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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 funny light. It's the one imaged above and below. It's called an RPS CooLED 50 and it's packaging states that it puts out as much light as a 500 watt tungsten movie light. Maybe in some alternate universe where all the 500 watt tungsten lights are only used under heat proof blankets.... Nevertheless I plugged it in and played with it and it licked my hand and looked cute and I had to take it home with me. 

So, what the hell is it?

It's an LED light that uses a concentrated (SMD=surface mount device) LED cluster that is more powerful than the traditional multiple, individual  5mm LED lamped panels. The major issue with most of the LED panels that we've used, especially the brightest ones, is that companies are using up to 1,000 individual 3-5mm LEDs, laid out over the surface of a 12 by 12 inch panel, and this "crowdsourcing" of enough LEDs  makes the panels bright enough to be effective for still photography and video. The big geometry of these devices always meant that it was very hard to get a sharp, specular light beam that would cast a deep and defined shadow. The diffused light of the one foot by one foot panels was soft and, used without diffusion, each little lamp cast a separate shadow and a separate light beam. Nothing at all like the conventional lamps, or even flash tubes, that we are used to.

The first SMD LED that I used, and have had a lot of experience with, was the Fiilex P360. It's a great little light and it kicks out a good amount of lumens but it's not capable of delivering the amounts of light that some of the newer compact light source models are capable of delivering. I continue to use mine almost every day but I have wanted to find a source of brighter (and cheaper) small source lights for a while. The RPS model fills the bill. The unit I am writing about here draws about 50 watts of power and is said to deliver the equivalent output of a traditional 500 watt tungsten light. While the output is quite exaggerated the CooLED 50 is still very efficient, and, in concert with it's polished 8 inch reflector (interchangeable and in a Bowens ring mount), it does put a significantly increased amount of light on subjects when compared to larger, flat panels I've used, or the P360.

This model comes with an A/C power block that fits into an accessory shoe under the body of the light itself but it can be replaced with external, 24V batteries as an option. The body of the light also has a connector on top to hold an umbrella in place. 

The SMD LED is compact and concentrated and gives a much too hard edged light for most lighting designs. The LED is covered with a removable glass cone that spreads light into the reflector efficiently. There is also an optional fabric "sock" available that fits over the front of the reflector, further softening the light. 

To maintain extended run times without heat issues the unit is fan cooled and most of the actual body of the light is covered with highly ventilated covering which should make any use of the unit around water seriously contraindicated. Lowering the heat load means that the light can run for a long time with little degradation to the components. 

Umbrella Connector on Top Matches with Hole in Reflector to Make Umbrella Use Practical.

The back of the CooLED 50 is pretty simple. An on/off switch and a five step dimmer switch. The dimmer switch is not infinitely variable, it's five discreet steps from full power to minimum power. The mounting yoke gives you a full range of movement even with the A/C power block riding underneath. 

After looking at the way the light is designed my biggest concern in actual use is that no one block the ventilation of the light by putting anything over the perforated surface of the main tube body. A cool running light is a happy light.

The unit came with a two door barn door set up which attaches securely. I looked at a Bowen's catalog of light accessories and there are lots of modifiers available that will fit this light. I'm not looking at any right now as my main use is to "push" the light through silk "flags" for diffusion which will allow me to use these, comfortably, as main lights for studio portraits. The same set ups also work well for video interview subjects.

But the real question is always about light quality. The manufacturer (Dotline) is rating this light at a CRI of about 90, a color temperature of 5200K (+/_ 200) and an output of around 5000 lumens. Specs that would have cost several thousand dollars only a few years ago. My first test was to see how it matched with direct daylight. I set up a camera with the WB manually keyed in at 5200K. I put a big chunk of white foamcore so that it was partially illuminated by direct sunlight through my window and partially lit by the CooLED 50 (that part of the foamcore NOT in direct window light but  well shaded from it). The light color temperatures were close with the LED being just a bit warmer but pretty neutral on the magenta/green hue axis. I would use the light unfiltered with sunlight or daylight balances. At five feet from the light, on axis, my Sekonic L-508 light meter gives me an incident light meter reading of ISO 100, 1/60th of a second, f2.8. While you won't be lighting up large buildings or overpowering the sun it is enough light in my studio to do nice portrait; especially if I use it fairly close in to the subject (always with diffusion). 

For the cost of $200 it's a pretty compelling light for the crossover work I've been doing lately. 
Here's a link for the light at Amazon > Affiliate Link for RPS CooLED 50

Tomorrow I'll be writing about this light's bigger brother, the RPS CooLED 100 which, as you might guess, is twice as powerful (that's only one stop more....). I bought the two with the idea that I'd mostly use the big light through a 4x4 foot diffusion scrim and the smaller light on the background to match the basic color. Make the set a pretty cool portrait duo for right around $500, total. 

Fine Print: I bought both of these lights for the marked, retail price at Precision Camera. I am not enticed or rewarded monetarily or with product by Precision Camera. I like to buy there to support a great camera story and to support our local economy. If you click through the link above or below and buy this light---or anything else for that matter----at the VSL blog will get a small commission. This commission is paid by Amazon directly and does not effect the price you pay for any product. Thanks! Kirk

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The post promotion: Exposure: A Practical Guide to SEO for Photographers appeared first on Tangents.

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
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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
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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!

Canine Italian Cafe and Bar -- Austin, Texas from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.
This is a video that will be used on the restaurant's website. James Webb and Kirk Tuck shot this entirely with Olympus OMD EM5.2 cameras and assorted Olympus, as well as legacy, lenses. The visual direction came from James Webb who also did the scene selections and the editing. Kirk Tuck was the producer.

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
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Ultra-wide angle lenses with stabilization / vibration reduction

The need for stabilization in the ultra-wide angle lenses, might appear to be a slightly redundant feature. After all, camera shake is less of a problem the wider your focal length. On a 16-35mm lens, it would really seem to not be that important.

Now, I sometimes second-guess myself about what lenses I need. And what the gaps are in the lenses I have. The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G (affiliate) is a modern legend, and I love it. But with the bulbous front element, it can’t take filters. A polarizing filter and neutral density filter are staples for landscape photographers, or any photographer really that want more control over the elements in the frame. A polarizer cuts down on glare and reflections, and saturates the image. A neutral density filter allows for slower shutter speeds – river steams can become more ethereal if the movement of the water is allowed to smooth out with the use of an ND filter.

With that, I bought the Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR (affiliate) specifically for the use with filters. At the time, the Vibration Reduction spec didn’t affect my decision at all.   For Canon shooters, the  Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS (affiliate), is a spectacularly sharp ultra-wide lens. Read my review: Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS.

Then the VR / IS capability of this type of ultra-wide angle zoom, became essential. With a recent elopement wedding in New York, I wanted to play with the often-seen idea where your subjects are sharp, but the fast-moving people in Grand Central start to blur. This would need an extra-slow shutter speed. But tripods in Grand Central Station, will more than likely get the attention of security, and they will put a speedy stop to the photography. (You might remember this behind the scenes video clip of the Profoto B2 review photo shoot, where I was asked to move along.)

Aside from that consideration, a tripod would just be extra bulk while walking around Manhattan. I like working faster on a shoot like this.

This is where the VR / IS capability came in very handy. I asked the couple and their daughter to remain immobile for a while, and then I fired off a few sequences.

My camera settings:  1/2 sec hand-held @ f/8 @ 800 ISO


Now, even with an ultra-wide angle lens at 16mm, that is a very slow shutter speed to hand-hold. But with the stabilization, I actually got a few frames where the three central people were sharp … and everyone around them that moved, blurred.

With the central composition, and the little girl’s wide-armed gesture, your attention is drawn right to them … especially with the blur of people around them.

The capability of this lens made this photograph possible. There might be some photographers cool enough to pull this shot off, hand-held with a non-stabilized lens, but I need the technology to drastically improve my chances of success here.

So now I have reason to keep the 14-24mm f/2.8 optic and the 16-35mm f/4 VR too. There is duplication, but each lens has its own set of advantages.



currently available wide-angle zooms with VR / IS (affiliate links)


related links


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In the last two years 170,919 individual people have taken my free course: Professional Family Portraits at

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 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.

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
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Posing and lighting technique – posing in relation to the lighting

When taking a portrait, the pose needs to suit the lighting. And vice versa, the lighting needs to be done in relation to the intended pose. Especially so when the lighting is dramatic. This is such a key idea – lighting and posing are tightly correlated. Started again: you pose the participants in relation to the light. You light the people you photograph, in relation to how you position the light.

When lighting a couple, I tend to favor the woman in terms of flattering light. So in setting up a pose, the lighting is paramount to that.

Aviva and Brian brought some spy movie style to the photo session. The location was a hotel lobby with huge visual displays that are ever-changing. So the challenge was to retain this certain Noir mood, and add a touch of sexiness.

I used the LED fresnel lights – a modern version of the hotlights used for Hollywood Glamor lighting. The specific make was the Litepanels Sola 4 (affiliate). The 4″ diameter fresnel gives a fairly concentrated beam. This beam can be focused and dimmed, and of course, flagged.

The one light was used for Aviva, and the other light for Brian, but more as side-light / back-light.

In deciding on this partical background, I sat down in each spot to feel if the pose made sense and to figure out the lights. All of this done before positioning the couple. Then, when it seems the idea will work, and the lights are set up, will I add the couple and finesse the pose and the lighting.

While I generally tend to loosely pose people, here we had to be more meticulous with how Aviva placed her hands.  Brian’s hand on her leg also had to be purposeful, and not look like a casual after-thought.

The dramatic lighting dictated that we had to be more specific with how they were posed. With smaller light-sources, the light tends to be harder / more contrasty. Slight changes in how someone holds their head, can make or break the image. The nose’s shadow over a top lip, or eyes unintentionally shrouded in shadow, can easily make an image fail. So we have to be quite specific with every gesture of our subjects.

In positioning someone’s head I most often use large slow gestures with my hands to show. Using my own body and face to mirror what I want them to do, is also an important way of helping a pose.

The pull-back shot to show the positioning of the lights.
The lights were flagged with barndoors to contain the spread of light.

camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used during this photo session

  • 1/100  @  f/4  @  1000 ISO



related articles


books on Hollywood lighting

The post Posing and lighting technique appeared first on Tangents.

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....

©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.

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
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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....

First steps in shooting video with a stabilized gimbal

[Testing out the Defy G2x gimbal, with a test run one evening in Times Square. Here is some of the (random) footage as I played with it to get a hang of its response and handling.]

That smooth, fluid movement when shooting video with the camera moving, used to be the domain of cinema or higher-end productions because of the cost of the gear. Recently however, stabilized gimbals have appeared on the market around the $5,000 mark … and then the more accessible, smaller units at around the $2,000 point. Suddenly, these items were more within reach of everyone who aspired to add another slick level to their videography – sweeping cinematic movement of the camera while following the subject.

Mechanically balanced devices, such as the Glidecam (B&H), had their fans who could create smooth movement with them – but they were difficult to balance, and difficult to master. I hated my Glidecam – it needed constant adjusting, and was heavy. So I was happy to ditch it for a stabilized gimbal.

I rented the Freefly Mövi M5, to see whether I’d even want one. I quickly adapted to it, even though the general warning is that it isn’t a “turn-key” product. In other words, you can’t expect to use it with skill right out of the box. It needs some practice. Even then, the Mövi quickly allowed me to get smooth movement in video.

I then tried a DJI Ronin (B&H), but it is a heavy monster that killed my back after shooting with it for a while. There is the lighter (and quite affordable) DJI Ronin M (B&H), but I decided on a different gimbal.

I wanted something light and fun to use, and easy to set up. My needs for a gimbal is different than a serious videographer’s perhaps, in that I am a photographer who wants to expand his range and skills. (As opposed to say, running a video production company.)

In the end, I settled for the Defy G2x gimbal for a few reasons:

review: the Defy G2x gimbal

The Defy G2x is USA designed and manufactured. This was a big plus for me, especially considering the first frustrated steps with the DJI Phantom drone – with the manual and instructions not so very obvious in placed. I really liked the idea of the support for this piece of gear being based in the USA.

It is light and small. In that video above, I could walk through the crowd without my hands being spread wide, as it would with a larger gimbal.

Of course, this smaller size meant that this gimbal can’t carry a heavy camera & lens combination. I had to make some accommodations there. I started off with my Canon 6D and Canon 16-35mm f/4 IS combination (affiliate). That lens is so crisply sharp! (Here is my review of the Canon 16-35mm f/4 IS lens.) The one challenge with a zoom on a gimbal, is that when you change the zoom length, the glass inside shift position … and the gimbal is unbalanced again. Not such a huge issue with a stabilized gimbal, since it can take up some of the slack – but it does work harder when it has to fight against the center of gravity of the camera & lens combo.

I then settled on a Nikon D750 and Nikon 20mm f/1.8G combination (affiliate). That lens is razor sharp, and has very little distortion. This is a huge bonus if you are creating a video where architecture features.

The best part of the Nikon DSLRs – they allow you to crop in camera to a 1.5 crop that still gives you 1080p video. With this, I effectively had two focal lengths – the 20mm and the crop-sensor 30mm equivalent. Both of which gave me 1080p video. No change in the balance!

The Nikon D750 also has a swiveling LCD screen, which is a big bonus. With this smaller gimbal, an external monitor would’ve thrown off the handing again.

Best of all – you can partially see it in this photo from Defy’s website – you can balance the camera & lens combo on the gimbal, while in that position. You would actually flip the two handles horizontally. Then the gimbal itself becomes its own stand! Genius. No need to carry a separate stand around … or clumsily hold the gimbal inbetween shots.

You can also invert the gimbal from this position, and add the handle for a low point of view.

I also added the Pan & Tilt Joystick which clamps to the horizontal bar. This allows me to move the camera in a different direction. Quite elegant, and somewhat takes away the need for a 2nd person to monitor and control the gimbal.

With the way this gimbal rests on its own handles so you can balance it – combined with its smaller size – this is as close to a non-clumsy one-person setup as you’ll probably get.



This video clip at the top was a first outing on the streets with this gimbal, other than just testing it out in the studio.

One thing was immediately clear with any of the gimbals I have used – if you hesitate in your movement, it shows very clearly in the shot. You need to be specific about your movement, and follow through firmly.

It will take a bit of time to get used to its handling, and how it responds to specific movement – but I already like these initial random test segments. With practice the movements will become more fluid still.

Early days, but I am excited to have added this device to my arsenal of cool toys.

And here I am – an Instagram shot from that evening. Yes, this is my happy face. (The strap you see over my shoulder isn’t part of the gimbal – it’s my camera bag.)

The post First steps in shooting video with a stabilized gimbal appeared first on Tangents.

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