2.28.2015

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

2.23.2015

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. 




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

http://kirktucksportraits.blogspot.com

http://kirktucksportraits.blogspot.com

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...