3.23.2013

Unconventional approaches can produce a different result.


Portrait of a person who quit smoking. For Prevention Magazine.

I recently came across a thread in a forum that disturbed me. I think I know why. The originator of the thread was asking the community of photographers at large about using continuous light to make photographs, in the studio. All the "experts" quickly chimed in to "educate" this poor bastard and let him know that flash is the best, only approved, only correct and standard way of taking any photograph that requires any lighting. The implication was that the use of any other type of light was symptomatic of arch stupidity. The main premise of the commenters was that any movement shown as blur in the photograph is bad and also that photographers might require dozens and dozens of hot lights in order to "match" the light "power" one can easily get from a single, plastic, electronic flash.

I was disturbed to find that people are so incurious and so resistant to the application of any technique that is not unanimously embraced by the collective. I was disturbed to think that there is now only one (approved) way to skin an image. And I was disturbed by the hubris of the responders. It reminded me how dangerous it is to have only enough information to have an opinion.

Over the course of my career I've always owned lots of flash equipment and I've used it on thousands and thousands of jobs. But there is a time and place for experimentation, curiosity and expressing a different vision. One of those places is in the arts. And photography sometimes falls into the category of "art" (with a little "a").

The image above was made for Prevention Magazine. They called. They liked the black and white style I'd been doing for a number of years and they wanted me to do that style for an article they were writing about people who'd changed their lives.

I started with this style of lighting after studying some really cool images from the 1940's, taken by a photographer in a small Texas town. All of his images were done with "hot lights" and all of them had wonderful areas of shadow and light, as well as a sharper look to the lighting than what was in vogue in the 1990's.

I packed for the shoot by taking a bunch of Lowell Pro Lights (a 250 watt focusable flood light with barn doors) and several low wattage optical spotlights that use fresnel lenses to collimate the light. Out of a reflexive fear I also packed the usual steamer trunk full of Norman studio electronic flash gear. The Normans stayed in the car.

I used one light from above, diffused by a very thin diffusion material to create a very directional downlight for my subject's face. I use a small, Lowell from above and behind the subject as a kicker and hair light. And I used a small 250 watt flood to illuminate the back wall (lighting in layers...).

The light looked so different to me from the softbox driven, soft transition lighting we all used back then. The fact that it was lower powered than conventional strobe was something that I really liked because it gave me both a very shallow depth of field but also an excuse to keep telling my subject to freeze.  It's a quality of light that also looks sharper, overall, than more diffused light.

The magazine was very pleased with the image and ran it in a full page, uncropped, next to the article. I was pleased because the image didn't look like any of the other images in the magazine. I stayed with this style for quite a while. It's a little harder to set up and you have to keep your subjects in the sweet spots of the light but it's nice to have extra and different tools in the box.

I am currently evolving that style now. It's fun and challenging to use harder, hotter lights. It takes more time and effort. But the difference is worth it when you pull it off.

Contrary to the opinions of the "Photo Borg" we needn't all be assimilated into the Borg. There are plenty of really good lighters who use nothing but continuous lights. They are called directors of photography, or DP's. They work in the movie industry and they create stunning visual products that create billions and billions of dollars of value. There are also plenty of still photographers who also understand that there are advantages to using hot lights, florescent lights, HMI's, and even LEDs to create effects and to give heightened control to lighting. As well as helping visual creators find their own brand, their own style.

It's okay to be different. It's okay to shoot differently. In fact, for people at the higher end of the craft, it's mandatory. Being able to mimic the majority of work out there is nothing of which to be proud.


3.21.2013

What's For Dessert?

Maybe a chocolate mousse with a couple chocolate truffles.

This is a small part of a bigger shot. The bigger shot was just fine but I liked this section more than I liked the whole thing so I cropped. I made this photograph for Garrido's Restaurant about a month ago. It was lit with LED lights and a Sony a99 camera equipped with a 70-200mm f2.8 Sony lens. I wish I had the time that day to make a comparison shot with the Sony Nex 7 and the same lens, equalizing the angle of view to compensate for the difference in sensor size.

Of course, whenever I order dessert I'm generally pretty happy with what I get but I always wonder if the other desserts that I passed up in making my choice might have been even better. 

I wonder what the analogy to chocolate is in still photography...



3.20.2013

Old School Instagram. We used to call them Polaroids.


This grizzled, old relic (the print, not the subject...) is the precursor to the current trend of presenting distressed photographs. The only difference is that we didn't need to do anything to distress a typical Polaroid SX-70 print; they came mostly pre-distressed. Nevertheless we did spend some amount of time walking around with the bulky SX-70 cameras and snapping away at a couple bucks a frame.

When I got back from Boston last week I finally came to grips with the reality that my studio/office was an unorganized mess. I've been cleaning, sorting and throwing stuff out. My intentions were good and my energy adequate until I found a small box filled with old Polaroid images. I was organized enough to get a bunch of instant film prints into a box many years ago, just not organized enough to put a label on the box or to put it someplace logical.

The man in the image is my friend, Wyatt McSpadden. Originally from Amarillo, Texas, I rank him, along with our mutual friend,  designer/writer  Mike Hicks, as two of the funniest people I've ever encountered.

I have no idea why I was photographing Wyatt on the loading dock outside our studios in east Austin nearly twenty years ago. But I'm glad I did. It preserved the time for me and this small print brought back the whole feel of the time.

Can I suggest that you print out and save some of the digital images you currently take of family and friends? You may not always keep track of the digital work that we make these days but the sheer physical-ness of a printed object makes it a more valuable artifact. One that's easier to access and harder to throw away.

Amazing to me what power there is locked in a single image.










3.18.2013

Bricks and Mortar Camera Stores Dying? I Don't Think So... Not in Austin.

http://blog.atmtxphoto.com/2013/03/09/precision-camera-transforms/

People want to shop local. But they want merchants to keep up with the times. ATMTX Blog shows what a camera store can be. Go read about it.

Almost everything here came from Precision Camera. The only exceptions are the two Pen lenses and the Fotodiox lens adapter...


disclosure: I do not work for Precision Camera and have received no product, money or promise of either in exchange for this blog post. 

I hurt my brain writing yesterday's blog so I thought I'd give my brain a day off.



...And share some of my favorite, old, previously published blog links. These are blogs about gear or about the idea of gear that are among my favorites. If you've been here for the long haul you've probably already read them. Some are dated. Some are prophetic and some less so. Just wanted to share while letting my cerebral cortex spin in neutral....

Some of my favorite "GEAR" posts…












http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2011/09/professional-photographers-always.html








3.17.2013

The practice of photography can be like fashion. Or it can be a life long linear process.


A display in the window of the Nespresso Shop on Newberry.

As I sat trapped in a coach seat on an aged and tattered American Airlines airplane I had time to think about the whole spectrum of art photography. I wanted to have a clearer window into the different ways in which people who aren't using their cameras to make a living in a traditional, commercial application of photography approach their subjects and their understanding of style. How much is generated internally and how much is a reflexive reaction to a world inundated in images?

I spoke with a person in the film industry on Friday. We were talking about HMI lighting (yikes! more lighting from Kirk?) and he made a remark concerning still photographers. I give him credence since his background originally included a successful career in photography. His remark, in regards to the real lack of lighting acumen among most shooters was this: "There's no such thing as a good photographer under 40."

Rather than trying to be snarky what he was really trying to say is that it takes both 10,000 hours of working on a craft to even begin to get a sense of mastery, and that the first twenty years of working in the arts is a process of working through all the different styles and influences you are plagued with until you finally get to the point where your true visual and conceptual nature shine through and you are able to comfortably separate your work from the transient seduction of the photographic fashion of the moment. It's the point at which you decide that you don't need to learn HDR or layering or a specific method of fill lighting just because everyone else is doing it, in the moment. 

Said in a nicer and simpler way:  It takes time to find your voice.

Back in the 1960's John Szarkowski curated a show at the Museum of Modern Art in N.Y. called, Windows and Mirrors. Here's what the Museum's press release had to say about the show:

".......In John Szarkowski's view, the dominant motif of American photography during the past 20 years has been a movement "from public to private concerns." Unlike the generation of the 1930s and 40s, Szarkowski suggests, the generation that came to artistic maturity and public recognition after 1960 is 
characterized by a pursuit of highly personal visions of the world rather than by any attempt to offer a comprehensive program for social or aesthetic progress.

MIRRORS AND WINDOWS has been organized around Szarkowski's thesis that such personal visions take one of two forms. In metaphorical terms, the photograph is seen either as a mirror--a romantic expression of the photographer's sensibility as it projects itself on the things and sights of this world; or as a window--through which the exterior world is explored in all its presence and reality. 

The 1950s marked the historical watershed in photography's turning away from public to private concerns for a whole complex of economic, social and technological factors including the decline of the great picture magazines (Life, Look) and the diminished commercial and, by extension, social opportunities available to the photographic professional. Two major influences 
in the realignment of photography's relation to the world were Minor White's magazine Aperture, which first appeared in 1952, and Robert Frank's 1959 book The Americans, a personal vision of the Eisenhower era. 

Between White, the prototypical "mirror," and Frank, the prototypical "window," there was defined, in Szarkowski's works, "a model for the fundamentally divergent concepts of photography's function," a model still "useful in the critical 
analysis of the continued evolution of American photography during the past two decades." 
Among the leading practioners of the "mirror" approach are Paul Caponigro; Jerry N. Uelsmann, whose surreal, technically stunning montages have been widely influential; Robert Heinecken; and painter Robert Rauschenberg,......" 

I was amazed that my memory of this show and of Szarkowski's thoughtful demarcation of the two houses of fine art photography was one of the first things that came into my mind as I grappled with my current opinion of where the momentum in photography resides and why I am so disquieted by the present trends in the art of our collective visual passion.

I've recently come to the conclusion that there are two spheres in our world of photography. There are images (the vast majority) that are "found." And then there are a tiny percentage of images that are "created." While most uses of cameras seem to be for documentation, or documentation with embellishment (cellphone images of today's breakfast taco with a bit of post production nostalgia thrown in....) and don't require more of a photographer than to wander about on a kind of scavenger hunt, looking for images that resonate because they are re-imagined icons of popular culture. Our re-capturing becomes just another echo... Even in this world there's a hierarchy. The most mundane on the bottom. The "street scenes" that mostly show a stranger's back. The gratuitous snap shot of your friend slurping coffee or smoking a cigarette. The top end of the hierarchy is arguably the landscape photo since it shows a higher form of active subject discrimination. A more nuanced search. But it's still an adventure in "found" work. Chances are that, because of the ubiquity of "found" photography and that implied saturation of that genre most of us would choose the same angles, the same basic icons, and make the same artifacts of our culture because we've already previously ingested the roadmap to the image, subconsciously.

Amazing to me is the idea that while we are all scavenging with our little cameras the people whose work we are fascinated with are busy "creating" their images. Whether it is Annie Leibovitz directing and demanding that people share in her vision of what their portrait should be (and making it up as surely as a movie) or Gregory Crewdson who imagines complex tableaus and then painstakingly creates them with crews of lighting professionals, actors and stylists. His images can take crews of forty or more to create and each is thoroughly imagined (created) before a single grip truck rolls.

David LaChapelle is another prime example of a photographer who created his own lush color fantasy world completely from his own fertile mind. It's the creation of a differentiated vision that compels us to be much more interested in this kind of work than in the vast majorities of mostly straightforward documentations. Look at the work of Chuck Close or even the lighting of Martin Schoeller.

Between the two spheres there is obviously a mix, or center ground, that gives us a bit from both pursuits. A fashion image by Peter Lindbergh is a combination of a found beauty subsequently written into a shooting concept which removes the found beauty from everyday and, by the application of lighting, posing, propping and rapport turns the object into a blend of conceptual and documented art.

In a more workaday sense, there are two kinds of portrait photographers. One is more or less documentary in nature, applying a set of accepting poses and lighting norms in order to make a documentation or enhanced found photo of the person in front of the camera. The more uniform the application of technical norms the less we are drawn toward the image. It becomes not a concept but cliched artifact of a portrait.

Then there are the portraits that reveal by collaboration and non-uniform technical structure. Marc Hauser rose to his highest stature on the strength of a series of black and white portraits done with very simple lighting but with wonderfully nuanced interpretations of non-artificial beauty in front of his camera. In some of his best work Arnold Newman's portraits are good examples of this successful intersection.

The work I've seen of someone like Zach Arias that rises above "normal" function are in his collection of studio portraits. Portraits that depend on his point of view and his direction of the subjects for their weight and value. His pursuit of exterior portraits always seem much more about working to get the technique correct more than interpreting a vision. Like a relatively new sailor trying to work a sail in a strong wind... But when he clicks in the studio it's transformative.

Like most fashionable pursuits I think we (in the collective sense) have embraced the "found" side of photography to excess over the last ten to twelve years. We've spent the time grappling with the effect of dealing with new technology instead of grappling with the exposure of our own inner visions and conceptual natures. We're constantly testing our cameras instead of testing ourselves. And it shows in a collective body of work that looks more forensic than narrative. More "cold, hard fact" than delicious and mysterious fiction.

The bottom line, I think, for the vast majority of practitioners who do this for the joy of discovering their vision, would be best served by doing just that. Now that we have a firm handle on how digital cameras work it's time to exit the cocoon of technical transition and get back to the real work of personalizing our work and exploring our own inner visions. We're not all sports photographers or war journalists. 

Stock photography has given us (as a culture) an endless supply of descriptive, documentary images of everything from the Eiffel Tower to cream cheese to every variation of the female nipple. We don't need to exactly replicate any of that. We didn't embrace this passion to become Zerox machines.  What might be interesting is setting up images that tell the stories in your mind. It takes more time and commitment but the pay off might be much more rewarding. Interpretation is usually more interesting than documentation...

We can shift the fashion of photography away from endless documentation. We can create images that don't exist in the world around us. We can choose our models and our intentional messaging and have fun with it. 

And once you find a subject matter (not style!) that works for you then you can dive in and do the hours it might take to translate your vision into a recognizable and diverse personal vision. And when you do the time you may end up with a genuine and unforced style you can call your own.

It's just a thought. Windows? Mirrors? As a portrait photographer I constantly vacillate between documentation and creation. Sometimes I win and sometimes I lose. But I mostly lose when I go on "auto pilot" and make a product. I'm more successful when I follow a plan in my brain instead of the ones in the books....

Edit: An interesting post over at NPR: http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2013/03/12/174043868/japanese-photography-a-tale-of-two-artists











3.16.2013

My review of the Sigma 19mm lens used on a Nex 7 (the world's most demanding sensor....).

I have a confession to make. It won't seem like much because I've made it here before but...here it is: I don't like wide angle lenses. They are unruly and they take in too much useless scenery. But I've found one that I like enough. It's the Sigma 19mm lens for the Sony Nex cameras. Someone at Sigma did their homework and made a lens that is sharp, cheap and works well on what is a notoriously difficult sensor for a lens to please. As I understand it light rays need to be collimated as close to a straight perpendicular as possible to image the light wells on the sensor correctly. The sensor doesn't handle tangential light rays well. Apparently someone at Sigma incorporated this into the design of their recent 19mm and 30mm lenses.


The 19mm yields the same angle of view as a 28.5mm lens would on a full frame, 35mm camera. Wide enough for me but probably too long for real wide angle afficionados. The 19mm is one of three lenses I took with me on a recent trip to Boston. I used it whenever I wanted a wide view. After a while I noticed that I was using the 50mm OSS Sony lens and the 19mm for nearly 100% of my shooting and I'd been ignoring the 30mm Sigma lens that I presumed would be my "go to" lens because of it's equivalency to my normal favorite focal length, the "normal" 50mm on a full frame camera. Funny how lenses and formats can change your preferences. 

From what I've seen the 19mm is very sharp, even at its widest f-stop of 2.8.  Many photographers immediately state that they must have all their wide angle lenses be as fast as possible and I get it. That's why I recently picked up the Rokinon 35mm 1.5. But if we are being rational we'll probably come to admit that a lot of the use of a lens in this focal length class is for snapshots and documentation and a lot of that is done in fair to good light. The trade off for faster glass is size, weight and price. You get all three when you go faster. It's not a case of "choosing one..."

If our goal is a lightweight, high performance travel package then the 2.8 aperture makes a heck of a lot of sense. I happily bought the lens at it's full price of $199 but in the ensuing months there have been temporary price drops to as low as $100. The price seems to have stabilized at around $150. If you are shooting raw you'll find a profile in Lightroom 4.4 for this lens that corrects for its geometric distortion.  What you end up with is a sharp image from a relatively tiny package.


After using the 19mm for the last few months the only drawback I've found (with the Sony Nex cameras) is the lack of image stabilization. If you use the m4:3rds versions you'll find that the OMD does a wonderful job stabilizing the image and giving you the feedback you want in the EVF.

My hope, in terms of future development from Sigma, is that they make available whatever lens formulation they are using for the  Sigma DP3 camera. It's a dedicated 50mm 2.8 and from the samples I've seen all over the web (including sites I trust like www.luminous-landscape.com) it's as sharp as the Leica M series 50mm with which I used to photograph. If they can make this available in both Nex and m4:3 mounts they'll have a new cult super hero lens on their hands. I'd line up to get one. Especially if they keep their pricing in line with the 19mm and 30mms.

Boston is a fun city to shoot in but perplexing. Even though there are tons of great things to photograph (both people and buildings) I've never seen a city with fewer photographers rattling around on the streets or in the museums and public spaces. Is Boston just totally over photography?















The best systems for walking around enjoying life and photography--simultaneously.




When we looked away for a moment the world shifted. A few years ago, when traveling, I would see people at events, at monuments and in the streets shooting photographs. Some were using point and shoot cameras and documenting their vacations to share with friends and relatives. The people who wanted to make serious photographs were toting along serious cameras. Big, heavy cameras. Canons, Nikons and more Canons. All with big, fast zoom lenses on the front. Now it all seems very anachronistic to walk around with a hulking DSLR. It's a trend time shift. 

Let's face facts. No one is getting paid to walk around and shoot in the streets. There's no market brimming with corporations sending out requests for state of the moment street photographs. This is something we do because we love it. But it's a dying trend. We've mined the shaft and plucked out the gold and now what were left with is the love of the exercise and its residual benefit, time spent outdoors looking and living. The reason working photographers buy cameras like the Nikon D800 (the new, defacto professional tool...) is to put them on a tripod and extract from them every square milliliter of excruciating details to bring to the service of their clients. It's what is expected when controlled imaging is commissioned and used in critical applications. But it's a level of technology that's actually detrimental to the practice of the kind of enjoyable, recreational photography we seem to pursue most often, and always for ourselves as the primary audience.

I speak from long experience. I've shot in the street with old Nikon F's and Leica M's as well as with Hasselblads and other medium format equipment. But my recent experiences with street photography in and around Boston and then back home in Austin have convinced me that we've achieved a plateau wherein the technology inside today's premium mirrorless cameras yields a practical quality which, by dint of operational fluidity, matches the level of image quality you'll attain from dragging around much bigger cameras and lenses.

It's all a matter of user relativity. In the grand old scheme it's impossible to argue that, all supporting practice being perfect, that current mirrorless cameras (APS-C and m4:3) are as potentially good as the current crop of full frame cameras. Square milimeter-age will always count. But when we take away tripods, studio flash systems and other accessories and we use both systems side by side to walk through a city for hours at a time the gap between technical superiority and on sensor equivalency starts to fall apart. The bigger cameras cause us to fatigue more quickly and that causes muscle tremors that degrade image quality. The increased blood flow means a stronger pulse and that also affects our ability to steady the whole rig. The smaller pixels in the higher res cameras like the Nikon D800 seem to require the highest platform stability in order to show best results. When a stable platform is degraded (with time, fatigue and other physical constraints) the ability of the more technologically advanced cameras is effectively degraded to the point where the smaller, and more agile format and body styles pretty much achieve actual quality parity.

When we shoot in the street we want good results but we also want to enjoy our time there. To do this it's important to find the optimum balance between the results your tools will give you in a hand held shooting scenario and the weight and bulk you are willing to accept. Almost every commercial, working photographer I know has accepted the binary gear paradigm. One system for ultimate, no holds barred, commercial image making and a totally different system for recreational use. We still want big, lush files, quick operation and a range of delicious lenses but we're no longer anxious to power lift our way to nice images. We're also learning that ultimate resolution or ultimate perceived sharpness aren't nearly as important, for most kinds of carry around photography as choosing the right subjects and being in the right place at the right time.

You can argue all you want but a smaller, lighter system goes a long way to extending your range both physically and emotionally. In the past, when we shot film, I did my commercial work with a range of mostly medium format (and some large format) cameras. But I never considered taking my four by five inch view camera out for an ambling stroll across town. It always had purpose on its side, not exploration. I supplemented those larger cameras with Leica M cameras and their much smaller lenses. In the early days of digital we used five pound Kodak/Nikon bodies which had short battery lives and very heavy batteries. We found various point and shoot digital cameras, like the Canon G series or the Olympus C-3030 type cameras to press into service for our portable, recreational rigs.

Now we don't have to make as big a compromise for portability. We can get relatively equivalent performance our of at least three different choices in the world of mirrorless when compared to traditional DSLR systems. In the case of the Nex 7 (I may be prejudiced...) we can also have a sensor that is better that most of the APS-C DSLR sensors, extant.

After having shot for three or four hours each day, in Austin and Boston, over the last seven days I can pretty much declare that, for me, the days of walking around with larger cameras have come to an end. There are three systems in the mirrorless category that I would use without reservation for the kind of fun work I normally undertake for my own enjoyment. I present them here.




If I were starting with a totally clean slate I would probably be seduced by the Fuji X-E1. The sensor seems to be state of the art for color and low noise and the lenses are reputed to be very sharp. The 18-55 kit lens is a 2.8 to f4.0 which, coupled with good high ISO performance, makes for a good all around package, right out of the box. Two things hold my back from trading in my Sony Nex stuff and taking the plunge: One is that I've just gotten to the point with my Sonys of understanding them completely. Knowing how to wring the best performance out of them in most situations. I'd be reticent to go through yet another learning curve.... and the second reason is that I'm using the Sony DSLT cameras professionally and with the LAEA-1 adapter I can use the lenses from the DSLT system to supplement the Nex lenses while retaining most of the operational features (wide open metering, all modes + exif).

On the other hand the Fujis, right out of the gate, seem to have a better selection of better native lenses... But then the Sony has a superior EVF, better autofocus and equal usability with legacy lenses. Between the three systems I'm talking about I think the real choices come down to lenses and how the camera feels in your own hands...

If we're looking at sheer acceptance the camera that most advanced photographers have chosen for a second system (and, for a large number, even a primary camera system) is the Olympus OMD.
The benefits are very straightforward: This particular camera may have the best image stabilization ever implemented in a still camera. It's amazingly good. Like science fiction. And unlike the in body stabilization of my bigger Sony cameras you get to see the calming effect of the IS in the view finder. The next benefit is the electronic viewfinder. While all three of the these camera systems give you EVF's the Olympus version seems the most graceful. By that I mean that people in general find it more comfortable to use. Easier to look into. 

While the Sony Nex 6 and 7 have higher spec'd EVFs the only thing that really matters is the actual user experience and even I'll admit that Olympus wins that contest. When you add in the wide range of really wonderful lenses that are already available for the system it's hard to argue against it. I've often said that if Olympus had beaten Sony to market with the OMD it would have been my first choice for a second system. With the 12mm, 25mm, 45mm and 75mm lenses for the Olympus system I would have a fine wide-to-telephoto system that still fits in a tiny bag.  And it would be a lens system that is made more remarkable by the relative speed of the lenses.

I am looking forward to seeing how Olympus will top the OMD. There are rumors of a more professional camera coming down the pike but if my anecdotal surveys of users are any indication it will take a lot to move current OMD shooters to another camera. There just aren't that many things people actively dislike about the current body. The one thing they might consider is a "big type" version for seniors. I do hear the occasional grousing about the size of the buttons....


I think the best value on the market right now would have to be the Sony Nex 6. It's got a good sized sensor (16 megapixels, APS-C size) that's been well proven in popular cameras like the Nikon D7000 and the Pentax K-5. It's a tiny camera, almost pocketable with the right lens on the front and it's been deeply discounted lately. While I like the eccentric dial design of the Nex 7 the 6 will appeal more to linear photo thinkers and people who have become used to dedicated dials for everything. I don't like the new 16-50mm lens as much as I like the old, much maligned 18-55mm kit lens.  If I were considering sticking my feet in the waters of mirrorless high performance cameras I'd start with the Nex-6 and the original black 18-55mm kit lens. It's a great package and used with some skill and knowledge, could be used for 90% of most photographers' work.

There is no right choice. All three of the systems have a lot to offer. If you don't do photography for a living you might find that one of the three systems above matches your needs more directly than the larger systems to which we've been consistently acculturated. As Apple showed us with the phone and Honda showed North America with cars, there is no shame in downsizing our tools in order to make them more usable.

One more thing. It's wise not to discount the power of symbolic sizes and shapes when considering a tool for a task that cries out for either discretion or collaboration. A smaller and lighter camera is often times perceived to be used only for fun and recreation and not for news, documentation and commercial gain. When people are confronted with big cameras and lenses they often are moved to believe that the photographer will be using the images he takes of them for his financial gain. They rightfully expect that if they are part of the amalgam that makes profit then they too should be rewarded. Especially if they perceive that they are giving up their rights of privacy. Very little of that stigma attaches to cameras with smaller profiles and less "professional" appearance. In fact, I'd say the user of the smaller cameras is more easily ignored, overlooked, discounted which, in the end gives them more access, and more intimacy. 

To be honest, at this point there's very little difference in the sensors between camera shapes (excluding the less than 1% who are using full frame sensor cameras) and most of us would be able to get the kinds of images we want out of either a big DSLR with big lenses or a smaller camera with equally good lenses (albeit half the size). Technology is allowing us the option of being in everyone's face and combining a program of aerobic weightlifting while shooting OR finding a new way of shooting that is sleeker, more agile and far more comfortable when used on the street or traveling around the world.























Of course, the usual disclaimers and caveats apply. If you have a nice camera of any size and no reason to shred your budget then no one is pushing you to rush out and change. If you shoot stuff on a tripod and need ultimate quality, professional project or not, then you are still a candidate for a very high resolution, traditional DSLR or DSLT equivalent. The camera itself, considered in a vacuum, won't make you a better shooter. But access, calm muscles, even breath and a lighter load might....  Just a thought after spending some quality time in the streets....












3.08.2013

Sightseeing while on the job. Miami. South Beach.

I was providing photographic coverage of a conference in South Beach being held by Broadwing Communications, one of the casualties of the dot.com boom. In the three years that they plowed through billions of American dollars I went along for the ride. Once in a while I'd end up in a nice Hotel like the Delano wondering when the music would stop (literally and figuratively). After a busy morning of photographing executives addressing sales people in a conference room I had the afternoon off. I walked down the beach from the hotel and found some huge tents on the beach.

It was the annual Latin Fashion Festival. With a bag full of Leica R cameras and some really cool looking lenses, plus my ASMP membership card, I was quickly able to talk myself into a press pass and an "all access" pass. I stumbled around clicking away with reckless abandon.

Art.

Eventually my time was up. I trudged back for the evening conference activities. I changed from film to digital, took a shower and changed from casual to coat and tie and headed back down to another serious exposure to corporate culture. 


I liked shooting color negative film with my Leica R cameras and the fast lenses. One of my favorites was the 80mm Summilux. I also liked the 180 f2. Ektapress 400 was my film of choice.

On a totally different note: I'm taking a little time off. I'm chilling and then I'm traveling. I won't be posting anything new on the blog until Friday the 15th. In the interim there are over 1,400 blog posts on the site. Just find the icon on the right side of the screen that directs you to the archives by year. Reading past blogs is totally optional, there will be no test.

It would be lovely if you took advantage of the time off to click through one of the Amazon links below and load up your shopping cart with all kinds of really cool stuff. You know, like expensive cameras and multiple copies of my five books. I'll get a small commission from Amazon for your purchases and you'll get lots of cool stuff. It won't cost you any more to click through the site.

Hope I have a few pictures to share from Boston when I get back...











If you are in Austin or plan to be in Austin before May 12th, go to the HRC and see the Arnold Newman Show.



"Photography is very unreal. You take a three-dimensional world and reduce it to two. You take color and reduce it to black and white. And you arrest the flow of time. There are many things that are very false about photography. You must recognize this, and build on it, and they maybe you'll have art."  -Arnold Newman.

My friend, Wyatt, e-mailed me a few days ago and suggested that I post information here about the Arnold Newman show at the Harry Ranson Center (aka: The Humanities Research Center) on the University of Texas at Austin campus. I was embarrassed when I realized that the show opened a couple of weeks ago and I hadn't been.

I don't recommend shows I haven't seen so I got into the futuristic Visual Science Lab car and headed over to the UT campus. Okay, the show is amazing. If you are a big fan of Arnold Newman's brilliant, black and white environmental portraiture you'll be in heaven. The entire ground floor of the museum is dedicated to showcasing hundreds of wonderful prints. If you aren't a big fan or you don't know who Arnold Newman is (go Google now...we'll wait) this show might surprise you.

"Oh, people set up these nonsensical rules and regulations. You can't crop, you can't dodge your print, etc., etc…  But the great photographers that these people admire all did that!" -Arnold Newman.

The venue is wonderful. And today was even more wonderful. While photography experts might come to the consensus that Arnold Newman is easily in the "top ten" of influential and amazingly insightful photographers who worked in the 20th century the show was made even more special for me because.....I was the only person in attendance. No line in front of the incredibly famous Stravinsky portrait (along with the contract prints and various croppings). No line in front of the Alfred Krupp or Picasso portraits either. Just an enormous, quiet, well lit room with me and a couple hundred amazing, black and white prints... Wyatt was right. If you're coming within 100 miles of Austin this should be on your list of "must sees."  Maybe even before Franklin's BBQ and the Continental Club.

"Successful portraiture is like a three-legged stool. Kick out one leg and the whole thing collapses. In other words, visual ideas combined with technological control combined with personal interpretation equals photography. Each must hold its own." -Arnold Newman.

When I finished staring at the beautifully crafted, fiber, black and white prints of equally interesting artists, actors and thought leaders of Newman's time I was a bit sad. It was obvious that photographers had much more leeway in the last half of the 20th century that perhaps we ever will again. The work showed a depth of conceptualism that made it more than a record or a magazine space filler. The background information conveyed by the curators of the exhibit made clear the reality that Newman could work on a portrait session until he got what he wanted....and he was able to solicit a collaboration with most of his sitters based on an intellectual sharing, and by using time as an ally.

The work is an amazing testament to the idea that people like Newman were creating art that pleased them first and sometimes singularly instead of just fulfilling the needs of a client.

If you want to see what photography was like when craft, talent, intellect and intention were required for success (not just good social media) you owe it to yourself to see this first hand. It's one of the best photography shows I have seen in ages. Made even more magnetic when you realize that he worked with a 4x5 inch view camera for most of his career and much preferred natural light and continuous light to electronic flash....

Wyatt was right. I was duty bound to report this one.