name of the game is get the light as close to daylight as possible.

If you don't have a color meter handy you can always set your camera white balance to daylight, shoot a white target, use the color eyedropper to correct to white and note the numbers you get in the Lightroom develop panel.  You're looking for two separate but related parameters.  You want to see how close to 5500 degrees kelvin the color temperature is and you'll want to note how many points of green or magenta have been dialed in to get a neutral white target.  You'll likely see a swing over to the magenta side of the scale which means you'll need to add some magenta to compensate.  If Lightroom indicates that it requires 30  points of magenta to render neutral white you'll probably have a filtration starting point of between 1/4 and 1/2 minus green filter.  That's actually a magenta filter that takes out green.

When you filter you're going to loose some power and that's important with LED panels.  They don't put out a tremendous amount of light and the light they do put out isn't collimated into efficient columns of focused light like you might find in a well designed tungsten fixture.  You may need to move the panels closer in to the diffusion material.  Don't worry.  Nothing will catch on fire.

So, why go through this exercise if you already have tons of great flash equipment that works well?  For one thing, the quality of continuous light is different than flash.  There's also.....no flash.  And that means fewer anticipatory flinches and blinks.  You get into a motordrive rhythm that's heavenly.  And with modern DSLR's you never need to stop.  There's ample light for focusing and the ambient light (after you've figured out the filter factor) makes nice fill light.  It's also new and different.  And for me that's enough.

Nostalgia for the days of giant cellphones and invisible photographers

I love huge cellphones because you could always see them.  When you could see the big instrument in someone's hand you had an 80 or 90% certainty that they were talking to someone other than themselves.  Now, with the tiny phones,  you can't really tell whether the person weaving down the street, running into strangers, or the person in a car running right through red lights is just insane, inebriated or, in fact, has some tiny device they are cupping next to their heads and is talking passionately about nothing at all....

In the days of the big phone the call was theater.  Now the call is in the service of ever shifting plans or to assuage general feelings of disconnection.  I conjecture that entire groups of people now have have un-purpose driven lives and use the ubiquitous cellphone to get the next set of directions from some extra-planetary overlords who control the general population via microwaves.  It could be that the person next to you taking snapshots with their iPhone or their Verizon Punk phone is really just triangulating your position so that the overlords can assimilate you as well.  I also get the feeling that cellphones are largely responsible for adult onset Attention Deficit Disorder.  Never have I seen a person change gears and go from a full out, impassioned conversation to a passive and submissive listening mode as quickly as in the past few years.  A Pavlovian respond to a tiny few square inches of plastic and Lithium Ion.

Perhaps this too shall pass and people will go back to diligently practicing their lives with purpose, picking up their phones once or twice a day in order to check messages and return calls.  Maybe that's the hope of economists optimistically calling for enhanced productivity to pull us out of the economic mess.  Naw, the nature of the universe is to constantly move from order to chaos.  From momentum to entropy.  Why should humans buck the trend?


some photographs that I liked taking and still like looking at. What is style?

Why I like to use different cameras:

I don’t think about what camera I should use that much. I just pick up the one that looks nicest on the day
-- William Eggleston
If you want to change your photographs, you need to change cameras. Changing cameras means that your photographs will change. A really good camera has something I suppose you might describe as its own distinctive aura.
-- Nobuyoshi Araki
(Thanks to Tokyo Camera Style for the quotes!)