Finding our footing for the future in Imaging.

Two things kill formerly successful enterprises. The first is loving and holding on to the past too strongly. The second is not leveraging the lessons already learned. Seems contradictory on the surface but the argument is solid in both directions.

First, a simple observation from financial services experts: People are reticent to sell off a stock they've bought even when they are almost certain that the value is dropping, and will continue to drop. Why? because, irrationally, they are already emotionally invested in the stock and hope that it will rally. They are afraid they will lose what they've already invested if they bail out but might win by persevering. History tells us that a hasty retreat often prevents bleeding out entirely over time. People who take early action preserve the capital needed to try again.

An observation from business: Companies often spend enormous money in R&D to create a product which is then found to be unprofitable at the price points (and costs) at which the product should be sold. Most companies are slow to pull the plug on the product because they already have so much invested in the product. They can't bear to "lose" the initial investments. So they ride the product all the way down to bankruptcy. In our industry it now seems prescient that Samsung chose to quickly shut down their camera division in the face of compelling research about the overall sales declines anticipated, market wide.

If a real estate investor happens to get lucky by being in the right place at the right time, and happens to make a ton of money, they translate the "luck" into the idea that they are a superior investor, endowed with foresight, intuition, etc. Historically, most wind up losing their shirts on the next deals -- a result of relying on their subjective point of view about markets instead of hard fact. Witness Nikon's hamfisted entry (and now hamfisted exit) from the ILC mirrorless market. And the "Go Pro - Me Too!" market.

Often, as companies grow, they lose sight of their original mission; their core offerings and core cultures which brought them success in the first place. Kodak came to believe that their business was information technology and film sales. Their core business was really helping people to take better photographs and to help people simplify and enjoy the process of taking "pictures." By focusing on the nuts and bolts of manufacturing and distribution, and the enterprise markets, they missed the pivot to digital that was all to obvious to the bulk of their customers.

Apple Computer faltered when they decided that their market was a share of the commodity personal computer market. They rebounded and enjoy historic success after re-discovering that their real core value is to provide an easier way for people to communicate, work and play. A laser-like focus on the past, and their role as just computer makers, would have doomed them. The realization that they were offering beautifully designed, simple and powerful communication tools to individuals allowed them to look beyond computers to phones, music and entertainment.

I write this because I have been fascinated by the launch of the Sony A9 and the backlash against the A9 by traditional users. In one sense I think Sony is missing the big picture and the opportunity to do what Apple did and to create tightly integrated ecosystem for their imaging products. To optimize the software between camera and camera, and camera and phone and camera, phone and TV. I am amazed that there isn't a huge Sony channel on the internet that allows one to take "micro" courses about the best use of their products and mini-payment courses that help consumers to make better photographs and videos with all products (including Sony's) at their fingertips. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all their tools and menus were seamlessly integrated, and actually fun to interconnect?

On the other hand I am fascinated by the rejection of progress in deference to tradition that I see in the makers (and users) of traditional camera products. And even more amazed at how slowly the most expert and invested camera owners embrace future trends, styles and methods when compared to even the most mainstream users with simple devices like smartphones. The smartphone users have no long  term investment in the traditions of video and photography so they are not concerned that using new type of product to make a new kind of image or program will "rob" them of what they feel they have invested in over the years = mastery of traditional, technique driven methodologies. 

Traditional users continue to make photographs in traditional ways with traditional tools (and I am mostly speaking only about the commercial markets) because they are afraid to confront the implied loss of their knowledge investments. Their love for a reliably unchanged way of doing their processes also fosters the avoidance of new experimentation and hampers their ability to move beyond their current comfort zones; which is vital for keeping up with cultural evolution.  You see it most in traditional business like portrait photography. The advertising (and tradition) of portrait photography revolve around the mastery of studio lighting techniques and rote formulas for lighting and posing. Three point lighting. Softboxes. Monolights. Portrait focal lengths. Portrait Professional Software for skin detail obliteration. Vignetted edges. Sparkly catchlights. Muslin backgrounds.

The average corporate customers (and most potential retail customers)  are currently looking for environmental portraits taken on location. Portraits that might need to be lit but should appear to be done with available light. Portraits that are authentic. They reject many of the traditional poses and lighting schemes in pursuit of a more current visual aesthetic. The slow to adapt portrait photographers are not trying to push their clients into the future, rather the clients seem to be dragging the photographers (kicking and screaming) along for the ride. The photographers fear their loss of the investment they have made in the traditional trappings of their field, long after those trappings have started to lose their cachet.

We really aren't in the business of creating physical photographs anymore. Most of the techniques in that past were aimed at shoehorning the wider dynamic range of film onto the smaller target range of a photographic print, or printed, 4 color reproduction. We are now in a more wide-ranging visual communications business. We create visual content for our clients that is almost uniformly ephemeral and electronic, and its acceptance tracks its use. If we accept that there has been a massive shift in consumer consumption of visual marketing from the printed page and printed photo to the (ever growing) cell phone screen we can understand why clients are looking for tighter and tighter composition (more graphic = more easily readable messaging on smaller screens) and why images with movement are so attractive to our clients as they pursue results in their advertising.

We humans are invested with millions of years of evolution and training as hunters and gatherers. We are hardwired to notice motion, both for our personal safety and, until very, very recently, for the pursuit of edible things. Our stereo vision allows us to see in depth and our eye/brain system is optimized for noting changing patterns and motion. But because motion picture production with film was costly and technical we were "allowed" to ignore it and pursue photography as a "separate" medium. Now the effect of technology is flattening everything; from the way we bank to the way we create and consume visual media, and the people slowest to understand and embrace an obvious technology shift and aesthetic shift are the people who would most likely benefit from its application for clients. It's now as cheap to produce video as it is to produce still images.

There is very little required to make video beyond a good camera and its lenses. A microphone or two and lights that can be used continuously. Other than that one can edit with free software and distribute with free sharing channels like YouTube and Vimeo. If our core business is creating visual content, and the cultural value proposition of visual content is shifting toward video, how does it make sense to ignore it? Why not preserve profitability through continued education, and the application thereof?

I thought about all these things in the context of the A9 launch. To my mind Sony took a marketing step backward with that camera. The succumbed to playing the traditionalist's game. They are out to prove that their camera is "as good" or "slightly better" at doing exactly what the traditional DSLRs already do, and do quite well; tracking fast motion, and shooting quickly in sports and fast moving wildlife situations. Areas that actually have less to do with most commercial photography than the 7/10th of the commercial content creation iceberg we don't read about on popular websites. In competing in exactly those parameters Sony is stepping backwards and actually re-affirming a priority status to those narrow attributes/ feature sets as being vital to the photographer's mission ---- when they are anything but.

Panasonic has the market differentiation much more wisely figured out in their newest cameras. They repudiate the notion of single image capture inefficiency altogether with their 6k capture feature. You are essentially shooting 6K (18 megapixel) video from which you can review and snag the perfect frame from a continuum. Set a high enough shutter speed and you will freeze action. If you shoot sports you could capture long bursts at 24 fps and have precise moments captured. Since you are shooting video frames there is no black out and no buffer consideration. And it's current in cameras that cost less than $2000. It's already a proven technology. But it's a side step instead of a head to head contest. It's almost a way of yawning and saying, "Fast fps still imaging? That's so last century."

Had Sony concentrated on making the A9 a much more video-forward camera, and incorporated something like 6K or 8K video, they may not have won over Nikon and Canon traditionalists who might be ready to move on but they would have solidified the idea that the very nature of shooting fast action is changing and that they (along with Panasonic) own the new paradigm of sports imaging for now and into the near future. But they dropped that ball when they compared what could have been a fuel injected camera against a box full of four barreled carburetor equipped cameras in one of the few contests in which the old guard still hold relevance.

If you are engaged in traditional photography with a traditional camera and you probably either persist in photography strictly for your own pleasure, or you have found a photographic niche that is immune to the progress of media as it relates to popular (commercial) culture. You have no reason to do any soul searching or, in fact, consider moving on from any camera/style/art you currently enjoy. You certainly don't need to embrace video production. In fact, it might even be counter productive for you. But if you are engaged with advertising agencies, large corporations (especially tech and product oriented ones) or even local businesses that have  services and products that can be demonstrated visually then you are already engaged in the battle to stay relevant and to offer a changing menu of content services to your clients, and the companies you would love to have as clients.

I've made a conscious choice to pursue integrating video into the services that I offer. But I am not interested in pursuing video in a traditional manner. I'm not interested in going backward into highly complex and very expensive cameras or methodologies of production that require large crews and large capital expenditures. Those methods are for people who want to make movies and who have access to millions of dollars of production budget. I am much more interested in offering "right-sized" productions that nearly every client can afford, and which bigger clients can afford more and more often.

It's easy to get swept up in the "no holds barred" narrative of big budget movie making and to believe, by extension, that you must compete in your market with the same tools or be perceived to un-professional, but this is an irrational way of approaching your engagement with the medium. The expenditures constitute part of a risk/reward ratio. Movie makers spend millions on production (mostly on salaries and only secondarily on technology) in order to potentially make billions in ROI. They must bring everything imaginable to the table. But most of our commercial clients won't see the same risk/reward ratios in their engagement with the kinds of video that will constitute the work most of us undertake. Our clients will be happy if their CEO looks good and sounds good and doesn't flub his lines. The tech company will be happy if the video you create to show how to install their part in another product is bright, clear and detailed and shows the correct angles, steps and explanatory close-ups at the right times. Our medical client will be happy if we show off their flagship products with real people engaged in Activities of their Daily Lives and we capture some real emotion/excitment/new confidence in their subsequent "testimonial" interviews.

Technology that allows us to do both still photography and video interchangeably is here. The push from the clients to supply kinetic content is here. And the nice thing for us is that it requires mostly continuing education and experience and not huge investments in gear. For the person starting their pathway through the combined media the best "hybrid" camera is probably the one they already own. Whether it's a Canon Rebel, a Nikon D7200 or one of many mirror-free cameras on the market it will probably do a great (or good) job of making 1080p HD video. The tripod you already own can usually be used with the addition of a cost effective fluid head. There are any number of "good enough" microphones on the market for less than $150 that can be used directly, plugged into your camera's microphone socket.

You will spend a few months and a lot of practice editing your video. You will find your still photographs from a typical assignment that calls for both media to be very useful as additional visual content in your finished video. Nothing seems to make a marketing director happier than the act of their "team"  shooting a good, corporate, "talking head" video and then watching their artist click a few controls and then make a beautiful, photographic portrait in the same location...with the same lighting. And the same camera.

All of this is within our reach. All of it will be increasingly in demand from our clients. All of it is profitable.

In a week and a day I'll head out of town to shoot my twelfth video/photo assignment of the year. I won't be shooting it with a $12,000 camera and a $5,000 lens. I won't have a crew of ten. I am sitting here today planning the right way to right size the project for the budget and the targeted results. The video will be used on a corporate share sites in close proximity with dozens of other similar videos of widely varying production value. It will be compressed. It will be seen by a small audience of people who have a keen interest in the subject matter.

I'll go with a crew of two. Myself and an assistant. If we need an additional set of hands, to hold a reflector, we'll have a collaborative client in tow who values good teamwork. We'll be shooting all of the content in 4K video. I'll shoot the interview with two cameras. One will, no doubt, be the redoubtable Sony RX10iii. The second will likely be either a Sony RX10ii or a Panasonic FZ2500. All are quite capable of good performance when used with good light. I'll bring along a Sony A7rii for photographs and I'll bring it with just three primes; the 28, 50, 85 (all inexpensive but capable f1.8 or f2.0 lenses).

I'll bring three or four LED lights, probably a mix of battery powered and plug in models. We'll bring a couple of shotgun microphones and a set of lavaliere microphones (just in case). My total investment in gear, to work on this location, will be less than $10,000. We'll get work done that makes the client happy and ensures we get paid.

When I look into the future of imaging I see a blending of photography and video. Some people will still play in separate and lofty niches. Production companies will favor mostly creating video because the budgets are nearly always bigger. Former stills-only photographers will mix between media with abandon. Everyone will be cognizant that the overall advertising market is changing with the larger share of money now being spent on moving images and a declining amount spent on pure, still photography. Figuring out where you want to be and how you want to get there is the challenge.

I think we're up for the challenge. Change is scary but learning and mastering new stuff is a wonderful motivator. And new mastery keeps us relevant.


Everything seemed upside down at Eeyore's Birthday Party this year. Austin, Texas seemed to get its magic back..

inverted AcroYoga.

It was hot and sticky outside today. It was also going to rain. I was going to stay home but I just couldn't bear to miss one of the last remaining, pure Austin events: Eeyore's Birthday Party. 

It was cloudy and grey. The perfect day for a bout of black and white. Trusty Sony RX10xxx. 

In other news: We live in Texas. We should expect things like this, but it was still jarring to look out from the dining room and see a four foot long rattlesnake wrapping around the base of the tree next to the door. Oddly enough, a squirrel chased it from the tree and the snake slithered off toward the fence line. I went out to look for it later but had no luck. Or all the luck in the world....

Anyone can make a good studio portrait if they follow a few steps.

1. Learn the theories around photography. How cameras work. The effects of aperture and shutter speed. Different effects from different ISOs. How cameras render three dimensional objects in a two dimensional medium.

2. Learn the general and specific theories of light and lighting. Figure out how to make light soft, directional, beautiful, powerful, etc. Also, learn when to use each kind of light... how to accentuate texture or reduce it. How to work with different color temperatures in different light sources.

3. Figure out how to pose people so they look their best.....or, at least, interesting. Then figure out what kind of wardrobe would complement your vision of your subjects.

4. Learn how to socialize and converse with people that you want to photograph; how to engage them and make them comfortable in the process of being photographed. (Note: this may take time and some degree of educating oneself about interesting topics while figuring out how to delete the negative effects of ego from your interactions). 

5. Learn how to position a person in front of a background which will not compete for attention with the main subject but is still germane to the art of your photograph. Placement onsiderations will also include: distance from camera to subject, the right focal length lens to use, the distance from the subject to the background, and the distance between the lights and the subjects. Oh, yes, and the distance between the light modifiers and the lights....

6. Work for several decades, experimenting and learning about many different styles, until one day you observe that you have developed a unique style of engaging, lighting and photographing the people you find attractive and/or interesting.

7. Buy a camera and lens which faithfully reproduce the level of detail you desire along with the perfect blend of nearly intangible parameters, such as the quality of out of focus backgrounds and the meticulous separation of tones in the finished work.

8. Buy lights that have enough output to use to good effect with the modifiers that you have (through trial and error) learned best translate your vision into your style of photographing. Then buy light stands to support the lights and more light stands to support the modifiers and backgrounds that your style compels you to use.

9. Create an emotionally safe space for your subjects so they can let down their guards and relate to you as an interesting and engaged person in a mutually beneficial collaboration. On a more prosaic note, make sure your space is not too hot and not too cold; and doesn't smell badly. 

10. When all the parts come together push the shutter button.


Mixing media is what's making my transition to shooting more video fun. And appealing to my clients.

Video and photography have always seemed to be two different camps. One camp is dedicated to freezing the perfect moment while the other camp is equally dedicated to telling stories with moving images. For a long time the intersection between the camps was almost non-existent. Photographers were happy to leave video alone and concentrate on heading out in the world with their "optical butterfly nets" to capture perfect, individual images they hoped would grab the attention of viewers and hold them in the moment. Videographers grudgingly used still photographs in their edits when the topic of their work no longer existed in any other form. Think of the work Ken Burns did with his "Civil War" TV series... an impressive use of photographic archives and collections.

The inclusion of photographs in documentary video has largely limited to historic photographs. Old scenes captured mostly in black and white. Images of 1970's protests caught on slides and negatives but not always on video and certainly not to the same extent.

I've been doing a bunch of editing on my video projects recently and I began to realize how valuable concurrent photography could be as content in my moving picture work. I first started using still images to supplement video content for an interview I did with Dave Jarrott who played the part of J. Edgar Hoover in a play about President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The interview ended up cut down to about six minutes but we had not shot any b-roll and we only used one camera angle for the project. A week or so later I photographed the dress rehearsal of the play and made a point to shoot  as many images of Dave Jarrott in his role as I could.

I went back to the original edit (which includes what I felt was just the right content) and started layering in still images. Some of the additions were utilitarian; they covered visible edit points which were jarring but unavoidable. But some images I added because I thought their visual resonance added power to the verbal content Dave was sharing. In the end I mixed in over 50 still images over the six minutes of interview dialog. The dress rehearsal photos were in color and needed to stay that way to convey the feel of the stage lighting and the set design but that led me to convert the color interview footage to black and white which I felt very much enhanced the feel of the project. I shared the finished piece with the theater's artistic director and he was amazed --- and very enthusiastic about reposting the interview.


With this good experience under my belt I headed to Canada to shoot four more videos. This time I made the shooting of still images an important part of my process. I wanted a folder full of relevant images to pepper through the four interviews in order to re-inforce messaging and to help pace the overall presentation. The style guide of the client is to make the videos at least 25% black and white but not more than 50% of the overall video program. This helped nudge me in the opposite direction I had taken in the previous project. Now I was making the still images black and white and the main interview footage color and it seemed to work well for me as well as the client.

With each project I see more and more how I can leverage my still photographer's sense of composition and timing, along with lighting and effective post production to make content that enhances the flow of the videos.

By the time I was ready to interview the star of the "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" production, at Zach Theatre, I had already created still photographs at both the tech and dress rehearsals and had over 1200 still images at my disposal with which to edit. As the project came together I couldn't find a rationale for making some parts black and white and some color so I kept the entire project in color. The images capture emotional high points in the show that couldn't be easily re-created in the course of a quick interview (if at all). I was able to match the emotional feel of the images to the content of the conversation we created. It was remarkable to me to see how much more alive the interview became with the inclusion of the photographs; mostly because they are so precisely aligned with what Chanel is telling us; sentence by sentence.


To do the same thing totally in video might have been possible but not nearly as easy. Shooting photographs in raw allows so much post production enhancement to the images. Flesh tones can be matched and improved, microphones removed from the frames, shadows lightened and defined areas of saturation boosted. I could fine tune noise reduction and increase sharpness at will. In short, I could touch each frame with as much work as it needed to have in a way that would be extraordinarily costly and time consuming in video. All of this adds to the perceived production value of the final piece.

This method can be done by a team such as a videographer working in tandem with a photographer, or you can embrace the philosophy of "One Man Movies" and do what you need to in phases. It's not always easy to switch gears and go between video and stills seamlessly. I needed to shoot the dress and tech rehearsals strictly as still photography to make sure I didn't miss anything that was potentially critical for marketing and advertising. Video during that process would have been a distraction. And when I shot the interviews there was no way to re-light the stage, change costumes and shoot the hundreds and hundreds of different poses and emotional inflections I was able to get in the still images. Doing each separately was good for the process.

I've shown a fairly large number of regular commercial clients the final version of the "Lady Day..." video and they have been very complementary and quite interested in understanding how we can make the technique of mixing photography and video together work for their future projects. In most cases the best way to proceed is to interview first and then catch a combination of photos and video of the subjects covered in the interviews afterward. Some parts will lend themselves to video while some of the more "heroic" images might lend themselves to stills. Photographs that add value by dint of being able to be optimized, layered, composited, etc. are especially valuable because many of the effects one can do to maximize the impact of a still frame are extravagant and costly when done in video.

I'm booked on two more healthcare projects and we just bid on a mixed media project for a utility company. Each of the projects is a good candidate for the intermixing of stills and video and the art directors involved are on board. It's fun for me to make a transition across media without loosening my grasp on the art that's brought me so far along this journey. Just a new way to frame and deliver the photographs I've always loved doing while putting a big smile on the faces of my clients.

That I was able to make the second video  (Lady Day...) and shoot the stills with just one $1200 camera continues to amaze me. It's more and more obvious to me that the idea and the production is more important than the actual cameras at every step of the process. No magic bullets, no magic beans; just the joy of doing the work.


Revisiting an older camera with a brand new lens. Just right.

....and, at the opposite end of the Sony a9 "Halo" spectrum sits the often overlooked A7ii...

I've lately been a bit unconvinced that the Sony a9 is the greatest thing to hit the camera world since through the lens metering. I'm also starting to think that my disregard for that camera grows in proportion to the sheer number of "news" outlets, blogs and review sites participating in the "gush-fest." The all out barrage of reviews and articles, concentrated into a short period of time, seems almost disingenuous. Almost like Sony is trying too hard with their new model. The rush to review it also smells slightly of desperation as well. As if reviewers are so hungry to have a product to tout, and link to, that they've become little more than force multipliers for Sony.

While I am fairly sure that the a9 will be a nice camera and people will enjoy using it I am also fairly certain that it won't make people who buy it better photographers and it won't make their photographs any more interesting. Interesting photography generally only happen when one points a camera at something genuinely interesting. I am certain that the a9 will be an effective tool in aiding Sony's quest to pull more cash from people's credit card accounts. None of this has anything to do with what "pros" need or want. And none of this has to do with how much money it may (or may not) cost to switch systems.

So, this morning when the articles veered into an incomprehensible argument about the financial efficacy of switching entire systems I gave up reading everything and went looking for a camera that met my criteria; a comfortable and friendly camera to carry around. A daily user. A bargain. One that I already owned...

While I am still in awe at the amazingly detailed files achievable from the A7Rii and endlessly impressed with the 4K video performance of the RX10iii (and its remarkable lens) the most comfortable and usable camera in my small collection is my particular copy of the plain vanilla A7ii. It's a camera I bought used for around $1,000. There was some scuffery on the rear LCD panel which made it much less than minty but since I only use the LCD for menu setting it doesn't affect my use of the camera.

The A7ii is the bottom of the rung when it comes to the newer A7xx cameras. The 24 megapixel sensor, while not state of the art, was good enough for those zany folks at DXO to rate it a 90. The body is small and dense, just the way I like my cameras. The finder is adequate and external controls are nicely designed and placed for me. I've even made peace with the menus; in fact, I now find them almost logical.

The camera is the perfect size for me but it also works well with an added battery grip. And sometimes it's nice to go for the grip ... it's great to have a second battery in the mix to allow for more shooting time and less battery monitoring.

The camera does nothing very special at all. It just combines a good, high enough resolution capability with a very usable EVF and a workmanlike 1080p video function.

But it's the lack of perfection or high performance (or high cost) that endears the camera to me. I am not reticent to use it hard, to carry it with me everywhere and to use it on just about any job.
I use the Rii when I need ultimate performance and I use the RX10iii for killer video but I use the A7ii when I want to be comfortable and at home with the camera in my hand.

I've recently and slowly been putting together a pared down travel system based around the full frame A7ii. The first choice was the inexpensive FE 50mm f1.8. It's a really, really good lens with nice performance nearly wide open and excellent performance when it gets to f5.6. The next lens in the plan was one of my all time favorite focal lengths, the FE 85mm f1.8. It's a fabulous 85mm. I think I have a good handle on lenses around this focal length having owned, and extensively used, the original Canon 85mm f1.1.2, several variants of the Nikon 85mm f1.4, the Canon and Nikon 85mm f1.8 lenses, the Zeiss 85mm f1.4 for Nikon and other "mystical" lenses such as the Leica 80mm f1.4 Summilux R and the 90mm Summicron R and M.

The new, $600 Sony FE 85mm f1.8 is just great. Nicely sharp wide open and exquisitely sharp a couple of stops down.

That left only one slot to be filled and that was the focal length range between 24mm and 35mm. I have several zooms that cover those focal lengths but I was looking for a trim little system that would fit well in a small Domke camera bag to take on the road and in my mind that meant finding a small, sharp single focal length lens. A bonus would be a fast maximum aperture.

Sometimes I trust my intuition and sometimes my intuition waffles. I settled on the Sony FE 28mm f2.0 lens but waffled. I read a lot of reviews and then I decided not to procrastinate and I bought a new copy of that lens. It arrived yesterday and I'm smitten. It's small and light, fits well into the travel system, and is fast enough to work in just about any situation, in conjunction with the decent low light performance of the camera.

My initial tests show me that the 28mm is sharp in the focused plane, even wide open, and gets sharper and sharper as I stop it down. By f5.6 it's pretty amazing. It shows off amazing nano-acuity. I know that it has a good amount of distortion but this is 2017 and the camera corrects it in Jpeg files while Lightroom and ACR corrects the distortion easily when working with RAW files.

Now I have a happy system that delivers wonderful technical performance for the kind of impromptu photography I love to do. I have space in that bag for one more thing. I'd like to find a second well used A7ii body to toss into one of the side pockets of the bag, just for a back-up.

I walked with the A7ii+28mm today and I'm very, very happy to have them. They help to make photography fun. Just plain, good fun.


A day in the life of pre-production. And general laziness.

Portrait for a production at Live Oak Theater. Mid-1990s.

There was a weekend "outage" of many recent posts on VSL over the last two days. Don't know what caused it but I have a suspicion that some random server at Google died and it took a while to port the back-up files. Or, I pushed some button and then pushed it back again today, without paying attention. 

I've been a little burned out on the photography business lately. It seems to be like the definition of insanity: I do the same (type of) shoots over and over again and when they all turn out competently I am surprised. I keep expecting totally different results and have come to resent the banality of anticipation matching completion. Not that I want to totally mess up someone's project; I just think it would be nice if I "accidentally" shot in the way I generally do but ended up with images that were so amazing that people would weep tears of joy upon viewing them. Probably not going to happen that  way...

I could regale you with stories about shooting portraits or products but I think I'll reflect my current state of existence instead. Last week we finished up our federal income taxes and our state sales tax return. I produced a couple of photo assignments and completed the post production, etc. I took Belinda to see the traveling Broadway production of, "The Phantom of the Opera." We went to a dinner party. By the end of the day on Sunday I was just fried. And that brings us to today. 

We don't swim on Mondays (the pool is closed for maintenance..) so I started the day with a brisk four mile run on the hike and bike trail that wends and winds its way through downtown Austin, around the slow moving Colorado River. The weather was perfect for a run and, while my elapsed time for the run was mediocre, the trail was packed with pretty people and that helped keep my mind off that stitch in my side and the embarrassment of realizing that I am now slowing down to a ten minute mile pace. A part of the inevitable decline...

When I got back and cleaned myself up I checked messages and found one about an upcoming project that will take place out of state. We got budget and schedule approval to travel and do video and still photographs in the second week of May for a healthcare client. I headed to Southwest Airlines and booked flights that more or less match (arrival times) the flights my client booked for himself on a different airline. I had a trip credit I wanted to use and I also thought to save my client some money on baggage fees. SWA still allows two checked bags (under 50 pounds each) for no additional charges. I considered United Airlines but I don't know Kung Fu, haven't studied "The Iron Fist" technique and feel like I already spend enough on dental work...

I put together a note, with my itinerary, and sent it to my client. I also suggested that we meet for lunch to discuss pre-production. So, pre-production today about pre-production meetings down the road...

Later, I went all "old school" and actually dropped by the local branch of the bank I use for the business to drop off a check/deposit. I dropped off some bill payments at the post office too. 

I was in the middle of printing post cards when I got a call from an ad agency asking me to produce a bid. It's a "one from column A, one from column B" sort of bid because they may need one photograph or they may need three. They may need one talent or they may need three. They might also want to add video interviews to each variation. Yes, clients are now routinely asking for a side helping of video with their "main course" of still imaging. Conversely, they may want a still photography "dessert" along with their video "entree." Best to create the "bid matrix" and be prepared for any variation.

I did some quick research and tendered by bid about an hour after receiving the request. It would be a fun project so I have my fingers crossed. And, for all you cynical photographers who believe the industry is declining into a hell-state; my client closed our phone call about the bid request with, "Don't forget to include USAGE in your bid!!!"

In the middle of all this my mind had already started to break the first May project (60% video, 40% photography) into chunks. My brain likes to think about what to pack pretty far in advance. I think it's a dodge to help rationalize timely new purchases. B&H is having a sale on an interesting microphone so I picked one up as a back-up for my favorite shotgun style microphone, the Aputure Diety. Why not be over prepared? The job is mostly interviews and video...

The new microphone, coming with free shipping from B&H, (sorry, no affiliate links for that one) is the Rode NTG 4+. The plus sign at the end of the name denotes that this model has built in electronics and supplies its own phantom power via a 150 hour (rechargeable) lithium ion battery, which is also built in. The NTG4+ is supposed to have an improved microphone capsule when compared with the NTG-2 but the current sale (through the 27th of April) has the new microphone at or near the same price as the still good, but venerable, NTG-2. I look forward to putting it through its paces. 

In the same acquisitive vein, I am patiently waiting delivery of a lense that's been bouncing in and out of my mental shopping cart for several weeks now. That would be the Sony FE 28mm f2.0. I decided to forgo the pleasure of yet another long trip to the local camera store and to just click the button on the Amazon website. The pricing is identical and someone (hopefully) will deliver said lens right to my doorstep. Those of you who live in Austin will understand that traveling up or down Mopac Expressway to buy locally could easily eat another hour or two of travel time. Probably not worth it for a lens whose acquisition has already proven to be so arduous...

I'll finish up the pre-production day writing a few more deposit slips and doing yet another test on my Sony A7ii. We're testing to see just how good or bad it is for shooting as a b-camera in 1080P. So far, it doesn't look bad at all. 

Happy Monday.


The latest "major issues" in the pursuit of photography.....camera insufficiencies! Oh my.

A few years ago many people were trashing new cameras if they did not come equipped with GPS. I never understood why and I still don't today. Very, very few people really need to have ancillary crap like GPS in their cameras.  People have rushed to explain the benefits of location tagging their images but I file that into the same folder as people who keep a meticulous record of every penny they spend in a day, or people who keep notebooks about the calories they've consumed. Meaningless informational crap. Might as well tell me how important it is to keep an Excel spreadsheet of your daily breathing patterns. You know, just for reference....

But this must be how they sell FitBits and "smart" watches that record one's workouts.

Well, the same compulsive and scary people have now decided on a new metric for all new cameras. They've decided that all cameras must now come with dual memory card slots or risk being labelled as major failures. The overwhelming rationale is that they MUST have an in-camera back up files for everything they shoot. Really? Most people who feel this way seem to be the same people who actually use their cameras to photograph their own lunches, their friends drinking coffee, selfies and bad landscapes. Hardly earth shattering reportage that would diminish the quality of life for anyone if the images were lost due to technical glitches...  And I can't for the life of me remember which film cameras we had that took double film just in case of lab accidents or mis-loads....

The cold, hard reality is that most memory cards don't experience failures on their own these days. If you follow the best practices of formatting your memory card, in camera, and never erasing images in cameras or when the card is connected to your computer, you will probably never experience a fault with your memory card. The other instances that might lead to failure are: the act of removing your card from the camera without first turning off the camera, or from a card reader without first ejecting the card from your computer.

Simple rules, and easy to follow. But no longer enough for a contingent of people who would rather try to buy their way out of incompetence and poor workflow protocols. They now demand that all cameras be equipped with additional "training wheels"  in order to be considered professional,  or even proficient. This is the same cohort that must have raw processing built into the camera as well as HDR settings and panorama settings. And all other manner of gimmicky things made possible (cheaply) by excess space on camera microprocessors.

But the very same people who demand all many of glitzy operational crap and unneeded redundancy will bitch and moan about the inclusion of first rate video on the same camera. Go figure.

OT: Saturday morning swim practice.

We had a cold front move through this morning. It dropped the temperature to 61 degrees. There was a slight breeze and the sky was overcast. Not gloomy grey but a sky bordering on a bald white. I drank a cup of hot tea with a half teaspoon of sugar and a little bit of milk in it, grabbed a towel, and headed to the Western Hills Athletic Club pool to join 25 or so like-minded swimmers for our usual Saturday morning masters workout. (For more information about Masters Swimming see the USMS website).

Most of us swim five or six days a week but some of the members alternate running days, biking day and swimming days. Whatever their schedule Saturday mornings are usually a priority. On Saturday and Sunday the workouts are an hour and a half and we try to get in a lot of good, hard yards. There's an early workout of the truly dedicated swimmers and they were exiting as I trudged up to the pool deck with my swim gear in hand. They looked tired, beat up and happy.

I've been trying to get back to a regular five day a week schedule lately and I can see the rewards; I'm swimming better and faster and the waists on my collection of pants feels looser... The benefit is being able to eat almost anything without tipping the bathroom scale in the wrong direction.

I swam in lane four today with Ed and Shannon. They are both a little bit faster than me but I'm able to hang with them on anything shorter than 400 yards. After a bunch of warm up sets our coach, Cheryl, concocted a brutal little set for us as the main entree. The set consisted of three X 50 yards on a forty second interval followed immediately by 4 x 25 yard sprints; halfway under water in each direction. We repeated that set four times. It's basically three fast sprints in a row with little to no rest. We call them, "touch and goes" because, unless you are really fast, you are hitting the wall at the 50, looking at the clock and then going again.

As a warm down after that fun set we did: 2x200's, 2x150s, 2x100's freestyle before starting the next set. It was an ambitious day in the pool. We did a bit more than 4,000 yards in our hour and a half and that seemed to satisfy even the most masochistic and compulsive exercisers in the group.

Following the workout a group of us did what we have done on most Saturdays for the last twenty years. We headed to a local coffee shop to drink coffee, talk about the workout, talk about swimming and just catch up in general. There is a core of swimmers who've been at coffee since the beginning and new ones who cycle in and out. But it's so good to have time to maintain the bonds. As we all grow older we have to make concessions in our training but if we are growing older together it's not as obvious, or as emotionally painful to deal with the toll of time.

I've been swimming with the same masters team five or six days a week since 1996. I love being in the water and have often thought that the five or six seconds after a swimmer pushes off the wall, in a good streamline position, is the closest most humans will ever come to flying without an aircraft. The aerobic fitness that a disciplined group workout conveys is vital to me as a working photographer. With the combination of swimming, walking, running and resistance training I've been able to work at the same physical levels I did in my 30's; with no back or shoulder issues. Staying in good physical shape may, in fact, be the most valuable investment I've made in my career as a working artist.

The wonderful thing about playing within a group of swimmers is the example set by everyone around you. They may be recovering from something dire, like cancer; they may have lost a loved one or had a misfire in their career, but they show up, put on their goggles and push aside the worries of life for an hour spent relishing their fitness and their ability to apply discipline to this part of their lives. And everyone in the pool is there to support them and push them forward.

In every set back I've had in my own life the medicine that worked best to get me back on track was the time I've spent in the water. I think I've always known that using a particular camera is far less important than having the fitness and discipline to use whatever camera you have with you to make your work.

We caught up with the group news while we swilled coffee. One of our group brought along a bag of hazelnuts. the chef in our ranks brought along some banana-chocolate bundt cake, we snacked and re-energized ourselves. An hour later we headed our separate ways. Some heading home to do chores, others heading in to tend to the businesses they own, and still others heading home for a quick nap or lunch with family. We only have coffee together once a week but it's a good bet we'll see most of the same characters at tomorrow morning's swim.


Flipping the argument. Sports Photographers can now eliminate a major DLSR camera flaw...

(I write this somewhat tongue in cheek. Try not to get too bent out of shape if you are in the wrong camp...).

"I'm sure I would have been a sports photographer and, perhaps a very good one, but I just couldn't bear to grapple with one of the significant shortcomings of the modern DSLR. I'm sure you've experienced it if you've tried tracking a football player with a mirror-encumbered camera. Or perhaps you've lived with the mechanical menace of the DSLR when trying to keep a fast runner well composed.... We all know what the Achille's Heel of generations and generations of DSLR camera is but for some reason we've all chosen to ignore it, or to sweep it under the carpet and make our excuses. 

It's the dreaded MIRROR BLACK OUT. Each time we actuate the shutter the mirror leaps up (alarmingly) and blocks our view of the image we are so intent on capturing. Visualus Interruptus.
The image is there, in front of our eye, and then it's gone and replaced with a visual fluttering of blackness, accompanied by some raucous noise and then a decidedly unsettling vibration. Thwack! Bam! Kapow! Oh sure, it's only a few (or a dozen or a hundred) milliseconds but it interrupts our continuous observation of the objects of our (momentary) desire. The faster the frame rate the longer the overall percentage of time blacked out. The slower the shutter speed the longer the overall percentage of time blacked out. 

It's been there since we gave up our Leica rangefinders in order to use longer telephoto lenses. It's always been a grave compromise as well as a source of indiscreet noise and interrupted concentration. And anyone who ever shot with a Pentax 6x7 camera (the most egregious of the breed) probably deserves restitution for partial hearing loss from the loud shutter/mirror cacophony and for the sheer amount of time spent waiting for the massive mirror to rise and then smash itself back down again. 

I can hear the cheers already from legions of sports photographers, who felt they had no choice but to use Canon 1D series cameras and Nikon Fsomething cameras to capture sports photographs, as the new Sony a9 makes it initial appearance on the market. Imagine, at speeds above 1/125th of a second (the general realm of sports shooters) there is absolutely NO FINDER BLACK OUT AT ALL. NONE. Even at 20 frames per second. 

The EVF shows the image continuously, refreshing the finder image 60 times per second (about twice the speed of human perception). Never again will these beleaguered pros face the humiliation of finder blackout. Never again will they feel the ravaging vibration of the slamming mirror assembly thrashing around in their hands. And, if they choose, then never again will they spook a golfer or diver with their klaxon-like shutter noise. In one low key product introduction Sony has saved the hordes of sports shooters from their own self-inflicted mechanical hell. Oh happy days. "

Ah, but just now I am learning that the new a9 is too small and light to be a serious professional sports shooting tool. Too many chiropractors would be forced out of business...


A Good, Old Fashion, Event Assignment Updated with a Modern Camera.

After having to wade through all the nonsense about my latest fascination with video I thought I'd give my readers a break and write about a more traditional photographic function = shooting an event for a conventional client. With a photography camera and even a flash!!!

I've shot events many, many times over the last few decades. I started out shooting events at conferences and galas in hotel ballrooms with a Hasselblad 500 C/M camera, a trusty 80mm lens and a big-ass, potato masher flash, complete with a lead-acid battery pack that must have weighed ten pounds and a lot of shoe leather zooming. Over the ensuing years the camera and flash have changed but very little else about events has. 

Yesterday evening saw me covering a corporate event for a non-profit. They were having a poster sale as a fund raiser at a trendy new venue on Congress Ave. Right in the middle of downtown, just a block or two from the state capitol building. The invitation list included a motley mix of attorneys, advertising agency people and, or course, artists. Mostly the artists who did the commissioned posters and their friends. In all about 350 people showed up to see the art, buy the art, and support my client. 
The event was beautifully done, with open bars and


Preliminary Thoughts about The Newly Announced Sony A9 Camera.

Lou. Studio. One frame at a Time.

When I read about new cameras I  usually get caught up in the excitement about all the new features. 

I wonder what I could do with a camera that could shoot 200 images in a row at
20 frames per second.  Then I wonder which unfortunate photographer  will be required to sit down and edit through 200 nearly identical images in the search for one that may (or may not) have all the right stuff. 

I read about auto focusing sensors that range, densely, almost to the edge of the sensor  and I imagine what it  would be like to just point the camera at a scene and let it decide just where that point of sharpness needed to live. 

I 've been using  cameras with many focusing  points for many years and  I usually disagree with my camera when it decides to pick a point for me. That's why my cameras and I have agreed to mostly stick to using the center AF frame. It's a simple solution but in a way it's very elegant in that I rarely have issues getting important stuff in focus. And I rarely spend time looking at useless frames filled with perfectly sharp backgrounds and oozy foreground subjects. 

I certainly can't fault a camera for having a very high resolution EVF that also refreshes fast enough to seem....seamless. Nothing wrong with that  and certainly something I would like to have on all my cameras. I also like the idea of more external switches; like the little dial that surrounds the dial to the upper leftmost control  as I  hold the camera. I let's me choose the focusing mode. Will I use manual focus? Will I use continuous auto focus? It's easier now to go in either direction because I won't have to dive into the menus and scout around for the right column to find the switch.

Will I enjoy my new found freedom and become empowered by having a battery with twice the mph? Yes, but I'll miss the uniform battery size (and type of battery charger) across the whole Sony camera product line that I own. I'm not a manic shooter so I'm pretty happy glancing, from time to time, at the battery life indicator in the existing cameras and then pulling a battery out of my pocket , as required. Comforting too, to know that I can pull batteries from one camera and put them in another in those moments where necessity steps in and demands a quick solution. 

Who is the new Sony a9 really for? Is it aimed at a portrait shooter like myself? Is it aimed at the casual user who likes to range across cities and look for magic compositions in everyday life? I just don't think so. I'm presuming that this is really a "halo" product that won't sell in great numbers but will start to cement Sony's position in the professional camera neighborhood. By price point and spec it's obviously aimed at sports photographers and ...... well..... sports photographers. I may shoot a swim meet from time to time but I'm quick enough to catch the photos at the point of high action and not nearly patient enough to wade through tens of thousands of images taken in hopes that superior numbers will yield the frame I want. 

The one area of interest for me is video, but even there I don't see any real improvements over what is currently available in the Sony line up. The a6500 also samples the full 6k frame and beautifully downsamples to 4K and other than that and a new finder there isn't much to lure videographers in....especially at such an ambitious price point. 
Perhaps if they'd done one or two more things to the body video would be a consideration but I looked with distress at that same small and fragile micro-HDMI port and just shook my head. 
The Panasonic GH5 might not be having  the smoothest intro right  now (hello focus issues) but it's set the bar for video interfaces just by including a full size HDMI port under the flap. 

For the kind of work I do....that most of us do....I just can't see much advantage over the A7Rii. But the camera I am waiting for from Sony would be the replacement to the A7ii. And all I'd really like to see is 4K video (internal) and the option for a silent shutter. Not to much to ask and I have a piggy bank with about $1995 sitting on the floor next to my desk, just waiting. 

The Sony announcement of the a9 is exciting and fun. The camera looks really good. I'd do an even trade for my A7Rii in a heartbeat. But only because I like that 24 megapixel resolution region. It's nice to make files that don't clog up the processing pipeline or make me a prime customer for Western Digital or Seagate.

If you are a Sony shooter you'll have to make up your own mind. It's a shiny new toy. But is it "my" shiny new toy?

An interview with Michael Rader, the director of ZACH Theatre's, "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill"

Michael Rader directs "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" at ZACH Theatre from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

Please click through to Vimeo to see the video in a higher quality format.

This is my second video for the show at ZACH Theatre. The first was the interview of Chanel that I put up earlier this week. This video is an interview with the play's director. The same hardware was used to produce it.

I shot with the Panasonic fz2500 in the 4K mode and edited on a 1080p timeline in Final Cut Pro X. The lighting was a combination of LED panels from Aputure; both the Amaran and the LightStorm lines. The audio was recorded with an Aputure Diety microphone (and I was delighted with the sound on Michael's interview...).

While some of the still images may look familiar I tried my best to find photographs that I had not used before.

The extensive crew for this production consisted of: me.


The Sucky Thing About Video is Sharing.

I worked hard to get my video to look just right on my precisely calibrated monitor the other day and once I had it just the way I wanted it I rendered it and uploaded it to Vimeo. My client got a clean H.264 file and uploaded that one to YouTube. Oh Dear God! How depressing. While the Vimeo version looked crappy compared to what I was seeing on my monitor the YouTube version was even worse. All the shadows looked muddy and the fine detail had just vanished. I thought I was looking at SD video on a CRT. I guess that if one wants to see their video displayed the way it was intended you just have to bite the bullet and host it on your own server. Which would be a recipe for financial disaster; depending on how many loyal viewers you have looking at your work.

I've gotten into a horrible cycle of uploading to Vimeo and they, after the file is processed on their site, going to review it there and then come back and make changes to every clip (color, contrast, density) and then render and upload again. It's a time consuming process. 

On another note, the Panasonic fz2500 still has a few glitches when it comes to stably keeping the AF sensor where I want it; even with the touch screen turned off, but it's rare enough that I consider the camera usable and have gotten some really great images from it. Where it shines is in shooting video.

Personal note: If I seem a bit removed from the blog this week it's probably because my son is doing a semester abroad at a university in Seoul, S. Korea and the war posturing of the U.S. and N. Korea is a bit unsettling for an already anxious parent. Seems things are quieting down now and I'll focus a bit more on the writing and photography. I'll take that bottle of Xanax back off the desk.....

These images were all done handheld, at ISO 800 and 1600 with the Panasonic fz2500. I like them a  lot.


The CHANEL interview has been reposted with an accompanying technical note. Please check it out.


A still of CHANEL from the tech reshearsal of "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill. 
Zach Theatre. ©2017 by Kirk Tuck

Stills and video from the fz2500 camera. 
Amazing performance for the price. 
Oh heck, it's just amazing performance!


I think I've got the focusing/sharpness issue with the Panasonic fz2500 under control.

I initially had many photos that weren't quite sharp enough when I viewed them at larger sizes. I shot with the camera at a technical rehearsal at Zach Theatre, a few weeks ago, and found that with manual focusing and pin point focusing I was able to get a high percent of medium and long focal length shots in perfect focus. Count the eyelashes focus. 

Since then I've been trying to fine tune my camera settings in order to get highly repeatable results. Today was my day to mess with noise reduction settings. I shot raw and used the Standard profile as my base. I went into the profile parameters and turned the noise control all the way down. I boosted contrast by one notch and then I spent the day shooting. I am using the pin point focus setting with the sensor in the middle selected. I also have the focusing speed set to one notch down.

I spent a couple hours walking around town, shooting everything at ISO 125 and I am happy to report that every frame was perfectly focused and convincingly sharp. No misfires and no misplaced measurements. Now I am happy with the camera as a photography tool. I'm already very happy with it as a 4K video camera. It's nearly perfect in that use. 

The images of the old Cadillac are from the Rainey Street neighborhood. The votive candles are from Mexicarte and the deck plate live somewhere on West Fifth St. All the files sharpen up well and there's very little noise to be seen in spite of the minimal noise reduction setting. 

My Interview with Chanel as Billie Holiday in Zach Theatre's, "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill."

Chanel's Interview at Zach Theatre. Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

I recorded this interview at Zach Theatre on April 5th. The still images I used as b-roll as from our dress rehearsal documentation on April 4th. The video footage of rehearsal was recorded on April 2nd. 

Tech notes: The still photographs were taken with a Sony RX10iii camera while all the video content was recorded with the Panasonic FZ2500 camera using its 4K video setting. I lit Chanel's interview with two large, Aputure Amaran 672W LED panels plus two smaller panels from the same company. 

Audio was recorded with an Aputure Diety shotgun microphone. 

My next video is an interview of the production's director. 

(please click through to Vimeo and choose the 1080p, HD version of the video for best quality). 

I decided to film Chanel's interview at Zach Theatre with the fz2500 because my early tests showed me that the color in video was rich and accurate, with little of the overly sharp renditions I'd seen in other, similar cameras. It's incumbent on a videographer to take the time to test the equipment ahead of time to see, personally, how the settings on the camera affect the final results. I was able to see a kinder skin tone rendition with the Panasonic.

I set the camera up to shoot UHD 4K with the idea of downsampling. But, rather than downsample by transcoding on the import of the material I decided to actually work with the original 4K footage in the edit and only apply the transcoding when making the output version into h.264. I thought I would see improvements in overall quality when done in this fashion. When I output the video to the h.264 codec I saw two things: The compression of h.264 exacerbates the noise by a bit (not too troublesome) and it also compresses the tonal range of the middle tones enough to make the overall files slightly darker than they are in Final Cut Pro X, or when played in their native format via QuickTime Pro.

Just to test a bit further and to see where the limitations really hit I also output the file to a Pro Res 422 HQ file. This file had 10 times less compression. The h.264 files weighed in at 695 megabytes while the HQ files tipped the scales at 10 gigabytes. Viewing them side by side makes on more aware of the destruction wrought by compression. The bigger file is much more tonally detailed; the tones are well separated and the tonal transitions are as smooth as they seem in real life. The bigger file also shows less noise in comparison. It's really a moot point for a project like this one which will be used on YouTube by my client. The amount of compression in YouTube's process is at least a whole order of magnitude more destructive than the conversion to h.264 out of Final Cut Pro X. I wish I could show clients, family and friends (and Chanel) just how good the high quality file looks on a calibrated screen in a viewing appropriate room.

I think the secret to getting good video from an $1100 cameras is to pay strict attention to fundamentals. There can be no slop in exposure calculation. If you need to bring up exposure from an underexposed file you'll end up losing precious detail and it will degrade image quality. Don't plan on boosting shadows after the fact; take the time (and light) to fill the shadows to the level you'll want them in the edit before you push the record button. Controlling the range of tones, and the overall dynamic range, is an artistic step as well as a technical process. They are intertwined.

The same applies to color correction. If you've worked with smaller Jpeg files in photography you'll know that they can't be totally corrected if you didn't get it right in camera. Push the blues and you kill the yellows; push the magenta and kill the greens. It's all as interrelated as the Buddhist view of the universe. If you are working with an inexpensive camera you don't have the luxury of endless latitude but, guess what? the DPs I talk to don't believe that their twenty and thirty thousand dollar cameras have latitude to spare either. They get color balance correct in camera. A quick custom white balance at the head of the interview prevents hours of slider jockeying and teeth gnashing later in the process.

If you have the color and exposure nailed into place then the next thing to worry about is shadow and highlight mapping. I use the shadow/highlight tool in FCPX a lot. For this I had a one notch increase in shadow exposure and a one notch decrease in shadow exposure (on an S curve) which helped to open up the shadows and keep highlights from burning out. In the CineLike D profile I used I changed several parameters. I upped the contrast by one notch, upped the sharpness control by one notch and decreased the noise reduced by three notches. In retrospect I should have also reduced saturation by a small amount.

I took the time to light everything. There is a big, soft main light and a big, soft counter-balancing fill light on the opposite side. I have lights on the background and a weak backlight on Chanel. The lights establish the highlight and shadow range and are critical to the way I see video.

The one place I wish I had more control was over the ambient noise in the theater. The theater is a large space and we were just a couple hours away from a full audience show. In Texas it is critical to keep the house at the right temperature and we were unable to turn off the air conditioning. You can hear as a low frequency noise bed. I was torn because a lavaliere microphone might have gotten me a bit less noise but the lower noise would have come at the price of really clean high frequency response and also clarity in the mid-tones. I made the choice and I'll have to live with it when I listen to the final result in a quiet room.

I hope you enjoy the interview. Chanel is a world class singer and actor and, I find, an interview subject who makes her interviewers look more competent. I appreciate the time and expertise she put into helping me tell this story about the her show; and about Billie Holiday.

Read this book and save your creative life.


My first two jobs with the Sony FE 85mm f1.8. It's a good lens.

I recently purchased the Sony FE 85mm f1.8 lens at the current, full, retail price of $599 from a camera store, here in centralTexas. As I've written before, I really like the 85mm focal length and depend on lenses in the 85mm to 135mm focal range for a large percentage of both my paid and my personal work.

I bought this lens because I have owned the manual focusing 85mm 1.5 Rokinon Cine lens for the last year. I noticed that I was enjoying using that lens for work less and less because it added more steps to the shooting workflow. I had to constantly make sure that the "non-click" aperture ring had not been moved inadvertently while shooting. I had to "punch in" to ensure I was in focus. And the geared focusing ring, while great for using a follow focus mechanism for focusing in video, was a pain in the hand for day long, repetitive use.

I wanted a lens that I could use in conjunction with the face detect AF in my two A7xx cameras. Yes, I've gotten lazy. Or I've gotten too busy to have the patience to nurse the process.

I've owned the 85mm f1.8 lenses from both Nikon and Canon, as well as the 85mm f2.8 for the Sony SLT series cameras. I was hoping this model would be at least as good.

My testing routine is fairly simple: Toss the lens on the front of the camera and then start shooting stuff around the stuff. Put the camera on a tripod, turn off the I.S. in camera and pay attention to the focusing points I'm using. I shoot papers with fine type that are strewn across my desk. I make portraits of the ever patient Studio Dog. I shoot the leaves on the trees outside the windows. Then I grab all the big-ass raw files and put them into Lightroom and start examining them at 1:1. If everything looks good and the focus is accurate then the lens goes into the bag and we're off the to races. If not, the lens goes back to the store and my credit card is once again newly energized with buying potential.

This lens passed with flying colors. It gives me a highly detailed file at f2.8 and higher. It's sharp enough at f1.8 but I don't often find myself making portraits at that f-stop because I find it difficult to keep the tip of a portrait sitter's nose and their hairline near the front of their ears equally in focus. It's that depth of field thing. By f4.0-5.6 this lens is everything you could want in a lens at this focal length. It's sharp, contrasty and brimming with nano-acuity(tm).

The overall design is spare and utilitarian. There are two controls on the body of the lens itself. One is a simple AF/MF switch and the other is a round button which gives you a convenient focus hold. It can apparently be programmed to do other things but I confess I haven't found an application that would be better than a focus lock for a lens mounted button. I guess the eye-AF on function and the depth of field preview functions would both come in handy, depending on the kind of work you do.

The optical formula is more complex than previous generations of 85mm f1.8 lenses I have used. It features nine elements and at least one of them is claimed to be  an ED (extra low dispersion glass). A bonus for all the people who believe a camera should be usable in driving rain = the lens is said to be moisturize and dust resistant. It is also designed with nine aperture blades for a smoother out of focus rendering. Finally, the focusing mechanism used double linear motors which makes focusing fast and noise minimal. This also makes it a good choice for video production.

I spent two days shooting commercial projects with this lens exclusively. The first project was to make eight individual portraits of attorneys, in the studio, against a white background. The lens worked well, the face detection AF worked quickly and with no hunting, and there is no evidence of any flare or veiling as a result of shooting into the white background.

On the second project I was making portraits of several attorney at their downtown high offices. They were environmental portraits which leveraged soft window light and the supporting light of a couple of LED panels shining through large diffusers. I shot at f3.2 for these images. I was happy with the highly accurate focusing (again, using face detect AF on the A7ii) and the overall tonality of the lens. It has an optical quality that I would call "solid." Everything in the scene seems, optically, well locked down and detailed even when viewing the resulting raw files at 100%. There is one thing I did notice in the files shot at f3.2 that might bother other shooters and that is a tendency to vignette. I don't have a profile for this lens loaded into Lightroom yet and I'm sure that would eradicate the vignetting. It's certainly not enough to be disturbing to me and it's easy to fix manually. But it is there.

The lens is small and light. It's a bargain compared to the 85mm f!.4 lenses that people seem compulsively drawn toward. It's less than a third the price of the Nikon or Sony f1.4 versions and far less than half the weight. And more importantly, I am sure that from f2.0 up to f8.0 there is no real, optical quality difference that can be reasonable discerned with the human eye. Caveat Emptor.

Even using my own hard earned cash, I would buy this lens again in a heart beat.