why OVF?

So Interestingly enough, the biggest complaint I’ve seen about the E-P1 is the fact that it doesn’t have an optical viewfinder (or at least an eye-level EVF, though Ironically enough a large complaint about the panny G1 was that it was too big – largely resulting from *having* an eye-level EVF- but no matter!)

Look, I’ve composed images on all kinds of framing devices – rangefinders, SLR prisims, Waist-level MF finders, eye-level EVFs, LCDs, heck even ground-glass on a view camera. 

All require a different way of shooting, and all have their pros and cons.   But there seems to be almost a knee-jerk reaction against composing an image on an LCD, which I really don’t get.   Sure, it has some drawbacks – notably washing out in bright light (less and less of an issue as lcds get better) and being somewhat less stable to hold (just requires adaptation to some new shootign stances, not as much of an issue with IS anyway).   But there are also some big pros to it – things like “having a live histogram overlaid while composing” (awesome) or superimposed levels for getting straight horizons (useful when running&gunning). 

However, what many folks seem to miss is that one of the LCDs biggest weaknesses is also one of its greatest strengths – you don’t use it against your face.  Now while this does make it less stable, it does something wonderful as well – it removes the barrier between you and your subject, allowing a far more intimate and direct connection while shooting.  Same as shooting with a waist-level, don’t underestimate the value of being able to make eye-contact with your subject and engage with them while you are taking their picture.  It’s a great thing, and in my eyes more than makes up for the drawbacks of framing on an LCD. 

So I have to ask honestly – what’s with the vehemently anti-lcd crowd?  I’ve never had a problem framing with LCDs – is there really an issue or is it simply coming from folks who grew up on dSLRs and see OVF=SLR=Pro and LCD=pockecam=amateur?  To me it’s just another way of framing…

inquiring minds and all… not trying to be provocative, just legitimately curious.

dont be that guy: a PSA

Ok, a bit of a rant.

I just had a 2nd shoot with a very nice young lady who originally answered a casting call for a shoot that I put up on a social-networking-modeling-site that shall remain nameless… After our first shoot, I liked her energy in front of the camera, and she went into my “folks to work with again” file. 

This past week I started setting up a few personal projects/shoots to change gears for a while, and figured I’d drop her a line.  However, when I logged into said “social-networking-modeling-site” (that shall still remain nameless) I found her profile was gone.  No worries, I had her email, we set up shoot #2 and had a blast.   While she was in makeup, we where chatting and I asked her about the profile thing, thinking nothing of it.  She proceeded to regale me with absolute horror stories of the creeps who had been literally stalking her (not just through the site, but elsewhere as well) trying to get her into pornographic and pseudo-pornographic encounters (foot fetish shoots, stocking fetish shoots etc…) Until she had to close up every one of her social networking outlets.  

I know this is nothing new to anyone who’s worked with models for any amount of time, but that still doesn’t make it any better.   This kind of stuff is just wrong, and shouldn’t be happening at all. 

Look, bottom line is: Don’t be “that guy” and if you know any “photographers” who are “that guy”, give them a smack upside the head and straighten them out.  Our industry doesn’t need that kind of stigma, it just makes photographers as a whole look bad.  Always treat your models with respect and professionalism.  I know it goes without saying, but it just bears repeating. 

/end rant. 

P.S. I know none of *my* readers are “that guy”, just venting a bit. 

on limitations as a creative tool

A few days ago Mike Johnston of TOP (The Online Photographer) ignited a firestorm of controversy by espousing that beginning photographers should spend a year shooting with nothing but a Leica, one lens, and one (black and white) film in order to hone their skills of observation, composition, and vision. 

This generated such a slew of comments he had to write two followups, clarifying his position.

Now, without starting my own debate, I agree with what he is saying – and it got me thinking.   Essentially this exercise boils down to the value of limitations as a teaching and creative tool. 

Nowadays taking a photograph is easy.  Point and Shoot, nothing too it.   But we don’t want to just take photographs.  We want to take *good*, nay *great* photographs.   And *that* is very, very hard!  And often,  the very things that make it easier to take a picture, make it harder for the beginner to take a Great picture.  They become crutches, and the learner goes along relying on said crutches which is fine for a while, but hamstrings him when it is time to “move to the next level” as it were. 

And I think that much as Mike is saying – a great way to move past these hurdles, is to actually impose limitations on ones own work.  Limitations force us to figure things out.   They don’t allow us to rely on crutches.  The make us use skill to compensate for limits.  And of course, no one is saying you have to limit yourself forever, but it can be a valuable teaching tool.  On this very blog, I’ve espoused taping up your zoom to a single focal length to improve your compositional skills and learning to “see” in a particular length

I’ve espoused shooting a whole roll of film in a single enclosed space to force yourself to look beyond the obvious and find images outside your comfort zone. 

And yes, I’d even say it’s not a bad idea to spend an entire year shooting with nothing but a leica and a single lens. 

These things are all limitations – self imposed limitations – but they all serve the same purpose: to push us beyond our reliance on the camera as a tool, to force us to use our eyes and our brain to compensate for the shortcomings of our gear rather than our gear compensating for the shortcomings of our eyes!

So before you knock it, try it.  Stick on a prime lens and shoot with it instead of a zoom.  Turn off your autofocus and auto exposure.   Heck, put on an old manual lens that won’t do ttl metering and use the sunny-16 rule to train yourself to estimate exposure.  And shoot with a leica for a year. 

It’s the limitations that we impose on ourself that train us to overcome the limits that our gear imposes on us. 

the internet is a silly place (with apologies to Monty Python)

So this morning the inimitable Don Giannatti (aka WizWow) twittered the following:

“I wonder if it is becoming too silly. Silly forums and silly pretentious people with no real experience preaching silliness to silly people

(I would tend to agree, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant)

course the first thing it brought to mind is: (specifically 1:37 in)

also that old New Yorker cartoon with the 2 dogs in front of a computer, with one saying “on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog

Silly, sure -but it raises a good point.  Always remember when asking questions on an internet forum – anyone can be an “expert” on anything, so be careful who you take your answers from.  A little common sense goes a long way.  I’ve seen far too much blatantly *wrong* information being distributed as fact, and pour souls who didn’t know any better eating it up. 

Ah, well such is the price we pay for the incredible information-disseminating capabilities of teH interwebZ.

everything is amazing and nobody is happy

I saw this on Terry Moore’s blog the other week and it cracked me up. In a way, it’s also a followup to my last post :-)

A good laugh.   Course it’s highly applicable to photography as well. Think about it – we photographers complain so much… (yeah I’m guilty of it too). We complain about our gear – this lens isn’t sharp enough, this body doesn’t have good enough “per pixel” sharpness, etc… We complain about the industry, we complain about being undercut, we complain about our clients demands.   But maybe we should just stop and consider:

Take the lowest-end DSLR on the market today. You know, the camera that you subtly look down your nose at – the one you upgrade out of the second you have the cash.  Now consider that a photographer from just 50 years ago or so would probably have given his entire life savings for a camera like that.   From his perspective, can you image a camera that

  • automatically focuses at the tough of a button – even tracking moving targets
  • can change focal lengths at the twist of a ring
  • can automatically meter a scene, based on any number of parameters
  • can take (effectively) *unlimited* number of photos without even needing to be reloaded
  • can display the photos instantly, and even transmit them across the entire globe for anyone to see
  • can take photos in color, or black and white (or both) and even video in practically candle-lit conditions

Can you image how amazing that would seem?  For all my recent posts on film etc… I get the feeling some folks think I am some kind of Luddite who thinks the those durn digital cameras are killin the art of photography.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I think digital technology is amazing!  I think it’s incredible how every day practically there is some new technology that gives us more (photographically) than ever before.   Just think:

100 years ago, “taking a picture” involved a cartload full of fragile equipment an in-depth knowledge of chemistry, and exposure to dangerous and toxic materials.

Now I can have a camera that takes a thousand pictures at the touch of a button and fits in my pocket.

Incredible isn’t it?

medium and meaning

WARNING: this article may be rambling and disjointed, as it’s just kind of a stream of consciousness of some things that have been kicking around in my head the past few days.  Further disclaimer: while I am talking about film/digital this is not a film vs digital superiority debate.

One of the non-photography-related blogs I like is Seth Godin’s blog (for those who don’t know Seth is a *legitimate* marketing guru, (unlike the “OMG use Twitter to make millions types), and posts various thought provoking comments/thoughts on his blog  every day)

Yesterday I read the following on his blog:

Email is dying because it’s free. If you can send an email for free to 100 of your closest friends, instantly, you probably won’t abuse the privilege. But someone else will because they might define ‘friend’ differently than you or I.

100 times 100 is ten thousand. Spam.

So now, people don’t reply when you send them a resume, because it costs too much to do that ten thousand times.

Twitter is next. The paradox is obvious: to grow, you need to remove friction from the medium. If it’s not easy and free to use, people won’t. But then it gets big and it becomes profitable, so people use it too much.

The churn rate at twitter is reported as more than 50%. That’s because of lack of friction as well. Easy to get in, easy to get out.

Stamps are underrated. Friction rewards intent and creates scarcity.

I like that quote “Friction rewards intent”

It also made me think about Alec Soth – Recently I also had the opportunity to see Alec speak, and he opened his piece by talking about a recent “crisis in photography” that he was going through.  Albert over at dragonballyee.com has a nice summary/analysis of this, which I will summarize/quote instead of trying to write out my own long winded piece :-)

In short – photography is suffering from “information overload” much like email or twitter.  There are 4 *million* pictures uploaded to flickr every day, the vast majority of them snapshots – fragments.  Digital cameras give us this capability, they remove the “friction” from the medium.  Cameras are ubiquotous, there is no “investment” involved in taking a picture.  *anyone* can literally take a picture of *anything* without even having to think about it.

William Eggleston made an art form of elevating photos of the mundane to the extrordinary.  but what happens now when you can take a random selection of snapshots from flickr, mix them in with Egglestons’ work and unless you were an art historian probably couldn’t tell the difference. Alec pointed out Flickr’s 2 *billionth* (with a B) photo, and how it looks remarkably similar to an Eggleston.

We have accepted that Photography as an art form can make the mundane extraordinary, but what about when the mundane is just mundane?   And if so, is this particular aesthetic losing meaning in the realm of photography – largely discredited because of the medium itself?

How are these “random snapshots” different than the work of the “masters”?  or are they even different at all?

does the sheer volume dilute the meaning of the medium?

Of course the 1,000 pound gorilla in the room is *digital*.  Film provides “friction” to use Seth’s term.  There is a *physical* limitation to shooting film that provides constraints, both physical and otherwise.  I’ve hear of digital wedding shooters coming home with 8,000-10,000 images from a single wedding!  try doing that with a Hasselblad!  It makes me wonder if they are even *looking* at what they are shooting or just pointing their camera at everything in sight and holding down the shutter in burst mode until the card fills up.  But in essence, why shouldn’t they?  there is no penalty for doing so – no film to pay for, develop, make contact prints (or scan), print etc…

No friction.

The best photographers will tell you that they are always shooting.  always carry a camera, always be making photos.   But that presumes that we are *thinking* about the photos we make – that there is intent, purpose.  When every click of our shutter costs a nickle, or a quarter, or 5 dollars we think alot more about what we point it at when we click that button.

What happens when the friction is removed from that as well?  On one hand it’s a great thing – now we can Always Be Shooting without hesitation or worrying about film, but what happens if and when we stop *thinking* about what we are shooting? does it change the meaning of the activity?

Have you ever gone to a tourist spot, and seen hordes of amateur photographers standing in the same spot, taking photo after photo of the same subject?  It puzzles me – why take 27 photos of the exact same thing?

No Friction.

Medium and meaning, meaning and medium.

Where I think this is going is that while there is no question that digital has changed the way we “do” photography, the question is: has it actually changed the *meaning* of photography in and of itself?

I don’t know the answer to that question, or even if there is one.  But it’s definitely something to think about, particularly when thinking about purpose and meaning in one’s own art.

On photographers and architects

apple1

I started writing this article the other day, and saved it as a draft… sketching out the ideas I wanted to touch on etc… Then today I see THIS ARTICLE by Chase Jarvis, and I am glad I waited to publish my own, as his touches on some similar/complimentary themes that I would talk about as well!

I’ve been reading a book called Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing by harry Beckwith (great book btw), and the main point it makes is how marketing/selling a *service* is very different than marketing/selling a *product*.

And that’s what we are doing.  As photographers, we are selling a service, not a product. The “photograph” itself is not what we offer – anyone can make a photograph.  We are selling our *creativity*, our *skill* and our *vision* in creating that photograph.  I think it’s an important distinction to make, as it seems that the market becomes more and more “commoditized”

Look at it this way – when you hire an architect to design your office or house, you are not “buying a house” – you are paying for the creative vision of the architect.  You are paying for the service that his experience, creativity and expertise brings to the table, and how it facilitates your own end product (the house).  And that *service* is what makes all the difference in the final product (Think “generic housing subdevelopment” vs Falling Water or The NYC Apple store – they are distinct because of the vision and services of the Creatives involved.)

So what does this have to do with Chase’s article?

chase makes the point:

For the first three quarters of my somewhat short career in the business of professional pictures, I was the worst offender. Client said “that looks great!” I called it a wrap, tossed my camera to my assistant with a point of flair just like you’d find on a button on the suspenders of a waiter at TGI Fridays. Ugh. For years, I thought my job was done when the client was happy. But now…
…now it’s when the client says she’s happy that I really start to work hard. That’s the starting point.

Bingo! I agree 100%

In essence that shot (the one the client is happy with) is the “product”.   Don’t be satisfied with that – you aren’t selling a product.  You are selling a service, you are selling your vision, your expertise, your creativity.  As Chase says, go beyond – give them what they didn’t even *know* they wanted.   The more our industry becomes about selling a product (photograph), the more mundane it becomes and the less we are worth as photographers.

Don’t sell your products.  Sell your services.

Toy cameras and fixed-gears

577px-fixed_gear_cogWith my recent holga fascination and the seeming Renaissance of film that is going on in the photo-blogo-sphere (TM), it got me wondering – Why?

Look, by any technical measure, the Holga is a crappy camera.  It is flimsy, plastic, full of light leaks, blurry,  Basically the *exact opposite* of everything we look for in  a camera.  We will spend thousands of dollars for a little extra bump in that MTF curve,  or a fraction of a stop in increased lens speed – So why is my fancy-shmancy-SLR and High-end glass sitting on the shelf while I gleefully run around with a $25 toy camera with plastic lens?

Allow me to make an analogy (which I have used before, but applicable in this case as well!)  Consider the bicycle – Nowadays your average bike has 27-some odd gears, carbon fiber doohickeys, hydraulic disk brakes, and suspensions which will absorb a city curb or tree root with nary a complaint.  Pretty cool, huh? Gotta love technology (road bike tech is equally, if not more impressive).

Of course with all that, I can still walk into a bike shop and buy a “fixie” or “fixed-gear” bicycle.  Some shops even specialize in ’em!  To explain:  a fixed gear bicycle is a bike with 1 speed/1 gear.  No shifters, no suspension, no brakes (!) – just 2 pedals and 2 wheels.  Not only that, the bike cannot even “coast” as ther gear is “fixed” (hence “fixie”) – the pedals turn the wheel directly, with no freewheeling so you *must* pedal as fast as the bike is going.  To slow down/stop you simply slow your pedaling, or lock your legs and “skid” the bike to a stop.

Now at this point one may ask, why on earth someone would want to ride a bike like that (ahem -Holga) when they could get a 27 speed, freewheeling, brake-having, trigger-shifting racing bike instead? (DSLR)  And ultimately, everyone who rides a fixie has their own reason – but for many, it is *discipline*.

The Fixie keeps you honest.  It *forces* you to work on your riding technique.  It *forces* you to pedal properly, “spinning” as the pros call it.  It doesn’t allow you to slack off – if you don’t pedal, you don’t go – simple as that.

It eliminates everything non-essential, strips the act of riding down to it’s most basic fundamentals and beats you over the head with them until they are mastered.

Similarly, the holga doesn’t have any of the fancy bells and whistles of high end cameras.  It strips the camera down to it’s bare essentials – a box with film and a shutter (ok, so maybe a pinhole is more “bare essentials, but you can get holgas in “pinhole” version too!)  It forces you to work within it’s constraints, and thus compensate by using your other skills – composition, previsualization, etc…  Digital shooting makes you lazy – the Holga makes you *work* for your shot!

Furthermore, most fixed-gear cyclists will tell you that there is a certain “Zen” to riding a fixie.  No clicking freewheel, no worrying about shifting, just you and the bike -directly connected.  Just like the holga, its very primitiveness strips away distractions and complications, leaving us to concentrate on the act in it’s purest form – either riding or shooting.

So if you are feeling in a rut with your shooting, or are dreading over sorting through those 4,000 almost-identical shots you took on your last shoot, try it – grab a holga and a couple of rolls of ASA400 b/w film.   it’s only a few bucks, and can give you a whole new outlook on your photography!

Is the megapixel war over?

For a long time, pretty much any advanced amateur/pro photographer carrying a dslr would eventually and inevitably be confronted with the question “Wow, how many megapixels is that?”  You can’t fault them for asking though – we had all gotten used to the marketers pushing the megapixel count as a measure of a camera’s quality.  You can’t really fault the marketers either – pixel count was an easy way of answering “why should I buy camera X over Y” to the consumer (certainly a lot easier than trying to explain the nuances of dynamic range, chromatic abberation & flare control, lens aperture etc…)  Of course, most folks “in the know” realized that there was *far* more to image quality than pixel count.   Nevertheless to the chagrin of most pros and enthusiasts the pixel count (and density) kept getting higher and higher…   Until now?

In the rapidly shifting world of camera technology, maybe consumer sentiment is coming around – when a blog as big as gizmondo explains why “more megapixels aren’t better” you gotta figure that people are noticing.  This combined with a number of recent compact camera launches trimming back their pixel count in favor of better low light performance… and then Olympus declares their complete withdrawl from the megapixel race altogether, setting the max for their SLRs at 12mp!

Could this be a renniasance in camera design?  With innovative camera designs like the G1, and sensors like the new Fuji EXR sensor (eschewing pixel count for improved dynamic range using pixel binning) it may just be that a whole new world is opening up in the digital camera arena.  Personally I’m looking forward to every bit of it!

How many digicams do we really need?

Just read this over at 1001 noisy cameras.

Good lord, it’s getting kind of ridiculous.  I mean really, how many compact cameras do we need from each manufacturer.  it seems like every camera maker has 10-15 “different” compact digicams, which are pretty much functionally identical, and get refreshed with a new model every 6-9 months.  And don’t get me started on the arcane naming conventions.   Seriously, can anyone keep this straight?  What’s the point other than to confuse the consumer?  Maybe they should concentrate their dollars on making 2 or 3 really good models (1 budget, 1 high end ultracompact, 1 superzoom/and or bridge cam), rather than rehashing the same “check off the feature boxes” models over and over again… <sigh>

(That being said, the upcoming Fuji F200EXR looks very cool.  let’s see if it’s DR and ISO performance is as good as the hype…)