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Author Archive

Noelia H. helps me test the Mamiya 28 MF.

An interesting conundrum for portrait photographers. I got a call a while back from an engineering company that needs 24 portraits done. They would like to do the portraits at their headquarters building here in Austin (no problem) and they would like the images to have a consistent look (no problem) but the issue I'm grappling with came later, after we'd struck a deal and were moving forward...

The client had used a different photographer in the past and that photographer, who is more focused on a PPofA portrait style (which works well for families, and kids), used a custom painted canvas background that is now impossible to source and also looks (to my sensibilities) a bit dated. I have scoured the web to see if I can find a close match but at the same time I'm more inclined to go back to the client and discuss alternatives that would benefit them.

I find detailed backgrounds (and the previous photographer obviously believed in f16 as an optimum portrait aperture) distracting; especially when the primary use of the images is in a website gallery with dozens of other small images. My first choice would be a steel gray background with no texture and my second choice would be a gray canvas background with minimum texture. Also, I like to through backgrounds out of focus so I like to shoot FF cameras at f4.0 and m4:3 cameras at something like f2.0 or 2.8.

One way or another I'm scheduled to shoot one week from now so I feel that I have to go back to the client today and discuss how we'll proceed. I think I'm going to suggest my preferred style but I'm also researching with a couple of good, local retouchers, the cost (in bulk) to take the existing portraits currently being used by the client and have them drop out the backgrounds and replace them with a clean image of my chosen background. That's a hassle and the it's likely to involve some compromises in some of the images.

My other suggestion is that they consider the new background as a standard going forward and work over time to re-photograph the people who were photographed in the previous style.

Has anyone else had a similar situation arise? Suggestions most welcome!


Singing in the rain interviews from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

Here is the video I mentioned last week. I shot all of it on a GH5 and edited in Final Cut Pro X. There is absolutely no color grading or post production on the actual video for either interviewee. I was happy with the files straight from camera. This piece was shot in 1080p. Its intended use is on the web, via YouTube and Vimeo.

I am happy to mix my stills with the video. I think it's a fun way to get in lots and lots of content.

Added on 10/10: Let's talk effectiveness for a moment. I did the video as an exercise for a non-profit client. I have a 30 year history with Zach Theatre and love the work they do. At any rate I handed off the video to them yesterday afternoon. Four hours after they posted the video file on their Facebook page they had gotten over 1,000 views. Now, about 16 hours later they have 4200+ views of the video on their Facebook page. A live theatre review site picked up the video file (with permission) on their homepage and the video has gotten another 1,500+ views. My blog has delivered several thousand views (but most are from out of the state of Texas....). These all occurred in less than 24 hours. I am guessing that targeted videos are a good resource....

Added later on 10/10: We have now published (yesterday) my 3,400th blog post. Google tells me that 23,250,000+ sets of eyes have come and read material directly on the blog since its inception and that 82,000,000 total page views have occurred, which includes referrals. It's kind of fun....




As readers of my blog may have surmised, I love to swim. I've been doing it since I was six. I swam in high school and college, and for the last 20 years I've gotten up most days and happily dragged myself (I've never been an exceptional "morning person") to the Rollingwood Pool (AKA: Western Hills Athletic Club) to swim at 7:00 am with the WHAC Masters. It's a masters team comprised of former Olympians, All Americans and just regular vanilla swimmers like me. Some of the folks in the workouts are relentlessly chasing some demon or other; some swim to stay in really good shape while others, like me, swim five or six times a week so we can eat whatever we want, whenever we want it and still fit into the pants we bought in 1982...

The pool has been a great comfort to me in periods of stress and anxiety. The camaraderie has been priceless. The consistency of the practice helps to anchor most of the rest of my day-to-day life and add structure to a relatively unstructured freelance existence. And in good times and bad I have never winced at coming up with the $100 bucks a month to pay my dues.

In the middle of the Summer the pool manager sent out an e-mail telling us that the board of directors for the club decided that they had deferred major maintenance for as long as they could and that the pool needed to be closed for a period of time to effect repairs. They decided that the last day the pool would be open would be Sunday, the first of October. After that all the masters swimmers would have to fend for themselves, find other programs or hibernate until sometime near the end of January.

We swimmers consider our pool special. Its water is chilled in the Summer and heated in the winter. We've swum during heatwaves and snow storms. We've collectively watched the steam from the warm water melt snow flakes a couple inches above the pool in January and February. Many of us also run at the hike and bike trail about a mile away and, after a run in 100+ degrees, it's become a habit to finish the run at the pool, diving in just before the onset of heat exhaustion (kinda kidding, but not really...).

Our workouts are coached and supervised. Some of our coaches are former Olympians. One was the world champion in the Ironman a while back. Some of the workouts are brutal. Others are fun. Oh heck, even the brutal ones are fun.....as long as we survive them.

So I am in my first week of real, agonizing withdrawal from the familiarity and comfort of my swim club; my pool. At first I thought I would follow our pack to a different, competitive pool or head over to the 5:45 am workout at the University of Texas at Austin. But I chose a different path and I've been frequenting the Deep Eddy Pool. It's a 33 and 1/3 yard, deep well water fed pool (no chlorine or chemistry) and it's been an Austin landmark forever (1915). In the Summer it's too crowded to swim laps in (for me). But starting in October the recreational swimming crowd winds down and the water temperature of the well water starts dropping. Right now it's about eight degrees cooler than my beloved WHAC pool.

I thought I'd be averse to the colder water but I have a discipline streak that tends to ignore the odd discomfort in the pursuit of raw yardage; after all, there is still chocolate cake and Champagne to be savored...

I've hit the pool almost everyday this week, trying to get in two miles a day. I'm recalibrating from a 25 yard pool to a 33-1/3 yard pool and it's actually working.

Why do I swim? Well, I hit the doctor's office last Monday for a yearly physical. According to their measurements I have a body fat ratio of about 11%, a resting pulse rate of 54 and, even though I love coffee, a blood pressure of 115/65. Considering the weird profession I pursue I'm happy with all those little metrics and consider them a benefit to my work. My doctor suggests that I not in bad shape for someone about to hit 62. And swimming also keeps me in shape for hauling around gear.

Best of all, I found an old punch card for the Austin city pools that I had not used up. I've got just enough remaining swims on the card to get me through October. The admission to the pool is free from November to March. A net cost savings of $600 from now until March 2018.

This morning six or seven of the WHAC crew showed up at the Deep Eddy Pool around the same time I did. Old habits die hard. We got in a an hour and a half of swimming and then we met, as we have for several decades, at the local coffee house to socialize. I'm happy to see that the universe provides for those who grab their suit and goggles and head out the door.



I was making some headshots for a nice actor named Celeste and at the end of the session I asked if she would sit for a few minutes and be the subject for a series of lens tests. She agreed.

Lately, I've been thinking that, with some projects coming up which require a number of images with narrow depth of field, I should buy a couple of fast lenses that I could use wide open, or close to wide open, and still get good, sharp results. I've played with a friend's 42.5mm f1.2 Nocticron and I also had my eye on the Voightlander 42.5mm f.95 lens. Both get great reviews and seem to be what I'd need.

But, I have the drawer here at the studio that has some ancient Olympus lenses. They were originally made for that company's half frame film cameras; circa 1960s-1970s. I've always enjoyed using them but thought they may not hold up well given the higher resolution of the newest m4:3 cameras...

I decided to actually test the lenses I already owned rather than just reflexively dish out $800 or $1400 dollars that might be better spent elsewhere.

I made the tests as life like as I could. Real model. Real light. On a tripod. Absolutely wide open. The fast apertures.

The image above is from the weakest of the three lenses I tested. It's the Pen FT 70mm f2.0, shot at 2.0. It may be the delirium speaking but I think it's pretty good wide open. I haven't post processed the images from the 60mm f1.5 or the 40mm f1.4 yet but I spot checked sharpness, just to be sure, and found them just a tad better than the 70mm. All need a bit more contrast right out of the camera but all are sufficiently sharp and I actually like the color a lot.

I think I'll save the cash and use this 37 year old glass. I don't think I've gotten my money out of it yet...

Sorry, nothing commercial to link to....

Bigger file:




Rain : ZACH THEATRE from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

Panasonic GH5+Olympus 40-150mm Pro.


I haven't really discussed much about the Panasonic GH5's video performance yet, instead, I'd like to write in more general terms about how I've been using my cameras. Not just Panasonics but also Sonys. When I sit down to evaluate a camera I'm no longer looking at a camera as a "single use" device that will just deliver a great photograph. I want a camera that will hit well above the bar for image quality in still photography use but I also want a camera that will do very good 4K video. And I want to spend no more than $2,000 per camera body. My basic criteria includes: a microphone input jack, a clean HDMI output, the ability to manually control audio levels and a useful and logical menu for setting all my camera controls. It's a given that the camera will have a high enough resolution for still photography (16 megapixels, min.) as well as the ability to make RAW files and also to make pleasant Jpegs which are usable right out of the camera. 

Why the $2,000 price limit? Because I like to buy my primary cameras in pairs and doubling prices gets uncomfortable quickly. Since cameras in the ascending age of video are still changing rapidly (as far as processor speed and video features) I want to be able to switch out cameras more frequently than we used to so I can take advantage of the new tech (HDR video anyone?). 

But why this fascination with cameras that swing both ways? Some interesting studies from the advertising community are revealing. Seems 70% of internet users get their daily dose of content entirely, or almost entirely, from their phones. Additionally, while reading lots of type on a phone is a pain in the butt for most people watching short videos has become as easy as breathing. Every marketer I know is rushing to provide more and more video content for not only their websites but their YouTube channels and their many social media feeds. Just last week, at a three day corporate show for WP Engine, I was asked to make photographs as well as video. At the same show we fed a stream of images to the social media managers from the company so they could upload content from the show in progress. You may want to resist working in this new way but I'm pretty certain that clients' expectations are not going to regress back to a slower, more stationary methodology. 

What I want to write about today is how I've been using video and photographs together for my theater client, ZachTheatre.org. I've been providing them with interviews of actors, directors and choreographers for their main stage shows. The idea is to invite the online audience to look behind the scenes and get a more nuanced understanding of how live theater works. How a production comes together.

I start my process by reading about the plays or musicals the theater is producing. Once I have the story line figured out I like to go to an early rehearsal to get an idea of the director's vision. Since I'll need good b-roll for cutaways, and to spice up the interviews, I always want to go to a tech rehearsal, with actors in costume, close to the opening date. By the Sunday before a Tuesday or Wednesday opening the costumes are pretty much finished and the stage set has received its last touch ups. Without an audience in the house I can spend time finding the right angles. I'm already familiar with the pacing and action since I've been to earlier rehearsals.

There are things I know I'll want to capture and weave into our video edit. For Dancing in the Rain I knew I wanted to get good footage of our lead actor actually dancing in the rain. Just 20 or 30 seconds of him tap dancing through the onstage downpour. But I also wanted to capture video snippets of each of the other main actors in character. You never know until you've finished an interview exactly who or what the interviewee will mention!

For Singing in the Rain I wanted to interview both the director and the choreographer. I arranged through the public relations director, Nicole, to reserve the V.I.P. lounge in the main theater space. It's a great place to shoot interviews because the room is modern and neutral but also because it has an entire north-facing wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. Nice lighting if you can get it! But outside light fluctuates so I also set up a big, soft main light from the same direction to establish a base so passing clouds don't mess with my exposure on the talent.

Once I had my angles mapped out for shooting and lighting I got to work on audio. I killed the power to the bar refrigerator (too much noise) and put up a few baffles on stands to try and kill the air conditioner noise (not turn off-able, non-negotiable in parts of Texas....). Then I put up my favorite two hyper-cardioid microphones at the end of a boom pole and hung them about 18 inches from the interviewee, just above the top of the frame and angled down about 45 degrees, aimed at the talent's mouth.

Since I had the PR director assisting me on this shoot I was able to ditch the tripod and try working with the GH5 camera on a monopod instead. In concert with the image stabilization system the footage looked quite good with just enough movement to keep from looking too static. I was able to do this because I had the PR director actually asking the interview questions. 

As soon as I finished both interviews the choreographer and I headed to the stage where he demonstrated the on stage rain effect by.....tap dancing through the pouring rain. I set the camera for the stage lighting WB and exposure and then handheld about three minutes of dancing while trying different compositions and framings. 

During the tech rehearsal I mostly shot photographs but would switch the camera over to video settings if I anticipated a dance number or a comedic moment upcoming. It's a lot of extra work to make multiple trips to the theater to catch different stuff that may never make the cut but the trade off comes late at night when you are editing and you remember you have just the right three to five seconds of tight video of tap shoes splashing through stage lit puddles.

When I finish recording the videos and photos and the interviews I come back into the studio and start making little virtual stacks of content. All the interview footage goes in this folder, all the b-roll video goes into that folder. I open Lightroom and put in all the photographs and look for sequences I know I'll want to use. Since I'm heading for a video edit all the stills I decide to use get cropped to 16:9 and sized for the file type I'll be using. Since this project was going to be edited in 1080p I made the files 2198 on the long side. That gave me a little breathing room within the overall frame so I could crop in where I felt it would make the presentation stronger. 

When I finally sat down to edit I listened to both interviews a couple of times, taking notes about stuff I liked and other stuff I wanted to cut out. Then I started assembling a timeline with the good content. If I felt the interviewee's delivery was too rushed I'd look for natural pauses and drop a half second or a second of black into the gap to make a pause from one thought to the next. Of course I would need material to visually cover the pauses but that's why we shot all those photographs and b-roll to begin with, right?

Once I get everything from the interviews laid in like I want it I make a pass to see if I can cut out "ums" and "ahhhs" and distracting word fluff. It's best to really stretch your timeline way out when making these kinds of audio adjustments because it allows for exacting work. 

When the interview timeline is more or less locked I start looking for little chunks of video or photographs that correspond to what the interviewee is talking about. For example, the choreographer, when asked about his favorite scene from this production, discussed a scene with a character named, Cosmo, who does a great song and dance number. I didn't have any video of that part of the play but I was able to reach into the photography folder and pull out twenty or so images that were a close reflection of what the choreographer was discussing. With a series of fast, one second cuts the images worked perfectly to add strong visuals to the narrative.

When the director discusses the challenges of making it rain on an indoor stage I had fast paced video footage of the main character slipping and sliding and tapping across the stage in the rain. It was the perfect visual to play over the director's conversation. 

And here's the thing about having a camera that can do both parts well; if all you need to do is change to the video setting and change the shutter speed to work with your fps, then the color and tonality of the video and the stills will match and intercut with each other beautifully. While the lighting on the interviews will be different the overall feel of the files will come through as a consistent element. 

It's an intangible but I can feel the work hold together better when it all seems to come from a unified source. A matching visual style.

There's a perception that all video work gets done on a big tripod with a fluid head. That the camera needs to be nested in a collage of pre-amps, cages, monitors and geared controls. But really, when shooting live action on the stage I'm happy to have two identical cameras, set to the same WB. One with exposure set for stills, one with the exposure set for video. Each dangling on their strap just waiting for me to move from one to the other, grabbing it up, making a last adjustment and then holding it as steady as I can --- regardless of file type. As clean as making snapshots. 

Your mind changes from making one-off masterpieces to making serial frames that can work in either modality. That's the promise of a "bi-lingual" camera system. 
















































All the images in this gallery were taken for Zach Theatre for their current production of

We used two Panasonic GH5 cameras and two Olympus Pro series zoom lenses; the 12-100mm f4.0 and the 40-150mm f2.8. All images were shot at either ISO 800 or ISO 1600 and both 
lenses were used at their widest apertures. 

Shutter speeds ranged from 1/30th to 1/500th of a second. 

The camera was set manually and color balance set for the basic stage wash before the start of the show. Post processed in Adobe Lightroom and delivered online via Smugmug.com.










































I'm slowing winnowing my way toward minimalist gear status, when it comes to camera equipment. Rightly or wrongly I'm making the assumption that we're moving away from the "precious item" concept of photography to a different understanding of photography altogether. A period in which the photographic and video content and style are much more important than the ultimate qualities of traditional presentation. Now, whenever I say this a big swath of people get their panties in a bunch and tell me that they practice making beautiful and majestic prints as their art and don't give a rat's ass which way the trends bend. I try to gently remind them that my blog is not entitled, "The Leisure Photographic Life of Retired and Semi-retired Old Guys from Other Professions" rather it is called the Visual Science Lab and it's very clearly about the styles, times and trends that impact current commercial image making and multi-media. If you love making 20 x 30 inch prints, with inexhaustible detail and grandeur, of the "found objects" that catch your eye then that's what you should do but, unless you are the indefatigable Peter Lik,  I can pretty much assume you won't be making a living selling them....

My kid has one more year of college that I'm paying for so I make business decisions based on trying my best to read the hieroglyphics on the internet walls and adapt my business posture to at least sustain profits. 

In my latest shift (hopefully shifting with the market) I've purchased two GH5 cameras and a smattering of really good Olympus Pro series lenses (and Panasonic/Leica lenses) and have started using this system for pretty much everything that comes into the job queue. 

I never really feel comfortable writing about cameras until I've put in at least my first 10,000 shots so I've been relatively quiet here on the blog about making GH5 pronouncements. But looking at the image count across my two cameras over the last month and a half shows me that we're closing in on the 20,000 frame mark, and that doesn't include the work
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I'm photographing a three day show in downtown Austin and here's the technical ask from the client:


"We want really nice, big, juicy raw files of our speakers, the panels, the breakouts and all the rest of our corporate event stuff for the three days of the conference but we also want to be able to upload ample selections of images in almost real time in order to share them on our varied social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.). So, we want you to also be able to deliver small (1,000 pixel) jpegs from each session to our social media guy ---- who is in another city. The best possible scenario would be to shoot a session until you know you have good stuff and then to head to the media room to upload the images while the session is still.....in session."

I read the manual for the GH5 and found that I could customize how I use the card slots. I have identical 128GB V60 cards in every SD card slot. The #1 card is set to receive raw files while the #2 card slot is set up to receive much smaller Jpegs and video files.

I pull the #2 card out of the camera once I feel a session is well covered, stick it in my laptop and upload all the new Jpeg files to a Smugmug Gallery dedicated to my client's event.

The social media guy checks the gallery for new stuff and incorporates the images into the social feed.

Finally, a rational, real world reason for the existence of dual SD card slots on modern, reliable cameras!

Redundant back up? Naw, this is not rocket surgery...
A handheld, image stabilized still shot from "Singing in the Rain." 

It's hard to make definitive statements about the effectiveness of  image stabilization across brands, models and different sizes of image sensors but...someone asked and I thought I'd give it a try. I haven't shot with all that many cameras so I'll focus on the ones I know of from experience. 

The current top dog of image stabilization, with utterly miraculous performance, is the latest Olympus EM-1 mark 2. Nothing else can touch it. Unless you are a ten cup per day coffee drinker you can pretty much ditch your tripod. This should not surprise anyone who had previously shot the EM-5 mark 2. I owned several of them and they were steady enough to use hand held when shooting video (see the Cantine video for end to end Olympus EM-5 mark 2 samples --- in motion).

The one addition that makes the EM-1.2 the best of the best is the ability of that camera system to use both the lens I.S. and the in body I.S. together. At best the system delivers 6.5 stops of stabilization. If not for the god awful menu system I might have bought that camera instead of the GH5.

The GH5 also has a dual I.S. feature and it works very, very well with a limited number of lenses from Panasonic. Using just the in body stabilization is very, very good as well. I've been using it with several Olympus zooms and several current Panasonic primes and find it to be in the same class, overall, as the Olympus EM-5.2.

The stabilization in both the RX10ii + iii, as well as the Panasonic FZ2500, is equally good. It's the latest five axis variety and since the lenses are built specifically for the body/sensor system I believe they are able to optimize their I.S. to good effect. 

As we move up the format size in cameras that use in-body image stabilization we get less and less overall effectiveness from their systems. The Sony a6500 is at least a stop or a stop and a half behind the m4:3rds cameras and the Sony A7ii and A7Rii are at least a stop worse off than the a6500. And most of the bigger cameras have yet to incorporate competitive dual body+lens I.S. systems. 

All bets are off when it comes to comparing systems that only use lens stabilization. For one thing not every lens you want to use is stabilized. But when done well the lens stabilization can be quite good. 
When I worked with Nikon I bit the bullet and bought an 18-200mm lens even though I knew it was not a spectacular performer optically. I bought it because there were situations when I really needed stabilization and would not have time to use lights or a tripod. That lens delivered a stable shooting platform and was an eye opener. Rock steady shots but humdrum optical performance. A trade off. 

Not so with the newest Panasonic and Olympus flagship systems. You get rock solid stability and great optical performance from their Pro series lenses. My least satisfying image stabilization experiences have been with cameras like the Sony a850 and a900 full frame cameras. They gave, at most two stops of stabilization (which is nothing to sneeze at compared to ancient times) but with some lenses they seemed to perform with less enthusiasm, delivering maybe a stop different at longer focal lengths. 

My (unproven) assumption is that it's all about overall sensor size, acceleration and physics. The smaller the mass you have to move and the smaller the distance you have to move it the higher the performance is going to be and the more accurate the corrections will be. 

All things being equal (but they never are) logic would suggest that one inch sensors should be the easiest to imbue with the highest stability performance followed by the m4:3rds and then the APS-C sensors and finally, in next to last place, the full frame sensor cameras. In last place would certainly be the medium format cameras whose only advantage is sensor size and, when dealing with camera motion whose biggest disadvantage is.... sensor size. 

1200+ images shot handheld with the GH5 and some Olympus Pro lenses last night show me that the system is highly competent and workable for me. If I wanted the best offered anywhere I'd be putting those Olympus lenses on the front of an EM-1.2 camera body and never look back. But I.S. is only one factor among many in the pursuit of good photography. Compromises abound. That's what makes it all so interesting. 

(For Ed). 

Last night I had the opportunity to document the technical rehearsal for "Singing in the Rain" at Zach Theatre. I really like using new cameras in the theater environment as I bring them into the fold in order to understand how they work in what I think is a challenging situation. The lighting on stage sometimes changes minute by minute, and those changes include shifts in color as well as intensity. In addition to lighting changes the actors are constantly moving and I have no control or ability to really anticipate changing expressions and gestures. It's a situation wherein you have to capture stuff you like, in the moment, and then edit toward the best stuff in post. 

In order to make it even more rigorous a test I sometimes deny myself the "crutch" of using the raw file format so I can get a sense of how well the cameras make Jpeg files. It's a bit idiosyncratic but then I never held myself out as a paragon of logic or consistency....

Our rehearsal started at 7pm. I got to the theater a half hour earlier so I could say "hello" to the many people on the technical staff that I've worked with for years. I also wanted to sit quietly and set up my two cameras at, potentially, the optimum settings.

I used two Panasonic GH5 camera bodies and two Olympus lenses. It seems counterintuitive but I think the two Olympus Pro lenses that I ended up buying are a perfect match for the GH5s. When I owned the GH4 cameras I chose (among other ancillary lenses) the two f2.8 zooms from that system; the 12-35mm and the 35-100mm. They were both good as well as smaller and lighter than my current  choices. I think the Olympus Pro 12-100mm is a better choice for all around photography than the 12-35 by dint of the much greater coverage on the long end. I also think it is a sharper and contrastier lens system than either of the Panasonic lenses I owned. Being able to cover most of the focal lengths I use in day to day practice is a time saver and means that most of the time I am wearing only one camera over my shoulder rather than two.

I bought the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro mostly to use as an adjunct to the 12-100mm in theater and corporate event photography where I might need both the one stop of extra speed and the extra 50mm of reach. While I found myself using the 12-100mm a lot last night I am happiest with the images I shot with the longer zoom. It's not that the files are "better" or sharper it's that they seem a touch cleaner and more detailed. I'd be perfectly happy with the shorter lens but there were a few shots, taken at the longer focal lengths, that just made me smile.

So, that was the gear inventory. The "kit." Two bodies and two lenses. Both set up nearly identically. 
I selected the finest Jpeg setting at the largest file size of 20 megapixels. I chose the standard profile for each camera and left all the parameter settings at their presets. zero, zero, zero. 

I set the camera with the 40-150mm on it to ISO 800 and the camera with the 12-100mm on it to ISO 1600 to compensate for the one stop slower maximum aperture. After consulting with the lighting designer I settled on 4200K as the color setting for the general illumination. The follow spot is cooler and some of the side spots are warmer. There's nothing much you can do about a wash of light that's homogeneously red, blue or magenta. With Herculean efforts you might be able to render a neutral color but it would be a fool's errand to try. After all, they are called accent lights for a reason. 

I tried not to use the shutter under 1/125th or above a 1/500th. If I had enough light to reach for 1/500th the logical thing to do would be to turn down the ISO. 

I shot both of the lenses wide open for the entire evening. On a wide stage shot I was hanging out near the 12-20mm range and figured that depth of field would cover any small disparity between camera and subject distance. At the longer focal lengths I was trying to grab tighter, one person shots and would depend on focusing accuracy of the system for best results. 

In earlier tests I found that the screens were brighter than the calibration on my studio monitor or my Atomos Ninja Flame monitor and knew that setting the brightness one or two notches below zero would help me push up the exposures in a good way. I also enable the histogram and put it in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, consulting it often.

While I had trepidation that the GH5 would stumble in lower light situations I found that anything I shot at ISO 800 or less was as perfect as anything I would expect to see out of any previous camera I had used to shoot this kind of work. At ISO 1600 I started to see (when viewing at 100%) the wavering hand of noise reduction impinge on overall image quality. It manifested itself in overly plastic skin tones and some harsher sharpening of bigger detail. After seeing this I tested setting the camera profile differently. I decreased sharpness by one notch under the default and brought down the noise reduction as well. With noise reduction I experimented with one and two notches under the default and I found that one notch under was enough to make the files perfectly acceptable to me while not requiring me to do anything in post production while a two notch correction required a bit of noise reduction fine tuning in post. 

I tried several different focusing options with the two cameras. I started with my usual: A custom configured AF pattern consisting of four smaller squares in the center of the frame, driven by S-AF. This method nailed every single shot I pointed the camera and lens at, and without any hesitation. It was much quicker and more certain than my Sony A7Rii or A7ii. 

Emboldened I thought I'd try out the methodology that seems to be the preference of many other photographers: To choose all the focusing squares across the frame (wide) and to set the focus to C-AF. Amazingly the camera locked on to the closest thing in the frame and worked predictably. I didn't notice any time lag at all and anytime the camera made an (infrequent) mistake it was because I started out pointing it at the wrong object. Following one actor as they walked across the stage was remarkably consistent and well locked in. 

Since these cameras are both highly competent video cameras I strayed from still imaging from time to time to shoot video snippets that I'll use in the video I am editing of conversations with the director of this play and the choreographer. I thought it would be really nice to have good b-roll of the lead actor actually tap dancing in the rain. When the stage hands turned on the rain device and we got a downpour on stage I switched to 4K video at 30 fps and followed the action. Again, the camera and the 40-150mm were able to follow the dancer (or his feet ) as he tapped his way across the stage under a convincing shower of rain. It's really beautiful footage and you'll get to see it sometime soon. 

We photographers are often given to hyperbole. Smaller format shooters would have us believe that their particular choice of camera is so special that it can transform the laws of physics and deliver performance equal to full frame (35mm) sensors across all performance parameters. Conversely full frame shooters would have you believe that anything smaller than their (35) frame size destines a user to end up with files that are nothing but mush and crap. The truth lies somewhere else. The scale isn't a linear one with full frame to 100%, APS-C at 75% and micro four thirds at 50%. The band of technical behavior and results is much tighter than that. All the cameras are in the 90%s. And there are always many compromises in each direction. As science and industry get better at solving imaging problems the ability to apply computational processing is aggressively flattening the field and reducing the differences we used to see between formats. 

I'm sure I will not be able to blow up these images to sizes as large as I would if using full res files from an A7rii but I'm equally sure that I can get close; and the reality is that either camera will make prints that are large enough so that the optimum viewing distance veils any substantive differences in overall quality. Fast lenses on small formats can equal the look of slower lenses on bigger formats. If f1.4 equals f2.8 (m4:3 versus FF) and we have f1.4 available then we gain two stops of shutter speed or two steps of ISO. Stuff works out. 

After carefully examining about 1200 photographs and six minutes of 4K video I'm happy to say that I feel comfortable using the new cameras in just about any situation. The secret is to understand how they can be set to ensure optimum operation. Used well just about any modern camera can excel. But few can match the GH5 for it's versatility (vis-a-vis the combination of video and stills). 







I had to go shopping for shirts today. I have way too many shirts but I didn't have just the right shirts for an upcoming job. I'll be shooting for three days at one of the fancy downtown hotels for a high profile, high tech firm and, as usual, in discussing the project with my client I asked about dress code.
My client being a practiced hand at large, corporate stage shows just tossed out, "standard show black."

"Just like the guys from the event production company." She referenced a company that I have worked side by side with, literally all over the world.

Show Black is as follows: black shoes, black socks, black dress pants (not jeans), black belt and a black, long sleeve shirt with a collar. The shirt can be either a button up dress shirt or a long sleeve polo style shirt but it should be dull black, unwrinkled and professionally presentable. And the entire outfit should blend in nicely with the black drape around and in front of the main stage.

The purpose of wearing "show black" is pretty simple; if you need to transit an auditorium filled with an audience you don't want to take away attention from the main speaker, the panel or the on stage presentation or demo. If you are working the show in the capacity of photographer, videographer, director, lighting technician, A/V specialist or stage set technician you need to always remember that the client and their presenters should be in the limelight and you should be functionally invisible.

Many, many years ago when I first started photographing at major shows for Dell, IBM and Motorola I showed up for a stage show event in a nice pair of black jeans, a white, button down shirt, and a pair of Nike trainers. The head of the staging company (who has been a friend now for 30 years) walked over and asked me, "Do you want to keep this client? Do you want to come back and work tomorrow?" I nodded. "Heres' one of our shirts (black button down oxford with his company logo very discreetly embroidered on the pocket), go and change and tomorrow be sure to come in black "business casual slacks" and black leather shoes. Clients are paying to see your work, not you." 

In a moment of rare clarity I took his advice and upgraded my show wear. I've successfully worked at major events for those three clients (and many others ) for the better part of thirty years. And in that time I've watched executives or journalists transit in front of a stage in white or light colored shirts and khaki pants and it seems like every set of eyes in the audience watched them as they made their way across the room; the bright, white shirt like a magnet for peoples' attention.

I have five or six presentable pairs of black dress pants but the closet was getting low on black shirts. I did a show two weeks ago and by the third day I was on my last presentable black shirt. My preference these days is black golf shirts --- I like the Greg Norman ones but there are a few other brands that are very low key and well cut to my build. The material has more give than cotton broadcloth and the latest fabrics are eminently breathable. If I was fat I would stick to  button up oxfords but since I have no discernible belly bulge I'm safe for the moment in tighter fitting shirts.

And my wife would tell you that my supply of black leather shoes will never run out. I love functional dress shoes. I know I am a living anachronism but I also have a shoe shine kit and black shoe polish and I don't show up for shows with scuffed toes. (Love the way that sounded when I said it out loud).

One more thing about wearing show black and having a couple of cameras over your shoulders--- the client's team instantly knows who you are, why you are there and what your are doing; even if they did lose your badge on the way into town....

Call Time. I learned even earlier than my sartorial education that the start time of my client's program is vastly different than my "call time." On the first full day of the show I'm working this week the online agenda says that the main tent session will start at 8:00 am. And yes, that means the show will probably start at 8:00 am. But on the production schedule, which the attendees will not see, are line item call times for various production positions. The stage techs' call time is 6:00 am. It could be earlier if there needed to be a pre-show rehearsal.

My call time is 7:00 am. This means I check in at the main auditorium no later than 7:00 am. One reason for this is to provide comfort to the client. If they see your face when they walk in for last minute changes and check list stuff they know you're there and ready and it's one less person to worry about. They know they won't be getting a call ten minutes before their CEO walks out on stage with a photographer on the other end making a lame excuse about traffic or a flat tire. Your early call is one more check on the check list that means "all systems go." 

But the early call time is more than just padding. Many times a request for special coverage will come down before the show. On a recent show several speakers came into town with no headshots for projection on the big screens to announce their upcoming presentations. All the other speakers had headshots and they were already dropped into templates for the program. Since I was on time we were able to set up, shoot and deliver new headshots that fit the template just in time.

I love showing up early. I can get acclimated, drink some coffee, talk to the show techs about anything special I need to be aware of ( a surprise award presentation? )  and get a feel for the disposition of the client. I routinely offer to show up early for the production company that's designed and implemented the stage design so we can run through some lighting cues and get them some photo documentation for their portfolios. It's a quid pro quo because, if they like you, the production company is quick to recommend you to big, new clients.

Crew Meals. On some shows I am asked to wear a coat and tie since I'll be working in the middle of a group of similarly dressed executives. In those situations it's pretty much assumed that I'll have lunch with the audience. When we are asked to wear show black and fit in behind the scenes the presumption is that we're separate from the invited guests and audiences and we'll eat in a space reserved for the crew.

The food is usually the same in the crew craft service area as what the hotel or convention center is serving to the show guests, it's just that we're in a room off the stage and the food is presented buffet style since everyone's schedule is, by necessity, staggered. This is great because we can blow off a little steam without potentially embarrassing ourselves --- at least not in front of the client....

It's also great because we aren't subject to the delays that the guests might encounter, such as long lines at buffets or long service times for sit down lunches and dinners. We don't waste time waiting.

I usually head straight to lunch as soon as the last speaker of the morning surrenders his/her podium. I want to eat quickly so I can sit down at my laptop and grind out a selection of images to send to the social media person on my client's staff for quick dissemination. I don't usually have time to eat a leisurely lunch on a big corporate showcase because I tend to be scheduled pretty tightly and there seems always to be a voracious appetite for ever newer images and video as the day drags on.

The Bar. Occasionally you'll have a long term client who sees you as part of their team and invites you to have a glass of wine or a mixed drink while you are attending and photographing receptions, etc. That's very much an exception. I make it a general rule to leave the bar and the alcohol to the guests and the marketing people from the client company. They truly might not care in the moment but if something goes wrong and karma catches up with you for writing a column about not needing dual memory card slot redundancy, and you lose some important images, the client may suddenly remember that one glass of wine and head down the road toward blaming your "reckless" drinking for their loss. Not a pretty position to fine one's self in.... Better to wait till the end of the night and have a drink at the lobby bar. Or, better yet, remember that you could make it to the 5:30 am morning master's swim the next day and skip that performance robbing glass of chardonnay altogether .

Memory Card Management. You are working fast and shooting tons of stuff. Eventually your memory cards fill up. You have more fresh cards to stick into the camera but what, exactly, do you do with the cards full of potential prize winners that you've worked so hard to fill up? I have a goofy system for that. I buy little coin/change envelopes at the office supply store. They are fairly small and have lick-and-stick closures. I get the yellowish manilla colored ones. When I fill up a card I lock it then fill out a time and subject description on the card and seal it into its own envelope. If I have duplicate cards I do an envelope for each and write "B/U" (for back up) on one of them. When I get back to the studio and start ingesting files into Lightroom I copy the files from the main card onto two separate hard drives with custom file names and some detailed exif. I keep the "B/U" cards separate and safe until I've done all the post processing and have delivered the final images to the client (also in duplicate -- nowadays on 64 GB memory sticks/flash drives).  Always better safe than sorry. Those little envelopes have saved me a lot of grief..... You can reformat and re-use one set of cards as long as you have one set put aside for the inevitable "rainy day."

Bill Hard and Bill Fast. You should bill for everything you originally discussed and also bill for any additions requested by the client during the run of the show. Did they ask you for print outs? Bill it. Did they ask you to come in earlier than originally agreed upon? Bill that. Were you promised an onsite meal but missed it because the client added a file send request that needed to be done ASAP? Grab a meal from the hotel restaurant when you have a chance and be sure to bill it. Does the client need a second version of the show on a second hard drive to send to their boss in San Francisco? Bill it. It's easy to get nickled and dimes at a fast moving show but you've got a smartphone and you should know how to use a notebook app to keep track. They would bill you if the shoe (black) was on the other foot.

Also, bill quick. Don't dally around after the show is over. Don't go on vacation and decide you'll bill when you get back. The excitement surrounding the show is like perishable food. It's best eaten fresh and begins to smell after it's been around for a while. Hand your client a bill with the deliverables while the show is happily fresh in their minds and remind them that you are happy to accept their corporate credit card for payment. Money in hand is well worth the meager percentage you might lose to execute the transaction. Wait too long and the show won't look as exciting in the client's rear view mirror. Then they may decide to go on vacation before they get around to picking around the edges of your invoice before sending it along to accounting; where it will go to the back of a long line of invoices from other vendors from the same show who were more motivated to get paid quickly than you were.....

First in line is always better. More to follow.





It's been a physical week. I had a very traditional photo assignment on Monday which required shooting portraits and environmental shots at three different, blue chip law firms and at a company that provides insurance to the legal industry. I say that it's been a physical week because that job had me packing and unpacking a lot. I was able to stuff everything into one heavy backpack but it was one heavy backpack. 

I used small lights, off camera with triggers, and tried to do justice to portrait subjects in a series of quick encounters. But really, it's the packing and moving that wears one down. Tuesday was one of those relentless post processing days when the jobs done on Saturday, Sunday and Monday finally get ingested, tweaked and sent on to web galleries for their brief moment in the sunlike glare of clients' attention. 

I was back to the location work on Weds. with portraits at yet another law firm. I was using the big LED panels (Aputure Lightstorm) and four of them are a heavy package. They shared space on my multi-cart with plenty of light stands and grip gear. But the portraits I did that day were some of the best I've ever done. A lot of the quality had to do with the particular subjects but I'll give some credit to the lighting. When you finally get the perfect mix of window light and panel light, and all the planets line up correctly, if you are lucky enough to get it all balanced and sprinkled with magic pixie dust you sometimes get a gift from the photo gods. But sometimes you just get photos that are more or less in focus. I had a smile on my face when I looked at the final files this time....

Thurs. was the back-to-back work, stills and video projects for Zach Theatre. Flashes and a seamless background for full length shots of two actors at a time followed (in a different building) by two interviews (lit with LED panels) and some really fun footage of a full rain effect (with tap dancing) on the main stage. The video, when mixed with stills from the tech rehearsal this coming Sunday will get smooshed up together to make an promotional piece for "Singing in the Rain." 

I have figured one thing out. A way to lighten my load would be to lose the sandbags we use to keep stuff from falling over. But then stuff would.....fall over. A few years back Calumet marketed plastic sandbags that were meant to be filled with water at the location and then drained after use, but before packing. They worked okay for the first four or five times I used them but on one shoot, in a nice setting, they started to leak and that was the end of that. Ah well.

It's also the week I started to add some additional weight training to augment my swimming. Nothing big but even adding 50 curls with 20 pounds is enough to make one sore if one has been avoiding their weight bearing exercise....

By today I was dog tired and, after noon swim workout, I could have used a nap but instead I started reading reviews about the photographic capabilities of the new iPhone 8s. And I started thinking in earnest about computational photography. I don't think I'm breaking any new intellectual ground here when I make the statement that I sure as hell would not want to own stock in a traditional camera company from here forward. 

The inclusion of portrait modes on the new iPhone 8s that emulate the traditional optical look of out-of-focus backgrounds is going to take a huge chomp (once again) out of the low and middle tiers of the market for professional photographers. Once those cameras transition from beta computational software to the full implementation they will be able to do the few things that kept larger formats alive in the eyes of the majority of the market. They'll provide big files with lots of detail, much less noise, and the ability to drop backgrounds nicely out of focus. 

Ah, but we'll still survive because we know how to light portraits! Right? Ummm. The beta software includes the ability to change the lighting on human faces. Game over for a lot of people who were able to make a living because they could put a TTL flash with an umbrella on a light stand, get close on exposure, drop the background out of focus and depend on the generous latitude of raw files to save butt in those times when the TTL didn't quite work the way the photographer wished. And yes, you can change the background in the iPhone software. Oh, and the screens are much higher quality than just about anything on current enthusiasts' cameras. 

If I were just starting out a career in photography I'd be running for the exits so fast.... With a few well thought out accessories you and your new iPhone could be competitive with a lot of newly minted pros. Imagine if these phones ever fell into the hands of really accomplished photographers and you'll understand why I think traditional cameras are not long for the world of general photography. 

In two years there will be three classes of cameras left: the smartphones (95% of the market), mirrorless cameras with killer specs and great video (for the few working pros who are left) and traditional Nikon and Canon DSLRs for the errant dentist or nostalgia buff.  It won't be pretty on the blogs...

But I am here now and still working so I'll write about a fun lens I used for a ton of stuff this week. I've written about it before but I'll recap: I bought an Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens to keep my first Panasonic GH5 company. I found both its optical qualities and its image stabilization to be quite good. So I've started using it for more and more work. I used it for most of the work I did at law firms in the early days of the week. And I used it yesterday, with the GH5, for both the actor images against white and the director and choreographer interviews I did in 4K video in the afternoon. I love this lens and camera combination. Everything that comes out of the camera is sharp and sassy but not exaggerated. 

The one lens that I played with this week that's even better is the Olympus 40mm-150mm f2.8. I used it wide open to make one of the most beautiful portraits I've made in years. But you just can't beat the range of the 12-100mm f4.0. And the remarkable thing is that most of the time I've been using it wide open. Pretty stunning. Everyone should run out and buy one immediately. Or not.

So, how do I feel about my recent decision to bulk up on GH5's and attendant lenses? Pretty damn good. Nearly every estimate request and bid request I get these days calls for some part of the project to be video. I was negotiating a three day event for next week and the client was pushing back on price. I pushed back too but I wanted the job. I would have ended up reducing the price if I had to but in the process the client noticed that I was also offering video services on my website and asked if I could also provide some conference b-roll video. I said, "yes" and all of a sudden my original bid was fine and reasonable. 

How much video? Roll on a speaker for 20 seconds in the middle of a session. Get some quick footage of people networking during the breaks. Show a few angles of a panel discussion. Get some footage of the band on stage at the ACL/Moody Theater. It's all stuff that will fit well around the photography I'll already be shooting. This is what the whole hybrid concept was really meant to be. 

It also works in reverse. I've been hired to shoot video interviews and had the client's marketing team enjoy the process we use with their executives enough that they were willing to add a day just to shoot portraits and some interiors. And if you think about it every single day of commercial use just about pays for one individual GH5. But none of this would work if the footage out of the cameras wasn't great. It is. In both directions. Just thought I'd throw some love to my current favorite camera. Made my favorite camera partly because of the lens contributions from Olympus. They're a better fit for me that some of the similar Panasonic lenses. 
The GH5 is definitely a keeper. 


I'd like to say that I'm planning to chill out this next week but we're already gearing up. I shoot the tech rehearsal for "Singing in the Rain" on Sunday (mostly for video b-roll) and the dress rehearsal on Tues. (mostly for marketing photography). I use any downtime on those days to do post production on the content. Then, it's a Weds. - Fri. corporate event with two handfuls of GH5 cameras. Photos and video, followed by more days of post. I've learned it's good to make hay while the sun shines. The marketing mood and the national economy have a tricky habit of turning bad on a dime...

An almost behind the scenes look at my lighting for the actors who 
will star in "A Tuna Christmas" at Zach Theatre. In between shots.

I've pretty much cut the cord when it comes to electronic flash. After a long career of dragging heavy strobe boxes, heads and mono-lights onto location after location I've had enough. And it's never just the box and head or the mono-lights that make the process of lighting things on location such a pain in the ass, it's also the cabling, connectors and extension cords that add sheer drudgery to every job outside the studio.

In the days of nickel-cadmium double A batteries and wimpy hot shoe flashes the bigger flashes were a necessary component when lighting large groups, big products or big rooms with power hungry medium format cameras and films. Now, not so much...

The worst part of location jobs seemed to be the lack of nearby or functioning electrical outlets in whatever area in which we needed to shoot. We'd get an assignment to photograph a group of executives at a company and when we got there we would find that the location the marketing team had reserved was in a major foot traffic area in a company headquarters and that the nearest A/C outlet was 75 feet away. And on the other side of a hallway. We'd set up out lights and start stringing out extension cords. Once the extension cords were laid down we'd need to spend time taping down any part that crossed a walk way. If we needed more than one outlet our budget for gaffer's tape could get out of hand...

When I switched to mono-lights it fixed on problem (all light heads being tethered on fairly short cables to one pack) and added another. Now all four or five lights used on a temporary set would need their own power cable and those power cables needed their own extension cords. Major pain, as each cable had to be taped down so inattentive executives and their legions of helpers didn't trip over the cables and injure themselves.

I tried to go with a total battery powered system back in 2007-2008 but I was stymied by the need for all day power (so of our shoots run 1200-1500 exposures) and the need for more power than most of the cost effective speed lights delivered. I like shooting at ISO 100 or 200 and I like to use big umbrellas and soft boxes and the venerable Vivitar 283 or the Nikon SB-800 just didn't deliver.

NiMh batteries were helpful but we found ourselves changing out the four batteries in four or five flashes four or five times a day. And much of the cost of big brand name portable strobes was based on their ability to be controlled from the camera position which was a feature set we didn't need for my style of photography. Now almost every generic brand offers the same kinds of controls. But we still don't really use the remote setting features.

No, the real split between my flashes and alternating current came this year when I became aware of bigger, lithium ion batteries coupled with fairly powerful generic flash products from companies like Neewer, Godox, and Fotodiox.

I dipped my toes into the bigger battery, better performance for less money market with a couple of Godox V850 flashes and I've never looked back. Two of them made for perfect tools when lighting up a standard white background. Even with ISO 200 I'm getting f8.0 on the background above while using the flashes on manual at 1/8th power.

My next step was to play with the Godox AD200 flash which provided a bigger battery and more power, along with an interchangeable flash head. It's a really nice flash and it bangs away at 1/2 power just about forever; especially if you are using the bare bulb head. But what I really wanted was just a bit more power and a day's worth of flashes. That's when I found the Neewer Vision 4, 300 watt second, battery powered monolight. It features a big lithium ion battery that's said to be capable of delivering 700 full power flashes. I use it at 1/2 power for quick recycling and I used it that way for about 500 flashes at a shoot yesterday and still had about 3/4ths power remaining when we wrapped up.

My set up for two people, full body, on a white seamless was to use the two smaller Godox flashes at 1/8th power directly on the backgrounds. I made little BlackWrap(tm) flags to cut the light spread to keep it off my subjects. At 1/8th power the flashes recycle almost instantly and will keep popping pretty much forever.

My fill light was the AD200 firing into a 72 inch, white umbrella at 1/2 power. I used it about 20 feet back from my subjects. It was the perfect fill light.

My main light was the Neewer Vision 4 firing into a 60 inch, white umbrella that was positioned about 15 feet from the subjects (looking for the inverse square law to help me even out the light across the two actors). The light was triggered by its included remote trigger which trigger the other three lights which were set to "S1" which makes use of their optical slave modules.

With no cords to manage and no extension cords to act as potential liability lawsuit triggers I was able to position my lights wherever I needed them and to work more quickly than ever before.

I might add a second Neewer Vision 400 but....then again I may just keep on working with the exact stuff I've outlined here. Seems to be working for me well right now.

Happy to say "goodbye" to extension cords, power cables and haphazardly functional wall outlets. I'm now back in the studio watching four battery chargers flashing away for the lights and another two flashing away with camera batteries. Relaxing.