Kirk Tuck Talks Tech and Technique

The Austin SMUG group and the Capmac Advanced Photography SIG got together for a combined meeting last Thursday.  Over 40 photographers were in attendance at the Parish Hall of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Austin.  This time around Kirk Tuck stopped by to talk about his favorite trends in lighting and camera gear.  Kirk is well known by many folks for his informative and entertaining blog, The Visual Science Lab, in addition to his numerous books on photography lighting techniques.  

Kirk spent the majority of his presentation talking about and demonstrating LED lighting.  When it comes to LED lighting in still photography, Kirk literally wrote the book!

Kirk just happened to have a copy of his latest book on hand.

Kirk discussed in detail the advantages of LED lights over studio strobes and hot shoe flashes.  Some of the key advantages he sees in LED lights are as follows.

  • Efficiency:  LED lights are a very efficient constant light source.  
  • Relatively Low Cost:  Quality LED panels can be purchased for less than $200.  Kirk used a 500 LED panel for his demo that cost around $180.
  • Cool OperatingTemperature: Compared with traditional constant light sources, LED panels run at a cool temperature.  This helps keep your model a lot more comfortable.
  • Color Temperature Adjustable: Some LED panels have variable color temperature controls.
  • Versatility: LED panels can serve as hard or soft light sources with simple diffuser panels such a Westcott Fast Flag.
  • WYSIWYG Lighting: Because LED panels are a constant light source, you immediately see how they will light your subject.

Of course, there are disadvantages and tradeoffs to be made when working with LED lights.  LED panels do not produce light intensity on par with strobes or flashes, so you will need to work at higher ISOs, wider apertures, and possibly slower shutter speeds.  The light from LED panels is very directional and because the panels are not very large the light is rather hard.  You will almost always want to use diffusers with an LED panel.   

Kirk gets a small LED panel ready for his demo.

LED light panels have become a huge part of Kirk's portrait work.   He brought along some of his gear for a demo of a typical LED portrait lighting setup with the help of pro model Luana Lani, who just happened to be in attendance.  Using multiple fabric diffusion flags, he showed how a relatively small LED panel could be transformed into a flattering soft light by moving the panel a good distance back from the fabric.  He invited  those in attendance to take some shots of our lovely model while he demonstrated a few ways that he likes to position LED panels.  In addition to his lighting tips, an extra bonus was observing the rapport Kirk has with his subjects.  From a stranger on a street to the CEOs of major corporations, he knows how to turn on the charm and get the shot.

Kirk demonstrates how diffuser flags soften the light from small LED panels.

Kirk also talked about his recent switch from Canon DSLRs to the Sony A77 platform and why he is excited about EVF cameras.  While LED lights let you immediately see the effects of your lights on your subject, EVF cameras let you see exactly what the sensor sees before you snap the shot.  An EVF gives you a glimpse of everything from white balance to depth of field without having to capture an image and review it on typical camera back LCD screen.  Kirk appropriately calls this capability "pre-chimping."  Many EVF cameras will even allow you to check focus with a magnified view of your focal point, which is something that an optical viewfinder can't do.  When asked about the speed and resolution of EVFs, Kirk noted that they are getting better with each new iteration and the latest, such as that found on the Sony A77, are quite good.   Kirk firmly believes that EVFs are not just a fad, but rather the direction that even pro cameras are headed.   In addition to his new Sony A77, Kirk has done a lot of photography with micro 4/3 cameras for some time.

Kirk shares some of his portrait work.

For those who follow Kirk's blog it just wouldn't have been a Kirk Tuck talk without a good rant!  He sounded off on what he considers to be one of the worst trends in photography.  According to Kirk, too many people are using what he called "random post processing" through the use of popular camera phone and tablet apps or software plug-ins.  The problem he said is that no forethought is going into such post processing manipulations and poor images are being overlaid with odd effects in an effort to make them interesting.  He offered up an analogy of gimmicky over-processed images being like gift wrap with no gift inside.  "Can you make an image without relying on post?", Kirk challenged the group.  He stated that taste, craftsmanship, and quality should be the marks of good photography - not random or excessive post processing.

I always enjoy hearing Kirk speak and this time was no exception.  By his own admission, he can sometimes come across as a curmudgeon on his blog.  Regardless of his blogging alter ego, Kirk is a fun and energetic guy to be around.  His passion and enthusiasm are downright contagious.