I went out to buy a gallon of milk but I came back with a new, inexpensive, high performing LED light that mimics open face tungsten lights of yore.

The RPS CooLED 50. The business end....

It will come as no surprise to VSL readers but I am a sucker for new lights. Especially new lights that can serve a purpose in my work and in my enthusiast projects. I left the house on Sunday to acquire some weatherstripping for my newly painted doors, and I think I was also supposed to buy some more milk while I was out but I got too close to the gravitational pull of Precision Camera and got sucked in due its powerful attraction. With entry a foregone conclusion I mentally prepared myself to experience inventory lust.  In the back of my mind I always have a subroutine working that automatically scours camera stores for rare, fun, awesome and underpriced lenses. I scanned and poked but nothing floated to the top of the pile in any meaningful way. 

I worked my way through novel stand cases which are always a necessity--- just because no one has ever made one that's just right. And they still haven't. I kicked the legs on a few, old school-style, aluminum legged tripods and ended up in a little helter-skelter niche that contained weird semi-system flashes, orphaned LED fixtures and vaguely interesting attachments. Always looking for the underdog I found a couple of boring looking boxes that had badly reproduced images of a weird looking LED light on them and, of course, I had to see what was inside. But I was a good customer. I didn't pull out my Benchmade pocket knife and go to town on the packing tape, instead I found a salesperson and asked if any of the product was out on display somewhere. "Noper." 

Could we open this box? "Yes indeed, we could." 

Inside, packed with protective cardboard, was a

I'm thinking about diving back into inkjet printing here at the VSL post production wing. Can we talk about printers?

I've been reading a book by Brooks Jensen entitled, The Creative Life in Photography - Essays on Photography, the Creative Process, and Personal Expression. I've enjoyed reading lots of what Jensen writes and it's made me nostalgic for doing photography in a way that mimics or emulates what I used to do in the days of the black and white darkroom. One of Jensen's contentions is that the photographic work we create isn't really finished until we've actually made our final expression: The Print. Everything else is just "work in progress."  Along with the idea of moving to images to completion is the encouragement to think in terms of folios and projects instead of just sporadic and unconnected prints.

It's odd. Nowadays my work seems split into two separate universes. There is the universe of digital where everything is tucked away somewhere on a hard drive or backed up on a DVD and the only expression of the work is as a small file presented on the web; generally on this blog. The work is harder and harder to find and since it is so cheap and easy to create the quantity of work done and warehoused is so astronomical that it defies my easy re-acquisition and becomes, in my mind, a mass of digital clutter. I rarely go back and re-visit work that's stored in a none visual way and so I've lost ready access to the continuity of my visual creations in a way that's both paralyzing and depressing.
If work is stored in ones and zeros it tends to remain in ones and zeros, hedged against some day in the far future when I might have the time and inclination to sift through and reconstruct it....

But there was another universe that started back in 1979. It was the universe of the darkroom and the black and white print. Everything, EVERYTHING, that seemed valuable, fun, personal, sexy or engaging didn't really exist to me until I printed it and once I printed it there was a real, physical manifestation of my vision that I could easily share with others. The sharing took place via portfolios, prints on the walls of my house, my bakery, my favorite gallery and on the postcards I would make by hand and send out to friends and clients. The expression, the making of an image all the way to the print required a commitment to the image. Each print cost time and money. Each print became a valuable physical proof of a memory or a vision. And a significant object in itself!

We tend to think of this schism in terms of film versus digital but it's not that way. For years I toyed with inkjet printing and spent much time printing images like the one at the top of this article on various papers and with various printers. Somewhere around 2004 or 2005 the print, as a deliverable to clients, fell off the map and the at the same time we experience the rise of "photo sharing" websites that would house and display our images for us at no cost. Somehow this displaced our emotional need to hold a physical manifestation of our images. I started to move away from "the print" in favor of the cost free/time free sloth of the internet gallery.

The last printer I owned that I bought just for making photographs was the best and the worst printer I've had. It was the Epson 4000 and when it worked it produced really gorgeous black and white prints at sizes up to 17" by however long the roll of paper was. Really gorgeous images! I continued to print as I had in the darkroom and continued with a revolving show of framed and matted prints at Sweetish Hill Bakery that had been part of my artistic expression in the community since the early 1990's. I'd made the jump to digital but without abandoning the printing aspect that made so much of the work feel REAL to me.

The Epson 4000 (along with photo sharing on the web) put the nail in the coffin as far as my printing was concerned. The technology was flawed. The printer clogged whether I used it constantly or not. I would go through hundreds of dollars of ink and paper just to get it all up and running again only to have the damn thing let me down at the worst possible moments. The moments in which I had an emotional investment in getting a great print out of the machine when I wanted it. When I was receptive to the process. Let's face it, if you are working hard at your job and you have a limited amount of time to print your own work it feels so frustrating; almost like an intentional betrayal, to have the process grind to a halt and require hours of trouble shooting. You start trading family time and work time in the service of the machine and not really in the service of your art. At a certain point you just say, "Fuck it" and move on.

I gave the printer away to another photographer. I don't know whether I did him a favor or cursed him with a new monkey for his back. I bought a Canon 9000 that prints beautiful invoices and an occasional large photograph that might be needed for some background art in a shot or something. But at the moment that the printer with fine art potential left the building I never printed my own work in earnest again.

The lack of a physical target, in retrospect, has blunted my creative process. Without the need to print well and large of what use is it to have technically super-duper cameras? Who cares about all the tech stuff if everything you show is going to end up as a file that's 2100 pixels on the long side? Why bother with a tripod? Why bother to get up in the morning and shoot your own work? And, in truth, I've spent the last 10 years working for clients and watching my own engagement with my personal work diminish. But because of Brooks Jensen I think I'm about to end the cycle and re-engage with a way of doing my work that was organic to the whole process of seeing, shooting and presenting. I'm planning to


Why do I keep those Olympus EM5.2 cameras around? Why do I like using them so much more than everything else I own?

Got the Bokeh, if you want it. 

I finished up all of my August work yesterday morning. There was the big PhotoShop project which called for me to convincingly make an executive (who we photographed in front of a green screen) look as though he was addressing a packed auditorium. There were the two portraits for two professional women who are re-entering the workplace after some years off and needed the right look for LinkedIn and other social media. There was the video footage that needed to be post produced for the company providing speaker and spokesperson training. By the end of the day everything had been delivered, approved and billed. Time to take a long neglected walk through downtown Austin. But first the task of selecting a camera and lens(es) to make the walk fun and interesting....

I stood up from the desk and walked to the equipment cabinet which is really a professional grade, Craftsman rolling tool chest (five ample drawers; lockable) and peeked into the bottom two drawers. If you read the blog on a regular basis you probably know that I have relentlessly downsized on camera inventory and also lighting inventory. In fact, I own fewer digital cameras now than at any time in the past fifteen years. Something I still find scary and

The Summer Went By Too Fast. Balancing Family and Work is a Tougher Equation Than it Seems at First Glance.

A Nice Little tripod set up for quick studio portraits. 
Gitzo Something or Other with a "side arm" center column.

Belinda and I just drove back from the Austin airport. We dropped off our kid, Ben, for his flight back to college. He's heading back a week and a few days early for an orientation/training week. He'll be a peer mentor for sixteen incoming freshmen this year and the college takes the training of their peer mentors seriously.  I know a lot of parents are anxious and eager to accompany their kids to college, help them set up their dorm rooms and generally mope about, delaying the disconnection that has to happen. 

Ben has never been the kind of person who needs that amount of handholding and he's done a reasonable job of training his parents not to hover. He went by himself on his initial college tours and got on a plane the first semester of his freshman year to travel solo. That doesn't mean there are no moist eyes in the car as his mom and I drive back home. But damn, he looked so grown up wheeling his luggage into the airport...

The Summer was interesting for me. I worked lackadaisically. A project here and a project there. Nothing major got done with the next book. No real marketing happened for the business. No big, out of town trips to shoot stuff. Instead I set time out for more family interaction. We ate dinners together almost every night. We hit all of our favorite restaurants.  After Belinda headed off to work in the morning Ben and I would sit at the dining room table, each sipping coffee and reading the news on our respective electronic devices. Then, at 9:30, Ben took one of the cars and headed off to work.

I worked on my various projects but mostly I entertained the Studio Dog. Ben and Belinda worked more than me. Ben had two fantastic job offers at the very beginning of the Summer. Both were from established software companies. Both were interested in his writing and video production skills. He worked hard but short days (his choice, his negotiations) and was very well paid. He fit into the corporate culture of his chosen company well. He saved most of his money and invested it. 

Dinner conversations were inevitably interesting. They ranged from "how to invest" to "I found a Japanese online clothing company that actually has cool clothing for short, thin people...." to "you have to see this movie in the theaters because..."

Try as I might I couldn't find the balance between work and family this Summer so I defaulted in favor of family. I could not have made a better choice. 

I'm happy to see Ben having so much fun with school. I'm sad because I already miss him. He's been a fun guy to hang around with. I have hope though.  Even though he loves his college he mentioned that Austin is amazing because there is always so much to do and so much great food. I'm sure the city will keep drawing him back.

Studio Dog has already staked her claim to his bedroom.

Now it seems like it's time to get back to work.

Sunday update: Ben is now on campus, has unpacked his belongings and even been shopping. He e-mailed that he had to go out and buy a fan. It never occurred to me (Texan) that a residence hall at a college would be built without air conditioning but apparently in upstate New York it's less a necessity than in Texas. Seems Saratoga Springs is having a little heat wave this week.... His mom and I are very happy to hear that he's arrived safely. Thanks to our friends in Saratoga Springs for treating him so well!


The Cantine Italian Cafe and Bar Video Is Complete. Please Take A Peek.

Final version of the Cantine Italian Cafe and Bar Video project. from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.
A fun look at Cantine Italian Cafe and Bar. Shot by James Webb and Kirk Tuck with Olympus OMD EM5.2 cameras and assorted lenses. All production and creative thought done in Austin, Texas

edit: just uploaded the final, color corrected, 1080p version to Vimeo. The version you see here is 800 pixels wide. Click through to Vimeo to see the hi-res version. Thanks!

I am extremely happy with my collaboration with talented film-maker, James Webb. We shot together over the course of a day and a half at Cantine. James selected the scenes and had the vision for the final edit. I worked as a second camera person and as the producer.

For this project we used two Olympus OMD EM5.2 cameras and an assortment of Olympus lenses as well as older, manual focus lenses, adapted to fit. All of the material was shot handheld with the exception of three or four beauty shots of food, which are


Just being happily amazed at online learning. I just checked some metrics at Craftsy.com...

In the last two years 170,919 individual people have taken my free course: Professional Family Portraits at http://www.craftsy.com

Nearly 8,000 more have signed up to take one of my two other classes.

Before the advent of online edutainment these classes would have been workshops with about 10 students in each. I would have had to teach 17,000 workshops to reach the same audience that I have with the free class.... amazing.

Post processing at my Craftsy.com studio with a Wacom Cintiq.

Behind the scenes at the video production.

Our Super Model: Victoria. 

I explain stuff. 

I play with gear.

And then we shoot.

Wooden Tripod Rocks.

So much excitement surrounding the Sony A7R2. Is the camera really that great or do we all just need a big dose of new camera adrenaline on a regular basis?

Some Tues. morning observations. I've had three friends send me online reviews they've found for the new, Sony A7r2 camera. Two gushy reviews, and one less than glowing review from Ming Thein. Since there is nothing else at all even remotely as exciting happening in the higher end of photography right now the new camera has become a magnet for every variation of praise and criticism. In fact, there is little on or in the camera that isn't stirring debate among the various camps of image makers. From the armchair experts, who will surely never pony up and buy one, to the online, mercantile reviewing class like Steve Huff and Lloyd Chambers who both seem to have rushed into the frothy, early waters to claim their cameras and get out in front of everyone else with a click-driving review.

The thing that seems to make this camera different to a separate group of buyers is the video specifications. The camera is being hailed as a great video creation tool (for the money) but even in the motion market there are still multiple camps who see the camera either as the savior of small production videographers or the flimsy work of commerce's dark forces.

So, where am I on this whole A7R2 deal? Happily neutral. But most of my neutrality stems from already having two camera systems that I am mostly very happy with. And then there is the fact that I seem not to be as picky about perfection as a lot of the people who post.

Look, I was pretty happy with the performance I was getting out of the old Nikon D2X camera a few years back. I can't remember why I sold it and moved on but I'm sure it had to do with the excitement of the market, the seductive peer pressure, and the fact that the full frame D700 seemed to be such an alluring camera. It was the first, affordable, full frame camera from Nikon. But in my rush to share the glory of full frame I really didn't do much due diligence when it came to the actual image quality, the color rendering or anything else. But, on dear God! It was full frame!!!

I'll go out on a limb here and admit


Crazy Day at the Visual Science Lab Headquarters. Painting, maintenance and post processing all rolled into one.

We're wrapping up Summer and I should be focusing my full attention on my commercial task at hand, creating video modules and stylized still imagery for the folks at Hahn Public. I've been in the command seat in front of the tactical imaging computer since seven this morning, hammering out extremely wide graphics to deliver into the heady swirl of commerce.

But I've also had an insurance adjuster out looking at the roof (hail storm) and a painting company power washing not only the world headquarters building, but also the family home, in anticipation of a much needed painting of all the many doors, windows and other surfaces that want, like and need paint. The scraping, caulking and painting starts in earnest tomorrow.

Seems it's time to refresh the physical plant and make right the injuries of time and weather visited upon the epicenter of the VSL compound.

I anticipate that in the next month we'll have more than our share of construction noise and craziness here but I can't see that it will effect the business too much. We'll see....

A rare image of me actually working... Thank you James Webb.

©2015 James Webb/Zilker TV.

It's a very rare thing for me to be photographed while I am actually working on a project. Usually we're all too busy to turn the cameras on each other and for months I was disappointed that I didn't have enough "behind the scenes" imagery, starring myself, with which to regale the world. 

James took this during a video shoot we were doing for a restaurant. He was shooting with an Olympus OMD EM5.2 and an older, longer Nikon manual focus lens. I'm holding an Olympus OMD EM5.2 and manually focusing an Olympus 17mm f1.8 lens (thank you focus peaking!) in anticipation of creating video of some fresh herbs. The EM5.2 is very hand holdable with its state of the art image stabilization. 

The dorky touches of the photo include the bright hair (it's normally thick and jet black but I dyed it platinum just for this shoot --- in case anyone needed something on which to white balance...), the old analog watch (worn on the right wrist as I am profoundly left-handed), and the awkward hold on the camera.

The camera in front of my face should help to preserve my anonymity. I've heard it can be stressful to be recognized everywhere one goes..... Stopped in the airport and forced to be part of endless selfies; that sort of thing...

Back to work.


A few thoughts about style in video.

The latest 6K Nikon HD video camera? Naw. Super8 film...

I had some interesting correspondence with my recent video collaborator, James W. We shot video footage together at Cantine Restaurant earlier this Summer and our other individual projects have just given us a convenient bit of a gap in schedules that allows for the final editing of the project. While I spearheaded the initial part of the video process James is doing the clip selections and the editing.

We shot the project on two different days. On the first day we discussed a laundry list of possible shots which mostly revolved around shooting food preparation with some attention paid to food presentation and the documentation of fun activities at the bar.  We both worked with Olympus OMD EM5.2 cameras, complete with the battery grip for a second battery and to provide a headphone jack if we felt we needed one. We had a case of lenses for the two cameras that included a number of modern primes and zooms from Olympus and Panasonic as well as a collection of my old, esoteric Pen FT lenses (from the days of half frame film).

If you are familiar with the world of journalism then imagine that the two of us of have been let loose on a restaurant with the assignment of enterprise. Of looking around for fun mini-stories to shoot. Like the willowy girl at the pasta making machine, pulling strands of fettucini through the grid, or the pizza chef putting together a great


The changing nature of what we all do for a living in post modern society.

I was directing a video project, making content of a well known public relations professional as he explained the "Death of Public Relations" to the camera. I paid attention to my framing and exposure but I also paid attention to the content of this business owner's speech. I tend to think that my business (photography) is different from everyone else's and that people in my business have been disproportionally effected by the overwhelming changes that mass digitalization and social media on the web. I can point to shrinking markets in some areas and expanding but less valuable markets in other areas. I can point to the effects of citizen journalists and "good enough" for the web substitutions for what used to require professional touch. But I haven't paid as much attention as I should to the disruptions in the businesses that encircle and support my enterprise; namely, the advertising agencies and public relations agencies. Their turmoils and metamorphosis were delayed, compared to those of the image slingers, but they are deep into the changes right now.

In the realm of public relations they are seeing a huge shift. In the past the primary function of P.R. agencies was to take the issues that were dear or dangerous to their clients, figure out what sort of spin would work in mainstream media to get the story out there, and then to connect with the editorial departments of newspapers, consumer magazines, trade magazines and TV new departments and radio news people to try and sell them on assigning stories to editorial writers (freelance and staff) who would re-tell the story with the cloak of objectivity and balance that was the unique selling point that the media properties enjoyed. Consumers trusted editorial media to be trustworthy. They were the objective conduit between companies and consumers. They took the "facts", did their own "research" and delivered stories that filled space and grabbed eyes. Stories were monetized by the ads that wrapped around them. And sometimes the ads came from the very people who were providing the initial story push; the companies represented by the public relations agencies.

When  client/agency reviews came around the success or failure of a public relations campaign largely boiled down to how many stories got "sold and told." Did the local newspapers re-write that press release and get it into the hands of the business editor at the local paper? Did the billionaire who spent two hours "giving back to the community" by reading a book at a Headstart program get his story, and his photograph, in hundreds (thousands) of papers across the country through the power of syndication? How many channels of broadcast TV did a positive "breaking news" story about a company's bold expansion or paradigm shifting new product launch did they get? Those numbers were the traditional metrics of success or failure in the public relations business. (I simplify here but it's mostly accurate. There are things like media training and disaster communications that fall outside the core offerings of the P.R. agencies...).

What happened to change all this?  Online classified ads from websites like CraigsList killed revenue for newspapers and weeklies which reduced the size of each issue and made regular paid, placed display ad revenue more critical. But the need for display ad revenue hit about the time the overall ad market bloomed like a million bits of pollen and created the need to diversify ad budgets from dozens of outlets to thousands of outlets with the associated reduction of dollars allocated to each market. More channels and outlets chasing the same, or diminishing, amount of placement dollars; and the lure of "free exposure" on the web.

The bulk of people who still read traditional newspapers is over 50 years old. Young people don't (as a rule) subscribe to, or read, traditional city newspapers or magazines. Most no longer read any printed consumer magazines and revenue collection via advertising and paywalls on web magazines is not very profitable either. The demographic change was a loaded gun not just for magazines and newspapers but also for the P.R. agencies who were largely set up to partner with them for coverage.

It's conceivable now that a company will reach a wider (and more diverse) audience with a great video launched on YouTube and supported by Twitter and Facebook than would ever be reached peddling the same basic story to what's left of the legitimate broadcast news local TV stations. The media outlets are pretty much reacting not by innovating but by entering into a deadly cycle of quarterly, monthly and weekly cost reductions. Most of the cost reductions are aimed at reducing staff and replacing older, more expensive staff, with younger, less costly new staff. The $200,000 a year anchor that appealed to mom and dad is replaced with a media savvy youngster earning, literally, $40,000 per year.

With a lot fewer pages to fill and fewer good writers and researchers to fill them, newspapers and magazines are largely capitulating and picking up syndicated feeds and "stock" stories that are largely fact free, information sparse, and diffusely targeted. It's a freaking desert for traditional P.R. professionals whose previous lives consisted of meeting with smart counterparts to generate stories that the newspapers could tackle and cover with their implied objectivity. How does any company generate positive P.R. on present day broadcast television when the 24 hour news cycle is now based almost completely on shock pieces meant to keep audiences tuned in and addicted to the anxiety of fast breaking and dramatic news events. And there are millions and millions of "channels" from which to choose.

Gone are the days when two or three news crews bristling with TV cameras and microphones showed up to capture the cutting of a ribbon on a new stretch of highway, or the tossing of dirt with golden shovels at a regional mall ground breaking?

So, if traditional public relations is dying then what will take its place?  That's what remains to be seen. My video subject conjectures that companies will create their own stories and showcase them both on the websites they control and also in as many social media venues as they can effectively service. While the individual "expert" blogger might be in decline right now regular blogs from companies and associations are still seen as prime content.

The P.R. professionals will find their way for now by becoming better and better at telling the client story in videos and blogs than the ultimate client can themselves. Part of the value of an outside provider is in the emotional distance from a company they have versus an in-house writer or producer who is constantly subject to the powers and the entrenched point of view of the typical company hierarchy. Being outside means at least having the potential to tell edgier but more satisfying and stickier stories.

I asked the P.R. expert how that might change the face of his agency and he responded by saying the he'll be hiring a lot more people from the English departments and fewer from the colleges of Communication and RTF.  More people who can convincingly tell emotional and enjoyable stories and fewer people whose expertise lies in selling a story or concept to someone else's editorial committee.

I asked about art directors who worked on some of their accounts and he seemed to think that the future for graphic designers was rosy since the fastest riser in P.R. space's current field of delicious and click-rewarding content is Infographics, which have to be visually well done to be ultimately effective.

What does this mean to me? As a photographer? It largely means that my intuition was correct and the epicenter of hiring and directing freelancers is moving from the P.R. agencies, who bundled our images with freelancer's writing into a package designed to make publication easy, to enterprise in a more direct way. While the P.R. agencies will pitch stories to the corporations and have their writers write the content the power is shifting toward in-house production and in-house supervision of content providers.The truth is that P.R. agencies rarely had people in house who really understood how to best leverage images and video footage and now we'll work more in the capacity of partners than in a top down manner.

Our focus in dealing with the change happening in public relations is to make sure we maintain relationships with the agencies but to redouble our efforts to make more clients into direct clients so we garner top of mind awareness no matter which direction or which other suppliers the lead client chooses. There is perhaps a greater overall need for visual content than ever before but the responsibility for acquiring, directing and leveraging the images we create is being spread across multiple entry points and multiple clients. It's no longer enough just to send nice mailers and e-mail blasts to the handful of P.R. people in your market. You need their client's eyes as well....


Sometimes you have to step in and be the machinist.

I was photographing at a spare parts fabricating shop in Georgetown, Texas yesterday and one of the things on my list was to get a bunch of shots of this new machine. The foreman clicked it on so the screen would be live but he was quick to add that the shop was on a tight schedule that day and he couldn't afford to pull any of his people off their other jobs to pose for me.  I had gotten a lot of images of the machine by itself already. Wide verticals, exciting forced perspective shots, shots looking straight into the machine.... but I wanted on set of shots that showed someone working at the machine.

I set the self-timer on the D750 to ten seconds, framed up the shots I wanted and went for it. I just wanted the human element. I'm glad I didn't wear cargo shorts....


Noellia from a different point of view.

©2015 Kirk Tuck

So, I went to this photo workshop today and there was only one participant and one model. We didn't have to listen to anyone pontificate or complain. We got to do everything exactly the way we wanted to. The one participant had total access to the model's time and attention. The model got to work with the very best photographer in the group. The photographer got to work with the most beautiful model in the whole workshop. No one tried to sell us DVDs or photographer branded camera bags. No one compared their camera to our camera with a sneer on their face. Oh, wait, it wasn't a workshop it was just a fun afternoon with a friend. What a great way to learn more about photography....  And it's free.

Noellia. Exterior portrait. At the house.

Slowing down and enjoying a portrait session can be nice for people on both sides of the camera. This was a casual shot on one of the back porches of our house. The lens is an 85mm shot wide open at f1.8.  

Shooting a Precision Machine Shop was a fun thing to do this morning. Photographing my Friend, Noellia, was more fun this afternoon...

Noellia on the couch.

I spent my morning in Georgetown, Texas at a precision machine shop that fabricates parts for the semi-conductor industry. It was fun. Lots of cool, mechanical looking stuff to shoot in fun ways and many CNC lathes and what-not to create a visual interesting industrial landscape.

After lunch I nestled into my cool and comfortable little office to cozy up to the computer and do the post processing that comes with every job. It was very straightforward. This morning I used one camera and three lenses; the 24-140mm f4 Nikon, the 105mm f2.5 ais Nikon, and the 14mm Rokinon. Running the D750 files through Lightroom CC and tossing in the right lens profiles worked like a charm. I made fairly liberal use of one 508 AS LED panel to keep everything on an even keel.

I edited down the files to a small enough batch that I was able to send them along to the client via my WeTransfer.com application. Everything uploaded quickly and without incident. I was just typing up my invoice when there was a knock on the studio door.

It was my old friend, Noellia Hernandez. You might recognize her as the woman on the cover of my fourth book, the one about Lighting Equipment. At any rate Noellia and I have worked together on projects as diverse as book covers, the Austin Chamber of Commerce and Zach Theatre over the last eleven years. She moved to New York about five years ago but we get together whenever I'm in NYC or  she's back in Austin visiting the family.

She stood in the doorway in a great, little black dress and some dramatic shoes and I knew that we were going to spend some time taking more photographs. I shot some stuff in the studio using the D750 and both the 85mm 1.8G lens and the 105mm f2.5, lit with one of the new Photogenic PL1250 flashes into a 72 inch umbrella with a  diffusion cover attached. Then we moved into the house so we could take a few shots on the couch. In most households I think it would seem weird for someone's 59 year old father to walk into the house with an actress in a short black dress, ask her to lay down on the couch and pose but Ben hardly looked up from his laptop.  He was sitting at the dining room table and looked up long enough to say, "Hi" to Noellia. They've know each other since Ben was eight.

We did the images on the couch with available light and the 85mm and then headed outside, after a quick costume change, to do some stuff in the open shade with some landscape out of focus in the background.

You read a lot about achieving balance. From CNC lathes to NYC actors; I like to keep my work life balanced.  More from the session to come...


The All Terrain Video/Still Lens of Choice....for me.

I'm currently reviewing the material I shot for a P.R. agency last Weds. and Fri. There are several hundred still images and about 30 minutes of video footage to wade through in order to extract whatever nuggets of gold, silver or tin might be mixed in with the footage and still frames we'd never want to use.

As I look through the material I feel like I made the right choice in using the 50mm focal length for most of the shots. The relationships and sizes see to work well and it's refreshing to be able to use a fast lens nearly wide open and not have to worry about getting enough sharpness.

I am constantly battling with some part of my brain that always seems to want to compose images too tightly. I am making a real effort to "put more air" around the things I shoot. I guess it's the result of shooting so many slides for so many years. When we put together slide shows we needed to keep the format, aspect ratio and sizes of the projected images the same. That mean we did all our composition in the finder at the time of the shot. Later, when digital was in its infancy, we cropped really tightly because I was worried about loosing any of the information in the frame. Enlarging seemed to mean an immediate reduction in quality.

Now, with bountiful pixels and infinite post processing it almost seems as though we should just put a 14mm on the camera and shoot everything with the idea of cropping out the sections that we want later.... (hyperbole alert...).


Mr. Contradiction. "The camera doesn't matter." "Lenses don't matter." But I have a new favorite lens. And I'm having fun with it just walking around shooting pretty pictures.

Can't remember if I mentioned it but recently I traded in the Olympus m.45mm f1.8 lens and bought myself a Panasonic 42.5mm lens. No, it's not the ultra sexy 1.2 version it's the smaller, cheaper f1.7 version but as of about an hour ago it's my favorite lens. (If you are new to the blog you may as well add this to the last sentence: "for at least the rest of the day....").

I've been regaling you recently with tales of productivity that revolve around the full frame Nikon cameras, and you could be forgiven for assuming that my allegiance to them was complete and air tight but nothing could be further from the truth. The Nikons are amazingly proficient in the same way that my Kenmore washer and dryer have been amazingly proficient. I take them out and set the controls correctly and they return to me big, technically perfect files. That's all very well but technically perfect gets boring quickly. It's eccentricity that sells.

When I've had my fill of routine, day to day work with the Craftsman power tools of my profession I like to relax and sink into fun photography with the quirky but powerful Olympus m4:3 cameras. In fact, I had so much fun shooting with an EM5.2 today on my walk through downtown that I am already changing my Tues. plans to dump the Nikons back into their drawer in the studio and instead bring only the smaller cameras along with me on an industrial assignment, because there is nothing in the assignment that leads me to believe I'll need the "ultimate" files. The client has evinced no desire or even interest in me manufacturing Ultra Prints (tm) at this juncture. 

I am sure that the ad agency I'm working for will be happy with the micro contrast either system delivers but I have an intuition that the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 might just give me the edge where ultimate NANO ACUITY is involved. I know that the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f1.4 is a masterpiece of Nano Acuity as well. And I'm just a little bored with the bigger cameras since I shot them for four assignments last week (proof that professional photography is waning, right?). 

Why the new resurgence of my interest in the smaller cameras? Some of the lenses, like the 42.5 (either flavor) the 25 Panasonic or Olympus, and all of the pro, f2.8 zooms for the micro four thirds cameras are exquisite and much more fun to haul around. The image stabilization in the EM5.2 is magical and the EVF, for me, handily replaces the crystal clear but dumb OVF in the Nikons. I'm of the mindset that you have to have both. Maybe it's a Texan thing; a Tesla or cute little BMW for week days in the city and a Ford F150 pick-up truck for weekends hauling crap the dump or firewood out to the ranchette. I love shooting the M4:3 cameras and lenses for just about any thing but I also love the steeper de-focus ramp of the bigger format and there are times when nothing will do but the higher res files of the bigger cameras. 

Sometimes you go to the pool to compete and other times you go to float around, stay out of the heat and have fun. I can't give up either modality. And most of the times, with the smaller format, it's hard to see that I'm giving up anything at all. 

What prompted me to make the lens change? I've had two different copies of the Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens and wide open I always found it to be good but not great. Stopped down a couple stops and it's as sharp as anything out there but with the smaller format and the more limited options for controlling depth of field it's more important to me that those first two f-stops be functional. No, better than functional, I want them to be as good as the lens's optical performance at f5.6. I want it all. 

I borrowed the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 and tested it on the new Olympus EM5.2. I found it to be sharper wide open and I liked the form factor much better. The crowning determiner in the trade-in? Those smart marketers at Panasonic throw in the lens hood as an included accessory. (kidding? maybe...). 

I've shot a few things with the 42.5 but I've been enmeshed in some video/photo hybrid shoots and that's something the D750 and D810 do with greater ease (and longer battery life) than the Olympus cameras. Today was my first day to spend three or four hours shooting with nothing but the 42.5mm economical Panasonic. When I got home from my walk I shoved the Large Super Fine jpegs into the absolute latest rev. of PhotoShop CC and took at silly look at 100%. The lens convinced me that it's in the class of High Nano Acuity along with a select smattering of other lenses. When I start investigating my own brand of ne plus ultra prints (tm) it will be one of my "approved" optical tools. 

The lens is also small and light. Works well on both dominant m4:3 systems and even comes with I.S.

You should rush right out and buy one now. They may become scarce.....

Guess which company gets a delivery of Sunday New York Times newspapers in downtown Austin!?? Why it's Google Fiber, the subsidiary of the world's biggest aggregator which is helping to kill real newspapers and journalism around the world. I guess when the elite companies who are changing the "paradigm of tomorrow" really need solid news for their own research they still depend on the wonderful resource of well researched and well written journalism from one of the few sources left standing..... And they like to put on their white gloves and read it on paper, the way the gods intended.

Fun line-up of live music at the Moody Theater/Austin City Limits. Sorry to let you know that Jill Scott is sold out. But I notice that Weird Al Yankovich is on the list....

We love taking our friends for walks around the city so they can see for themselves how beautiful and special Austin (the new Dallas) can be. The construction clutter is everywhere. No one's mom is teaching them to clean up after themselves anymore...

To sum up. Lens very good. Walk always healthy for your eyes and your heart. Construction currently ubiquitous, makes me think the bursting of the bubble is coming sooner rather than later. Finally, nice to walk on days where the temperature stays away from the triple digits. 

VSL is an Amazon Affiliate site. If you click through a link here to Amazon.com and buy something we get a small commission which does not affect the price you pay. As with any blogger's recommendation, take everything you read, that suggests you buy something, with caution and trepidation. We are a predatory group of blood suckers, for sure....


I remember how good an older camera can be when I look at this image from "A Midsummer's Night Dream" performed by the Austin Shakespeare Company outdoors at the Zilker Hillside Theater.

I was deep into my first micro four thirds romance when I took dress rehearsal images for this play. The lighting was primitive compared to the stage lighting we had at Zach Theatre and the light levels were uniformly low. My camera of choice at the time was the EP-3 and it was "backed up" by an EP-2. But what made it work was the lens, or the lenses. At the time I had adapters for all of my older Pen FT half frame lenses and was determined to make them shine.

This shot was done at 1/30th of a second, at f2.0 or f2.5 with the ancient 60mm f1.5 lens. I focused carefully and held my breath while caressing the shutter button. The old sensor in that camera did its job very well and, it seems, twelve megapixels was more than enough for the marketing people who were helping to sell the play.

It's really not the camera but what you get to point it at. Opportunities abound but you have to stop reading the camera and lens reviews long enough to show up and shoot.

What makes this shot special for me? You already know the answer... It's the awesome, third order, nano acuity of this special lens. I couldn't have expressed this with a lens possessed of lesser nano acuity. I would have known every time I looked at it that it wouldn't measure up to my critical eye....

Penny's Pastries. An old favorite from an assignment for Entrepreneur Magazine.

It's fun to look back at assignments that generated images I really like and try to understand what commonalities that exist with the work I am doing today. This was shot on location for an article about "failing" and getting up and trying again.

I'd never met Penny before we got the assignment to shoot and I walked into her small, commercial kitchen in central Austin cold. The first thing I did was to put the gear down and ask for a tour. We walked through and while Penny pointed out things that would be of interest to a chef or baker I was busy looking at the angles and "props" that might tell the story we needed to share in one image. Part of taking a tour is that process of looking for common touchstones. Austin was a smallish town then. Who might we know that intersects both of us? It was Patricia Bauer Slate who started the first real European style bakery in all of Texas.

These were the film days and we worked with big lights and big cameras. As Penny and I chatted and shared connections my wonderful assistant, Anne, set up lights and a medium softbox which would be out main light for Penny. We used several other lights with reflectors fitted with grids to put sufficient light on the background areas.

By the time I started setting up the shot and positioning Penny we were chatting like old friends. I chose a 100mm f3.5 Zeiss Planar for my Hasselblad 501, took a few black and white Polaroids and started shooting. Penny's look is absolutely perfect. The magazine loved the shot. We made a new friend. We got paid. Almost two decades later the shot looks fresh to me and I remember the afternoon as being fun and productive. I also left with a bag of outrageously good cookies.

When I look at the picture now I realize that I've let life speed up the process of taking images and I'm not reaching as deeply into the process as I once did. I'll start working on regaining that sense of engagement and depth first thing Monday morning.  We think it's about gear but it might really be about spending more time working with people and sharing the joy of making art together. Pretty cool.

A Portrait to commemorate the last day at Ben's first, college, Summer job.

We have this kid named, Ben. He went off to college in New York state last year and did well. Learned stuff. Made the Dean's List. When the Spring semester ended he came back home to Texas. He wanted a Summer job and a friend of mine offered him one at a well established, international software company. Ben has spent the last two+  months helping the marketing department make videos, proof press releases and even do some writing. He looked so grown up leaving each morning in a nice shirt and clean pants, computer bag over one shoulder and a travel mug with coffee in his hand.

Gleaning information from both sides (my friend and my kid) I've pieced together the idea that it was a successful engagement for everyone involved. Ben signed an NDA and he took it seriously so I know little more about the company and its products than I did before. My friend met me for coffee and told me the boy did well.

Since this was his last day I decided to take some portraits of him in the studio when he came home. I set up some lights and dragged him away from his laptop long enough to photograph him looking serious and very focused.

We have loved having Ben here this Summer and it's so much fun around the dinner table nearly every night. We all work in advertising now in some capacity and we understand each other's shared stories in a deeper, better way than before. When he and his mom talk about infographics it's because they are both working on different aspects of infographic design or content creation. When Ben and I talk about technical writing we both see the same markets and issues. I troubleshoot Ben's computer and he gives me sage advice about Final Cut Pro X and the mysteries of editing.

Ben's boss (and my friend) is one of the few consummate professional sales people I have met. I think Ben has learned so much from him by ongoing, direct observation. From osmosis. He's learned to take care of clients and to deliver what you promise.

The kid made good money and I was stunned to see him "brown bag" his lunch each day in order to save a good portion of what he earned. His discipline and frugality are a good example for his own father.

I've had a fun Summer with the kid. I've got two more weeks before he hops on a plane and reconnects with college. I can hardly wait to hear his plans for next Summer.... 

Muted Portrait from film. 2011.

Camera: Rolleiflex SL 8008. 150mm Sonnar.