April 30th. A walk in the morning with the Sony RX10 and a cheapo polarizer. Vanishing prints.

I've got to do some work for a client this afternoon so I decided to take a walk this morning. It was breezy and bright and surprisingly cool today. Interesting that all the shadows come from the other side when you walk in the morning instead of the afternoon. Things look different. 

I took along the camera that doesn't require me to make additional inventory decisions. Just the RX10 with its fixed lens. I added a cheap polarizer to the mix and polarized the hell out of everything I saw. Mostly just for fun. I could tell that the polarizer very subtly eroded the sharpness of the lens. 

When I got back to the studio I played around with some video files I shot riding up the escalators at the Hilton Hotel. Then I erased them. I looked at the bucket of images I shot and kept ten or so.


Go West. Toying around with the idea of doing an informal workshop in the middle of nowhere.

Four years ago I got in my car and traveled west to Marfa, Texas (where I did not make the cliché shot of the Prada storefront) and also to Marathon, Texas. It was a reinvigorating adventure for one. I took two cameras. The Olympus EP-2 and the EPL. I took the kit lens and a motley, though effective, selection of Olympus manual focus Pen FT lenses on adapters.

I slept rough. Sometimes in my Honda Element and sometimes under a park picnic table in my sleeping bag. My friend Bridget was living in in Marfa at the time and I got to stay are her house, take a nice shower and feel civilized for a day.

Marfa is a town in the middle of nowhere. Its claim to fame is a bizarre but well attended film festival held once a year. People fly in from L.A. and NYC and Aspen.  The population of the town doubles and people pay lots of money for the dubious honor of sleeping in restored faux Airstream trailers or teepees, or they stay in the Hotel Paisano which became famous during the filming of the movie, Giant, with James Dean.

Thought I'd wait until the first part of June when it gets good and hot and head back out to west Texas for another dose of wide open spaces,  deep blue skies and roads that seem to go on forever. And then it dawned on me that I could probably go all "Super power, once in a life time, better than Dubai, learn everything you need to know to be a rock star photographer, write public love poems to your wife, outrageously informative super teacher---expert, social network gumbo, learn to use ALL THREE BUTTONS ON YOUR iPHONE teacher, and hoodwink people into thinking this would be some sort of great workshop opportunity wherein I could send them around town shooting all the decaying and empty buildings, the old railway pilings and whatever models we can convince to go with us out there and wear cowboy boots and bikinis and I could hang around at the outside bar at the Paisano and when everyone comes back in all tired and sunburned I could pontificate and wax on about how we worked magic in the good ole days. And how we know secrets that are unconveyable.

By the time I got to the end of my logic train I saw the irrationality of my concept. I really don't have anything to teach that you couldn't get almost for free at Craftsy.com. I'm not shooting with a hot new system that will make the gearheads salivate and I really don't want to spend a lot of time sitting around drinking bad wine on a windy patio. To complicate matters I prefer to pick my own friends and acquaintances.

In the end I guess I'll head out there on my own. Although the models in bikinis and cowboy boots and the evenings at the outdoor bar do sound promising. I guess that's the closest I'm going to get to a workshop this year....

Spending some time over processing images from the backyard.

Noellia On The Bench. ©2013 Kirk Tuck

I used as many controls as I could find in SnapSeed when I retouched this image of Noellia hanging out on the bench. Studio Dog growled at me a bit when I clicked on the "Dramatic" menu item, but I tried to explain to her that I was intentionally pushing stuff to see where the edges were and at what points everything falls apart. And when it falls apart, will I still like it?

This was shot as a test of the Samsung Galaxy NX camera and their spritely 85mm f1.4 (probably the only 85mm around designed to exactly cover only APS-C...). 

The Samsung stuff has its own look and feel to it and I do believe I am starting to come to grips with it and tame it in the newer camera, the NX30. In fact, I'm feeling confident enough to use the system as my "it has to be a bigger sensor than that m4:3rds stuff" kind of camera for those knowledgable? clients, sometimes replacing my full frame a850. 

I used the NX30 and the 85mm lens to do a portrait late last week and I was very happy with the outcome. Like so many other cameras it needs to have its saturation and sharpness reduced for use in making flattering portraits of human faces. Once I got that wired everything started to fall into place. 

I have two lenses that I really like using with the Samsung NX. The 85mm and the 50-200mm f4-5.6. I've read on the web about people getting decentered copies of the zoom which cause them to lose sharpness at longer focal lengths but I must say mine stays sharp.

I always have fun photographing Noellia. I'm sad I can't do it as often as we used to but she moved to New York City a few years ago and has been doing live theater in the city and also traveling a lot for folks like Disney.  Makes me appreciate it even more when she makes time to see me during her visits home. 

Keep shooting and keep playing. That's the fun stuff.

This morning's portrait find.

©kirk tuck.


Another portrait that I like.


Sony a77 with a Hasselblad 80mm Planar lens.

A hot day to walk around and think about photography.

GH3 with a 12-35mm lens. 

It got hot yesterday here in central Texas. About 96 degrees by the time we wrapped up the day. I'd spent the previous afternoon at Eeyore's Birthday Party with my new GH4 and I decided to take one of the GH3s out to see how the older model compared. The feeling of the new camera was still fresh on my hands.

With the exception of the better EVF on the GH4 they both feel and handle the same to me. I went out to do a preliminary scouting for a project this morning and I took the two GH3 cameras along with their respective, fast zooms. They  felt and performed just right. Nice to have three nearly identical shooting cameras for a change. Feels like the film days.


A couple of weeks ago I went to San Antonio to shoot a sky line. At dusk.

I'm making a transition. No big news for regular readers---I tend to be moving from one thing to the next more often than I'm standing still. This year the studio has seen a couple of big jobs come through. One was very traditional: lots of products and people, shot on white. Traditional advertising client, which means: Do it the way we've always done it. I showed up with the full frame stuff and cases of flash equipment and tubes full of light stands. We worked hard and long and then spent days in post processing. The end result was dozens and dozens of well lit, well composed images that will never find their way into my portfolio or onto my website. 

The other job was strictly video. Lots of planning, production, writing, directing, some travel, some really fun interviews, some time in post production picking music for the music bed, and working with a designer to produce custom animated screen graphics. Then into the editing process to pull everything together into a nice, tidy package. Guess which job was the most fun! No contest. It was the video. 

When I sat back at the end and really meditated on the two jobs I decided that I want all future jobs to be made up of stuff we couldn't even do five years ago. I wanted to break with the past and be free of the intellectual restraints that come from ossified beliefs. I want to use tools that can provide layers of flexibility and not just brute strength megapixels. I want to mix it up with shots that move and shots that don't.

I shot the traditional job with a traditional camera. And I shot it in a traditional way. The camera was a full framer and I actually spent a couple hours the night before the shoot calibrating it with the lenses I would be using because traditional OVF cameras have a tendency to front and back focus with alarming regularity. I didn't have the time or patience to deal with a job fouled by a fundamental gear issue. When I finished the job and I finished processing the huge files (big because the client "may" use them larger in the future even though current use is web res.....) I felt as though I was finished. Finished carrying around a backward looking set of tools and preconceptions. I know smaller camera formats can deliver the images I want to make. And I know that any camera I pick up now needs to be able to effortlessly glide from solid still imaging to full motion mojo. 

This was the time frame in which the GH4 was announced and the specs leaked far and wide. I was optimistic about the camera because I have had nothing but good experiences with its ancestor, the  GH3. I determined to get ready for the next transition and began selling off my remaining Sony cameras and lenses and buying up the few premium Panasonic lenses that I felt would be indispensable if I was to use the Panasonic cameras as my primary professional tool set. Those lenses would be the 12-35mm 2.8X and the 35-100mm 2.8X.  I also picked up the 30mm  and 60mm Sigma dn lenses which have proven to be exquisitely sharp.

The job in San Antonio was my first "no safety net" job. I needed to shoot some portraits in one venue and a dusk skyline in another venue and I only brought along the GH3s and the four above mentioned lenses. They worked perfectly. The cameras delivered good, solid, highly detailed files and the lenses were as good as their reputations made them out to be. The 60mm Sigma made a perfect portrait lens and the 35-100mm gave me plenty of options when shooting the city skyline several miles south and 21 stories below my little perch at the penthouse of the Broadway Residences tower. 

With that still job, a big video project and lots of other, smaller photography projects "in the can" I decided to go ahead and commit on a GH4 and to rid myself of a bunch of other stuff that hung around the studio, vying for my attention. My mental bandwidth.

The markets have all changed. The tools are all different. I want to be shooting motion as often as I can and I get better at it with every encounter. (Back to the old idea of spending time in the water.)
In the end I couldn't bear to get rid of the GH3 cameras. They are too new and too good to let go of. Their still imaging performance is within a gnat's whisker of the GH4's still performance and I love the idea of shooting a lifestyle job for my museum client with three lightweight but powerful cameras hanging off my neck and shoulders. The zooms on the two GH3s and something like the 25mm Summilux or the 42.5 mm Nocticron hanging off the front of the GH4. Thirty-two gigabyte cards in all three and no slowing down to make equipment changes.

I also like the idea of shooting video interviews and narrative scenes with three time-code sync'd video cameras, each at a different angle, each with the different focal length and each getting me a different look. It's wonderful in editing to have so many cutaways from one interview of long scene. And to have all the colors and tonalities match between them.

I'm down to the lowest number of cameras I've owned since my days at the advertising agency back in the 1980's. Three Panasonics. One old Sony a850 (to appease my friend, Will, who insists that every pro have at least one full frame camera somewhere to default to). One perfect Sony RX10 and one old and cherished Sony R1. That's it for the stuff I own. I do have a couple of Samsung cameras, the Galaxy NX and the NX30, as well as four of their lenses but those are subject to return at any time...

I took the batteries out of the big Sony and the Sony R1 so I could store them safely. They are out of rotation. Out of the mix. It's really down to the Panasonics and the RX10. A conflict between the workman's perfectly sorted kit and the (inner) dilettante's favorite one perfect camera. 

When I put the Panasonics (I hate calling them "pannys") in a camera bag and go out I am warmed by the feeling of certainty that comes along with having all the cameras share one rational and straightforward menu. I am equally happy knowing that every lens I put on the front will focus well and with certainty. But mostly I have happy to know that I can continue to carry enough stuff to do the jobs without torquing my shoulders and my neck.

There are a few odds and ends still trickling in. I just got a new copy of the Olympus 45mm 1.8 and I need to order an electronic remote release for the cameras. I'll probably spring for the accessory component for the GH4 just to get the XLR mic inputs and pre-amps. But for the most part the shopping is done and the customer is happy.

I tried to do this before with the first few generations of Olympus m4:3 cameras but the micro four thirds cameras, when stuck at 12 megapixels, weren't quite there yet. Now the cameras seem mature and capable. Ready to do good things.

The problem with technology in general, at least where humans are concerned, is that we tend to get stuck at the spot where we got comfortable with a sustainable set of beliefs. The belief that we needed huge sensors is one aspect. The belief that portrait and still life photographers needed the same rugged camera bodies as photojournalists and people traveling down the Amazon river in canoes is another. The thoroughly misguided belief that studio shooters and corporate image makers needed cameras that could focus incredibly fast (if only somewhat accurately...) is one of the most egregious.

We get stuck believing these things because it gives us the implied safety of the pack. And in the middle of the pack is a weird and counterproductive place for artists to be. In the end I wanted cameras that would do my jobs which are also comfortable and flexible enough for someone as "career ADHD" as I am. And that's what I think I got.

And if I run across something I can't do well with the Panasonic cameras? Well there is always the incredible Sony RX10 in ready reserve.

This transition is really about giving clear power to my intention to pursue motion imaging with true passion. The intention has to be clear. That's what the change of tools is all about. I could shoot stills with anything. But video combined with stills is a whole different swim meet.....


First outing with the Panasonic GH4. Relative success.

I'm sitting in the studio with the GH4 on the desk in front of me. Visually its appearance is so close to the GH3 that I can really only tell them apart by the locking mechanism in the middle of the mode setting dial. The rubber covering on the camera is also a slightly different texture. 

When I look through the menus (and don't dive into the video menu) the cameras are all but interchangeable. Of course the video menu is swollen but it's still logical and easy to understand. The real difference for me between the two camera in terms of handling, etc. is the better viewfinder on the new camera. It's much, much better. When I compose images with it the resolution and tonality of the screen make it seem almost exactly like a traditional optical viewfinder. And out of the box it matches the overall color and exposure of the LCD panel on the rear of the camera. 

Last night I put the 400+ page manual .pdf on my laptop and sat down to read every page. Of course I skimmed over obvious stuff like how to insert the battery and how to attach the neck strap, but I did read about every new control and menu option on the camera. With my instant book learnin' in place I headed over to Eeyore's Birthday Party this afternoon to test it all out. Just before I left the house Ben came up to me with a box from Amazon. Inside was a 45mm f1.8 Olympus lens. I reconfigured the camera. I put the 45mm on the GH4 and stuck the 25mm Leica/Pana lens in a tiny bag, along with a spare battery, a spare memory card and some cash. All of the images in this particular blog post were made with the 45mm lens. It's a nice lens. I owned one before. I needed to own it again. 

It was overcast and dreary and I decided to set the ISO at 800 to give the camera a more "real world" test. Usually I start out shooting at 100 or 200 ISO and stay there until I need to move. This time I thought I'd start with a more challenging setting. 

For some reason I just didn't get into the mood of the party today. Everything changes and we constantly change, and as Buckeroo Bonzai said, "Wherever you go, there you are." Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the huge increase in what appeared to be an ex-prison population attending, maybe it was the realization that most of the slender and beautiful wood nymphs have been replaced year after year by much heavier, rounder less physically attractive people. Or it could be that I was just out of sorts today---but I called it quits after a couple hours and headed back to the house (and the newly painted, red studio door). 

I haven't shot any video yet but now I have a couple hundred still frames under my belt and I've done some processing so I have a few things to talk about. I used the fine jpeg setting at the highest resolution because that's my standard approach. I didn't know whether or not Adobe added the GH4 yet to their raw converter so I was being safe by shooting the Jpegs. 

In the standard profile at ISO 800 the files had two things that needed attention. First is that the files were a bit flat. The histogram fit perfectly from left to right for most scenes but the contrast needed a general tweak and I also found the need to add a bit of black to the shadow side of the image tonality. The color is neutral and not over saturated. The other parameter that I found which needed a tweak was the sharpening. Straight out of camera the images needed a small nudge in the sharpness menu to have the requisite "zing."

Both of these issue, the flat files and the need for a small bit of sharpening are not necessarily bad things. In fact, that's how many professional image makers prefer their beginning files so that they can apply changes during post processing where one has more flexibility and control in fine tuning. Easier to add contrast than to try and take it away. Easier to sharpen then to try and get rid of the effects of overly aggressive, in camera sharpening. Still, if you want to deliver images straight to a client, without the benefit of editing, you might consider nudging both the contrast slider and the sharpening slider in the profile submenus to +1. That would be a good compromise all the way around. 

Before the arrival of the tiny Olympus 45mm it was my intention to use the Pana/Leica 25mm Summilux today. So this morning I was walking around the house with that lens on the camera randomly focusing on stuff. The AF in AFS was very quick and as sure-footed as a mountain goat. Everything I pointed the camera at, from piles of clothes in a dark closet to expanses of bright walls was focused as quickly as with any camera I can remember using. The 45mm 1.8 gave me pretty much the same performance. 

While I justify buying the camera on the strength of its video capabilities, and I add to my justification both the higher top shutter speed and high top sync speed, the most obvious improvement is still the wonderful EVF. If you are an "eye level kind of shooter" (and I am most certainly in that camp) the camera is well worth the upgrade for that. Everything else is just candy. 

The camera, with the 45mm lens, is small and light an agile. Especially compared to the Sony a850 that I've recently used over and over again. And I will say that the GH4 beats the pants off the Sony for low noise/higher ISO performance as well. 

While it is only my second day (first full day) with the GH4 it's quickly becoming apparent to me that this will be my "front and center" camera for the foreseeable future. So why keep the GH3's around? On my last video project I took advantage of having multiple cameras that lived in the same color family. By that I mean the files matched well in look and feel when I cut them together in editing. It's my hope that when using all the cameras at the same codec and setting, say: 1080p, 30 fps, .Mov 50 mps. I will be able to shoot tight shots, wide shots and even reverse angle shots simultaneously, with up to three cameras. A bit more work in the actual shooting but so many more options in editing. 

At this point I would usually put up a "cons" list after having discussed many "pros" of the camera but the reality is that the GH3s are so close to the same for general touch and feel issues, and even basic imaging issues, that the GH3s were like a warm-up camera for the GH4 and anything I didn't like on the GH3 I either made a workaround for or learned to ignore. With that in mind I have no gripes at all with the new camera. 

There are some things I am looking forward to using on video jobs. These include: focus peaking for manual focus pulls. Two different sets of zebras; both of which can be set to different ranges for different types of alerts in exposure. I look forward to experimenting with some of the functions like the pedestal control to designate the black behavior in video. The shadow/highlight submenu which allows one to create custom curves for video images. And, finally, the addition of two cinema style profiles. If you can use a GH3 proficiently there is very little to learn in stepping up to a GH4. 

As to whether this camera has improved focusing behavior in AF-C, or whether the camera will be a contender for "birds in flight" imaging, I'll leave to more detail oriented reviewers. All I know is that the camera feels pretty perfect to me. Almost as good as a Sony RX10.... :-)

Now, a few photos. Some even captioned:

John. Photographer. He showed up, as he has for nearly a decade, with a single Leica M6 
in hand. He's also made a conscious effort to be really "in" the Eeyore party spirit. 
What I learn here is that the 45mm, shot at f2.8, has issues with too shallow 
a depth of field. The tip of John's noise and also his ears fall out of the zone 
of righteous sharpness.

All dogs seem uncomfortable in costume.
The dance circle. This year there was ongoing friction between the 
drummers (who got there early and started their circle) and the ersatz "dancers."
One woman, wearing baggy red pants spent some good time 
trying to push out the circumference of the circle so the 
dancers could occupy the center. The back and forth was continuing 
as I left. Hmmmm.

There were a number of obvious film students. Obvious from the labels on all their 
equipment. But they plunged right into the middle of things and worked their 
magic on apparently recalcitrant tripods. The drum circle didn't take notice.

Intrepid Photographer with GF1 goes in for the shot. Small package and quiet attitude.

film shooter with a Chrome, Zeiss50mm Distagon.

Drumming is not age specific. Good drumming is always welcome. 

Eeyore's Birthday Party provided me with a good rationale for getting out with the new camera. Maybe I was too into the camera to be properly into the event. That, in itself, is a lesson for me.

Knowledge. A good differentiator. 

Studio Portrait Lighting


So what did Kirk Tuck do about the GH4 imbroglio? Did he buy the damn camera or not?

It was all very anti-climatic. I spent the day doing routine things. I went to swim practice. I painted the door of my studio with two coats of semi-gloss, fire engine red paint. I ate lunch. I read some Ferlinghetti poems. And some Wallace Stevens poems. I went for a walk with loyal Studio Dog. 

And while I was out walking with Studio Dog I asked her, in a very sincere way, "Should I buy the Panasonic GH4?" She gave me that nonjudgmental dog look and proceeded to look for some deer poop to eat. Then she barked in a kind of affirmative way and I took that as a sign that a GH4 purchase might be sensible. Even wise. 

But it was the e-mail from a recent client letting me know that our video project was successful and that she was lining up people on San Antonio for us to interview for a new video project that made me feel comfortable getting in the car and meandering up Texas Loop One toward the hallowed halls of Precision Camera (where, incidentally, they have three "up for grabs" GH4's as of this evening....)
where I was met by sales associate, Ian, who held in his hot little hands a glorious black box with a GH4 in it. I was going to play hardball and make him work for the sale but we both knew I wanted it and there seemed little point in beating around the bush. I bought the camera. 

But, since Precision Camera is a full service store I did ask him to put the strap on for me, set the date on the camera and otherwise touch the camera to give it good joss.

At first blush, with not video project at hand, it's all a bit disappointing since the GH4 is almost exactly like a GH3 and there is no magic thing that makes me breathe a little quicker or induce a temporary flush of visceral excitement. It is, for all intents and purposes, just another GH3 with a different model name emblazoned on the front. 

Did any of you think for a moment that I wasn't going to rush out, salivating like Pavlov's dog at the very thought of being among the first to acquire a GH4?  I plan on taking it and a yet to be determined lens to Eeyore's Birthday Party tomorrow. On monday the rolling review will begin. 

The battery is charging but I already have a pre-charged battery in the camera for testing and fun. 

For the curious: I kept both of the GH3s. They are so sweet and so competent I couldn't bear to let them go. The more the merrier. Especially when the dials, buttons and menus pretty much match. 

If you could take a workshop (or just have dinner) with any one photographer,

living or deceased, who would you pick and why?

Not a hard decision for me. I believe that Richard Avedon was the second most influential photographer of the entire 20th century and, as far as being an engaging and intellectually stimulating dinner companion I have not doubt he would rank first above all the rest.

But variety is the spice of life (and how we learn to like new things) so I'm interested to hear from the VSL readers about their choices. The rules: Choose one photographer only (but you can include other names as you describe your selection process), no dissing other people's choices (especially mine----) and let's try not to go for the most obscure choices possible---it would be nice to be able to search the web for your choice's work and enjoy it. Links are encouraged.

Thanks to Frank for asking me this question over coffee on Weds. It's been rattling around in my brain ever since.

Let the suggestions begin:

In a break from our endless salivating over new and improved cameras, a reminder...

Tomorrow, April, 26th, is the annual Eeyore's Birthday Party at Pease Park. The last, mass, non-greedy, non-corporate event left in Austin. All beverage and food purchases go directly to Austin non-profits and charities. There's no cost for admission. Everyone is equally welcome. There are no Gold Badges, no Platinum Wrist Bands, no air conditioned V.I.P. tents. No golf carts for people with stiletto heels.  No pecking order other than the originality and magnificence of your costume! If you are in Austin get on your bike and head over to Pease Park for a loud (but not too loud!!!), peaceful, mellow, happy old Austin experience.

And if you are coming to take photographs please consider not wearing the stupid photographer's vest, bringing a huge bag with every camera and lens you own and generally acting like a perv.

John, who has been photographing and participating in the festival for years and years came last year bare-chested, painted, with a hula skirt and one film Leica with one perfect lens. There's your roll model.

Watch out for the hill. There are so many people smoking pot up there that you'll get high just walking through. Wear your sunscreen. Take a hat. Drink your water. The weather report is indicating 90 degrees in the afternoon and were not fully acclimated yet after our admirably cold winter.

My camera? It's either going to be the Sony RX10 or the Sony RX10. The real question might be, "which microphone?"


I have a dilemma. Will I go out tomorrow and buy a GH4?

photographer wracked by gear addiction and indecision.
don't tell me you've never been there.

I got the call that I love and dread. It always comes from Ian at Precision Camera. It begins like this: "I put an order in on a Panasonic GH4 for you. I knew you would want one. The camera came in today and I'm holding it for you." And like the guy who always thinks that just because someone throws you a ball you have to catch it, I start planning the acquisition. Usually I just off load some other camera gear to make the math come out right but I've whittled down pretty spectacularly lately and I'm almost down to the cameras I don't want to sell. 

I could get rid of the little G6 I picked up last Fall but I won't get much for it and, well, it is adorable. I'll keep it around for it's combination of a surprisingly good finder and well done focus peaking. That and the fact that it takes great images and weighs next to nothing. Okay. That one is safe....

Well, that makes the logical next choice one of the two GH3's I bought just at the turn of the year. But again, I like them so much and now am wracked with the realization that for most of the uses I have for these cameras the image quality (in photographs) might not be much better between the GH3 and the GH4. I love having a perfectly matched pair of cameras when I'm shooting in a documentary style. Wide zoom on one and a fast zoom on the other. Magic. Will the GH4 throw my brain out of balance? Will I want two GH4's instead? Or will the cascading method of acquisition actually work for me?

My guess at the moment, to be solidified by tomorrow morning, is that one of the GH3's will get boxed up and sent off as a sacrifice to the financial sanity gods that seem to be inhabiting the studio these days. The other choice is to just not pull the trigger. To get off the "new gear" merry-go-round but I think we all know that's probably a non-starter. How could I bear to be left behind in the great Panasonic 4K revolution?

I've still got the full frame Sony but it's my safety camera for those times when I get overly nostalgic for the full frame look and need to spend a few days separating fact from emotion. Then the Sony will go back in the drawer until I see some older black and white image with no depth of field whatsoever and we'll go through the whole exercise again....

I don't have a pressing use for the new camera. I have some video projects but I'm certainly not ready to step up the ante and hit the "4k club" on actual productions any time soon. Editing is a slow enough process for me as it is. 

I think I know how to handle this. I'll just get up in the morning and swim and have coffee. Then, when everyone is off at school and work I'll just take a casual drive up to the camera store just to look at the camera in the flesh. What could that hurt? I'll have Ian pull it out of the box and we'll look at all the new menu settings and features. I'm sure I'll have an objective appraisal and I'm sure the lure of the new camera won't overwhelm me. Of course I could take the check book along, just in case. 

Random Portrait.

A few years ago Noellia helped me experiment with an Alien Bees ring light.  I ran across this a few days ago and decided to re-post it because, checking me decade calendar we're due for a resurgence of ring lights, followed a year later by a resurgence of beauty dishes, followed by more "small flash" enthusiasm. In the rearview mirror? Massive megapixelage. At least that's what a reading of the entrails tells us...

Kirk Tuck. Texas Landscape Photographer? Maybe not...

Sony RX10 with polarizing filter.
Converted from color in Lightroom 5.x

I'm more interested in faces but occasionally I'll stop my car on a road trip and snap a tree that has personality. The luxurious curve of the bottom branch on the left side makes it all so nice.


Out of the city with a fun camera in tow.

I had a fun job today. I was working for a shelter magazine. I was assigned to photograph a house in Fredericksburg, Texas that's more like a museum dedicated to early American art and craft. I took along some big flashes (which I didn't use) and a small flash (which I did use) and a selection of small sensor cameras. The house was well done and big windows ushered in ample soft light. I used some judicious in camera HDR (I know, I know...) and fine-tuned the files later in Lightroom.

It was refreshing to do an assignment that was straightforward and simple. No endless hours of post production and no budget so big that it makes everyone's adrenaline zing.

While I took two GH3s along intending to use them and the new X lenses for my primary shooting cameras I just couldn't keep my hands off their case-mate, the Sony RX10.  That little camera continues to impress me with sharp files and nearly straight lines (at 24mm eq. it needs a +1 correction in Lightroom to get lines perfectly straight..).

I'd been feeling beat up lately with complications from complicated jobs so it was nice to get out of town, away from the phone (yes, you can leave your iPhone in the trunk of your car), away from e-mail and away from the Austin traffic. I drove out on highway 290 through Johnson City (hometown of president Lyndon B. Johnson) and I stuck to the right lane with the farm vehicles and pokey drivers so I could go slow and just enjoy the drive.

We wrapped up our house shooting around 1pm and I headed into Whataburger on my way out of town to have a good ole jalapeño burger. Yummy. Just splurging today I also added guacamole. I took the same leisurely pace heading back to Austin. Now it's a little after 5pm and I've already got my 100+ tiff images corrected and ready to go.

The art director for the magazine is in Ohio and asked if I could send along a few images of Texas wildflowers. I was just planning to hit the stock file at the studio when I came across a wildflower resource just off the highway about 20 miles out of Fredericksburg. A giant outdoor store that specializes in native flowers.  Acres of beautiful wildflowers in red, yellow, blue and purple. I pulled in and walked around for while with the little RX10, just clicking away.

The sun was bright, the clouds soft and puffy and the sky washed blue from rain the night before. It was 85 degrees and the warm weather felt good. Soon enough it will be too hot. But I'm enjoying what we've got right now.

Keeping that RX10 in the bag, in the car, in the swim bag, in the bike bags and most especially, right over my left shoulder. That's how to spend a fun and productive day in central Texas. 


Thinking about how much more complicated photography has become.

The actual act of taking images has become easier and more complex. On one hand we've got digital cameras that interpret the scenes in front of them instantly. But getting to that point means making choices about how your camera is set. If you have a camera with a complex menu, like the Olympus OMD EM-1 you may have hundreds of possible settings that you can make ranging from noise reduction to color characteristics, the method of focusing, the method of dealing with tonal slopes and so much more. Will you use art filters? Are you looking ahead to making HDRs? How will you set the camera to bracket? Then you have the standard issues of color profiles, color temperature, contrast, saturation and basic exposure. Will you save the images as Jpegs? If so, at what compression and how large? Will you save them as raw files? If so which program will give you the best conversions? Have you tried all the raw converters that are out there? Are you sure you selected the right one? Just because Capture One worked best for your Nikon D800 doesn't mean it's the right one for, say, your new Canon 5Dmk3....

Oh, but wait! What lens will you use? Or more precisely, what focal length will you use? And will it be with a prime lens or a zoom?  And which aperture clearly expresses what you had in mind vis-a-vis the foreground and background sharpness relations? And, if you select a certain aperture and you are working at your camera's optimum ISO will you need to introduce a tripod to assist you in creating the sharpness your original vision required? If so, how big a tripod will you need in order to carry it around with you for those moments when it seems crucial to the quality of the image? But what if subject motion pushes your exposure predilections outside your comfort zone? What if you have to go to a higher ISO to get a higher shutter speed. Will the smooth, grainless quality you lusted after leave you in the lurch in the pursuit of the crispy sharp subject? If you choose to use a more sensitive ISO will you need to use noise reduction in post processing? Which method works best for your overall system?

Presuming the sheer momentum of choice didn't paralyze you have you taken all the steps you need to in order to post process successfully? Is your monitor of sufficient gamut to even show you what you have wrought in the shooting and editing processes? Has it been methodically and recently calibrated? Have you neutralized any color cast in your post processing area? Are the walls really neutral white? Do they have a subtle coloration that may impinge on the accuracy of your viewing system? Are you wearing a lime green golf shirt while you process your work? Will you switch to a black or neutral gray shirt? Can you really find an actual, neutral gray shirt?

And when you've created your masterpiece of photography where will you go from the computer file? Will you share it on the web? Are all the people you are sharing with sitting in front of color corrected screens? Is the infrastructure of the web and the bandwidth limits of your sharing supplier compressing the image you worked so hard on? Did they shift your colors and tonalities to wedge your image into a tighter and tighter box? Or maybe you'll print the image....

Is your printer profiled to your post processing software? Can your printer's gamut match your original vision? Do the inks have different responses to different lighting spectra? Will the viewing area undo your careful color corrections by introducing color casts and glare? Will you frame the work? If so will the glass be neutral or will it have (as most glass does) a greenish UV filtration meant to keep furniture from fading when used in buildings? Will you place a mark on the floor in front of your print so people can see it from the point of view that you intended? Will they wear a black shirt or smock so their own clothes don't minimize the "enjoyment" of your art by introducing reflections?

And once your work through all the above do you have a plan for archival keeping of the digital image? Will it be placed on some magnetic media or will you use optical media? How often will you migrate the images to new media in order to offset the perils of degradation over time? Will you have multiple racks of hard drives that you rotate? Will you spend months each year re-burning new DVDs? Will you make prints of the frames you like in a series of sizes that you might want to use in the future as a hedge against the ravages of time?

And none of the above presupposes that you've come to grips with finding visually interesting stuff to immortalize...

Oh well. It's all become more complicated. I should have tried for an easier career, like brain surgeon or president. A few quick cuts, a few grand decisions and a ribbon cutting and then I'd be on easy street.

Must be monday again. Sorry. 

Michael Reichmann at Luminous Landscape posts first review of the Panasonic GH4...


I've followed Michael Reichmann's website, the Luminous Landscape, for many years. I've read as he's waxed euphoric over ever more powerful cameras. Starting with Canon's first full framer right on through to his Phase One Phascination--- with enormous numbers of megapixels and all things medium format. But I have to give it to him. The man is mentally flexible and willing to change with the times. And the introduction of new and useful technology.

He wrote a couple of years ago about the Sony Nex-7 (which he liked very much) and recently he's been writing about his video love affair with the Panasonic GH3. Only a few months ago he got himself an Olympus OMD EM-1 and found lovely things to say about that camera as well. But now it looks like there is some sort of camera harmonic convergence going on and the mantra I keep hearing (from myself and others who taste and expertise I trust) is GH4. GH4. GH4.

Michael has one in his hands and it's got the final firmware so no weasel words or beating around the bush need take place in his first, preliminary assessment. And the word is: Good. "As good as anything out there..."

He goes on to say that if you can work with the limitations of 16 megapixels (and he says he can!) then this camera is as good as it gets. Not just from a video point of view but from a still photography point of view as well.

I'm saving up for my GH4. I'm not often accused of being "strategic" but I started selling off other camera systems and other lenses months ago. Around the time I first heard solid rumors of the GH4 specs. I've pretty much exited the Sony system (both Nex and Alpha) and I'm not overly nostalgic about the transition. I've winnowed down other systems and I've been preemptively buying up lenses I know I'll want for use with the GH4 and, for now, the GH3.

I figured that the reviews would start coming out before the end of April and there would be a mad rush on all the surrounding eco-system for the new camera. Maybe shortages or Amazon's famous ever changing (upward) pricing algorithm for stuff like the 12-35mm X lens and the 35-100mm X lens. A run on the 7-14mm and even a shortage of the two wonderfully cheap and happy Sigma lenses, the 30mm and the 60mm.  When I found out that the GH4 shared the same battery with the current GH3 I was overjoyed. But I cut the celebration short to go and buy an extra pair of batteries before the run on essentials built up steam.

The GH4s are starting to ship. MR has his. Samy's is shipping a quantity and Amazon counsels us that it will ship end of month but I expect waiting list cameras to start out the doors of the warehouses this week.

Why am I so happy about all of this? Well, this is the first camera that is equally good at both disciplines in which I am currently interested (stills and video), as well as being the most affordable professional system I've ever bought into. You can actually buy this company's top of the line camera without busting the bank. Amazing. To add some icing to the cake the GH series is actually quite fun to shoot...

And with the kind of enthusiasm Mr. Reichmann is expressing I expect that this particular offering will go over well without the recent caveats we've heard in conjunction with half-baked Sony products recently. No lens adapter required. Plenty of good lenses in the market. No tiny battery syndrome. No Bang-Bang-Pow shutter noise, Etc.

Ah. A nice, happy, productive camera launch. Just what we all needed after the doldrums of the recent lackluster product unveils.....

While I am saving up for my GH4 I am painfully, keenly, aware that my child just got accepted at his first choice of college. A private university in the Northeastern U.S. Much to the amazement of my European readers we parents will be required to scrape up the equivalent, in cash, of a nice, average American three bedroom house and send it to this fine institution over the course of the next four years. Will this slow down my thirst for new cameras? I guess we're about to find out....


Fun times at the graffiti park. Shooting with the Samsung 30 NX.

I went to the Graffiti Park today to test out the Samsung NX30's video performance. Video takes a while longer to deal with because I want to edit something together that won't make people grind their teeth or reference fingernails on chalkboards. The camera's sensor is great. APS-C is great for depth of field control. Even with a pedestrian sounding 50-200mm f4-5.6. In all the camera does video well.

The image above is a still grab shot. Most of my afternoon was spent shooting handheld video (will I never learn?).

But this particular post has nothing to do with the camera or the lens or the sensor. It has to do with a funny thing that happened to me four times this afternoon. As I was walking through the park I had four different couples come up to me and ask me if I would take their photograph with their camera. Of course I obliged. What else would a civilized person do? But each time the person handing me the camera was very careful to (talk slowly and...) explain which button to push to make the exposure and how they wanted the shot framed. I listened carefully and tried to follow their instructions to the letter. Except for the couple who had their camera mis-set. It would have taken a silhouette. I fixed the exposure mode and took several versions just to make sure we had what they wanted.

One couple thanked me, looked at the images and then told me that they were very well done. I thanked them for saying so.

I can only imagine what we could have done if we'd flown a 12x12 foot silk over the couple, filled them in with 1100 watt seconds of flash from an Elinchrom Ranger flash pack and then used a camera that could sync a bit faster....

Anyway, I was pleased to be asked. When I came home I told my wife about my encounters. She laughed. She thought it was karmic-ly appropriate.

If you are at an Austin landmark look for the older person with the black rimmed glasses and the white, broadcloth, Julian Alexander button down. I'm sure he'll do a good job with your photograph....


A "selfie" from a client request.

One of the agency people involved with Samsung asked me to send along a selfie with one of the Samsung cameras. At one time last year I was the most knowledgable user of the Samsung Galaxy NX camera anywhere. Since I am vain and constantly self-promoting I got on the assignment right away. I pulled out an ancient, non-connectivity Sony a850 and put on the cheesy 24-105mm Sony lens, grabbed the electronic cable release and fired away. I like the black mock turtleneck and the glasses with the black rim over the top.

Pulling out the Samsung Galaxy NX for the photograph got me investigating that camera anew. I think the gap in my thinking last year was my myopic concentration with the camera's still imaging and still photography handling capabilities. I overlooked the video capabilities of the camera entirely. So yesterday I spent a lot of the afternoon playing around with the Galaxy NX as a video camera.

Now I have an all new respect for the camera. I have always liked the sensor and I was always impressed with every Samsung lens I've shot but now I am a fan of the video capabilities as well.

But first one caveat: The camera is not well set up for recording professional quality sound along with the video. There is an all purpose 3.5mm plug on the side into which you can use EITHER a set of headphones to hear playback, or a microphone to record audio, but you obviously can't use them both at the same time. Another constraint is that the audio set up of the camera doesn't allow for control over the sound levels in the recording mode. You get automatic levels no matter what.

But I will say that they do some good software in the audio region that senses gaps between words and clamps down on levels instead of letting them spike up and create hiss and noise. You can still hear some anomalies but it's pretty workable.  I recorded myself with an inexpensive Olympus stereo lavaliere microphone and while it wasn't bad it also wasn't perfect.

But the video at the highest quality settings, and using the 1080p, 30fps is very good indeed. Unlike the big Sony a99 the video written to the memory card is very sharp and detailed. The color balance, even using the AWB setting is great and it's a lot of fun composing and shooting while using the almost 5 inch screen on the back. It's the production equivalent of having an outboard, large monitor.

A bonus is that the camera provides focus peaking in manual focus settings which worked well with the tests I did using the new 85mm 1.4 lens.

Funny that this is a camera I didn't really warm up to when shooting stills and yet I am very pleased and intrigued to use it as a video tool. I'm shooting some personal work with it over the weekend and I'll be using the Zoom H4n and a shotgun mic to do audio. In one of the recent upgrades to Final Cut Pro X Apple has basically incorporated the same kind of sound matching we used to need PluralEyes to get. Now it can all be done in the program by matching up the outboard audio with the camera scratch track. You really have to shoot live view with a 5 inch monitor to get the appeal but believe me, it's fun and highly productive.

The camera is currently selling for around $1200. We're getting into a more realistic price range. I'll have some footage to show next week. I'm not advising any one to run out and buy one right away. But if you have one sitting around fire up the video setting and do some work. I think you WILL be pleasantly surprised.

Yes, it's this camera:

I meant to get some work done today. I really did. So after my second cup of coffee and a quick read of the New York Times I grabbed the dog and headed out to the studio. I sent a bill to someone and then I sent along 18 enormous 100 megabyte Tiff files to a service in India to have them masked and retouched. I'm gonna say that part qualifies as real work, although I had uploaded the files yesterday....

I read the usual forums and websites (theonlinephotographer seemed strangely off-line today...).  I got all riled up by a crazy person over on the digital pro forum at DPReview (there's always someone stirring the pot over there).

And I sent off some correspondence to people I needed to, well, correspond with.

Then Studio Dog poked me on the leg with her paw and gave me that look that said, "Really? Sitting on your butt for two hours banging on the keyboard? We've got squirrels to corral and important communications with other dogs to perform.  And your butt isn't going to get any skinnier wiggling your paws on the keyboard." She is so right. She always is. So I grabbed a leash and a bag of treats and we set off to look at the neighborhood. We both growled at the lawn guys with the leaf blowers. We had a few moments of silence for the scrape-off houses that have been recently scrapped off to make space for much bigger houses that will dominate once gracious lots.

We practiced walking "steady" and we practiced giving and receiving treats. I gave many lamb treats and got only joyous hand licks in return. After passing an hour ambling through and checking the smell of every letter box and light pole we returned home.

I answered another e-mail. This one from a client who recently asked for a bid on a huge job. The  response and tentative "yes!" by the client was too quick and then, reading further I saw that I would have to sell myself with a dog and pony show to the final client of the ad agency and I would have to finance about $20,000 worth of hard cost for 30 to 60 days if I wanted the job. I like jobs but I don't like them that much. I sent back a note suggesting that if a dog and pony show and financing for agency and client were part of the mix I might not be signing on. We'll see what happens there but I don't really care how slow or hot the market is, 25 years in the business gives one a tingling spider sense for eminent train wrecks and career stoppers. Some business I can live without.

Well, that took us right up to 11:30 am and frankly not much got done. I took the Studio Dog back to the house, grabbed a towel and headed over to the pool for a crowded, kinetic, fast paced master's swim practice. I rarely remember workouts but this one was devious for it's 300 set that went: 50 butterfly, 50 backstroke, 50 butterfly, 50 breaststroke, 50 butterfly, 50 freestyle. Rinse and repeat a number of times. That's a lot of butterfly to repeat. I guess I'll sleep well tonight.

The reward for any hard, noon workout is a good lunch so I headed to Chipotle Grill for a bowl with beans, rice, carnitas, two different salsas and some cheese. Yummy. Now I'm back at the studio with Studio Dog and she's pretty insistent that it's nap time. Dog bed in place. Yoga mat in place.

Commence napping. It's all part of the rich life of the freelance photographer....


Life gets all settled down and mellow and then the UPS guys shows up to roil it back up with new gear...

Beautiful Sunny Afternoon at the Graffiti Park. 
Punchy, Swirly colors.

Sitting at my desk in my quiet west Austin neighborhood just working away on some silly post processing and minding my own business. I'd just hit the Keurig machine to blast the drooping eyelids back open when I hear the dog barking over in the house. About three minutes later the big, brown truck rolls up and my regular delivery guy drops a package outside the front door. He's here so often he doesn't even bother to knock anymore. 

I wasn't expecting anything but that's how this stuff usually goes. A package arrives out of nowhere and all of a sudden I'm playing with new stuff and changing direction a little bit at a time. I had no idea what was in the box and I left my reading glasses on the desk so the label didn't clear things up. 
I grabbed my Trident folding knife out of my left cowboy boot and sliced into the cardboard box with  a flick of my wrist. The prize was another box wrapped in some New York newspaper. 

Once I got through the newsprint I hoisted out a dense silver box and deftly sliced the lid off that one with a quick twist. Yep. Another fun toy from the Samsung people. Last time a box from them came it was filled with their new NX30 mirror less camera. The kit lens was a side bonus. This time they upped the ante a bit and sent along a lens that a portrait photographer can really use. It was a brand spanking new 85mm 1.4. Complete with their little iFunction button on the side. 

I pushed a few scorpions aside, made a quick look under my desk for lost rattlesnakes and then I settled back into my chair to take a good look at the lens. Damn, it's heavy. Dense heavy. Like plutonium. It's short and squat and it's got the biggest hood, relative to its size, that I've ever seen. 

I'm always side-tracked by my own curiosity so I put the lens on the NX30 and shuffled over to the door. I took my coffee cup into the house and quick ate a couple of jalapeños just so I'd have something to wash down with the last few sips. And this was Texas coffee...we grind up a few smaller habeñeros along with the coffee beans just to give the brew a bit more zing...

I headed over to hipsterland central, the edges of the Clarksville neighborhood. And I cruised around to the big painted wall where I could do some thoughtful "art" with my newly conjoined rig. 

I shot till the sun went down and the Bob Wills album I was singing to myself in my head wound down. I saddled up the Honda and headed back home just hoping my spouse would get right with her Texas roots and rustle up something beefy and barbecued instead of that healthy stuff we've been gagging down----- Vegatables? Grains? Fresh Fruit?  That's damn tree-hugger fare. 

Well, we had a branding fire raging in the backyard so my hopes were high but further investigation revealed the cruel reality; grilled vegetables. Lots of zucchini. More kale than anyone might need in a lifetime. 

I finally got settled and downloaded the images I'd shot for a little "look-see." 

I liked them pretty darn good. So today, just out of curiosity I dragged out my much maligned Samsung Galaxy NX camera and started playing with that as well. But that camera has me more interested in doing a bit of video. It's the lure of the giant screen on the back.

I don't really have much of a Samsung system going on here. Yes, I've got a couple of bodies with 20 meg, APS-C sensors. I've got the can anyone please choose some different focal lengths for the damn kit lenses 18-55mm kit lens. Somewhere around Christmas I seem to have acquired a really sharp and nice 50-200mm f4 to 5.6 zoom lens. Over in one of the saddle bags I've still got that pretty little 30mm pancake someone sent along last fall and now I've got a super fast, super sharp 85mm. Now, if they'd just send along a really cool wide angle I could alternate camera systems on alternate shooting days. A little work with the Samsung, a little work with the Panasonic. A day off with a Sony a850. 

Just when I think I have it all figured out the UPS guy comes along and stirs it all up again. 
But frankly, having all these choices makes me as happy as a pig in mud. 

And so that's what I played with today as well. Time to take the boots off, unstrap the six shooters and the chaps, take the spurs off at the front door and wrap up a day of Texas photography. Ah, the mystique. 


Today was my first Theater Shoot with my "full" Panasonic GH3 system. What did I like? Was there anything I didn't like?

Pinocchio. This image done with the 12-35mm f2.8 X Panasonic zoom
handheld wide open at 3200 ISO, 1/125th.

Theater. Live Theater. Now that's got to be scary for actors and the people who make every show happen. Unlike most photography the actors can't just "chimp" their ongoing performance and go back to do many, many "re-dos".  Whatever happens in the moment happens in that moment and you can't take it back in the present performance. Those are brave artists.
Pinocchio. Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8. At or near wide open and handheld 
at 1/125th of second, ISO 3200.

The people who work at Zach Theatre do a lot of live theater that's made for kids and families. It's part of their commitment to the community. Every years thousands and thousands of school kids from across the city are exposed to fun, meaningful, captivating live performances. Some for the first time ever. The theatre is also committed to producing plays that entire families can enjoy like the play for which I photographed the dress rehearsal this afternoon; Pinocchio.

I thought I would just show up, snap some technically legit images and then head back to the studio but I have to admit that the play brought many smiles to my usually cynical face and left me with tears in my eyes at the end. Those writers really know how to lean on the emotions...and those actors know how to deliver the words straight to your heart...

Today was the first day that I had all the toys assembled that I thought I would want to have to shoot live theater performances. I had two identical Panasonic GH3 camera bodies and two primo (not prime) lenses. I used the 12-35mm f2.8 and longer sibling, the 35-100mm f2.8 zoom. These are the "X" lenses, Panasonic's attempt at premium branding a la Canon's "L" lenses. That's it. No other gear. A 16 gigabyte card in each camera and everything set the same. This production was done on the smaller theater at the Zach campus; it's a theater in the round and it means more photographer moving around to get the shots we wanted to use for marketing.

The play was pretty darkly lit. Perfect for people's eyes, lots of deep shadows mixed with bright, contaminated colors, even deeper shadows and little pools of highlights. It was an interesting exercise for the cameras. The average exposure was 1/125th of a second at f2.8, ISO 3200 which was right on the threshold of stopping subject motion---which meant I had to time the action to hit peaks. The time in the actor's expression of lines when they pause for a second just at the top of their delivery.

The two lenses are naturals for this kind of work. The image stabilization gave me a high percentage of very sharp images. The lenses look great at or near wide open and they are small enough and light enough to hold for an hour without any fatigue. The GH3 cameras were more of less flawless. They aren't low light champs but neither are they at all bad. All in all, a good hour's work shooting a good play with some fun gear. Nice to test this stuff in the real world. No kitten's souls were stolen here. And no birds in flight had their privacy breached...

Did I mention that the play was very, very good? It was.