4.20.2014

A non-conclusive test of the Samsung NX30 video. No investigation (yet) into sound or HDMI output...

Grafitti Park Samsung Video from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.
This video shows handheld, non-graded, non-corrected video from the Samsung NX30 using an image stabilized 50-200mm f4-5.6 lens. Saturday is a day when many, many people seem to come to wall and worship with their cameras.


First, just a little bit of background for new readers: This is not a technical review site. I do write about cameras that I use and sometimes I'll write a review but it's always from my point of view as a user instead of a definitive exploration of a camera's specifications and an exhaustive cataloging of various features. In order to do a video test in a way that's really valuable to advanced, technically savvy video users we would lock the camera on a tripod, optimize all the setting, shoot and edit at the highest quality settings and then upload 4 or 5 gigabyte ProRes final files for people to download. 

Well, that's not going to happen and it's especially not going to happen here with a sub $1,000 camera aimed at still photography enthusiasts. Instead, I went over to one of my favorite haunts, the Graffiti Wall (Hope Outdoor Park) in central Austin, an rambled around shooting handheld video with only the 50-200mm f4-5.6 zoom lens. I uploaded the video to Vimeo as a 720pm file and you can go over there with the link provided and watch the video in HD. It won't be 1080 HD but those are the breaks. 

I'll post more tests as I use the camera more and more for video. I promise. 

Here's what I learned in a couple hours of shooting: The NX30 is a strange duck. The essential camera is very good but there is one "gotcha" for me:  I've struggled to figure out the relationship between the image I see in the finder (bright and thin) with the image I see on the back screen of the camera (thick and rich). I found the controls to adjust both and, after comparing the rear screen image to my images in Final Cut Pro X I've opted to leave the rear screen untouched. It's really close in color and density to my reference points. The EVF is another matter. The image looks too bright, the colors a bit desaturated and the overall sense is that the EVF could use a bit more contrast. Samsung may have been aiming to provide a screen that could help photographers "see" into the shadows better but it comes at the expense of a pleasant viewfinder image. I have tried both a minus one and a minus two click setting but it's not a big enough adjustment and that adjustment does nothing to increase the overall contrast and saturation of the EVF screen. I wonder if, in a future firmware upgrade, Samsung couldn't add a gamma setting to the EVF controls.

Like many DSLRs and "mirror-free" cameras the NX30 doesn't allow one to change exposure compensation on the fly when shooting video. I used the camera mostly in the A mode and allowed the shutter speed to wander so some of the footage will look a bit choppy as the shutter speeds climbed. The camera did a good job on general exposure and on white balance as well.

This was the first time I tried out the manual focusing capabilities of the camera and I am very happy with Samsung's implementation. Like a number of newer cameras the NX30 gives users a good focus peaking feature and allows one to pick various strengths and colors for the indications on the back screen or on the EVF. I found the medium setting to be perfect for this longer lens. The focus peaking worked in a very small plane of focus and that made sharp focusing at the longest focus settings very accurate.

The camera is well thought out for manual focusing in that one touch of the focus ring magnifies the image in the finder by at least five times and goes a long way to ensuring precise focus. The camera combines the magnified focus with focus peaking and the result is a quick way to get sharp focus that will hold throughout a video take. With a little practice I think I could use the peaking to do fairly good focus pulling in a pinch. Which is good since there are no hard stops and no infinity stops on the lens focus rings.

I did hand hold the camera for all of the shots and I was happy with the image stabilization built into the lens. While it should be obvious that a shorter set of lengths would have gone a long way to minimizing movement I felt like this approach (and often shooting at the 3oo mm equiv. focal length) would be a good worst case scenario/torture test of the system. Did I mention that I chugged down a very good cup of Mexican Zaragosa coffee on my walk over to the park?

None of the footage presented here has been graded or color corrected in any way. It is straight out of camera, I edited the footage together in FCP and uploaded it directly to Vimeo where it is presumed to undergo quite a bit of compression. So, no color correction, no added sharpness, no contrast controls, etc. The footage you see (minus the compression of Vimeo) is what you'll get out the camera at its "Standard" color profile.

If I use the camera for professional work (and I probably will as a second or third POV camera) I will experiment with shooting in flatter color profile and turn down the sharpening just a bit. The camera tends to "crush" the blacks which enhances the appearance of contrast but I can make that more controllable with a more gentle profile.

I can see a few jaggies on telephone wires but nothing worse than what I used to see on the Canon 5D2. While the footage straight out of camera isn't quite as good as the Panasonic GH3 or the Sony RX10 it's pretty good to my eye and I wouldn't hesitate to use it if the story we are telling is compelling enough.

I spent two hours shooting with the camera on all the time. As I was walking home I checked the battery and was pleased to find that it still had 70% of its charge left.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Samsung line the NX30 is the current top of the heap for Samsung. As a big cellphone maker they tend to be a bit (too) obsessed with wedging connectivity "features" into all of their cameras and I think that they would benefit in stepping back and fine tuning the camera side of the overall package instead of trying to ace something as mundane as tossing images up immediately onto the web.

The camera uses a 20.3 megapixel sensor with phase detection AF built onto the sensor. My take is that the sensor is, in good light and up to ISO 1600, competitive with anything out on the market in the APS-C category. The sensor has really nice color and though I haven't pushed the camera in near darkness I think it controls noise well up to at least 1600.

There's one feature that's nice but I haven't gotten any use out of it. That would be the fact that the EVF can tilt up 90 degrees to give one waist level composing. I'm sure I'll get around to using it for something but in the studio I've started to defrost my feelings about using LCD screens for composition and I would probably default to the tilting, rotating screen for most comp checks under controlled lighting.

If the EVF finder were better implemented I would say that the NX30 would be a good competitor for the Olympus and Panasonic cameras on many levels. If you don't really care about the eye level finder then you might not care as much as I do. But the fact of the matter is that Olympus (and now Panasonic in their G6 and GX7 cameras) is setting the bar for EVF performance and one must give demerits for lesser performance.

The plus to the camera when compared to the Olympus OMD series is in the way it feels. The rounded body and the way the controls are placed makes the camera a joy to hold and work with for long periods of time.

But the thing that will ultimately make Samsung a strong competitor (if they ever get that EVF thing right) is the line of lenses they are putting out on the market. The 85mm 1.4 is very impressive. I'll keep this body around just to be able to use that 85mm for extremely narrow DOF in video. The pancake 30mm f2.0 is also a good performer and makes the camera a small and light street shooting camera. The biggest surprise for me has been the 50-200mm 4-5.6. It's not an expensive lens but everything I've shot with it has turned out very well. The lens is sharp in the center where I want it to be and the contrast is moderately high which works well with the sensor.

You'll have be your own judge when it comes to video. I've put up my first volley and I'll keep trying the camera under more and more rigorous circumstances. I am enjoying beating this camera into submission and subverting it to my will. We'll see at which point it strikes back.

I am taking it to San Antonio today to visit my parents. I've set it in the black and white mode and look forward to shooting images that way. I've also set the image aspect ratio to 16:9 as I suspect I'll be rotating in and out of video during the day and I want to be able to pull still images into video without the need to crop.

That's where we are today with the Samsung NX30 video. Hope you enjoyed seeing all the photo mania at the wall that I found sprinkled over the three acres. And I do want to shout out to the impromptu Dee-Jays that fired up some nice music around sunset. Well done.

4.19.2014

Fun times at the graffiti park. Shooting with the Samsung 30 NX.


I went to the Graffiti Park today to test out the Samsung NX30's video performance. Video takes a while longer to deal with because I want to edit something together that won't make people grind their teeth or reference fingernails on chalkboards. The camera's sensor is great. APS-C is great for depth of field control. Even with a pedestrian sounding 50-200mm f4-5.6. In all the camera does video well.

The image above is a still grab shot. Most of my afternoon was spent shooting handheld video (will I never learn?).

But this particular post has nothing to do with the camera or the lens or the sensor. It has to do with a funny thing that happened to me four times this afternoon. As I was walking through the park I had four different couples come up to me and ask me if I would take their photograph with their camera. Of course I obliged. What else would a civilized person do? But each time the person handing me the camera was very careful to (talk slowly and...) explain which button to push to make the exposure and how they wanted the shot framed. I listened carefully and tried to follow their instructions to the letter. Except for the couple who had their camera mis-set. It would have taken a silhouette. I fixed the exposure mode and took several versions just to make sure we had what they wanted.

One couple thanked me, looked at the images and then told me that they were very well done. I thanked them for saying so.

I can only imagine what we could have done if we'd flown a 12x12 foot silk over the couple, filled them in with 1100 watt seconds of flash from an Elinchrom Ranger flash pack and then used a camera that could sync a bit faster....

Anyway, I was pleased to be asked. When I came home I told my wife about my encounters. She laughed. She thought it was karmic-ly appropriate.

If you are at an Austin landmark look for the older person with the black rimmed glasses and the white, broadcloth, Julian Alexander button down. I'm sure he'll do a good job with your photograph....

4.18.2014

A "selfie" from a client request.


One of the agency people involved with Samsung asked me to send along a selfie with one of the Samsung cameras. At one time last year I was the most knowledgable user of the Samsung Galaxy NX camera anywhere. Since I am vain and constantly self-promoting I got on the assignment right away. I pulled out an ancient, non-connectivity Sony a850 and put on the cheesy 24-105mm Sony lens, grabbed the electronic cable release and fired away. I like the black mock turtleneck and the glasses with the black rim over the top.

Pulling out the Samsung Galaxy NX for the photograph got me investigating that camera anew. I think the gap in my thinking last year was my myopic concentration with the camera's still imaging and still photography handling capabilities. I overlooked the video capabilities of the camera entirely. So yesterday I spent a lot of the afternoon playing around with the Galaxy NX as a video camera.

Now I have an all new respect for the camera. I have always liked the sensor and I was always impressed with every Samsung lens I've shot but now I am a fan of the video capabilities as well.

But first one caveat: The camera is not well set up for recording professional quality sound along with the video. There is an all purpose 3.5mm plug on the side into which you can use EITHER a set of headphones to hear playback, or a microphone to record audio, but you obviously can't use them both at the same time. Another constraint is that the audio set up of the camera doesn't allow for control over the sound levels in the recording mode. You get automatic levels no matter what.

But I will say that they do some good software in the audio region that senses gaps between words and clamps down on levels instead of letting them spike up and create hiss and noise. You can still hear some anomalies but it's pretty workable.  I recorded myself with an inexpensive Olympus stereo lavaliere microphone and while it wasn't bad it also wasn't perfect.

But the video at the highest quality settings, and using the 1080p, 30fps is very good indeed. Unlike the big Sony a99 the video written to the memory card is very sharp and detailed. The color balance, even using the AWB setting is great and it's a lot of fun composing and shooting while using the almost 5 inch screen on the back. It's the production equivalent of having an outboard, large monitor.

A bonus is that the camera provides focus peaking in manual focus settings which worked well with the tests I did using the new 85mm 1.4 lens.

Funny that this is a camera I didn't really warm up to when shooting stills and yet I am very pleased and intrigued to use it as a video tool. I'm shooting some personal work with it over the weekend and I'll be using the Zoom H4n and a shotgun mic to do audio. In one of the recent upgrades to Final Cut Pro X Apple has basically incorporated the same kind of sound matching we used to need PluralEyes to get. Now it can all be done in the program by matching up the outboard audio with the camera scratch track. You really have to shoot live view with a 5 inch monitor to get the appeal but believe me, it's fun and highly productive.

The camera is currently selling for around $1200. We're getting into a more realistic price range. I'll have some footage to show next week. I'm not advising any one to run out and buy one right away. But if you have one sitting around fire up the video setting and do some work. I think you WILL be pleasantly surprised.

Yes, it's this camera:









I meant to get some work done today. I really did. So after my second cup of coffee and a quick read of the New York Times I grabbed the dog and headed out to the studio. I sent a bill to someone and then I sent along 18 enormous 100 megabyte Tiff files to a service in India to have them masked and retouched. I'm gonna say that part qualifies as real work, although I had uploaded the files yesterday....

I read the usual forums and websites (theonlinephotographer seemed strangely off-line today...).  I got all riled up by a crazy person over on the digital pro forum at DPReview (there's always someone stirring the pot over there).

And I sent off some correspondence to people I needed to, well, correspond with.

Then Studio Dog poked me on the leg with her paw and gave me that look that said, "Really? Sitting on your butt for two hours banging on the keyboard? We've got squirrels to corral and important communications with other dogs to perform.  And your butt isn't going to get any skinnier wiggling your paws on the keyboard." She is so right. She always is. So I grabbed a leash and a bag of treats and we set off to look at the neighborhood. We both growled at the lawn guys with the leaf blowers. We had a few moments of silence for the scrape-off houses that have been recently scrapped off to make space for much bigger houses that will dominate once gracious lots.

We practiced walking "steady" and we practiced giving and receiving treats. I gave many lamb treats and got only joyous hand licks in return. After passing an hour ambling through and checking the smell of every letter box and light pole we returned home.

I answered another e-mail. This one from a client who recently asked for a bid on a huge job. The  response and tentative "yes!" by the client was too quick and then, reading further I saw that I would have to sell myself with a dog and pony show to the final client of the ad agency and I would have to finance about $20,000 worth of hard cost for 30 to 60 days if I wanted the job. I like jobs but I don't like them that much. I sent back a note suggesting that if a dog and pony show and financing for agency and client were part of the mix I might not be signing on. We'll see what happens there but I don't really care how slow or hot the market is, 25 years in the business gives one a tingling spider sense for eminent train wrecks and career stoppers. Some business I can live without.

Well, that took us right up to 11:30 am and frankly not much got done. I took the Studio Dog back to the house, grabbed a towel and headed over to the pool for a crowded, kinetic, fast paced master's swim practice. I rarely remember workouts but this one was devious for it's 300 set that went: 50 butterfly, 50 backstroke, 50 butterfly, 50 breaststroke, 50 butterfly, 50 freestyle. Rinse and repeat a number of times. That's a lot of butterfly to repeat. I guess I'll sleep well tonight.

The reward for any hard, noon workout is a good lunch so I headed to Chipotle Grill for a bowl with beans, rice, carnitas, two different salsas and some cheese. Yummy. Now I'm back at the studio with Studio Dog and she's pretty insistent that it's nap time. Dog bed in place. Yoga mat in place.

Commence napping. It's all part of the rich life of the freelance photographer....

4.17.2014

Life gets all settled down and mellow and then the UPS guys shows up to roil it back up with new gear...

Beautiful Sunny Afternoon at the Graffiti Park. 
Punchy, Swirly colors.

Sitting at my desk in my quiet west Austin neighborhood just working away on some silly post processing and minding my own business. I'd just hit the Keurig machine to blast the drooping eyelids back open when I hear the dog barking over in the house. About three minutes later the big, brown truck rolls up and my regular delivery guy drops a package outside the front door. He's here so often he doesn't even bother to knock anymore. 

I wasn't expecting anything but that's how this stuff usually goes. A package arrives out of nowhere and all of a sudden I'm playing with new stuff and changing direction a little bit at a time. I had no idea what was in the box and I left my reading glasses on the desk so the label didn't clear things up. 
I grabbed my Trident folding knife out of my left cowboy boot and sliced into the cardboard box with  a flick of my wrist. The prize was another box wrapped in some New York newspaper. 

Once I got through the newsprint I hoisted out a dense silver box and deftly sliced the lid off that one with a quick twist. Yep. Another fun toy from the Samsung people. Last time a box from them came it was filled with their new NX30 mirror less camera. The kit lens was a side bonus. This time they upped the ante a bit and sent along a lens that a portrait photographer can really use. It was a brand spanking new 85mm 1.4. Complete with their little iFunction button on the side. 

I pushed a few scorpions aside, made a quick look under my desk for lost rattlesnakes and then I settled back into my chair to take a good look at the lens. Damn, it's heavy. Dense heavy. Like plutonium. It's short and squat and it's got the biggest hood, relative to its size, that I've ever seen. 

I'm always side-tracked by my own curiosity so I put the lens on the NX30 and shuffled over to the door. I took my coffee cup into the house and quick ate a couple of jalapeƱos just so I'd have something to wash down with the last few sips. And this was Texas coffee...we grind up a few smaller habeƱeros along with the coffee beans just to give the brew a bit more zing...

I headed over to hipsterland central, the edges of the Clarksville neighborhood. And I cruised around to the big painted wall where I could do some thoughtful "art" with my newly conjoined rig. 

I shot till the sun went down and the Bob Wills album I was singing to myself in my head wound down. I saddled up the Honda and headed back home just hoping my spouse would get right with her Texas roots and rustle up something beefy and barbecued instead of that healthy stuff we've been gagging down----- Vegatables? Grains? Fresh Fruit?  That's damn tree-hugger fare. 

Well, we had a branding fire raging in the backyard so my hopes were high but further investigation revealed the cruel reality; grilled vegetables. Lots of zucchini. More kale than anyone might need in a lifetime. 

I finally got settled and downloaded the images I'd shot for a little "look-see." 

I liked them pretty darn good. So today, just out of curiosity I dragged out my much maligned Samsung Galaxy NX camera and started playing with that as well. But that camera has me more interested in doing a bit of video. It's the lure of the giant screen on the back.

I don't really have much of a Samsung system going on here. Yes, I've got a couple of bodies with 20 meg, APS-C sensors. I've got the can anyone please choose some different focal lengths for the damn kit lenses 18-55mm kit lens. Somewhere around Christmas I seem to have acquired a really sharp and nice 50-200mm f4 to 5.6 zoom lens. Over in one of the saddle bags I've still got that pretty little 30mm pancake someone sent along last fall and now I've got a super fast, super sharp 85mm. Now, if they'd just send along a really cool wide angle I could alternate camera systems on alternate shooting days. A little work with the Samsung, a little work with the Panasonic. A day off with a Sony a850. 

Just when I think I have it all figured out the UPS guy comes along and stirs it all up again. 
But frankly, having all these choices makes me as happy as a pig in mud. 

And so that's what I played with today as well. Time to take the boots off, unstrap the six shooters and the chaps, take the spurs off at the front door and wrap up a day of Texas photography. Ah, the mystique. 

4.16.2014

Today was my first Theater Shoot with my "full" Panasonic GH3 system. What did I like? Was there anything I didn't like?

Pinocchio. This image done with the 12-35mm f2.8 X Panasonic zoom
handheld wide open at 3200 ISO, 1/125th.

Theater. Live Theater. Now that's got to be scary for actors and the people who make every show happen. Unlike most photography the actors can't just "chimp" their ongoing performance and go back to do many, many "re-dos".  Whatever happens in the moment happens in that moment and you can't take it back in the present performance. Those are brave artists.
Pinocchio. Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8. At or near wide open and handheld 
at 1/125th of second, ISO 3200.

The people who work at Zach Theatre do a lot of live theater that's made for kids and families. It's part of their commitment to the community. Every years thousands and thousands of school kids from across the city are exposed to fun, meaningful, captivating live performances. Some for the first time ever. The theatre is also committed to producing plays that entire families can enjoy like the play for which I photographed the dress rehearsal this afternoon; Pinocchio.


I thought I would just show up, snap some technically legit images and then head back to the studio but I have to admit that the play brought many smiles to my usually cynical face and left me with tears in my eyes at the end. Those writers really know how to lean on the emotions...and those actors know how to deliver the words straight to your heart...

Today was the first day that I had all the toys assembled that I thought I would want to have to shoot live theater performances. I had two identical Panasonic GH3 camera bodies and two primo (not prime) lenses. I used the 12-35mm f2.8 and longer sibling, the 35-100mm f2.8 zoom. These are the "X" lenses, Panasonic's attempt at premium branding a la Canon's "L" lenses. That's it. No other gear. A 16 gigabyte card in each camera and everything set the same. This production was done on the smaller theater at the Zach campus; it's a theater in the round and it means more photographer moving around to get the shots we wanted to use for marketing.


The play was pretty darkly lit. Perfect for people's eyes, lots of deep shadows mixed with bright, contaminated colors, even deeper shadows and little pools of highlights. It was an interesting exercise for the cameras. The average exposure was 1/125th of a second at f2.8, ISO 3200 which was right on the threshold of stopping subject motion---which meant I had to time the action to hit peaks. The time in the actor's expression of lines when they pause for a second just at the top of their delivery.

The two lenses are naturals for this kind of work. The image stabilization gave me a high percentage of very sharp images. The lenses look great at or near wide open and they are small enough and light enough to hold for an hour without any fatigue. The GH3 cameras were more of less flawless. They aren't low light champs but neither are they at all bad. All in all, a good hour's work shooting a good play with some fun gear. Nice to test this stuff in the real world. No kitten's souls were stolen here. And no birds in flight had their privacy breached...

Did I mention that the play was very, very good? It was. 

4.15.2014

Medium Format Digital, Here We Come. Hello Pentax.

Now we've got something to talk about.

In recent years I despaired of the chance that we'd ever have an inexpensive but powerful medium format digital camera that would bring back to we portrait photographers the thing we always crave: the long lens on the big sensor. I don't really care about total resolution but I do crave the equivalent of that big piece of medium format film. Now, after stumbling through the endless permutations of 35mm sensor sized cameras we finally have an entrant into the field that seems to check all the boxes I wanted and a lot more. Introducing the Pentax D645Z. My one complaint? I'd gladly trade ten or twenty million of those Sony pixels for a bigger, fatter sensor. One with more real estate for optical effect.

I won't go through all of the technical specs. Those are all over the web. But I do want to hit on the cool ones, from my point of view: The camera has a big sensor. Nearly 50% bigger than the sensors in the Nikon D800 or the Sony A7r. Yummy. Let's put a 110mm f2.0 lens on the front of this and see just how nice a portrait we can make. And now, all the lesser specs: The camera is advertised as weatherproofed. Yawn. It shoots pretty quicky. Okay. It uses a 51 megapixel CMOS sensor from Sony. Wonderful for those rare times when 16 megapixels are not enough (reminder: buy more hard drives....). ISO goes to a trillion. But rationally, it'll be great to have a medium format camera that produces relatively clean files at 1600-6400 ISO. It takes current and legacy Pentax 645 lenses. Cheap ones as well as expensive ones.

Will we all rush out to buy one?

I'm pretty sure a lot of people will. Especially professionals who are desperate to introduce some sort of differentiating value proposition for using them (with said camera) instead of uncle Bob who just happens to be a really good photographer, owns a D800 and dabbles in Profoto strobes. This will be the last ditch attempt to make gear the barrier to entry. I know I'll buy one once the dentists and cardiologists and hedge fund managers get tired of theirs and push them onto the used market in the under $5,000 range. May take a year or two but something else is sure to come along and dislodge the newest and freshest miracles of the present from the first wave's attention....

What's the lure? Again, for me it's not about the high ISO or the massive files it's all about being able to use longer lenses on a bigger sensor to get a kind of portrait that we used to get back in the film days. Does this mean my love affair with m4:3rds is already over? Not hardly. It'll take a while for the Pentax D645z to become Kirk-Affordable in the used market and not everything I shoot is a limited depth of field portrait. In fact, more and more of what I shoot seems to dovetail with the look and feel of the smaller cameras. 

But I do think that Pentax/Ricoh is doing something remarkable and disruptive. They join the two majors in the medium format digital racket in using the same Sony 51 megapixel chip. And I'm going to bet it's only a matter of time before Leica jumps on board as well. But the disruptive aspect is the selling price of the Pentax camera. It's less than $9,000 U.S.  It's about a quarter of the asking price of the Phase One product and probably some similar gap with the Hasselblad product. 

Is there some massive difference in the quality of the lenses? Having shot the Pentax in its film incarnation as well as the Hasselblad and the Phase One in their digital permutations I doubt that there's much difference at all between them. Certainly it will take a microscope and some patience to see the difference. For most working pros who actually need the big megapixel count and all the other bells and whistles the Pentax may actually be the most compelling choice because of their vast experience in digital with 35mm style cameras.  They have at the ready autofocusing modules, matrix metering modules and a twenty year history of making great autofocus in small and larger cameras. 

The original film 645 cameras had a reputation for being more reliable than Swiss trains and the handling was always superb.  The only differentiator between the four brands of medium format current still standing and staggering around might be from Leica who really can make lenses that are visibly more drool worthy. But whether that advantage is worth three times the price of the Pentax remains to be seen. 

I will predict one more thing: The Pentax will have the best flash performance of the group. They always have. 

My next camera? I'm tossing a coin to choose between grabbing for that GH4 or picking up another miraculous Sony RX-10. I'll take the path of least painful resistance. 



4.14.2014

Just watching my Studio Portrait Lighting Video on Craftsy.com








I sent a friend who wanted to learn about photography to one of my www.Craftsy.com classes and she came back raving. She loved the way the two and a half hour classes build, the feature where she could stop and start the video and automatically go back 30 seconds and she loved asking questions that I had to go online and answer. The course she took was absolutely aimed at beginner photographers and it's called,  Family Photography: Candid Moments & Storytelling

But the class I wanted to bring to my VSL readers' attention is my Studio Portrait Lighting course. In the studio lighting course we walk through different ways to light portraits and it's really a course in how I light a portrait. We cover different modifiers and different lights. I'm a big fan of continuous lights but the use of light and of modifiers works pretty much across the lighting spectrum (pun partially intended). 

I think the Studio Portrait Lighting class might be interesting to readers who haven't spent a lot of time shooting with controlled lighting but who might be interested to see how one person does it. With the code in the link the class is about $30. Once you buy a class you can go back to it as often as you like for as long as you like. You also get to quiz me online but it might take a day of two to get an answer. 

If you hate the course you can use Craftsy.com's money back guarantee to make yourself whole again and if you are particularly careful you can go and look at the trailer before you commit. 

I actually hate doing commercials for classes here on the blog but the classes are one of the ways I generate income and I've decided to be less shy about at least showing my readers what I have to offer. I like the way Craftsy.com does their classes and I'm taking one about making croissants right now. After that I'll find another cooking class that appeals. 

I have also taken Neil Van Niekirk's very good class on portrait lighting with small flashes and enjoyed it. These classes are much more condensed and easy to use than the free, multi-day classes offered at other sites. I hope you'll try one of mine to see how you like it. 

And if you have a friend who is just getting into photography and needs to go from understanding f-stops and shutter speeds and how to hold a camera and some remedial post processing you might want to point them to the Family Photography class. My friends who need the class are telling me they love it. 

I have to add, I learned a lot of new stuff about video production by participating as the instructor! Thanks Patty!

Redefining a changing business. Integrating new offerings with existing skills.


Since 1987 I have offered photography services to clients who are mostly in commercial enterprises. These services include: Executive Portraits, more traditional Head Shots, Product Photography, Food Photography and general, advertising oriented, LifeStyle Photography. We have also documented hundreds of events which have included celebrities like Elton John, Andy Roddick, Ben Crenshaw, Sugar Ray Leonard, three different U.S. presidents and many others. It's been a wonderful and varied career that ranged from being hunched over a still life of underground pipes (shot in the studio for 3M) to making "hero" shots of the first Apple/Motorola/IBM RISC processor to chatting with president, George H.W. Bush about wine while waiting for a photo session.

The common denominator of those 27 years has been that the majority of the work has been still photography. The cameras have varied widely. We've shot with 8x10 cameras for still life, pressed 4x5 inch film cameras into service both for studio product work and location portrait work, we've leaned heavily on medium format systems for hundreds and hundreds of editorial assignments and corporate portraits and we plumbed the depths of the Leica M and R systems for events and documentation.

Since the dawn of digital I've shot with everything from tiny sensored Canon G10's (most of the illustrations in my book on Photographic Lighting Equipment) to big Nikons and Canons, to Sony full frame and then back again to the Panasonic/Olympus micro four thirds cameras. Through all of this the cameras have been the most fun to buy but really have had the least effect on the imagery. The real work is in the lighting. And secondary to the lighting is just strategizing the shots. How to prop them? What angles to shoot? What properties to highlight? How to pose a person to make them look good? Or better?

But after this wonderful run of a career I am more and more drawn to creating moving images. In this decade that means video. I am hardly a beginner in the field. My first motion project, done in 1985, was to conceive and write the first television commercials for Bookstop Bookstores. We borrowed liberally from 2001, A Space Odessey, and built an 18 foot tall monolith of....books. Took the monolith to a rock quarry and, with a crew of 20 or so in tow we filmed our live action through one long night. Back then the production crew shot on 35mm film and we did our post production at Video Post in Dallas, Texas. David Byrne was in Dallas during the first run of the commercials and got in touch with our ad agency to see if he could use a 10 second clip of the commercial for his film, True Stories.

I've been fascinated with making video and film ever since. In the late 1980's I bought a Bolex Rex 5 16mm movie camera with an Angenieux 12-120mm lens and a few primes. In the early 1990's I bought a Canon XL-1 and then an XL-2 and worked as a DP for Bruce Maness on one of his personal movie projects and also on a series of videos about nuclear reactor waste streams. I used my Canon XL-1 and a long lens to do a series of shots with Rene Zellweger (yet to be discovered by Hollywood at that point in time) for a video about coffee.  And I worked as DP for Steve Mims on his award winning music video for Billy Joe Shaver (song: The Hottest Thing in Town). 

A little later I became interested in the Super-8 film aesthetic and bought a Nikon R-10 camera. We used it to do one of my favorite projects for a company called, TechWorks. The first half of the industrial video (made to be shown at Mac World shows) was all done in black with white Super 8 Tri-X and the second half all shot in color with BetaCam SP cameras. It was the kind of fun project I love. I got to concept, write the script, run the cameras and direct the talent. I sat in an editing bay with a very patient editor and we cut the project together during a very long day.... It was the last time I edited on tape...

Now I'm feeling a renewed interest in all things motion. I've done a number of projects in the last two years. Some with my friend, Will Van Overbeek, and some with my son, Ben, but mostly working pretty much solo. While film making is largely thought of as a collaborative process I love the way I've been building my new approach. I'll reach out for talent when I need it but I'm much more interested in my singular vision of the medium. I want to hear the words through the headphones. I want to line up the images in the camera and I want to sit in the studio and agonize, second by second over the edits.

So now I'm trying to craft a message, or an offering, to my existing and potential clients to let them know that I'd like to do these kinds of projects for them. And I'm grappling with the marketing side of the whole video process. I know how things are done, status quo, but (as usual) I am questioning why everything has to be so quantified and structured.

One thing that interests me is the idea of combining interviews and head shots. I've done a bit of this for the folks at Austin Radiological Associates but I want to expand it. The idea is to "light once and shoot twice." Set up lighting that works equally well for still photography head shots but can instantly be re-purposed for video interviews with the subject. I envision a time when every website that currently has a grouping of static head shots will move to having head shots which, when clicked on, open into a 30 or 60 second interview/scripted introduction of the person. "Hi, I am doctor John Smith and my speciality is pain management. At the Waco Witchcraft Clinic we offer a full array of tested methodologies to help our patients control and even remediate persistent pain. Our newest tool is the hybrid laser/leech therapy that combines the lost knowledge of the dark ages with the latest in medical gear bling. We are ready to help you with your pain!" 

On a more traditional note I really enjoy putting together industrial/corporate videos that combine a look into the nuts and bolts of a company's offerings combined with testimonials from clients and explanations from company wonks. Here's what we do. Here's how we do it. Here's how it works. Here are the benefits of using our product. Here's someone who has had success using the product. And finally, please call us for a demonstration/bid/more information, etc. 

I recently finished an industrial just like the one I described above and I loved every part of the process from writing the outline to picking the music bed. The project was successful for the client and everyone had fun.

What I learned during the project is that one can never have enough "b-roll" (images of the process or different angles of the speakers, etc.) and that one can never move the camera too much in the creation of the b-roll. To that end I'm adding a portable jib for the next project. I'm also looking at Varizoom's new Dolly Track system.

I guess in writing this I am really just noodling out my thoughts on how to proceed. I'm working diligently at putting more and more samples on my reel and I'm working with equal diligence on mastering every tiny part of Final Cut Pro X. I'm looking for more projects that I can handle without being encumbered by a big crew. I like working with an assistant, a sound person and a make up person. I like hiring graphic designers with expertise in the program, Motion, to create graphics.

But most of the work I envision doing in the short run is destined for websites, YouTube, Vimeo and general presentations (trade shows, corporate stage shows, etc.).  To my mind the intended use makes the selling proposition straightforward. We don't do big, splashy TV commercials. We don't do giant productions. We offer what we've really always offered. Good, solid content wrapped in well done technical wrappers.

I think our best feature/benefit is both my time spent working with corporations and understanding their processes, and my ability to write and coax good words from interviewees and narrators. Good writing and good directing are the keys to getting the information across well to prospective customers.  The clearer and cleaner I can make that process the more value we can provide to our clients.

In the next few months I'm bound to write more and more about video but I still have most of my commercial presence (my feet)  in the still photography arena and I'm not about to walk away from the equity I've built in that business.  We're working for mutually beneficial coexistence.

Times change and it seems to me that video is ready for a smaller, smarter crew and a more focused, less production intensive method of creating it. Web presentation is a relatively new medium and it requires different levels of investment and much more inventory if it's to be done correctly. We want to provide clients with good, clear messaging and visual content that's professionally done and fun to watch. Adding video and photography together is a way of leveraging both fields. Now the secret is to figure out the marketing....


4.12.2014

Am I consistent? Here's a blog from 2009. I thought it was fun so I'm reposting.

I guess that's like re-gifting but it's my blog so what the hell.

A Tourist In Your Own Town.

I'm sure you've done this many times. But if you haven't I think this exercise is one of my favorites for unblocking the creative gland and reforming the compositional capacitors that store pizzazz energy for the photo shooting part of your brain.  Here's the basic scenario:  You've spent the work week responding to e-mails, sending out bids for jobs (that keep getting postponed), you go to meetings. Some meetings are good.  You show your portfolio and walk away thinking that people like you and jobs may come your way.  Some meetings are dreadful, like the one with your banker who wants to redefine your business line of credit.  The worst meetings are the ones where horrible clients want to beat you up and get a better price on projects because, "the economy sucks".  And, of course, there are the daily obligations like sitting through your child's six hour track meet, fixing the refrigerator and trying to walk that fine line between saving enough money to go out for a nice anniversary dinner without blowing the regular budget.

So,  if you've survived a week of this you are probably sick of your office or studio, sick of the pressure and sick of thinking about things in general.  You've pretty much hit the wall.  Now is the time to grab your favorite camera, leave your family to their own devices and become a tourist in your own town.

If you live in a town like Austin you are probably aware that the city you know is in constant flux.  I like to take one Sunday afternoon a month just to walk around the downtown area with a camera and see what's new.  Today was a windy day with temperatures in the high 60's to low 70's and lots of bright, Texas sunshine.  We even had a few little high, puffy clouds.  I grabbed a Canon G9, stuffed in a four gig card and drove to the shores of Lady Bird Lake (part of the Colorado River which runs right through the middle of our downtown).  I parked on the south shores and headed for the pedestrian bridge which gives a great view of the downtown skyline. There are a bunch of high rise condo buildings going up and it's fun to photograph them against the stark, blue sky.

When the weather is as perfect as it was today all of Austin seems to show up to run, ride bikes and walk around the hike and bike trail.  Just the way a tourist in his own town likes it.  

I shot everything I saw as if I was seeing it for the first time.  The light fixtures on the bridge. The nearby railroad bridge and the river running underneath, littered with kayaks and canoes. Then I headed into downtown with stops at the power plant to shoot those big gizmos that look like ray guns in sci-fi movies and the anything with cooling fins.

I meandered through downtown shooting the sunlight licking the faces of my favorite buildings until my feet started getting sore and my stomach started grumbling.  I retraced my steps, walked past the car and headed to P.Terry's hamburger place for a single burger on whole wheat, all the way, minus jalapenos.  It was great to just sit in the bright sun on the wooden picnic table benches and slowly savor a chocolate milk shake.  I also photographed the P.Terry's sign for fun.

The little G9 or it's slightly bigger brother the G10 gives me some sort of license to shoot whatever I want.  My friends would laugh if I said I was shy but like everyone in post "9-11" America I am a bit reticent about pointing a big honking camera at strangers.  The G cams are so touristy, so amateur "wannabe" that they almost scream, "Look at me, I'm a perennial art student on a fine art scavenger hunt..."  and nobody but the drug dealers takes those folks seriously.  So, having a little "hand" camera is your license to peer into nooks and crannies, accost strangers,  shoot silly angles and generally lurch around trying to see if you got the shot by chimping the hell out of the LCD. (I know what I said last week about chimping but when you are a tourist you do whatever the hell you like!).

So what does this five hour hike around the monuments of Austin's attempt to be a real cosmopolitan metropolis buy me?  I think it gives me an excuse not to think.  An day of shooting without the pressure of having to turn out perfect work.  License to really experiment with the tools and the toys.  I know I got some exercise as I figured my route to be about five miles in all.  A chance to re-orient my engraved memory of what is downtown. And a good excuse to go off my very strict, vegan diet and splurge with a great burger.  (That last sentence was a joke.  I live for P. Terry's burgers and fries---even if it ends up knocking 1.2 months off my total life expectancy.....).

I returned home with 345 images on the little memory card and a real appreciation for what those little G cameras from Canon can turn out.  In bright light they are remarkable.  I think I'll get a few more.  

Now, here's the rant:  Stop buying big, super megapixel cameras!!!! Here's why: According to Ad Age, Adweek and the Wall Street Journal, the relentless march of advertising to the web has accelerated at a rapid clip during the last year.  Remember when we wondered when digital SLR's would supplant film?  And then it happened overnight?  What happens in trends like the move to digital imaging or the move from traditional print advertising to web and other forms of electronic advertising is the the momentum builds until the market hits a point of capitulation.  (From the latin, essentially meaning to behead the king.....).  Until the king is killed the armies keep on fighting but once the head rolls the armies stop.

We are on the cusp of print advertising capitulating to digital.  In a year or two the remaining traditional magazines will sit on lonely shelves and many of their trusty brethren will have been consigned to webmag status.  As photographers we have to understand that mastery of image files and the ability to summon tons of megapixels into the fray will no longer be effective barriers to entry to our field.  The D3x's and 1DSmk3's will become albatrosses that require learning the intricacies of downsizing.  No one will be looking for 50 megabyte tiff files they'll be looking for good compression and fast loading.  And more and more they will be looking for files that move.  As in video.

So where does that leave us as professional photographers? With the realization that many have already accepted:  We are content providers and it's time to re-orient our understanding of what constitutes content.  I'm nearly confident that I'll be doing my content in the near future with a laptop for writing and image editing and a couple of cameras like the Canon G series compacts for both still and video clip imaging.  All of a sudden there won't  be an endless need to spend on expensive camera upgrades and new models because web bandwidth will be come our new "line screen" and it will limit our need to provide huge files.  In  due time the new standard will be the resolution of HD screens and the schism between television screens and studio monitors will, for all intents and purposes, vanish.

When traditional barriers to entry into professional imaging are smashed we will have to compete and dominate the competition in three important ways:  First, we have to have better ideas. The ideas become our currency.  We'll have to be masters of lighting, at least as far as it serves our purposes in giving us an inimitable style. And third, we will have to infuse our content with intellectual assets that are unique to our own experiences.  Sounds lofty but what the hell does it really mean.  First. Better Ideas.  Instead of surviving as documenters or "picture takers" we will bring concepts and visions to the table and those will be our first line of commercial defense.  If someone asks for a portrait of a plumber it won't be on gray seamless paper with three point lighting but it might be in an underground labyrinth of crossed pipes and mysterious pools of lighting, complete with giant shrews and monsters over which our heroic plumber is victorious.  Second, the light on our plumber will be anything but formulaic.  The pipes themselves will glow.  We'll invent lighting that comes from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  And third,  we'll use our dreams, our nightmares and our loftiest ideals as the fabric for our creations, making art so poignant that it brings tears to the hardest heart and smiles to the hopeless.  Or something like that.

And in the brave new digital world the walls between writing, filming and photographing will be liquid, pliable and permeable and we'll master all three the way Mr. Spock used to master three dimensional chess on Star Trek.  Because clients now understand that advertising is more like movies than it is printed posters in the town square.  And they are looking for directors and screenwriters, not camera operators and DP's.  

So,  right now is when you need to start working on your first video project.  But not with an eye for technical perfection but with an ear for the melodies of seeing.  And now is when you need to start learning to turn feelings and sensations into words that reach out and move people to try new.  New what?  New everything.

The convergence came but it wasn't the stars that aligned.  It was our creative occupations and it will never be the same again.  The tools are becoming invisible and irrelevant.  The ideas and execution are becoming the linchpins that hold everything together.  And it can all be done for next to nothing.

For those of us over a certain age the biggest hurdle will be recognizing that our previous skill sets mean next to nothing.  That we need to throw away the security blankets of "ultimate camera" and "incredible flash equipment" in order to rethink the entire process.  We need to go back to childhood and see new images and new programs thru the eyes of a child.  Our child. Our most basic and undiluted creative self.

See what a walk around town will do to you?