Cold, Grey, Rainy, Freezy, Slurpy Saturday. Some personal notes and observations. No Canon versus Nikon wars here. No full frame versus micro four thirds either.

Joy-Boating on Lady Bird Lake.

The image above is not topical and I did not take it today or this week in Austin, Texas. I am sharing it with you and me to counteract this ongoing stretch of cold, wet weather (here) and incredibly cold weather wherever you happen to be. Winter just seems to be dragging on forever this year...

I've been unable to blog for most of the week for a mix of reasons. I was busy shooting images in the first part of the week and then I had to head down to San Antonio to check on my parents. I wound up taking my mother to the ICU on Thursday and have been totally engaged in that life experience since. 
Today I was able to wake up back in Austin and hit the pool this morning. 

When I got up it was thirty degrees and there was a freezing rain falling. Normally I would have pulled up the covers and gone right back to sleep but after missing a regular workout too many times this week I dragged myself out of bed and pulled on my old jeans and a sweatshirt, slid into an old pair of Crocs and headed out the front door. For the first time this year I had to scrap ice off the windshield of my car. Swimmers might be interested to note that StrokeMaker(r) hand paddles make very good windshield scrappers. I let the car warm up and flipped on the defrosters but I still made it to the pool in enough time to be on deck and ready to swim at the 8:30-10am practice. 

The (outdoor) pool is about 50 yards from the locker room and wearing nothing but my swim suit and a swim cap the jog over to the edge was cold and a bit nasty. There was a brisk wind mixed with a light rain. If you take your time getting to the shallow end of the pool to park your equipment your skin starts to get really cold but when you dive into the 80 degree water the difference feels divine. 

For such a nasty day the workout was fairly well attended. Either two or three people to a lane. The coach on deck was well bundled and that's a good thing since she'd been there since 7:15 that morning. Halfway through our workout one of the swimmers from the earlier workout dropped by to deliver a large, hot coffee to coach Kristen. A very nice thing to do.

We started with a descending distance set: 400 (get your time at the 300 split...) followed by a 300 (descend from your split time by 10 seconds) followed by a 200 (dropping your split from the 300) and then a fast (out of your comfort zone) 100 for time. The rest of the workout was fun as well but we had the most fun near the end. The coach mixed everyone up into three person relays in each lane. She tried to distribute people so that each lane had a combination of slow and fast people to make it competitive. 

One person in each lane headed to the deep end and the relay commenced. We kept the three person, 25 yard sprint, cycle going for the rest of the workout. It was so much fun to really get up on the water and sprint. 

The hardest part of the workout was getting out of the pool, soaking wet, and getting to the locker room in the 30 degree wind gusts. Then it was off to coffee with the usual hardy band of masters swimmers. 

Tomorrow I'll head back to San Antonio to work on our latest family emergency and relieve my little sister and older brother. 

Pangs of regret for a camera that was traded away last year....

Every once in a while I get swept away by a camera that I think is just superb and then a newer camera comes along and I forget my love affair with the first one and move on to the second one. Most of the time the first camera is obsolete and my trades seem timely and efficient but every once in a while I have moments of doubt and regret. I was thinking about that this morning when I came across this image below:

I photographed that landscape with a Sony RX10 camera back in the Summer of last year. I had just used the same camera to do an eight page magazine assignment in Fredericksburg, Texas. While the camera seems to excel in rendering nice images where lots of depth of field is welcome it's weak spot is its deep depth of field, even wide open, when making portraits. Since I always think of myself as a portrait photographer first I was too quick to trade in this camera on some of the Nikon gear I had decided to designate as more important for my core mission. 

What a mistake. Not a week has gone by when I haven't felt awkward about letting it go. The really nice Zeiss designed lens and a very nicely upgraded video capability makes this camera a formidable all around tool for a multi-media kind of business. I've bounced back and forth about getting a new one and I was halfway between in my decision making. Was emotion trumping logic (once again...)?
But a phone call on Thurs. morning is pushing me over the edge and making the justification for replacement easier. I've been contracted to do a five minute corporate video project that includes some handheld, moving shots and I know the Sony RX10 would be the perfect tool for that. I guess I'm jumping right back on that merry-go-round. The bonus in the whole trade in, buy back episode is that Sony upgraded the video codec to a much more robust one. I just hope it intercuts well with the Nikon D810 (uncompressed Pro-Res 422 LT) footage I plan to shoot for the bulk of the project....

Disjointed epilogue. 

While last week was filled with excitement, drama and work, the upcoming week seems like it will be even more stressful and kinetic. I'll be in San Antonio tomorrow taking care of family and I've got a presentation scheduled for a local college on Monday ( along with post processing from last week's projects) followed by a long and full shoot here in Austin on Tues. (21 portraits on location...) and then a shoot for the theatre in several different locations across town on Weds. More post processing for those shoots on Thurs. and then off to San Antonio again on early Friday morning. I'll drag my laptop around with me, or at least an iPad and a wireless keyboard, and I'll try to get some blogging done. 

Thanks for reading. - Kirk


Walking downtown on the last day before the big freeze and I saw these birds at twilight. Then they vanished and the light soaked in for the evening.

I have a tiny suspicion that the lens I used, the Nikon 24-85mm f3.5 to 4.5, has just a pinch of vignetting when it's used near its widest aperture..... Just a suspicion.

The race for bigger cameras. Been there, done that, redoing it.

Image from Leaf A7i file.

Many of the more recent arrivals here at the Visual Science Lab like to give me advice like: Try a full frame camera! Or, You should learn how to shoot with a view camera! Or, The pros all use three fast, f2.8 zoom lenses for all their work! You might want to try out the 70-200mm!!! Or, You should get your hands on a medium format digital camera and try it out!!!

The last one is my current favorite. The implication being that we're all new at this and we're all shooting everything with Olympus, Sony, Nikon, Canon or Panasonic. It's a pretty fair assumption given the sheer numbers of bloggers and camera sites on the web. Outside of www.Luminous-Landscape.com you won't find many sites that have a depth of experience, and user/members, with experience in buying and using medium format digital cameras. The reasons are pretty simple, the MF cameras are ruinously expensive for most people and the compelling uses for them are more or less rarified in this day and age of everything going to the web.

But in my defense I think I should point out that three different companies started sending me medium format digital cameras (and attendant lenses) to test and review around 2009, and occasionally we still get the random, big-ass camera tossed over to us through the transom.

In 2009 I took possession of a Leaf Aptus a7i medium format digital camera and a 180mm f2.8 Schneider lens for the better part of two months. That camera was built like a rock but it had its own handling issues. Still, the 40 megapixel images were enormous at the time. The biggest thing from Canon back then was a whopping 16 megapixels.... I shot a bunch of portraits with the combo and I liked the way the lens rendered portrait subjects very much. But the camera was clunky to use and at around $40,000 for the camera and one lens it seemed a bit out of whack in the market of the day. A wonderful image surrounded by too many caveats. For me.

The next camera we got on long term loan was the Mamiya budget MF camera of the time with a 29 megapixel sensor. While they sent along a nice zoom I much preferred the images I got out of the camera coupled with a 150mm f3.5 manual focus lens I had for the Mamiya 645e. Was that camera any good? Well, we got a lot of images like this one....

...So I could never really complain about the image quality under good lighting. Though most of the medium format digital cameras previous to last year had issues with noise once one crested the 400 ISO mark.

But again, the camera crossed over the intersection of cost versus performance at a different quadrant of the curves than I thought was good and so, after a few months of evaluation and a nicely done review in a photography magazine distributed to other professionals, I sent the package back to the manufacturer and soldiered on with the 35mm form factor cameras I had as my regular tools. 

The next camera was a Phase One camera that boasted (yet again) 40 megapixels and a much improved interface. I wrote about it pretty extensively and used it for more portraits but it was as expensive the previous Leaf camera and, after I used it to make many images for my book on studio lighting it got packed up and sent back as well. The review for that camera got published in Studio Photographer Magazine. I didn't notice any great uptick in acquisition of the units after my review came out but I was happy to have had the opportunity to live with the camera for a couple of months. 

Kirk in Studio with Leaf A7i camera.

The Phase One. Sitting on top of my wooden tripod. 

What I discovered in almost every engagement with the three medium format cameras above and the Leica S variants I have worked with since is that the lenses are critical and that the sensors in most of the MF cameras need to be bigger. Not denser, just physically bigger from side to side and top to bottom. The thing that makes MF images look better (to my eye) is the way the lens draws on the bigger surface area of the sensor. 

I keep get lured back in. But my new search is to find ever faster lenses that are still good near wide open for the two full frame cameras I have in house. I'd love the longer lenses of MF for the same angle of view but I'm still not convinced that the small difference in overall look is worth the investment. I see these systems the way cinematographers see high end production movie cameras; they rent them when they need them and bring them back to the rental houses when they wrap. I've rented several of the cameras from several sources when I felt the need for something that looked entirely different to me and my clients, and every time I breathed a sigh of relief when I returned the gear. 

But I would like my newer readers to understand that when I make these kinds of choices for myself ( renting versus owning? Shooting everything with one system?)  I do it with the background of having actually shot with five or six different medium format camera samples over a cumulative time frame of about a year. My opinions are rarely the result of having read and then parroted back something that some else wrote on the web. I have lifted the weights of medium format and broken a sweat with the 16 bit machines. So please stop recommending that I "try" one. Believe me, I have. I just can't justify using it to shoot images for websites and I'd rather put that kind of money into a retirement account. Your mileage may vary. 

At this point I think the new flurry of high resolution Nikon, Canon and even Sony cameras are a very good and sensible compromise. 

A quick advertising note: Craftsy is offering a bunch of course at up to 50% off. It's a good way to learn new stuff. You might want to browse their photo offerings. I'll be looking at the cooking classes.....   Here's the link!

I finished a project I was doing for myself. It's a site with 100 portraits that I like very much.



I always feel like my portfolios are jumbled and mixed. I wanted to create a site full of portraits that showed some of my range but more importantly some sort of cohesiveness. To that end I started sifting through hundreds and hundreds of portraits I've shot to find the ones that I liked to look at.

It's a good exercise and in my case it pointed out to me where I am weak and where I need more depth in the work that I share.

It's not a definitive collection. 100 images is little more than a tasting platter of the thousands of portraits I've shot. But it's fun to work toward a goal and my goal was to have this group of photographs that I could share, without reservation, with my clients from across many industries.

I'll use the gallery to create an e-mail campaign to existing clients. For many it will be a reminder while for the clients who hired me to shoot product or lifestyle, or who hired me on someone's recommendation (without seeing a portfolio or the work) it will be an opportunity to deepen their understanding of my core work.

Many, many people write comments to this blog and talk about how they can't stand to read talk about gear. Others state that the only thing that matters is the image. I could argue that our page views drop to near zero every time I show work or talk about photographs and rebound into the tens of thousands every time I write about an Olympus m4:3 camera but instead I'll just show the work and see what happens over on the sister blog site.

I hope you'll drop by and visit. The site is meant to be dynamic and you can change the way you view it by selecting from the menu across the top. I like "mosaic" for this presentation but you can customize it to work for you.

It's freezing here today. I hope you stay warm wherever you live. Kirk

Renae in the leather chair at the old studio. An exercise in lighting and expression.

Renae and I set out to make this photograph because we were experimenting with a bunch of different black and white looks for an upcoming annual report for which we were preparing. We would be photographing different business people in different locations and the two constants would be the lighting design and the chair.

When we are gearing up for a large project I tend to test out a number of different options well before the shooting dates so we know what we're aiming for at the outset.

It always seems to me that getting the relationship between the subject and the background is the hardest part of any portrait shoot. If the background is too de-focused it begins to look detached from the person; almost as if the person had been dropped into a second image of a backdrop.

The design aspect that gives me the most pleasure is the balance of lights and darks through a frame.

The final piece of the puzzle with this project was the printing and toning of the image. I used a Portragon under the enlarging lens to partially blur the corners of the image and to reduce overall contrast throughout the image. It's lost technology now (for the most part) because the Portragon depends on the optical process of enlarging to impart its look.

I marvel at how clear and uncluttered our shooting intentions were at the time and the amount of craft we tried to bring to bear...


We don't give away free samples but if a client wants to see a test we oblige. Someone wanted to know how big they could go with a D810 file. We sent them some Tiffs.

Advertising agencies are going through an interesting little adjustment right now. At least the bigger ones with national clients who are flocking back to trade shows. They're are moving from aiming all their stuff at the web to the opposite extreme: Posts and huge trade show graphics. The two common denominators are a need for lots and lots of resolution and also the need for content to be sharp. Unlike billboards posters, point of sale materials and trade show walls are all media that consumers can get right next to and put their noses on.

The top image is on of a hand full I sent to the agency. At full size it's a 215 Megabyte tiff file. The Image just below is a close up of my left eye. Seems to blow up pretty well.

The agency is mollified and we are continuing in our conversations....

Have a sharp day.

Meanwhile, back on the factory floor...

The Nikon 105mm f2.5

I had a blast yesterday. I went to a big hotel in Austin, set up cool lights in a large room and made a big window with lots of greenery outside my background. Over the course of the day I made portraits of 16 people that will be used in the marketing of a legal services client. We've just now uploaded a web gallery to the client for their selection so I won't be posting any of the images here yet but I was so happy with the performance of one piece of gear that I wanted to write is blog post and talk about it.

I've really wanted to put the Nikon 105mm f2.5 lens I have through it's paces. How to best show off what the lens can do? Well, how about putting it on a high resolution body like a Nikon D810, sticking it on a good tripod and shooting in a mostly electronic flash lit environment (with plenty of backlighting aimed back toward camera) and then shooting this 1977 (or older) lens at or very near wide open. To make sure we're getting the highest performance for the whole chain we used the camera set to ISO 64 and carefully metered. The lens was focuses via live view at nearly 100% magnification.

The chanting around the photographic playground is that the new generation of high resolution cameras (36 to 50+ megapixels) will be a challenge to all but the greatest (read: most expensive) lenses. A second refrain of the wisdom of the web is that only the newest lenses, optimized for digital will play at the rarified levels required. The implication is that if one isn't shooting with a Zeiss Otus lens or a Sigma Art lens or one of the ruinously expensive Nikon lenses that the new cameras will handily exceed the capabilities of that crappy, last decade glass-tastrophy you've tried to cobble onto the front of the camera. Older lenses? We're counseled not to even consider them.


I came home and shoved the raw files into the computing machine and started looking at the files. Yes, there were some where the clients moved after I made my exacting focus but I was awake enough yesterday to realize what was happening in the moment and then re-check. We've got 25 or 30 keepers for each sitter. What made me sit up and take notice is that when I clicked onto a 100% view the level of detail was hanging in there even at the absolute pixel level. While the images don't have that astringent, clinical feeling of sharpness they have a warm, rounded but complete feeling of sharpness. The nicest thing is that there were no surprises. No soft spots. No veiling flare or chromatic aberration rearing its ugly, jittery outlines. Just wonderful performance is a classic way.

Many of my favorites were shot at f2.8 which is 1/3 of a stop from down open. Now, you know that most lenses clean up their acts by f 11 or so but a thirty-something year old lens wide open? And perfectly behaved? If you are shooting Nikon cameras and you haven't grabbed one of these lenses from KEH, or some other dealer in used gear, you might want to consider it. I paid a little over $100 for a clean copy.

But making this all about sharpness makes the evaluation of the lens incomplete. Another valuable attribute of the lens vis-a-vis more modern super lenses is the contrast rendering of the lens which is a bit lower by comparison. Just like sharpening where the current methodology encourages shooting at a lower sharpness setting and the doing sharpening in post an argument could be well made that having a lower overall contrast range delivers a host of benefits including: more dynamic range, more open shadows and a smoother transition through the tonal scale. While people demanding ultimate acutance might not want this a portrait photographer will find that the lower contrast in the highlights helps to diminish burned out highlights on skin tones and provides a wider range of tonal separations on skin tone.

Right now this lens, the Nikon 105mm f2.5 ais is my current, favorite portrait lens when used on a  full frame camera. Not surprisingly, when I look at files from my time shooting with the Canon 1DS mk2 and the 5Dk2 the Canon 100mm f2.0 was my "go to" portrait lens....

We all have favorites. And it's okay for the favorites to change from time to time but I would be interested in hearing from people who've uncovered other obvious gems like the 105mm f2.5. Would you share your lucky discoveries in the comments?  Thanks!


Packing up to shoot can be an exercise in waffling and indecision. Like a puzzle with too many pieces.

Belinda from some decade past. 

I am photographing 16 people tomorrow afternoon. We're scheduled to do one portrait session every fifteen minutes, starting at one p.m.  I'll spend most of the morning in a windowless hotel conference room setting up bright colors and shapes against the back wall to mimic an outdoor urban space which I will attempt to put completely out of focus, or as far out as I can manage, using a fast medium telephoto lens on a full frame camera. The thing that's vexing me right now is what to light both the portrait subjects and the back wall with. My first inclination was to use the large fluorescent instruments because they do generate ample light and they would make it easy to slide the shutter speeds around on the camera to match the fast apertures. I entertained supplementing them with small, color temperature controllable, LED panels as accent lights but I kept thinking that I've shoehorned everything lately into the continuous light box and that it might be nice to shoot with flash for a change. 

The nice thing about the camera I intend to use is that it will shoot at a native ISO of 64 which gives me a bit more control when it comes to shooting with the aperture wide open and using studio flashes. By 5pm today I decided to give the old strobes a work out and I packed them up. I intend to use five monolights firing into various diffusers, aimed at different things and I'm tentatively bringing along three battery powered flashes to throw spots of light onto the background elements when I run out of monolights.  I've packed 11 light stands. Some will hold lights and some will hold brightly colored, geometric shapes back in the mid and background areas of the room to add depth and color texture to the shots. 

Even as I was loading the flashes into the car I was remembering a big Pelican case full of tungsten fixtures; spots, floods and broad lights and wondering if I shouldn't take them instead. I really do love a well made fresnel fixture; especially when it's on the front of a hot light...

I think I'll stick with my plan to use the flashes. It's Belinda's birthday today and I probably shouldn't spend a lot of time waffling over lighting. I'm loading all of the non-precious things into the car right now because I'll want to go to the early swim practice in the morning and won't have time to come back and pack up before the shoot. We're heading out to dinner this evening and I'll be parking the car somewhere that's not really secure so the cameras will go into the car tomorrow morning on the way to practice. 

No matter which lights I ultimately pack I'll wish I'd brought something different instead. That's why I like to shoot in the studio = you can change your mind at the drop of a hat and grab a different light or camera right off the shelf and be up and shooting in no time. Remote locations always call for the use of the "check-list." 

We're heading to one of our favorite restaurants. It's called Asti. My friend, Chris Archer, and I made a video for the place last year. It's on their website here: http://astiaustin.com click on "a peek inside."

Want to see a trailer for my Studio Portrait Lighting class on Craftsy? Here's a link: http://www.craftsy.com/video/course?courseId=427

Regardless which lights we end up bringing I'm pretty sure it will be a fun and interesting shoot. And that's how it should be.


A new hotel opened up in downtown this last week. It's a JW Marriott and it's enormous. The second largest in the world after the one in Dubai.

You can see it in the lower right hand corner of the image above. The new hotel was a good excuse to grab a camera and a lens and head downtown to take some walking around shots. I used the Nikon D610 with that old 25-50mm f4 ais lens I've been telling you about. Sometimes the images I get from the lens are crappy and sometimes I think they are sublime (I suspect it depends on my mood). Today I took about 80 images and liked----- 1.

But part of getting out and walking downtown is the act of moving away from the screens in the office and letting my eyes wander around at things that are near infinity, or at least further away than three and a half feet. I think that's good for your eyes over time.

The camera meters the older lens flawlessly and the focus indicator dot works well. It probably works well because I use the lens a its wider end and I generally keep it stopped down to f5.6. Just tossing the whole process a couple of marshmallows...

We now have about 50 billion hotel rooms coming on line in Austin. They say we're recession proof and I sure hope so but I remember being lectured to by the same sort of economists and chamber of commerce cheerleaders about our "bullet proof" economy twice before and both times we ended up with a bleak recession and an exodus of families, money and investors. Maybe this time it will be different....

Hope you had a respite from winter weather if you are living in the north. It hit 55 (f) here in Austin today and while we're supposed to have a cold night I guess it's all relative. We might get down to 32 (f) but tomorrow afternoon we're supposed to nudge up toward the 70's.  Good time to visit here if you live in Boston or thereabouts... We'll keep the coffee ready.

Almost forgot....with the exception of several bars the size of football fields the JW Marriott is pretty unremarkable and some of the art in the public spaces is highly questionable. Acoustic tile ceilings in the ballrooms----really?? Hmmm.

Sometimes the CFO becomes the model. Especially if we all think he looks like a European baker.

We did an advertising shoot for a sandwich company a while back and the company provided us with an employee to use in the ad to represent an artisanal baker. The company presumed that this made sense because, well, the person they recruited was one of their bakers. But he was way too young and too cool to really pull of the idea the advertising agency had in mind = serious, experienced baker.

We tried to do some usable shots with the kid but mostly we were all standing around trying to decide whether or not to pull the plug on that day's work and buddy up with our local talent agency and find someone a bit more baker-ish. That's when someone notices that the CFO standing over to the side in a dark suit might be just the person we needed. With a bit of coaxing we got him to shed the suit coat and put on a baker's jacket.

We tried many variations but this one, with the wry (rye?) expression was the one I liked the best. It was shot with a Pentax 645 and the 150mm lens in our studio on San Marcos St. I printed up a few variations and sent them along to the agency. It helps to go into a shoot with a plan but it's equally helpful to be flexible when the plan meets reality. That day I felt like I was channeling the spirit of August Sander. One of my favorite photographers from the first half of the twentieth century.

You can look at the work I've done (am doing) in one place without having to wade through the self-indulgent writing...

It's right here: http://kirktucksportraits.blogspot.com

Be sure to drop by from time to time and check it out.....

Reprising an old favorite of mine. The CEO of the Westin Hotels and Resorts photographed at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort in San Antonio, Texas.

©2015 Kirk Tuck.

There's a pervasive mythology that's often fueled by social network savvy shooters in our industry which says that all shoots for major magazines (like Private Clubs Magazine) which involve high profile CEO's (The Westin) in swanky locations (The Hyatt Hill Country Resort) require a legion of assistants and assorted functionaries in order to achieve any sort of success. I think it's nonsense. The complexity vastly inflated. And, given how easy it is and was to do the technical parts of photography the big crew just screams: overkill. 

When I got the assignment to do this project (image above) I also got a budget within which to do it. The idea was straightforward, go down the day before the shoot, find a cool location and figure out how to light it. I could spend the entire budget on non-essential staff or I could make a profit.

The lighting for this image consists of one black scrim that takes the ambient light off the subject and one big (4 foot by six foot) soft box to put better light back on him. That's it. The hardest part of the shoot was figuring out the triangle of the focal length I wanted to use (180mm), the image size of the subject in the frame (camera to subject distance) and the size and out-of-focus characteristic of the piano in the background (subject-to-piano distance). Most of that was trial and error.

The other myth that every photographer loves to feed (because they think it makes their efforts sound more heroic) is the idea that all CEO's are so busy and so curated by their entourage that lowly photographers only have access to them for tiny slices of time. Five minutes at the most. Again, mostly B.S. The smart CEO's know the value of public relations and friendly media exposure and are willing to put in the time to optimize the results. If that means giving the photographer time to do a couple variations or change course now and then they are generally compliant. 

I can't remember exactly how much time I had to do this shot but it seemed to be a leisurely experience for me. Twenty minutes or so. The original client liked the shot and used it well. And the CEO's parent company liked the shot too and bought additional usage rights (after the initial magazine embargo). 

In the days before over the top web marketing we didn't realize that we'd need to have our own entourage to propagate the image of being successful. We thought our photographs would be enough. 

To recap: Major CEO on location. One photographer. One CEO. One CEO's assistant. No photographer assistant. No digital tech. No location scout. No hair and make up. No piano wrangler. No craft service (excluding the hotel F&B). No producer. No second assistant. No Polaroid timer. No publicist. No green screen. No retoucher. No studio manager. Lord, how did we manage?


Making photographs is a full time job for me. Or at least it should be.

Ben, Pre-College. ©2015 Kirk Tuck.

I've long come to grips with the realization that I'll never be mistaken for a genius or an earth shattering, artistic, photographic savant. I've tried a number of different careers and over the arc of the last 37 years and I've come back again and again to the practice of photography. I wanted it to be a working career mostly because I was so intent on photographing that any other career would be a distraction or a detour from what I enjoyed doing most. Or at least I thought.  My secret has always been that I care less about composition and style and all the surface trappings of two dimensional art; the reality is that I come to photography all the time as an observer. A sociologist, a historian and a writer. I'm looking for a spark in a photograph that makes you stop and look at an image because you are curious about what is behind the photograph. I want you to wonder what the back story is. I want you to ponder what happened five minutes after the frame you see was captured. I want you to be curious about the person in the photograph in a way that is deeper than their costume of the interplay of tricky lighting on trendy make up.

In a portrait I rarely think about backlighting or what people should wear or how to make things sharper or more----something. I think about what I would like to know about the person and how I can capture an expression I saw when I talked to this person or observed them and decided that I wanted to ask this person to come to my little, white walled room and be photographed. In my personal work it's rare to find a big grin plastered across someone's face or a chesty blond girl in a halter top with her head slightly lowered in the submissive pose/attitude that every glamour photographer seems hard-wired to try and coax out of young women. I want to talk to people about subjects in which we have an intersecting interest. 

In the last year, since Ben went off to college, I've worked through a series of thought exercises to try and understand my long time discontentment with my personal photographic work. In some part the sheer effort and time of culturally shedding film was an impediment to savoring the actual process of taking portraits. Instead of trusting to the technology we had gotten down cold (film and film cameras)  I was (and still am) wary about how the digital images will translate on the screens and then on to prints. I've been side-tracked by the pursuit of finding the tools that mimicked what we could do with our film cameras. By that I mean one day in the past we could easily load a Leica R8 with fast, black and white film and, using a fast Leica lens, capture highly detailed slices of life that intermixed grain and wonderful tonal transitions into an amalgam that was the essence of a black and white sensibility; when printed onto paper. An hour later I could put a 100 macro lens on the front of the camera, load some Kodak Ektar 25 film into the same camera and have an image making machine with no grain and almost infinite detail.

All that was second nature in the days of film was re-thought for the digital age. Early on the cameras with acres of detail also had excruciating noise when used in a high ISO configuration. Cameras with clean high ISOs had smaller files. All of the cameras had piss poor handling and viewing and focusing. Few of them felt like tools---an artist could instantly feel the electronic disconnection with the eye and hand synchronicity. As an example, until recently, if you were a Nikon user and you wanted the best tool for high resolution you had to buy a D3X. If you wanted great high ISO performance you needed to buy a D3. The same relationship occurred in the Canon camp as well. The tools in the film age could have handled both jobs with a $400 35mm body and a change of films between projects. Four years ago the same binary approach would have set you back about $12,000 for two different and complementary digital bodies. This was a huge financial cost which we were paying in an age of declining fees and an economy in turmoil; sometimes in seeming freefall. 

I've been side tracked by the technical issues from just mellowing out and engaging people and making images. Then I got distracted by the process of writing and illustrating photo books. I've also written 2200+ blogs that were partly meant to create content to anchor marketing for my book projects.  I spent a lot of time (which I don't regret) getting up early in the morning to take Ben to school or cross country practice or science fairs or other extracurricular adventures. I tried never to miss a track meet or a school function. And I worked on so many commercial projects that were boring and mentally exhausting; draining, in order to pay the mortgage and put away money for all the things our culture tells us to put away money for: A rainy day. A rainy year. Retirement. The college fund. The family vacation. Club memberships and swim dues. And every single engagement that had nothing to do with making personal photographs ate at the joy of photography like the sea lapping against an ever eroding shoreline. 

It seems that our middle class mantra, our excuse as we go through life, is that all these things we put off and delay will become magically available to us when we retire. As though, magically, we will emerge the day after we finally say goodbye to our real jobs as full fledged artists will a full set of skills and visions and enthusiasm, ready to charge out and begin competently making the art we craved to make all along. 

But I don't think it works that way. I think art is a process that takes time, in the same way that becoming really good at surgery or musical performance takes time and practice. I think about art sometimes in the same way I think about swimming. If you swam at a high level; if you swam in high school and college and then, for the sake of work and family life and other obligations, you walked away from the pool from age 22 till age 65 you would not be able to jump in on the day after your retirement from responsibility and slam out five or six thousand yards at the level of effort you could bring to bear in your late teens and early 20's. You wouldn't be able to make up for lost time in the space of a few days, a few weeks or even a few years. You might first need to lose that 50 pounds you accidentally gained, over time. You'd need to rebuild muscle mass. You'd need to rebuild flexibility and you would need to clear out arteries and veins clogged by forty some years of being sedentary. 

At some point you'd realize that swimming fluidly is the result of thousands of days, back to back, of doing and honing the same strokes over and over again. A daily trial and error that informs your flow and your position and comfort in the water. And that doesn't begin to speak to the mental training required to be truly disciplined. 

If you don't get the athletic analogy then think of pianists. Even great concert performers who've been working musicians for decades and decades still need to get up every day and spend hours and hours practicing. Practicing the same music over and over again. And with every cycle of practice there's more fluidity and interpretation. It's a deeply embedded requirement of doing art at a sophisticated level. 

Artists should wake up every day and realize that today is your only chance to engage and practice your art and craft in the way you need to in order to really connect and do the work at the level that will make a difference in your life. If you lose today you still have tomorrow but you are one step closer to blackness and have one less day to practice the way you need to in order to really work on your vision at a high level. Every day lost is one more day of erosion and entropy. 

I know my readers pretty well and most will rationalize that what they do in photography is a hobby; a clever and enjoyable pastime. Something they do for their personal enjoyment. And that's valid but I know some of you are like me. You want to be immersed. You want to make work that's different and better. And you chaff under bounds that are self-imposed or culturally reinforced. That's the struggle I understand. The desire to sit in the studio having a wonderful conversation and making what is, to you, a beautiful portrait that reveals something real and wonderful about the person on the other side of the camera. Instead you find yourself in a meeting with the sales team or at a corporate dinner trying to stay awake or cloistered in a cubicle trying to make the balance sheet balance until well into the night and then you go home exhausted and the camera that came along for the ride never left the briefcase. You think you'll shoot on the weekend but the kid's soccer game is scheduled and then the piano recital and while we convince ourselves that taking the obligatory images from the sidelines or from the folding chair in the front row of the auditorium is somehow satisfying enough. 

It's enough to satisfy your parental pride and your need to capture family memories which you will indeed cherish in the years to come but no one is really fooled into the self delusion that this is the satisfying use of photography you once imagined. That you once saw yourself doing. 

All of you practical people will say that it should be enough. That we should be happy. At least we could justify buying that 400mm f2.8 for the soccer game, right? And you might think I am one of the lucky ones. That I get to practice my craft all day long on every day. But I can only wish it were so. 

95% of the work I do for clients is not work I would do for myself. It's just not. I might be able to sell the work I love but I'm pretty certain that I'd be making a fraction of the money I can make selling the clients what the clients love. I spend time in meetings, time in front of the computer screen, time retouching the faces of people who I never had time to really know or really talk to. I spend time sorting through images that have no meaning to me but which mean something (very briefly) to my clients. I spend time in airports waiting for the next plane that will take me not to an exotic and richly visual location, but which might take me to a waste water treatment plant in Biloxi or to shill for a camera company in an aging and crowded convention center in some city I was never really interested in. I am like you. I am bogged down in the obligations and the details of life. Trapped by innocuous continuity.

But we make these choices over time. We agree to obligations. We  think we understand the tradeoffs while we are making them but there is no way we can understand how much we will have given up until we wake up thirty years into the future. By then there is no going back. No retrieval of the lost days and the lost opportunities. Realizing that means grabbing opportunity by the balls right now and taking control. It means saying no and being selfish and working on your work instead of doing everything for everyone else. 

But everyone is so different. If you are reading this in a public library because you can't afford a computer at home your reality will be different from the two or three readers who have enormous net worth but still haven't engaged in their singular pursuit of their art. The common denominator is the need to disconnect from the distractions and focus on the work you want to get done. Even if no one else agrees or likes it. Even if it's not profitable or sellable. The artist does what he does in the purest sense because he has to do that thing. Some artists are lucky and the work they crave has immediate acceptance while others work on stuff that is unaccessible by the public at large and in the community of photographers. 

It's always good to remember that though there are millions and millions of hobbyists in the world and on the web, the vast majority are shooting the same stuff as everyone else and adhering to the same hoary rules that photographers have been given (and have repeated ad nauseum) for decades and decades. Rules mostly made up by industry writers trying to wrap sellable content around the boundaries of ads.  They are mostly wrong rules and mainstream rules and boring rules and in art the only real rule is that there are no rules. So fuck em if they can't take a joke and ignore them if they don't get your work. Just do what you have to do. 

In the end we all walk off the cliff and into darkness at some point in the future. It would be sad, at least to me, to go into the abyss knowing that there was much I didn't get done because I was too busy talking about it instead of actually doing it. Do you see where we're going from here? Do you have some guarantee that there will always be time?


Whatever do you mean when you say Nikon doesn't understand motion pictures?

The Nikon R10. Sync Sound and so much more.

Technology changes. All the time. Camera makers concentrate on features and new products in rotation because they can't afford to update all their lines at once. When Canon came out with the 5D mk2 and the DSLR video craze took off Nikon and their sensor supplier were busy kicking the crap out of the rest of the market with amazing high ISO cameras that also blew the doors off all of the competitors in the dynamic range arena. In some areas by as much as two stops! That distracted them from the whole video circus for a while.

There was also the insinuation that Nikon didn't know anything about motion and were engaged in a  steep learning curve but as the owner and user of a Nikon R10 Super8 film camera I'm here to tell you that they do understand that market; and very well. The R10 was/is an amazing camera and in the heyday of professional Super8 (yes, it really existed) they created camera and lens combinations that were the envy of the industry. 

Now Nikon is roaring back into the video space. The D810 and D750 have a bunch of improvements that plant a flag for them in the firmament of the motion space and, if they keep iterating in the same direction, they'll have some wonderful opportunities to succeed. While Canon got an early start and has been a player in the advanced amateur video markets for years (my first two pro-ish video cameras were the L-1 and L-2 high 8 cameras) they seem to have stalled in the DSLR space just as Nikon changed their focus from mercilessly beating on Canon's sensors to now beating them in the video space. 

The critical evaluations of the in-camera codec point to much better files being written to the cards with higher sharpness and detail. And with better image quality than the EOS 5D mk3. Canon fans could (correctly) say, "If you are totally into video you should just get a camera from the Canon Cine line-up ---like a C100 type 2----and get to work. But a lot of us are content to use our DSLRs to do the kinds of video projects that mostly wind up on the web somewhere. 

Here's what I've found with the D810. The 24 mbs, 24 fps, high quality files right out of camera are detailed, have very little aliasing and have flesh tones that look great. When you switch to 60 fps the bit rate jumps up to 45 mbs so the quality of the footage is preserved. The "Flat" profile is just right. It preserves a good looking file while flattening out what needs to be flattened out in order to grade well in post production. If you need higher image quality so that you can really beat on a file in post you are able to attach a relatively cheap Atomos Ninja Star digital recorder to the camera via the HDMI port, and get clear, clean, uncompressed 8 bit, 4:2:2 files from the camera. And you can get these files on the exterior recorder while writing regular, compressed files to the memory card inside the camera simultaneously. That gives you instant back-up. 

When I compare the D810 to the Panasonic GH4 it's easy to see that the Panasonic has the ability to write much less compressed files to the internal memory card and the ability to do 4K recording. On the flip side the D810 files have much less noise at higher ISOs and the ability to do amazingly narrower depth of field at the same angles of view, compared to the M4:3 camera. There's always a trade off somewhere. 

Nikon pretty much dropped the ball on previous camera bodies when it came to producing workable and competent video. I think the D750 and D810s are the shots over the bow that signal Nikon will be a forced to be reckoned with going forward. My one big request would be to enable changing audio levels during recording rather that having to stop, go into a menu, change levels and then start again. My take at the moment is that one could grab any of these cameras and make a really good low budget movie. Scratch that. With an out board digital recorder they could make a good any budget movie. 

My experiences so far have been very good. Just thought I'd let you know. Looking into NikonHacker.com right now. The possibilities are endless.

Swimmer Ben. Shot with the Kodak DSC 760 and an older, Nikon 50mm f1.8 lens.

©2015 Kirk Tuck.

I've posted a bunch of images over the years that came from a brace of Kodak DCS 760 cameras and older Nikon lenses. While the camera's files fell apart, peppered by noise, at anything over ISO 125 as long as you stayed in the sweet spot of ISO 80-125 you could get files that were glorious.

The sensor (with no anti-aliasing filter) was glorious with flesh tones. It was an APS-H sensor which created a 1.3x crop factor compared to a full 35mm frame so the 50mm lens I liked to use with it was more like a 65mm and that made it a perfect combo for this kind of wider, horizontal portrait. 

Right now I'm binging on shooting with the Nikon D610 and D810 cameras because I love the wide open dynamic range in both cameras. Too bad my kid is grown up and off at college or I'd be down at the very next swim meet banging out images of the kids.

I'm getting re-acquainted with the 105mm focal length right now and I'm actively looking at getting a new 135mm f2.0. You might not need one but I'd sure like one...

Ahhh, the flesh tones. No magic bullet, just good sensors, good lighting and a light hand in the processing....

I miss the DCS 760's. I wish the would come out with another one, maybe the DCS 712. It would have the same lousy ISO performance, the same marvelous CCD sensor look but this time it would have 12 megapixels. It would still be retro but it would be a lot of fun to shoot with.


Does marketing really work or can I just be better than everyone else and skate by? I mean, "I'm an artist...."

I can easily think of a number of ways to enjoy a really nice lifestyle and still have a full time career as an artist. The most effective way is to inherit lots and lots and lots of money. That way you can buy the gear you want and go long periods of time (years?) without having to worry about cash flow or income from outside sources. Another good avenue for people like freelance photographers is to have a spouse who is deeply committed to your career dreams and who has a highly paid, professional job that has nothing to do with creative services. My favorite spousal careers would be neuro surgeon, cardiologist or plastic surgeon but a partner in a law firm or a major hedge fund is always an interesting prospect.

While you won't live like Steven Meisel or Annie Leibovitz or David LaChappelle you can still make a decent artist's existence with a spouse who works for state government or in the education field. What you'll lack in breathtaking income you'll partially make up for with good health insurance plans and long term security.  Indulgent, hardworking parents are also good to have around.

But let's assume that you don't fit into any of these situations and that you have rent/mortgage, car payments, the desire to eat food and enjoy air conditioning in the Texas Summers or heating in the New York Winters. You want to be a "professional" photographer or videographer but no one is calling on the phone, texting you with work or even e-mailing you asking for a bid. Now what do you do?

Well, you could try marketing. You could try actually selling  the promise of your abilities to create great content to businesses that desperately need it. Businesses digging themselves out of stock photography hell who need good stuff to differentiate them from all the other companies in their sectors.

After a rough recession there's a tendency to keep doing the things you did when the economy was slow. Like sandbagging the windows in case of food riots or deciding that clients will never spend real money again and decide to start lowering the quality of your lifestyle to compensate. Hello spam. Hello Walmart.

I have a friend who was having a long business dry spell. The thing that didn't make sense to me was that he is a top level videographer with an artist's eye. He comes complete with university degrees in art and other smart stuff. His reel is astoundingly good and looking at it constantly makes me feel like the beginner I am but he was getting nothing. Not even requests to bid.

I asked him my favorite questions from the advertising years: What's your ongoing marketing like? When's the last time you revised your website? Are you sending along e-mails and regular mailers to past and potential clients? Who is your target market? What's your most profitable market? And, the best of all marketing questions: "Who would you like to do work for and what would you like to be doing for them???"

His website was dated and he didn't like sending people there. He hadn't done much marketing other than a few small e-mail blasts. And the entropy was starting to destroy his spirit. I asked him to totally revise his website and put all of his best work on it. He did it. The current website is gorgeous and so cutting edge that several of my website designer friends who work for cutting edge tech companies called me to praise it and to say they were working on similar styles which they perceived to be "cutting edge."

The new website is beyond good. I'd hire this guy to be my permanent web designer.

So then we took the next step which was to craft an e-mail campaign to reach out and show off the work; the site. I insisted that he craft an individual and separate e-mail for every current and past client and only do "clump bursts" to the community at large and people on his side of the business.  Last week he was nervous about the mailing and still seemed a bit.....defeated. What a difference a week makes.

We met this morning to follow up and he was beaming. He'd gotten bid requests. As we had coffee he got several texts including one that basically said, "If we can hit this budget number we're ready to go!" He reconnected with a huge, out of state client who has mighty budgets and great taste. He's gotten dozens of congratulatory e-mails and now he's back to work. From purgatory to happy in a week.

The next step will be the follow up. I've given him a couple of weeks to write, cast, edit, produce and prepare a 60 second piece to wrap his follow up marketing e-mail around. The e-mail will link to the new video which will be embedded in his very cool site. The only problem I can see is that he might get too busy in the short term to do this next assignment on time. But I'll ride his ass to get it done because I like his work and I want to see him do well. He's also a great guy. Tortured artist. My favorite kind.

What's in it for me? I need to do the exact same thing for my business and every word out of my mouth to him about marketing was aimed directly at me too. Here's where I can be so stupid, I know good marketing works I just take it for granted when I'm busy that I am busy because people love my work so much. Then it slows down and I realize that I need more than good work, I need golden bread crumbs that show the good clients the path to my work. They have to find the work and remember that they need it before anything happens. And that's the role of marketing.

Would have been easier over the years with a trust fund but we can't all win the genetic lottery. At least I got the good looks and talent....(sarcasm strongly implied). 


I posted so many blogs today on my "image only" blog that Google demanded I prove I am not a robot. More difficult than I thought....


I'm building a blog site that's different from this one. It's all portraits with captions as titles. No comments, no feedback, etc. I've put up the first 50 today and you can go see them at the link above.

I'm building that blog so I can send clients there to look at work I like but without the usual commentary from me or anyone else. It's a fun experiment since I also get to use the dynamic views offered by Blogger.

Drop by and see what you think. Comments here remain open.

The disconnection between what we see online and what we see in a big print.

©1995 Kirk Tuck

It's so hard to have conversations about what we show and see on the web. Sometime in the future, when everyone has a Retina screen and everyone's computing machine auto-calibrates that screen and we all adjust the rooms we sit in while viewing on screen artwork to the same basic parameters, we'll be able to have meaningful conversations about technical issues with imaging. And by extension more in-depth discussions about aesthetics, but right now? It's all a crap shoot. 

This is an image I shot in Rome with a Mamiya 6x6 camera and their amazing 150mm lens on Kodak 400 CN film back in 1995. When I got back home I headed into the darkroom and worked and worked on getting a perfect print of the image. I exposed so the highlight areas had plenty of detail and I dodged at least a dozen prints to open up the shadows and get detail into the dark area of the young woman's hair just to the right of her face. I also dodged and dodged to get more discernible detail from the trees that line the steps in the background, in the upper middle and right side of the frame. I'm looking at a final, vintage print of the image right next to my desk. It's 24 by 24 inches of double weight fiber paper and it has an apparent depth that I can't adequately describe with words. 

The web image is made up of infinitely fewer points of information. The whites are on the verge of blowing out and the trees and hair shadows go to black way too quickly. But, frustratingly for me, the web image is the only venue most people will have to look at an image that I really love. I love the actual print not only for the visceral sensuality of the young Russian woman's look but equally for the complexity of tones and the sense of depth I see everyday when I walk into the studio and look at the print. The web representation is like placeholder or an avatar for the image on the print. A thumbnail representation of the original intention. 

In art history classes I had been shown a large number of Caravaggio paintings via projected slide copies of the original paintings. I understood intellectually what my professors were saying about chiaroscuro and the dark to light translations but I didn't really have an affinity for the painter and his work. The slides were generally copies of copies and didn't deliver the power and detail of the actual work. A few years later I had the opportunity to see a good collection of Caravaggio paintings in Florence and I was spellbound by the work. I went back to the gallery again and again to soak in the work. The work itself was worlds different than the slides we looked at in representation. 

Last year I confronted for the nth time just how big a disconnection there is in our lives between the screen image and reality. I heard that there was going to be a show of Arnold Newman's work at the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. It was a comprehensive show of his work; hundreds of prints perfectly presented. I spent some time re-acquainting myself with Newman's work in the books I own of his images and also on various web sites. In fact, even though Arnold Newman had presented a slide show of his work to my ASMP chapter here in Austin back in the 1990's I don't think I had ever seen an actual presentation print of his in person. Photons bouncing off the front surface of his paper prints and hitting the rods and cones of my own eyes unimpeded by layers of technology, current or primitive. 

When I went to the show I was stunned at how wonderful the actual prints were. Not just the content of the prints or the composition but the prints as objects themselves. They were remarkable. It had nothing to do with relative size because many of the images were shown as 8x10 inch prints. But the prints were engaging and captivating because they possessed what seemed to be an almost infinite range of tones and effortless transitions between those tones. The heart of the work was more than just good printing or prints as jewel like objects. It was the combination of a artist so far beyond the need to overthink technical details that he was able to concentrate almost solely on the engagement with the people in the prints coupled with a time in our culture when people could take time to make images in an unhurried and thoughtful amount of time. A luxury of temporal space in which to come to know the subject and thoughtfully interpret the subject. 

I still have the memory of just how wonderful the prints were and how different they are from our experiences of seeing things on the web. Yes, the web is flatter and more people can experience an artist than ever before but the experience is diluted and reduced. 

If you've grown up with photography being exclusively a web based construction it might really be an amazing and wonderful thing to go see real prints well displayed. In Austin the logical thing is to go see shows at the HRC or the Blanton. But everyone would be well served standing directly in front of actual art as many times in a year as they can. A trip to NYC will give one ample opportunities to see a wide range of photographic shows and collections. For about the price of a decent new camera body one might just have an eye opening and transformational experience that adds new levels of awareness in their own pursuit of this most curious art form.

What one sees on the web is not what one sees in real life. In art this is a critical thing to understand. 

Off the topic of photography. Working on that pesky freestyle stroke.

The heck with cameras and silly arguments about megapixels. Let's talk about something more important: good freestyle technique! Practicing a stroke incorrectly, day after day, makes that stroke harder to correct down the road. Today is a good day to start working on better technique.

I've been swimming for a long time and I'm here to tell you that your impression of your arm position and its actual position in three dimensions can be completely different. Case in point, I thought I was placing my arms directly in front of me on my freestyle recovery and had been practicing that way for years. A month or so ago one of the coaches stopped me mid-set and told me that I was "crossing over" way too much. That meant that if you drew a line from the top of my head down the center of my body my arms were crossing over that center point in front of my head as I placed each hand in the water. Crossing over reduces the efficiency of your stroke because a certain amount of your catch and pull is spent pulling your body left and then right instead of having all the power of the stroke pushing water back in the direction of your feet. That side to side wiggle is just lost energy and requires even more energy to keep pulling your body back to center.

If you want to see just how much you are crossing over a good drill is to have a fellow swimmer walk backwards in front of you in the pool holding a kick board at the center point of your head. (The board is held perpendicular to water instead of its usual flat on the water position). As you stroke, if you are crossing over, you'll repeatedly hit the board with one or both of your hands. That's a sure sign that you are crossing over.

The cure is to swim wide. You have to swim with the feeling that your arms are entering the water much wider. And even better is to tilt your head back and watch your initial entry to make sure you are getting wide enough. Over time what felt awkward will become normal. (don't keep tilting your head up, you don't want to affect your overall balance in the water...).

Another thing to consider is that the pull of the stroke, from the entry to the final push at the top of your thigh, needs to be more or less a straight line with the intent of anchoring your hand in the water and pulling your body past that point. Moving your arm in a wide "S" curve during the front end of your stroke takes time and uses unnecessary energy to move the body laterally. Every unintended lateral move has to be corrected by use of power expended in the opposite direction.

A quick catch, following by a pull with a high elbow position, and increasing speed and power at the end of the stroke is the optimal way to swim freestyle, provided you don't waste energy and mess up your body position by crossing over.

When you are working on correcting or fine tuning a stroke you may find it uncomfortable at first. The key is to drop down a lane and swim with slower swimmers so you can concentrate on technique instead of speed and endurance. Trying to do a stroke correction while maintaining training at a high level is a recipe for failure as you'll get tired and allow your stroke to fall apart. When the workout is tough most swimmers working on strokes revert to what's familiar and that's exactly where you don't want to go. If you normally workout in a lane that repeats 100's on 1:15 you might want to drop down to a lane that repeats on 1:25 so you have the energy to focus on your course correction. 

And now a photographic tie-in: It's helpful, when reconstructing your freestyle, to see what your stroke looks like both when you are doing it right and when you are doing it wrong. Get a friendly swimmer or coach to video tape you swimming toward the camera. Best to get your person to stand at the end of your lane and for you to swim toward them so you can see clearly your arm entry and catch. Watch the footage pool side and then hope in and fine tune it.

I spent the morning workout really concentrating on my stroke technique. I've been at it for a month. It's feeling easier and more efficient every day. It was wonderful to be in the pool early this morning and to watch the sunrise as we swam. Coach, Tommy Hannan, (Gold medals at the 2000 Olympics) was on deck and coaching with gusto. It's a great day to be a swimmer.


Another Project Just Now Published. A story about a collector and her home in Fredericksburg, Texas.

I first started working for Early American Life Magazine in 1981. I got a call that year from a very nice editor from Harrisburg, PA. She'd been referred to me by one of the people working in the art department at Texas Monthly Magazine. The EAL editor gave me the assignment to make images for their magazine all over central Texas, but mostly around Fredericksburg and Roundtop. It was my first major magazine assignment which entailed shooting 4x5 inch sheet film on locations. It was also my first marathon length shoot using big studio electronic flashes outside the studio. I was nervous but when I picked up the editor in my old Chevy pick-up truck at the Austin airport she assured me that everything would go well. 

We had a blast, I got my first national magazine cover from that first assignment and came home with a fistful of beautiful 4x5 inch transparencies. I went on to do about a dozen more multiple day assignments for the magazine and scored three or four more cover shots. It was a good relationship and one that lasted for well over a decade and a half. Eventually the magazine was sold to a new owner, they moved to a new location and I resigned myself to the possibility that the new publisher and staff would have established relationships with photographers in Ohio, where they are now headquartered. 

I was pleasantly surprised, after a number of years, to get a call and an assignment from them near the end of 2013, shooting images at a restored historic home outside of Fredericksburg, Texas. The assignment went well and led to another assignment last year to photograph the home and collections of antiques expert, Edyth O'Neill. 

It was a warm day in late Spring when I packed up the Honda and headed an hour and a half west from Austin; back to Fredericksburg, Texas. I brought an assortment of lights which included a lot of small LED panels and I brought along two camera systems. The main system was the GH4 with assorted lenses and the second system was the Sony RX10 camera with its fixed zoom lens.

I started the morning with interior images, using the Sony RX10, and never shifted to the micro four thirds system. The combination of sharp focus at wider apertures and very clean files at ISO 100 were enough for me to get the images we needed. The combination of the variable color temperature LED panels and the wide depth of field and great optical performance of the Zeiss lens on the RX10 camera allowed me to move through the house and capture at least twenty five different angles/set-ups in the six hours I spent there. The EVF was very effective in giving me a clean view of what I was shooting in areas with high ambient light levels and the LCD was great for everything else. 

Contrary to my usual practice I used the camera in the Jpeg mode and not the raw mode so I could make use of the sophisticated, built-in HDR system to bridge the gulf between high and low tonalities in a way that would provide a usable files for the magazine. While it may seem counter-intuitive to use this small sensor camera for a national magazine assignment it's really just what the doctor ordered for this kind of editorial work. The lens is superb and when the camera is used on a hefty tripod and you use continuous lighting judiciously, you get files with tons of detail (20 megapixels worth) and a nice, long tonal range. Couple those benefits with the wider depth of field provided by the smaller format and you can get away with things you would never be able to achieve easily with much bigger cameras. 

The magazine used 16 of my images on five spreads and the reproduction throughout is very, very good. The client was very satisfied with the work and the files. When I got the magazine I went back to my archives and compared the images in the current publication with some done over twenty years ago on 4x5 inch sheet film. There are some differences but the lighting style is consistent and in print any quality differences are well nigh invisible. Fun to be able to compare how we did it then versus how I do it now...

If you are interested in early American life; the crafts, the furniture, the homes and so much more, you might want to look into Early American Life Magazine. The writing and research standards are very high and the geographic reach nicely diverse. It was fun to flex a different part of my photography brain. I found myself liking the challenges of architecture again. 

The End.