Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Rick Loomis Profile in PhotoMedia

The current issue of PhotoMedia Magazine has a profile of Rick Loomis, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist for the LA Times, written by yours truly. Rick has spent a good deal of the last several years working in the most dangerous situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and recently won the Pulitzer for a five-part series about our endangered oceans called "Altered Oceans." You can pick up a copy of the PhotoMedia at most camera stores in the western United States and Anchorage, Alaska and it's free. Or you can find the article online here. Rick represents the best of photojournalism, managing to capture beauty, truth, and pathos in the same unflinching images.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Roy DeCarava, 1919 - 2009

Roy DeCarava, 89, died October 27th in New York City. He and his work were closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance, urban African American life, the Civil Rights Era, and portraits of jazz musicians. He started photographing in 1946 as a sketching substitute for his painting, but it quickly captivated his interests and eclipsed painting for him. Mr. DeCarava was the first African American artist to be awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1952. His first book of photographs was called The Sweet Flypaper of Life, which was a collaboration with poet Langston Hughes, who wrote poetry as a narrative to the images.

One of the better monographs of Mr. DeCarava’s work was Roy DeCarava: Photographs. This was published in 1981 by The Friends of Photography. One of the difficulties of his photographs is that his images were printed in an extreme low key style, which was difficult to reproduce in books. He was the master of this way of printing. His photographs were dark as black velvet, seemingly bottomless, and very low contrast. The emotional effect of this was that they were moody and quiet, insightful and reflective.

In 1987, I had a chance to see a selection of his original photographs at a Friends of Photography workshop in Carmel, California. I’ve never seen prints as dark, lovely, and sensual as his images. His photographs changed what I thought photographs could look like; they were a revelation. The memory of those photographs remains with me to this day. Mr. DeCarava will be missed.

Man coming up subway stairs, New York, 1952

Mississippi Freedom Marcher, Washington, D.C., 1963

[John] Coltrane on soprano [saxophone], New York, 1963

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Irving Penn, 1917 - 2009

Irving Penn died this morning at his home in Manhattan. He was 92. There are a handful of photographers that influenced me early in my life as a photographer: Edward Weston, Brett Weston, Andre Kertesz, and Irving Penn. His straightforward, confrontational approach was lean and muscular photography if ever there were any, in addition to being elegant and classy. His framing and composition was radical then and still is unconventional. He approached every subject in front of his camera with perception and compassion, but also with unflinching honesty. He was one of the greatest photographers in the history of the medium.

He is mostly known for his fashion work for Vogue Magazine and his portraits, but my favorite work of his was the "Worlds in a Small Room" series. He traveled around the world with a portable studio and a Rolleiflex camera and photographed indigenous people in their traditional clothes. His idea was that fashion exists throughout human culture and this was his attempt to capture their sense of fashion and aesthetics: their idea of beauty. It's simply beautiful, illuminating work.

In 1984, John Szarkowski, the former curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, wrote this about Penn, “The grace, wit, and inventiveness of his pattern-making, the lively and surprising elegance of his line, and his sensitivity to the character, the idiosyncratic humors, of light make Penn’s pictures, even the slighter ones, a pleasure for our eyes.”

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Taryn Simon Lecture is Online

Taryn Simon is featured in a lecture she gave this past summer on TED.com. Simon is a large format, documentary photographer. The talk focuses on two of her projects. The first is called "An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar," which deals with places normally kept hidden from the American public. The other project is "The Innocents," which is a series of portraits of people wrongfully convicted of crimes they didn't do. Simon was recently given the McArthur Award, which is also called the "Genius Award."

Go here to see her talk, which runs about 15 minutes or so. She's a fascinating photographer with a lot to say about the medium.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Actual New Leicas

Over the past several years, Leica has been having a hard time with the changing paradigm of film to digital. Actually, it goes further back than that. When all 35mm cameras went fully automatic exposure and autofocus, they hung back and waited to see if it was all a passing fad. Well, it wasn’t and they were left by the side of the road, becoming increasingly archaic and out of step with the rest of the universe. For more than a decade, it seemed like the only people using Leica cameras were either hard-core, anachronistic pros who used them no matter what or wealthy hobbyists who bought them for their prestige. Fewer and fewer working pros could justify the cost and the lack of ease of use any longer. Well, maybe that is about to change.

What Leica was good at was designing and building compact, ultra high quality cameras aimed at serious photographers. Olympus and Panasonic have recently announced cameras designed to fill that niche, the E-P1 and the GF-1. Well, Leica has just announced a few cameras that also fit that bill. And instead of rebranding cameras made by other companies, they are making these all in-house, just like the old days.

The new M9 could possibly be the worst kept secret in cameras in recent times, but there is now a full-frame, 35mm-sized digital Leica rangefinder and that is no small matter. The real surprise, though, is the X1, a compact fixed lens APS-C digital camera. This camera seems to take the design advantages of a Leica and apply them to a digital camera in an intelligent and thoughtful manner. In a weirdly old-fashioned way, it is an innovative and even fresh approach. It took a while for Leica to get things straight in their heads, but maybe they had it figured out for themselves. Leica can’t compete with Canon and Nikon or even Sony or Panasonic, but they can choose the ground they wage their battles on and I hope this strategy pays off for them. Here’s the run-down of these two new cameras:

Leica X1 • a fixed lens, compact digital camera.
12.2 MP CMOS APS-C sensor; 24mm f/2.8 Elmarit (35mm equivalent); 2.7-inch LCD monitor with 230,000 pixels; SD and SDHC cards, JPEG and DNG formats; 100 – 3200 ISO; optional optical viewfinder; really simple and straightforward controls; around $2000.00.

Leica M9 • full-frame, 35mm digital camera with interchangeable lenses and rangefinder focusing.
18 MP CCD sensor with an infrared filter instead of an anti-alias filter mounted in front of the sensor; micro-lens overlay on the sensor to create perfectly even images in terms of exposure and sharpness; JPEG and DNG formats; 160 – 2500 ISO (with a “pulled” setting of 80 ISO); 2.5-inch LCD monitor with 230,000 pixels; under $7000.00.

The only caveat I have with these cameras is Leica’s choice of rear LCD monitor. Both the M9 and X1 have decently large ones with rather anemic pixel counts of 230,000. The new camera, the Canon 5D Mark II has a 3-inch LCD with 920,000 pixels. Knowing the clarity and sharpness of that LCD, I have to wonder what Leica was thinking. Oh well, I’m still looking forward to checking them out when they are available. Congrats to Leica and best of luck. It's good to see you back in the game.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A New Leica, part 2

Panasonic has recently revealed the Lumix GF-1, which is pictured above. It's a camera in the same vein as the recently announced Olympus E-P1, which I discussed earlier this summer. Both of these cameras seem to be aimed at actual photographers, rather than P&S hobbiests. The lens paired with the GF-1 is a 20mm f/1.8 pancake lens, which will be equivalent to a 40mm semi-normal lens. The body and lens makes a compact set that won't be much bigger than most P&S cameras, but will provide much higher quality images. It has a 12.1 MP sensor and interchangeable lenses, and an enticing one for the near future is the 45mm f/2.8 Leica DG MACRO-ELMARIT with O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer). The GF-1 and 20mm f/1.8 lens should sell for around $900.00, which isn't too bad for such a potentially high quality camera. Like the E-P1, this cameras looks to be one that will neatly fill the niche of the old Leica rangefinders, and should be near about perfect for photojournalists and street shooters. It certainly looks tempting.

Speaking of Leica, tomorrow they will announce several new cameras. Supposedly one of those will be the new M9 digital rangefinder camera. After the announcements, we'll post what they will have to offer.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Sony DSLR!

The Sony a850 represents a landmark camera. This is the lowest price full-frame DSLR ever offered. It will sell for around $2000 for the body only and for around $2800 in a kit with the new Sony 28-75mm f/2.8 SAM lens. The only differences between this camera and the a900 is the viewfinder: a900 with 100% view and the a850 with a 98% view; and the shooting rate: a900 at 5 fps and the a850 at 3 fps. Otherwise, they share the same 24.6 MP sensor and the same dual BIONZ processors. Most of the other features of the a900 are carried over to the a850.

Considering that most other "entry level" full-frame cameras, like the Canon 5D mark II and the Nikon D700, sell for the price of the a850 with a lens, this is a great deal. Like I've said before, Sony is the company to watch out for in the years to come. I bet it won't be long before we see a full-frame DSLR for around $1500.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How not to use Photoshop

This is an example of the wrong way to use Photoshop. The story is carried on the BBC News website and says that the original image shows a black man who was altered to be white man for Microsoft's Polish website. Microsoft is looking into the matter. For the entire story, go to BBC News.

Whoever did this, shame on you. If you're going to do something like this -- not that it is ever okay to manipulate race in this way -- at least put in a head that is lit in the same way as the other people in the original photo. Sloppy work! The Asian man and the white woman have highlights on the right sides of their faces, while the replaced white man's head has a highlight on the left side. This is inexcusable on so many levels.

To see other examples of the misuse of Photoshop, go to Photoshop Disasters, an interesting blog dealing with these issues.

Monday, July 20, 2009

To the Moon!

Forty years ago, the summer before I started Middle School, my family moved up from West Point, Mississippi to Fairchild Air Force Base, near Spokane, Washington. My dad was a career Air Force man. We arrived on the base a week or more before our belongings did. This is important part of the story.

Like most kids in the 60s, the Apollo moon missions were a dream come to life. I grew up watching every cheesy sci-fi movie ever made and was a devoted Star Trek fan and I saw the Apollo moon landing as our first major step towards a life of exploring other planets. Unfortunately, our TV was in the moving van that was still making its way to the Northwest. We didn’t know anyone at this base, and I was going to miss seeing one of the most important moments in history. My only consolation was a small transistor radio. At least I’d be able to hear it happen.

But a few minutes before the scheduled landing, a guy from down the street knocked on the front door, and when my mom answered it, he handed her a small portable TV and said, “This isn’t something you should miss.” It was one of the best gifts I can recall getting in my entire life.

He came back the next day for his TV, but for a moment the people on this planet were drawn closer together. And that guy went out of his way to do something because he felt it was the right thing to do and I will never forget him and his generosity.

Here’s to the 40th Anniversary of the landing on the Moon.

Julius Shulman, 1910 - 2009

Julius Shulman, one of the best architectural photographers in the U.S., died at age 98 on July 15. Although he was more famous among architects than he was among photographers, Shulman was considered by most to be the best photographer of Modernist architecture in the 20th Century. He completed his last assignment two weeks ago and he began his career as a photographer in 1936. That's a 73 year run, which is truly remarkable in any field.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The New "Leica"?

Olympus unveiled its latest Micro 4/3 camera, the Olympus Pen E-P1. They are calling it a Digital Pen, in reference to their half-frame 35mm cameras of the 60s and 70s, most famously the Olympus Pen-F and other models. Like the vintage camera line, the new E-P1 is small, sleek, and stylish. Decidedly old-fashioned looking, in fact, but filled with the latest digital camera technology, including HD video.

What strikes me about the E-P1 is how much it looks like what I thought Leica could come up with if they tried to make a digital camera from scratch. Taking the good ideas from their M-series cameras, like small bodies and lenses and economical design, but not being needlessly married to existing designs and guidelines that are now quite ancient, which is how I see their M8.2. I don't know how this camera will perform, though Photography Blog has several images from the camera online here and frankly the results seem mixed to me, but this design has a lot of potential for serious photographers. Especially, documentary photographers. The E-P1 could be the Leica M for the 21st Century. We've needed something like this, so let's hope that this it it.

Fave Pix from SoFoBoMo!

These are three of my favorite images from the Old Aurora Colony Museum shoot. The first one of the white pitcher was used as the cover image. Be sure to check out the finished book at SoFoBoMo.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Solo Photo Book Month Project Completed!

Last night I uploaded my finished e-book for the Solo Photo Book Month event. You can find it here. I ended up with 40 images all together and I have to say I'm pleased with the final result. It looks pretty good. It also feels good to be done with it.

This really is a good project to take on because it pushes you to new extremes in photographing. To end up with 35 or more images, most people would agree that you need to shoot roughly 10 times that amount depending on the person. Over the years, that's what I've noticed in working professionals. Of course, there are those who can produce good work at a much tighter ratio, but if you count on 1 photo out of 10 as a starting point, you won't be far off. So, for 35 images you need to to shoot about 350 images.

In my case, I shot 550 images, some of them duplicates or variations of the same scene, and ended up with about 40 finals. I could probably have included more images in the final book, but I decided what I had was enough. That puts my shooting ratio at 1 in 13. I've known some pros who shoot at 1 in 36. It should be acknowledged that shooting digital encourages overshooting. When I used to shoot with a 4x5 camera, my ratio was closer to 1 in 4 or 5. With 8x10, it was more like 1 in 2. The bigger the camera, the more work it is to make an image, the smaller the shooting ratio becomes.

When you shoot 350 or more images, it takes a lot of time to edit them all down to the final images and it takes a while to prep them, sequence them, and come up with a layout, not to mention choosing typefaces. And it all has to happen within the 31 days. A project of this sort is a lot of work, but it can also be highly rewarding. While it may be too late to try it this year, keep it in mind for next year. You'll be glad you did.

Later today or tomorrow, I'll post a few of my favorite images from the project. In the meantime, check out my book at the SoFoBoMo website and check out some of the other ones as well. There's a lot of good work out there.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

SPBM Update

I officially kicked off my own book project for Solo Photo Book Month (SPBM) a few days ago. Thursday the 21st, to be exact. Not too long ago, while my mom was visiting from out of town, my wife and I took her to the Aurora Colony, which is about 30 miles south of Portland, Oregon. It is the site of a Utopian Community that was founded in the mid-1800s. While I was walking around on that visit, I thought it might be a good subject for a book, and therefore would work for SPBM.

It also worked out that I finally decided to pony up the money and buy a new Canon 5D Mark II and this would be a good project to get up to speed on this new camera. So I headed out to Aurora with my new camera on Thursday morning. I spent 6 hours there shooting and came back the next day for 2 more hours. I came away with 552 images from 8 hours of work. Uh, that comes to a shooting rate of 69 images per hour, which is kind of interesting. I sat down and edited those 552 images down to a more manageable 132. Now it's a matter of picking which images will go into the book. Remember that according to the rules of the event, I have to have a minimum of 35 images, so I shouldn't have too much difficulty meeting that requirement. Of course, few of those 132 images will make the final pick.

At the moment, I'm printing out contact sheets, so I can cut them apart and start to combine them in the order that they will appear in the book. When I get the chance, I'll post a few of my favorites images. Well, the clock is ticking and I still have a lot to do and only 27 days left to do them. As I get things done, I'll you know how it's going.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bill Jay, 1940 - 2009

Bill Jay passed away the other day. I never met him, but he still managed to have a profound effect on me, my writing, and my photography. He was probably best known at this time for his column in LensWork magazine called EndNotes. EndNotes was his random, sometimes stream of consciousness, musings about the state of the art of photography—occasionally funny, sometimes off topic, always fascinating. Early in his career, Bill was the founding editor of Creative Camera Magazine, a very influential British photography magazine. He was born in Britain. He wrote hundreds of articles on the subject and published more than a dozen books about photography. Eventually, he moved to the United States and founded the Photographic Studies Department at Arizona State University. He retired earlier this year and had just moved to Costa Rica. Bill Jay died in his sleep just the other day.

It is my hope that Bill will be remembered by future generations of photographers because of one particular book he wrote. It is a book he co-wrote with David Hurn called Being a Photographer. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of photography manuals and how-to’s that have been published over the years, but this book is special. Instead of focusing on how to use the equipment, which nearly all photography books do, he chose to write about the mental and intellectual processes that a photographer undergoes in making photographs. The result is the best book on how to approach the craft and process of photographing. When I read Bill’s book, I immediately thought that this is what every aspiring photographer needs to read, no matter their level of accomplishment. It’s the book I wish I had read when I was starting out. It would have saved so much time and effort and struggle. Even after being a photographer for thirty years, I still learned a great deal. I never had the chance to thank Bill for this gift of his experiences and insights. Thanks, Bill.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Solo Photo Book Month

First there was National Novel Writing Month, where (as the title implies) you write an entire novel from start to finish in one month. For people who have a problem doing a project without a deadline, this is perfect. Now for photographers, there’s Solo Photo Book Month. The idea is the same: complete a photography project, do any writing that’s needed, and make a book out of it in one month’s time, or 31 days. So many photographers never get around to doing a book. We might have exhibits or portfolios, but there’s something different about a book of your own images.

The specifics are doable for most people. The month is actually kind of loose. It’s any 31 consecutive days during May or June, so you plan around your own schedule. So you must start on or after May 1st and the book must be completed by June 30th. You need at least 35 images—usually, the projects work better if they’re of a single subject and every image needs to be shot in this 31 day period. Of course, you can do the planning ahead of time. The nice thing about this is that you don’t have to produce a physical book of images, just a PDF version of it. You can read all the specifics about the event here.

This is a great way to focus your efforts and output. It might even be the beginning of a real printed book, even if you publish it yourself on Blurb or Lulu as print-on-demand. That’s what I plan to do. Or it could be an excellent way to jumpstart a new long term project. Give this some thought and give it a try. If nothing else, it’ll be a lot of fun. But remember, since we’re in May already, you better get started soon. Check out the Solo Photo Book Month website for all the info you need to get going and to see examples from last year’s participants. I'm planning to do this as well, so as I work on it, I'll give you updates on the project's progress.

Monday, April 27, 2009

History of Kodak Pro Digital Cameras

Here's a fascinating bit of history of the various cameras Kodak adapted and marketed as professional digital SLRs. They started this in 1987 and used Nikon, Canon, and eventually Sigma camera bodies for their modifications and wrapped things up in 2004. When they first came out, these were frighteningly expensive cameras, but every once in a while I see one for sale on Ebay or Craig's List for just a tiny fraction of what they originally sold for.

As a side note, Mike Johnston of The Online Photographer blog, recently commented on the sense of collecting these abandoned and now obsolete early digital cameras. In the not too distant future, they'll probably be worth something and they're quite a bargain now. It'd be an good way to start a camera collection.

Anyway, go here to see the .pdf called The DCS Story, which is hosted on NikonWeb.com. It's an interesting read.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Chris Rainier Profile in PhotoMedia Magazine

If you happen to live on the West Coast of the US, you can pick up the latest issue of PhotoMedia, a free magazine distributed in camera and photo-related stores. I wrote an article for the latest issue that profiles Chris Rainier, a photographer who works for National Geographic. Chris is a great example of someone who can blend their varied interests into a cohesive whole. He was the last assistant to Ansel Adams, but instead of going into landscape photography like so many of Adams's assistants, Chris went on to work for the International Red Cross and Amnesty International as a documentary photographer. Today at National Geographic, his work focuses on indigenous and at-risk cultures around the world. His work combines the aesthetics of traditional fine art B&W photography with the social relevance of documentary photography. Chris Rainier is an artist who believes that your work should make a difference in the world. Pick up PhotoMedia and read all about him and his work.

To see the online version of this article, click here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

P&S Camera Recommendations - Updated!

Sorry about the lateness on this, but here are the recommended cameras from Digital Photography Review (www.dpreview.com). This is the short and sweet version, but for the complete run-down on all the cameras, please go to their excellent site. The cameras are listed in order of preference, from most recommended to merely highly recommended, in this case. You won’t lose in picking any of these cameras.

Best Budget Cameras (under$150.00):
Sony Cyber-Shot W120
Panasonic Lumix LZ8
(My runner-up: the Canon PowerShot A590 IS)

Best Ultra Compact Cameras:
Tie for 1st: Canon PowerShot SD 790 IS and the Panasonic DMC-FX37
Runners-up: Sony T700 and the Nikon S210

Premium Compact Cameras:
Fujifilm F100fd
Canon PowerShot SD 880 IS

Enthusiast Compact Cameras:
Panasonic LX3
Highly Recommended: Canon Powershot SX110 IS and the Panasonic TZ5
(My recommendation: the Canon Powershot G10)

For the Enthusiast category, I see the Panasonic LX3 and the Canon PowerShot G10 as the best choices, with each having different strengths. The LX3 has the equivalent of a 24mm wide-angle lens (which is great), but it only zooms up to 60mm, which for most people isn’t enough telephoto. But its lens also has a wide f-stop at f/2. These days, that’s unusual. The G10 is more of an all-around choice. Its lens is the equivalent of a 28 – 140mm zoom. That’s darn near perfect for an all-purpose carry-around camera. The G10 also has a 15 mp sensor, while the LX3 has a 10 mp sensor. And the LX3 is much better in low light situations and high ISO settings than the G10. They’re both good cameras, but they are also very different from each other. Noticeably missing from DP’s list is Nikon. Nikon is devoting more energy towards SLRs than P&Ss, but with the rapidly dropping prices of SLRs, that kind of makes sense. Anyway, if you are looking for a new P&S camera, any of these deserve a closer look. Cheers.

And now:

This is a bit late for the Holidays, but their Super Zoom category, which is the fifth and last of the group P&S camera tests, was just published these yesterday (1-15-2009). These are cameras with wide-range 10X to 20X zooms and image stabilization features of one sort or another, like the Canon SX10 IS with a lens that is, equivalent in 35mm terms, a 28 – 560mm zoom. This sort of camera is a carry-all type of camera that will handle most if not all of your photographic needs.

Super Zoom Cameras:
Tie for 1st: Canon SX10 IS and the Panasonic FZ28
Recommended: Olympus SP-565UZ

It’s also interesting to note how many Panasonic cameras made their lists. Panasonic is one of the newest camera brands and not very long ago no one could have predicted how well they would be doing now. The switch from film to digital has certainly shaken things up in the camera business, to say the least.