A few more shots from "Peter and the Starcatcher." Now playing at Zach Theater here in Austin. All photos ©2015 Kirk Tuck

This was a deep immersion week for me as far as theater photography was concerned. It started last Sunday when I scouted the technical rehearsal for Zach Theatre's newest play, Peter and the Starcatcher. I came to an earlier performance so I could watch the play and figure out where the memorable/marketable moments were. That way I'd be prepared to catch them when I came back on Tues. to shoot the dress rehearsal. The photography at the dress rehearsal went off without a hitch. It was my first time to use either the Nikon D610 or D810 for live theater photos and I think they worked well. 

These shots of the mermaids (mermen? credit to Ben Stiller in the movie, Zoolander) were embargoed until today because they constitute a surprise scene and we didn't want to give it away until we were well into the run. The mermaids are shot with the D810 and the 80-200mm f2.8 Nikon zoom (ancient push/pull design). I knew what was coming and I still laughed out loud when I saw the scene in all of its glory.....

Wednesday I was at the Kevin Rollins Theater in the Long Center scouting and shooting the David Bowie Project 2. I turned those images around ( you may have seen the black and white images in a previous blog post) the next day and then went back the next evening (Thursday) to shoot it once again because this time they were using hazers to fog up the stage for a different look. 

Today, while the rest of the country was watching the SuperBowl I was back over at Zach Theatre setting up two enormous soft boxes and a white, muslin backdrop in order to make marketing images for a future play. As I write this I'm also bringing the images from today's shoot into Lightroom so I can tweak them for delivery tomorrow. All in all I've spent five evenings this week shooting or working in some capacity at theaters. But I have to say, it's all been a lot of fun. 

I heard an interesting factoid about the SuperBowl today on NPR. I'm not sure if you fans know this or not but those "athletes" at the Superbowl will spend less than 18 minutes actually playing and being active on the field out of a four hour game. 

I'd rather be shooting at a theater.

What's the best (reasonably priced, not priced like a car) camera for 2015? Looks like it will be another slugfest between Nikon and Canon.

Don't worry, if you shoot with Fuji, Olympus or Panasonic you can stand on the sidelines and watch the spectacle without giving in to the urge to grab a fistful of credit cards out of your pocket and go berserk. But if you are a Canon power user you are no doubt on pins and needles because of the news we've heard in the last week (strong rumors) of not one but two Canon full frame camera bodies coming into the market which will seek to better the specifications of the Nikon D810. Or at least match that camera's imaging quality in a body Canon lens collectors can be proud of. 

The rumors (somewhat confirmed for me by contacts in retail) point to two very high resolution bodies based around an improved Canon 5D mk3 body. By very high resolution we are told that the bodies will boast 50+ megapixel, full frame sensors. In a move similar to Nikon's just previous D8XX adventures one camera will have an anti-aliasing filter (a nod to the needs of videographers?) and the other will not. It will be unencumbered by a detail degrading filter in order to achieve  maximum sharpness.

I'm hoping Canon goes for the Full Monty and adds real 4K video capability to the new machines. It's already available as a Magic Lantern hack for the 5D3 but hacking your primary shooting camera tends to scare the crap out of a lot of careful people so having it as a native feature is always a marketing plus. 

It's overall an interesting strategy on the part of Canon at a time when the bottom part of their camera market is succumbing to the same entropy that everyone else's bottom markets are falling prey to. As camera sales decline around the world camera makers seem to be focusing more and more on the tops of their product mixes where (no doubt) the profit margins are thicker and the bang per sale is much greater for the bottom line. It's also no coincidence that the upper end of the enthusiast market is where the people with the greatest concentration of money are greatly concentrated. Especially those with an interest in buying some sort of cutting edge camera. It all seems to me to be like the big pirate ship that is sinking and all the officers (top cameras) are climbing the mast in the hopes that the ship will settle on the shallows before they themselves are totally underwater. 

The clear winners in the race for maximum sensor resolution and image quality? That would be Sigma and Zeiss. Each is rushing to establish and brand segments of their product mix as the only lenses really capable of actually doing justice to all those tightly packed pixels. The mantra I hear on every forum and at every camera counter goes something along the lines that all the camera makers' lenses before a certain time period were designed in a time period when there was no need to design in critical performance at the levels that are now purportedly required to show even a mild difference between a 20+ something sensor resolution and those at 36 and now 50+ megapixels. 

Sigma's "Art" branded lenses and Zeiss's "Otus" branded lenses are positioned as some of the few optical systems that are capable of delivering the resolution required to match the potential of the new generation of sensors. That older zoom lens? Not gonna do the job. So there's both an inertia to ignore the "ultimate upgrades" based on the idea that the lenses won't support them (or that you'll need to totally re-invest in better glass) or to pauper yourself buying new lenses that are a critical match for the new camera bodies you also have to have. No one wants to look like the jerk that buys a Canon 1DX and then puts a cheap, off brand, super zoom on the front. 

Of course, this process is rarely binary and the first blush response after getting one of the new bodies and convincing one's self that the lenses are sufficient unto the task, will be to get "just my favorite focal length in the newest formulation." Which only breaches the dyke and starts the process of good judgement erosion that eventually leads to a spirited defense of the benefits of the new system upgrade. 

I can hardly wait for the articles. "Battle of the Titans!" "Winners and Losers." "Who will wear the crown of Imaging when the smoke clears?" Perhaps by that point people will have played around with the Sony A7S some more and decided that 12 really fun megapixels is a better holistic value.  Naw, people love a good school yard dust up and that's what we have to look forward to if the rumors pan out. 

Ah, this way lies madness.

The Freakiest, scariest, nail biting-ist time of the year for Freelance anybodies: December 15th through to the Super Bowl. Ouch.

From a  Zach Theatre Performance of "Peter and the Starcatcher."

Hey! It's a brand new year. Are you young and enthusiastic? Always wanted to be a professional advertising or corporate photographer? Ready to jump into a big, crazy market with both feet? Got your gear ready to go? Been to the workshops and got yourself all fired up at an industry tradeshow? Already picked out the Porsche you plan to buy with the amazing profits you'll surely earn snapping images of half-naked super models on pristine beaches? All optimism and no business plan?

Then you'll want to skip this particular post. Because today we discuss a reality of the business that often gets glossed over as every practitioner who's still standing tries to put a brave face on the monetary/schedule reality of the business. 

I'm sure everyone whose photo job revolves around snapping photos of children on Santa's lap in the mall, or taking images of wonderful, suburban families in their homes, gardens and local parks had a pretty decent month in December and they've stayed pretty busy in January making sure everyone got their prints and their files. They probably even got to send out invoices and collect checks and credit card information. But you know all those guys and girls who mostly dress in black, hang out around ad agencies and stay in touch with the corporate mar com people? The ones who always have a large cup of Starbuck's coffee in one hand.  Well, the end of the fleeting year and beginning of new years generally sucks for them. And here's why.

If you aren't working for retail clients every other type of B2B client tends to have all their budgets spent and their projects done by the second week of December. They have to. They can't depend on enough people showing up for work at the same time to even create half a committee, much less a full committee with enough people to approve, disapprove or change advertising projects. Everyone goes on vacation. They go to see daughter, Tiffany, dance in her dance school's rendition of The Nutcracker. All of a sudden parents have to deal with the fact that schools are closing up for the holidays and community standards frown on leaving pre-teens and younger to fend for themselves all day long. Someone has to be home to make sure they aren't getting into trouble. Or the liquor cabinet.

Right after the week of realizing the burden of raising children during times of no school comes everyone's favorite thing to do: Holiday Travel. That will take days out of your typical work schedule and possibly years off your life (Really? You really want to head up to Des Moines to visit your spouse's family? Even the ones in prison? Are you really going to eat that?).

Then there's the dreaded period between Christmas and New Years Eve when anyone with budget or approval authority is gone. Out of the office. Out of the state. Maybe out of their minds. Long story short, no one can sign a P.O., much less approve an invoice that might get the ball rolling and  authorize the taking of yet another image of that family of servers that may or may not make the inventory cut when the inevitable start of the year downsizing starts.

After the holidays our clients still have a week left to stabilize their families and get the kids ready for re-entry into school. The process is generally made more difficult since that's the week the flu and other winter illnesses kick in and start ravaging the populace. By this point corporate workers and their ad agency counterparts have already burned through the first full week January. The next week allows them to slide back into their comfortable workflow like an old man easing himself into a bathtub full of hot water. This is the week of budget meetings. Staff rearrangements. The wholesale firing of ad agencies from some accounts the the equally wholesale hiring of the newer, shinier, better ad agencies for other accounts. Which then starts a new round of creative proposals. Which then goes through the approval processes and meetings. Then there are the meetings about the meetings and finally the committee consensus that we'd better get busy on SOMETHING or we'll lose whatever budget we don't take advantage of in the first quarter. Chop. Chop. 

So, somewhere in or around the third or fourth week of January the phones ring ( or chime or play dreadful ringtones ), the e-mails start flowing and the projects start being presented to the creative class of content makers so that bids, estimates, quotes, pricing, budgets and procedures can start being discussed. If you are lucky you'll start nailing down bids and project assignments by the end of January or the first week of February which will be shot some time in February and then billed, and hopefully the first round will end up being paid for in the late March time frame. That's a long time to go with no cash flow! 

My advice to the people who are ready to get started in advertising photography or corporate imaging work is this: Start saving up now so you can make the jump at the end of this year and into next year. You'll need a big stack of money. Remember, the end of the year, when you stop working is also the single most expensive part of the year: Gifts to buy, dinner parties to host, travel to pay for, entertainment, and it seems to be the time of the year when CPAs come alive and share with you the idea (threat?) that you'll need to add a few more (tens of) thousands of dollars to your meager IRS contributions for the past year. And you also need to cough up a bunch of cash to toss into a tax deferred retirement account (you do want to retire someday, right?). 

Well, after paying all the regular stuff ( income tax, property tax, business tax, self employment tax, mortgage, retirement fund, donations to the governor's defense fund) and the swim club dues for the year, plus the annual premiums for a couple of life insurance policies and a disability insurance policy and the above mentioned, CPA recommended, wallet clearing exercises, and another round of college expenses (and air fare to and from) I'm just about tapped out. Like clockwork, clients have roused from their slumber and begun the requesting rituals. With a little luck we'll just about make the spread. But I have been researching places in town that will pay for plasma...

It's the same story I hear from everyone I know in the business; be they freelance writers, photographers, videographers or designers. I'm thinking we could create an entire lobbying campaign around asking for the whole holiday break to be shortened. Whatever happened to productivity as a buzzword?

One more thing that always strikes me as a bit ironic. I'll have a great 4th quarter and, anticipating more of the same to come (freelance is Latin for optimistic) I'll decide to buy some new gear. Fun stuff. Like the D610, the D810 and a raft of lenses. And as surely as I do that the equipment karma teams up with corporate holiday lag and leaves me sitting here in the studio surrounded by really cool gear and nothing to stick in front of it. Next year I'm going on vacation somewhere really cool for half of December and the whole month of January. I'll figure out how to pay for it in March.....