Editorial

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What is Photography Without an Audience?

Audience: a broad term, of course. Evokes all kinds of responses. Since this is a photoblog I am referencing the audience that sees our work. In this very odd and terrible of times, I find that having no audience for my photographs is very difficult.

In my teaching, I always told students that photography was a process of communication. That making photographs but having no one see them was missing a critical part, the follow-through if you will. But here we are in a time where there is no one to see our work. Yes, I know, there is online and remote, “virtual.” But, really. In no way is that real, in no way can I expect anyone to get my imagery on a screen.

What present-day photography is capable of is a far cry from what we see on our screens, be it 30 inches on a high-end monitor or 2 inches on a phone.

As a career artist and exhibitor, I find it hard to find my sense of purpose. Make a picture: what for? I know, for myself as that is what drives me, my need to make work. True. I am doing that. But having other eyes see it, as a physical thing, in a portfolio, on a wall or in a book is what completes it. Not for praise or only to purchase, just to see it.

After all, I’ve made the photograph in the first place to share an insight, to put out a perception or something I believe is worth communicating; be it beauty, irony, texture, depth, my aesthetic, perspective, a comparison, empathy, tranquility, chaos, solitude, humor, quality of light and so on. The craft of the thing is important to me too, what materials I have chosen and what decisions I have made in terms of tonalities and contrast and yes, the size of the print.

Combine all this with the inability to travel and I find myself effectively shut down. For many years I have been, for the most part, an artist dependent on travel to make my work. Since I can’t fly (or won’t: no way am I sitting in a metal tube for hours with strangers breathing each other’s air) I am stuck watching the hours and days slide by, my life clock ticking, wondering if our world will ever go back to some semblance of what it was before. I know: wait, be patient. I definitely understand “COVID fatigue.”

So here we are today in this country finding ourselves in deep sh*t: increasing numbers of cases of COVID, a staggering number of deaths, a massively disturbed president who could be re-elected in a couple of weeks, and no vaccine right around the corner. I know: hang in there. And I will, as will you. Hard times.

Stay strong, try to stay healthy, and let’s hope we all see each other on the other side.


About the author: Neal Rantoul is a career artist and educator. After 10 years teaching at Harvard and 30 years as head of the Photo Program at Northeastern University in Boston, he retired from teaching in 2012. You can find out more about him or see his photographic work by visiting his website or purchasing his new book. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of its author. This article was also published here.

Hands On: Street Photography with the Ricoh GR3 in Japan

I’ve always tried to create visual content with the highest possible quality and resolution, paying a lot of attention to detail and composition. In the beginning of my career that meant using large and medium formats, but lately, one of my favorite cameras is quite the opposite.

I’ve done a lot of studio work and have always been intrigued by hardware. I used Hasselblad, Sinar P2, Fuji 68 and Pentax 67 cameras for a long time, but with the digital mirrorless revolution I ended up favoring lighter and more compact systems like the X1D and the Canon R5. Still, resolution and quality were always top of mind, so I tended to stick with full-frame or medium format.

I’ve always been a fan of Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Frank, but it wasn’t until I came across Vivian Maier’s images in late 2008 that I was inspired to pursue street photography. From the beginning, I realized that smaller cameras would be more appropriate. I normally don’t ask people for permission as I try to capture candid situations–I shoot and then I smile and normally people smile back.

I started with the full-frame Sony RX1 and then I moved on to a Leica Q2, but when I first tested a GR3 I got hooked. A pocket size camera with a 24MP APS-C sensor, touch screen and IBIS? I was impressed. Recently, I had the chance to put the GR3 through its paces on a trip to Japan, where I did a lot of street photography and came back with some of my favorite photos thus far, cementing my love of this unassuming little camera:

www.puffybrain.com

The GR3 is perfect for street photography. The best candid images always happen when you least expect it, and having a full-featured camera that fits in your pocket is really great. This little camera is less intimidating also; since it looks like a basic point & shoot, you can avoid unnecessary confrontations.

The fixed focal length 28mm lens is ideal for street shooting and the f/2.8 is fast enough to shoot at dusk. I also really like the Snap mode where you can shoot from the hip with camera always focused on a predetermined distance (I personally set it at 2 meters).

The AF system is pretty fast; plus, you can touch-screen on an area you’d like to focus on and there’s also face detection and macro mode which can come in handy. I always shoot in RAW + JPG, usually in the B&W high contrast mode, with Snap focus enabled and the aperture set to f/8. This way I can preview my results in black and white and decide if I want to use color later on.

The only two significant issues I had with the camera were the battery life–you need at least couple of batteries for a 1/2 day shoot–and the noise that it produces in low-light situations.

So… am I going to sell my beloved Leica Q2? Nope, I don’t think so… the depth of field control, the EVF, and the full-frame 47MP sensor are all very important to me. But I’m convinced the Ricoh GR3 is the best option when I don’t have (or don’t want to carry) my Q2 in my backpack.


About the author: Caesar Lima’s artistic approach is meticulously crafted. With an emphasis on the unusual, Lima thrives on doing the wrong thing. The personal side project and reportage outlet for high-end commercial, fine art, and beauty photographer Caesar Lima, “Puffybrain” is to the street photography as Lima is to the studio sork. You can find more of his work on his website and Instagram.

How Richard Nixon ‘Stole’ This Photo and Twisted It Into a Campaign Slogan

American people standing up to the Soviets! America needs Nixon! These were some of the tag lines attached to this photo during Nixon’s presidential campaign in 1960. But behind every picture, there is a story. And this is one of those photos where the story is just as good as the picture.

How many times have you heard the phrase: “truth is in the eye of the beholder”?

We’ve seen it many times in the history of photography and photojournalism. Some photographs are just not what they appear to be. Sometimes the composition is corrected later in the post, sometimes pictures of casual moments are staged, and sometimes the story behind the photograph is completely different from the reality that the photo purports to portray.

The medium of photography represents the vision of the artist as they capture a two-dimensional representation of their three-dimensional reality. But for the viewer, looking at a photo is ultimately an act of interpretation: it is never purely objective, and often needs additional explanation.

It’s true, sometimes a good photo needs no explanation. However, in photojournalism, it is often crucial to describe the situation so the picture is not misinterpreted. And it’s the photographer, is the author of the photo, who should be the final authority when it comes to sharing their story.

But what if the story of your photograph was hijacked and misinterpreted? What would you do? That is actually what happened to Elliott Erwitt: the French-born American photographer known for his advertising and documentary photography was put into a situation where his story was flipped upside down and used as a campaign slogan.

It was July 24th, 1959 when the then Vice President Richard Nixon visited the American national exhibition in Moscow. The exhibition was showcasing American art, fashion, cars, model homes, kitchens, and more in “Typical American Houses”. It was basically introducing the American lifestyle to a wider public in Soviet Russia.

The now famous kitchen debate happened in the house called Splitnik, which was created from the words “split” and Sputnik (Sputnik being the famous satellite the Soviets had launched into orbit two years earlier). It is here in Splitnik that Elliot Erwitt captured the now-iconic moment between Nixon and Khrushchev.

The photograph happened in typical Erwitt fashion. He was in Moscow working for Westinghouse Electric, taking pictures of refrigerators and their installation for Macy’s kitchens.

“When Nixon famously wagged his finger at Khrushchev, nobody from the media was there. Only me,” recalled Erwitt. “I happened to be at the right place at the right time. I was in the kitchen free to move. it was like shooting fish in a barrel.”

This seems to be a recurring theme in Erwitt’s photography. As he once famously proclaimed:

The best things happen because you just happen to be somewhere with a camera. Some of my colleagues in Magnum go to places on purpose to do news, but the historic pictures I have made have been by sheer accident.

Nixon’s staff would use this photograph during his presidential campaign to show Nixon standing up to the Soviets, when in reality they were actually discussing something completely different at that moment. The argument was about cabbage soup vs. red meat…

As you can see, this moment was… twisted a bit… to try and help Nixon in his campaign. A campaign he ultimately lost to JFK.

The whole story comes to light when we look at the contact sheets; it actually seems as though the discussion was rather friendly, and we can even see Khrushchev in a similar position as Nixon in one photograph. But truth is in the eye of the beholder, right?

This is why photography as a medium can never be 100% objective. Simply put, what is included and/or left out is chosen by the photographer. When I started studying photography and looked for the sources to learn from, I was often told to look at the pictures of great photography masters, because you will often learn far more than composition techniques.

If there is one thing we can take from this story, I think it would be that a simple twist to reality can change the narrative of a single photograph.

News and the media will push you to decide why a photo is the way it is. However, if you look at a photo both subjectively and objectively, you might discover its truth for yourself. In today’s digital age, I think this is a very important skill.

Ultimately, you are the beholder.


About the author: Martin Kaninsky is a photographer, reviewer, and YouTuber based in Prague, Czech Republic. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Kaninsky runs the channel All About Street Photography. You can find more of his work on his website, Instagram, and YouTube channel.

The Best Gear for Storm Photography

I first became interested in storms when I was a boy growing up in Texas, the only state in the US that experiences tornadoes, hurricane and blizzards on a regular basis. I built a scale model of a supercell thunderstorm inside a clear plexiglass box using cotton and a light bulb for lightning, and won first place in the weather category at our local science fair. Then I got permission from my mother to climb onto our roof and build a weather station.

When I was 12, I took my first storm photo: a big, fat bolt of lightning shot on a Kodak rangefinder through the window in our kitchen. In 1993, I founded StormStock, a collection of premium storm imagery including lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes and other beautiful and dramatic weather. You can see some of my work in a short film I made titled “Wakinyan” (Thunder Spirit).

Over the years, people have often asked me what kind of gear is best for storm photography. Although I spend most of my time capturing weather imagery on motion picture formats for use in movies and TV commercials, I do also take stills. That is the medium I will focus on here.

A lot of folks ask me to suggest a “best” camera or lens for photography. My first question is always, “What are you shooting?” That’s because different subjects require different gear. The more unique your subject, the more you may need to specialize. For example, one of the most demanding types of photography is fast action sports. It typically requires long and fast lenses. Long and fast. Those two things don’t go together easily and require large, heavy, expensive lenses – which is pretty specialized.

The good news is storm photography is only somewhat demanding. The most unique things about it are relatively low light and lightning. Lightning is an unusual thing to photograph because it exists only for a fraction of a second. Plus, you’re pointing your camera at something that doesn’t yet exist.

The best way to discuss this topic is to divide storm photography into two categories. General storm photography and lightning photography.

General Storm Photography

Subjects: Storm clouds, rain, blowing dust, sunsets, tornadoes.

Storm subjects tend to be dark rather than bright. This may sound obvious, but know that storms can sometimes be exceptionally bright when sunlit. Given the fact that low light is more common, a camera and lens that performs well in that environment is generally preferred.

Lens focal lengths that I like tend to fall in the 24-105mm (full-frame) range. That is why I like the Canon 24-105mm f/4 L so much. The newer version of this lens is the Canon 24-105mm f/4 L II.

If a storm is very close, then I’ll go wide with something like a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 on a full-frame sensor.

For a camera, I would suggest a full-frame or APS-C sensor camera. That’s because they tend to produce less noise in low light than smaller sensors. Although…an iPhone 6s or iPhone 7 can take some very nice storm shots. I use my iPhone often because it’s always in my pocket, and storm light can be quite fleeting.

Naturally, in low light a tripod can be helpful. However, I rarely use a tripod for general storm photography because they are bulky and slow, and tend to shake in the wind. Instead, I use a fast lens/camera combination handheld.

Lightning

Subjects: Day and night lightning.

I separate lightning into day and night because they require somewhat different techniques. Day lightning allows for only short exposures while night lightning offers the chance to capture several strikes during a long exposure.

One thing is certain, a tripod is mandatory for lightning photography (and astrophotography). That’s because the camera must remain steady for long exposures or images will be blurred.

Another device you will need is something to activate your shutter remotely so the camera continues to remain steady. You can use a smart phone remote app or a dedicated remote trigger for this. Use the one you trust most.

For day lightning, you might be able to get away with a ¼ to 1 second exposure by lowering your ISO, decreasing your aperture size, and employing a neutral density (ND) filter. You want your exposure to be long enough to “catch” a lightning strike, like using a bigger net to catch fish. But, not so long that you overexpose. You can also employ a nifty piece of technology called a lightning trigger which senses the strike and opens the camera shutter just in time to record it.

I suggest an aperture setting of about f/5.6 for “dim” lightning, and about f/11 for “bright” lightning. Always use the lowest ISO hone you can. Exposure duration and your aperture will compensate for low light.

At night, you can use the bulb setting on your camera and wait for a strike, or set your camera to take a series of 20 or 30 second long exposures. Whatever the case, I wouldn’t exceed 30 seconds because this is when a lot of cameras begin to introduce noise into the image.

Finally, be safe when you photograph lightning. It can kill and injure. Avoid tall objects, fences and water. The safest place to be during lightning is inside a hard top car, or inside a well constructed building with wiring and plumbing. The rubber tires on a car don’t make it safe from lightning. It’s the metal that protects you. The metal? Yes. It works only if you are surrounded by the metal with some space in between, aka the “Faraday cage,” named after the English scientist Michael Faraday who invented it in 1836. More on storm safety below.

Best Camera and Lens Pairings

Sony a6000 on up to the a6600. Lightweight APS-C cameras with good noise control.

Pair with: The Sony 16-50mm “kit” lens (24mm-75mm FF equivalent), Sony Vario-Tessar E 16-70mm f/4.0 (24mm-105mm FF equivalent), Rokinon 21mm f/1.4 (31.5mm FF equivalent), or a Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 (18mm FF equivalent).

Canon 6D, Canon 5D Mk II, Canon 5D Mk III and Canon 5D Mk IV. All around good performing full-frame sensor cameras.

Pair with: Canon 24-105mm f/4 L, Canon 24-105mm f/4 L II, Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 EF, or a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 EF.

Sony A7s Mk II. This is a “see in the dark” full-frame camera. Nothing touches it for low-light performance.

Pair with: Sony 24-70mm f/4.0, Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 for Sony E, or a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 for Sony E.

Nikon D5300, Nikon D5500 and Nikon D5600. These are fairly inexpensive APS-C cameras that shoot beautiful pictures. The Nikon D5300 can be purchased new for a little more than $400, or for less used.

Pair with: Nikon AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 17-55mm f/2.8G IF-ED (25.5mm-82.5mm FF equivalent), Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR (27mm-157.5mm FF equivalent), Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G (52.5mm FF equivalent), Rokinon 16mm f/2.0 ED AS UMC CS for Nikon F Mount (24mm FF equivalent), or a vintage NIKKOR AI-s 28mm f/2.0 (42mm FF equivalent), one of my favorite lenses.

An iPhone. Smartphones are good all around storm photography options. The only thing they don’t do well is lightning. Consider pairing them with an app like ProCam 7, which allows you to control ISO, shutter speed, etc. Shooting with a smartphone is a pure and simple type of photography. It’s easy and liberating. If this is all you use, then focus on content and composition, and you’ll have some beautiful pictures.

Simplicity

If you want something simple, but more potent than an iPhone, consider a Nikon D3300 with a Nikon 24mm f/2.8D AF lens (36mm FF equivalent). The combo is lightweight, easy to use, and fairly inexpensive considering the great pictures you can take with it. You won’t need to zoom, and the focal length is pretty universal. It’s basically a very nice “point and shoot.”

Note: When using an autofocus lens with no marked, manual focus option, you should become familiar with how to set the lens to infinity, especially for night lightning. I prefer manual focus for storm photographer, but autofocus is okay as long as you know how to control it.

Tripods

Lightweight, sturdy tripods are best. Consider the Prima Photo Big Travel Tripod, Davis & Sanford TR654C-36 Traverse Carbon Fiber Grounder Tripod with Ball Head, or the Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 Carbon Fiber Tripod with 054 Magnesium Ball Head Kit. You want something with fast deploy legs and an easy to adjust head. Frankly, you can use any tripod that is steady as long as you practice setting it up and taking it down beforehand.

Lightning Trigger

Hahnel Captur Pro Module

Filters

At the very least, you should have a UV filter attached to the front of your lens simply to protect it. Shooting outdoors without a protective filter is like running around naked. Since that’s not a pretty sight, I always buy a UV filter with every lens purchase.

Consider adding a neutral density filter to your kit for exposure control as well as a circular polarizer and gray graduated filter to bring down those overly bright skies. I especially like Formatt-Hitech filters. They are well made, arrive clean, and are hand signed by their QC technician.

Batteries

Always get extra batteries. My experience is the camera brand batteries are the best.

Cleaning

At this point, I’m assuming you ARE going to get a protective filter for all your lenses. Good. When you are shooting harsh weather, you’ll notice your gear getting quite dirty, mostly with dust.

Do NOT use canned air to clean your filters, lenses, viewfinder or LCD screen. That’s because that stuff shoots an oily substance. Instead, use a bulb blower like the amazing Giottos Rocket Blaster to remove dust and then a very clean cloth like a Zeiss Microfiber Cleaning Cloth. Check carefully before using a cloth to make sure that all grains of dust are gone to avoid scratching those precious surfaces.

We spend a lot of time cleaning gear after a storm shoot. It’s a ritual.

Bags

The Tenba Messenger. I use the small, olive green model. It’s tough and well thought out.

Being Safe

Before you try your hand at storm photography, I must make a statement about safety. I do not encourage anyone to film anything that is potentially dangerous. I am not telling you to go shoot storms. I’m detailing photographic principles as they relate to storm photography. You can apply my suggestions to other subjects such as astrophotography which is much safer.

Please understand that storm photography requires not only knowledge of photographic technique, but more importantly, a thorough understanding of severe weather, how it evolves and how to stay safe. I wrote a book about severe weather safety titled “The Ultimate Severe Weather Safety Guide.” Reading the book will help, but it takes much more than a book to actively pursue storms in a safe manner. You can see people on YouTube doing it and think it’s safe to just jump in your car and try and “chase” a storm. It isn’t.

My recommendation is you go with an expert if you want to photograph storms. Take time to select a genuine expert because some who call themselves “experts” are the same people on YouTube who are driving into tornadoes and large, dangerous hail while yelling and laughing. Would you get on an airplane with a pilot who exhibited these characteristics? I didn’t think so.

Finally, whether you go outside to shoot storm photos, or stay safely inside, you should be weather aware when storms are nearby. Get a NOAA Weather Alert Radio or a good weather alert app for your smart phone. If you live in an area where tornadoes are frequent, consider purchasing a manufactured EF5-rated storm shelter or build your own using free FEMA shelter design plans.

Conclusion

Storm photography can be fun. Just do it safely with experts, use the right tools, and practice.


About the author: Martin Lisius is an award-winning Texas-based photographer and cinematographer. His work can be seen in feature films, TV commercials and in documentaries such as the Academy Award-winning “An Inconvenient Truth.” He licenses his work through his StormStock collection, and offers storm chasing expeditions to photographers through Tempest Tours, which he founded in 2000. He recently created a fine art retail print collection specializing in storms called StormShots. You can follow him on Facebook. This post was also published here.

Photographing Every National Park in Victoria, Australia

As a weekend photographer and keen explorer of our natural spaces, I recently(ish) set myself a photo project of capturing every land-based national park in my home state of Victoria, located in the south-east corner of Australia. Visiting all 45 of them took two years of regular trips, outside work and other travels.

The largest park is Alpine NP at 646,000ha (1.6 million acres) – an area that you could devote a lifetime of exploration to and barely touch the surface. At the other end of the scale is Lind NP at 1370ha with no tracks passing through it at all.

Many of these parks are within three hours’ drive of Melbourne and, as you can see, comprise a wide range of environments from snow, beach, desert, rainforest to dry eucalyptus bushland. Many areas are accessible by a family car, but you’ll need to hike for the best locations. If you’re planning a trip to Australia, I hope you’ll consider looking up a few of these spots – but if you’re not, hopefully you’ll be inspired to take up a similar photo project in your home area.

If you’ve been to a few of these places, I’d love to hear about your favourite spots!

In terms of gear, I’m currently using a Nikon D610 DSLR, which gives me full frame quality in a package that’s not too heavy or bulky – something you appreciate when hiking up steep hills with it. When not multi-day hiking, I’ll usually use a lightweight travel tripod – a Benro GoPlus Travel FGP18C CF with a RRS BH30 ball head. Although the tripod limits the spontaneity, I find it lets you evaluate the composition more precisely, allowing small adjustments for more impact.

For the glassware, my Nikkor 16-35mm f4 VR and Nikkor 50mm 1.4 lenses do most of the heavy lifting, often with a polarizing filter. I almost always shoot with manual exposure and 14-bit uncompressed RAW files and use a di-GPS Eco ProSumer M unit to encode location metadata. Processing is generally kept to a minimum.

Here’s a quick glimpse of every Victorian national park – sometimes a wide vista, sometimes the native residents or just the small details. Each location has its own unique charm…

Alpine NP

Alpine Peak Storm – Summer rain and lightning approach Mt Feathertop after sunset. This is a composite of two sequential shots, combining two lightning strikes. The lightning was infrequent, so I used the intervalometer mode of 10s shooting and 1s gap.

Nikon D600, 16-35 mm f/4 at 32 mm, 10.0 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100, tripod


Croajingolong NP

Nature’s Mirror – Thurra River mouth in late afternoon light. A simple shot, using the natural look of the 50mm prime. No need for any fancy techniques with light like this!

Nikon D600, 50 mm f/1.4, 1/10 sec at f/16, ISO 100, tripod


Grampians NP

Timber Frame – Sunrise over Mt Abrupt from The Picanninny. A long exposure to capture the breezy conditions and add some life to an otherwise static scene. Stopping down and focussing at hyperfocal distance allowed good depth of field throughout. A focus stack could have been used, at a sharper aperture, but the moving objects may not have blended well.

Nikon D300, 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6 at 18 mm, 4.0 sec at f/22, ISO 100, tripod


Hattah-Kulkyne NP

Mournpall Morning – Painterly sunrise textures of flooded trees on Lake Mournpall. HDR composite of three frames, with a 2-stop spread.

Nikon D600, 16-35 mm f/4 at 30 mm, 1.0 sec at f/8.0, ISO 100, tripod


Lower Glenelg NP

Twisted Reality – Australian grass trees in flower. The tripod helped a difficult composition here, with a busy background and competing subject elements.

Nikon D600, 16-35 mm f/4 at 16 mm, 1/500 sec at f/8.0, ISO 800, tripod


Mornington Peninsula NP

Sunrise On The Pulpit – First light of day illuminates Pulpit Rock, Cape Schanck. Leaving home at 4am to catch sunrise here was well worth it, with only a few surfers nearby, I otherwise had the place to myself.

Nikon D610, 50 mm f/1.4, 30.0 sec at f/2.8, ISO 100, tripod


Mount Buffalo NP

Vertical Limits – Two climbers on Ozymandias (grade 22 M4), Australia’s most popular aid climbing route.

Nikon D300, 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6 at 200 mm, 1/250 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200, handheld


Port Campbell NP

Apostle Dreaming – With waves smoothed out by a long exposure the scene takes on a softer and calmer appearance, hiding the turbulent, eroding waves. The promontory in the distance was packed with tourists, all shooting into the sun. I went 1km further up and had this spot to myself, with a striking front light.

Nikon D610, 16-35 mm f/4 at 22 mm, 8.0 sec at f/16, ISO 100, tripod


Wilsons Promontory NP

Beach For Two – View from Mt Oberon of Norman Beach. With drone use restricted in Victorian national parks, you need to climb a mountain for these sort of views. The 1-hour slog was worth it and the crowds left at sunset, missing a great afterglow and starry sky with green airglow. Bring a torch for your return journey and drive slowly – I had to avoid 14 wombats on the road home at 1am!

Nikon D300, 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6 at 200 mm, 1/750 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200, tripod


And here is a glimpse of the other 36 parks. For more details on these, click here.

Clockwise from top-left: Budj Bim NP, Snowy River NP, Point Nepean NP, French Island NP
Clockwise from top-left: Baw Baw NP, Yarra Ranges NP, Kara Kara NP, Greater Bendigo NP
Clockwise from top-left: Burrowa-Pine Mountain NP, Barmah NP, Alfred NP, Lind NP
Clockwise from top-left: Brisbane Ranges NP, Coopracambra NP, Tarra-Bulga NP, Cobboboonee NP
Clockwise from top-left: Errinundra NP, Wyperfeld NP, Little Desert NP, Mitchell River NP
Clockwise from top-left: Kinglake NP, Warby-Ovens NP, Churchill NP, Morwell NP
Mount Richmond NP, Heathcote-Graytown NP, Great Otway NP, Dandenong Ranges NP
Clockwise from top-left: Murray-Sunset NP, Terrick Terrick NP, Gunbower NP, The Lakes NP
Clockwise from top-left: Organ Pipes NP, Lower Goulburn NP, Chiltern-Mount Pilot NP, Lake Eildon NP

And now that it’s “complete”? I’ll keep going back to get the best light, the best season, those fleeting moments with wildlife… The project will always be a “work in progress” and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Having been restricted to 5km essential travel since July, I’m keen to get back out there soon.


About the author: Jason Freeman is a graphic designer based in Melbourne, Australia. After completing a Bachelor of Applied Science in Photography, he began work in aerial surveying, transitioning to creative roles in multimedia, video and print. He is an Adobe Certified Expert in InDesign, Photoshop & Lightroom. As a keen hiker and traveller, the camera is always close at hand.

To view his latest images, or for comments or questions, visit his folio site GoWild Images.

Is There Anything Nikon Can Do to Keep Up With the Competition?

On the 14th of October, Nikon is set to announce its latest cameras. These are due to be updates to the Z 7 and Z 6 mirrorless cameras. There are a lot of expectations, but the biggest expected update for these cameras is… the second card slot.

The Uphill Battle

Public sentiment hasn’t been in Nikon’s favor for some time now. Currently, the company sits in fourth place in the mirrorless division, and it doesn’t look like it’s gaining any significant ground. Companies like Sony and Canon have cemented their positions already and unfortunately, Nikon just doesn’t have any seriously compelling offerings. In some sense, it feels as though Nikon is constantly playing catch up with the rest of the market.

The Nikon Z 6, for example, released back in November 2018, is an alternative to the Sony a7 III; a camera that was released a whole seven months before it. The problem is that the Z 6 is essentially just a copy and paste version of the Sony. Aside from a few knick-knacks, the features are pretty much the same.

The Nikon Z 6 (left) and Sony a7 III (right).

A similar comparison could be made between the Z 7 and the Sony a7R III, which is a camera that was superseded more than a year ago. It’s no surprise that Nikon has been slipping in the market because it seems to be playing catch-up with its current main competitor.

The Nikon Z 7 (left) and Sony a7R III (right).

This is one of the key reasons why it’s going to so difficult for Nikon to fight back, especially against Sony. The hand-me-down strategy they have with Sony sensors is inevitably going to keep them a few steps behind. In essence, Nikon is trying to compete against Sony with both arms tied.

Admittedly, I am oversimplifying the Sony and Nikon relationship, however, I doubt Nikon will be producing cameras with next-generation sensors before Sony does.

Even the rumored Z 9 camera has leaked specifications that are essentially the same as the EOS R5, except that it’s already late.

Lenses

The first few lenses that Nikon announced for its mirrorless system were pretty boring. Sure, Nikon announced the 58mm f/0.95 Noct too, but this lens is nothing more than an impractical, bragging rights badge of honor. I doubt very many people will be moving over to the Nikon system purely because of the Noct. The main lenses that Nikon initially announced were overpriced f/1.8 lenses.

The $8,000 Nikon NIKKOR Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct.

These f/1.8 lenses were priced close to what some f/1.4 lenses cost, which creates several problems. First, it creates a steep barrier for entry. Most people like to shoot with inexpensive f/1.8 prime lenses because they generally offer enough quality. This also means that any potential f/1.4 lenses will probably cost far too much. It just doesn’t create an attractive ecosystem.

Consider what Canon did with its f/1.8 and f/2.0 lenses. Both the 35mm and 85mm are priced reasonably and offer brilliant quality. They are relatively sharp wide open and offer macro features too. Weighing up the systems, Canon looks like the better option.

From left to right: the $499 Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM, the $599 Canon RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS STM, the $850 Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S, and the $800 Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S.

Sony, too, has a range of inexpensive lenses available. The 28mm, 50mm, and 85mm lenses, all of which offer great quality results, without a ridiculous price point.

From left to right: the $450 Sony FE 28mm f/2, the $250 Sony FE 50mm f/1.8, and the $599 Sony FE 85mm f/1.8.

Considering how similar the cameras are between Nikon and Sony, it’s the lenses that really make the difference and Sony has better options available.

Autofocus

Nikon has come a long way since its DSLR days when it comes to focusing using the image sensor. Both the Z 6 and Z 7 have pretty good autofocus features. Unfortunately, it’s not competitive enough.

Canon has been developing its Dual Pixel AF technology for almost a decade. Cameras like the 70D, which was released all the way back in 2013, came with this feature. For video, there still isn’t anything that really beats this AF system. This gave Canon a great deal of experience in this department and it’s something that has really carried Canon forward.

The latest cameras from Canon have incredible AF features and this is all with DPAF.

Sony has also been working hard on developing its AF technology and has come a long way since the original a7 camera. Currently, Sony might have the best overall AF system for mirrorless cameras.

Unfortunately, Nikon is still noticeably behind in this area. It’s pretty difficult to recommend Nikon over Canon and Sony when the AF system isn’t up to par.

Playing it Too Safe?

Nikon seriously needs to update its AF system and that is, unfortunately, easier said than done. I’m hoping that the latest cameras due to be announced this month will have a much better AF system. If it’s on par with Canon and Sony, then that by itself will make a huge difference.

The AF system needs to be effective for both video and photography because these are all hybrid cameras now.

For lenses, Nikon really needs to consider producing a line of inexpensive f/2 lenses. The f/1.8 slot has already been taken with the current pricey options; however, Nikon could create a low price entry point with f/2 primes. I also think that Nikon should completely skip the f/1.4 line of lenses and jump straight to f/1.2 primes instead. That way there is a greater gap between the inexpensive options and the “premium” lenses.

The key thing that Nikon needs to do is to not play it so safe. We already have Sony producing all of the “standard” lenses and the somewhat reserved mentality to new camera systems. Sony is already the “safe” manufacturer, whereas Canon is the company producing crazy 8k cameras, drop-in filter adapters, and f/2 zoom lenses. Canon has also produced two super-tele f/11 prime lenses, which shows that it isn’t afraid to take risks. Aside from an ornamental mantelpiece f/0.95 lens, Nikon hasn’t taken any real risks.

Between all of the manufacturers, Nikon is playing far too safe and due to this, it just doesn’t have a significant enough unique selling proposition (USP).

Accepting the Niche

It may be an idea for Nikon to accept a smaller portion of the market and scale back its organization to match. Directly competing with Sony and Canon may just not work, so Nikon needs to come at this problem from a different angle. I think Nikon should start producing more niche type products, specifically for individual photography segments.

Nikon could potentially approach lens design similar to how Venus Optics does. Laowa lenses are pretty odd in comparison to many regular lenses and that’s what makes them utterly brilliant.

The Venus Laowa 24mm f/14 2x Macro probe lens.

What if Nikon produced a full-frame version of a technical camera all with tilt and shift capabilities built-in? The lens mount in the new Z system is huge and if Nikon coupled it with a few large image circle lenses, I think that could work pretty well. Add 16-bit raw files to it and I think that would be a pretty incredible system.

I appreciate these are some outlandish suggestions, but the point is that we don’t need another company offering what Sony already is. Nikon needs to acquire a new identity.

Final Thoughts

I appreciate that many people may not like the comparison I’m making between Nikon and Sony. Some of you may want to point out certain differences between both mirrorless systems, but ultimately, they’re pretty interchangeable… except that Sony is doing it better.

This is why I think Nikon really needs to reevaluate its strategy and adjust its identity a little.

Nikon has done so much for the industry and it would be a dire shame to see this company fail. I’m hoping that I’m wrong and this dip in the market for Nikon is just a blip. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look that way, and I really hope that Nikon can find a way through this.


About the author: Usman Dawood is the lead photographer of Sonder Creative, an architectural and interior photography company. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Dawood’s work on his website, Instagram, and YouTube.

Resetting The Rules: ‘Sorry, No Tripod’ and ‘Pro Cameras Not Allowed’

During New Year’s Eve 2017, Dubai set a world record for the biggest LED and light show at Burj Khalifa, doing away with the usual fireworks and taking a different approach to welcoming 2018, the “Year of Zayed”, named after the founding father of the UAE.

It was just a 30-floor elevator ride for me to be able to capture this moment with my trusted Olympus mirrorless camera. For those reading and not familiar with camera terminology, this is essentially the same type of camera as what you might know as DSLR, or in general a camera with a viewfinder and interchangeable lenses. I got the shot I wanted, went back up, edited it, and posted on social media within the first 30 minutes of the new year.

To my surprise, the official @mydubai Instagram account picked up the photo for their own NYE post a few minutes later. It became their most liked photo to that date within a few hours and was reposted by several other official and unofficial accounts.

More than 2 years later, during a hot summer evening, I was wandering around a more or less empty Downtown Dubai in almost the same spot, with the same camera, on the hunt for new compositions. This time, I didn’t get the shot I wanted. Why? Because I was approached by a security guard telling me that professional photography is not allowed in this area, which is privately owned by Emaar, the master developer of the Burj Khalifa district.

This backstory to some extent exemplifies some of the reasons why I wrote this blog post: Many developers, owners, organizations, and venues set ambiguous rules that prevent amateur photographers like myself from capturing their locations in the best light, enforce them arbitrarily, but then do want to reap the benefits of using our images for marketing purposes — mostly free of charge under fair social media use (whether that is right or wrong is a subject for another discussion).

At this point, I want to clarify that while I must admit I have sometimes been close to losing my patience with security guards. They are only ultimately the messenger, and their work as a whole is highly appreciated by myself and dare I say the entire photography community. This is about the rules they are being told to enforce, rather than who is enforcing them.

A second disclaimer to this post is that there are frequently very valuable and rational reasons for not allowing photography in certain situations. Protecting government institutions or military facilities, preventing the privacy of individuals in their own space from being compromised, ensuring the safety of people in a crowded area by not allowing a tripod in the middle of a footpath, or ensuring the protection of copyrighted material in cinemas or concerts.

These are not the situations in question here. Here, we are addressing wide open spaces that are absolutely considered public, have no implications for national security, and where people take photographs on a daily basis with their smartphones.

For those familiar with Dubai, such places include Bluewaters Island, Burj Park, Dubai Canal, or Design District — I’ve chosen those examples because in all these locations I’ve been asked to not take photographs with my camera and/or tripod.

The question is, why is that? To date, the explanations I’ve received — if any — have never been very coherent or logical. As a result, I will have to make some assumptions: your typical photo capture device today ranges from the size of an iPhone (the most popular camera in your hand, to a DSLR and a big telephoto lens that may be up to 12 inches (30cm) in length or so, set up on a tripod 6.5 feet (~2m) in height.

From personal — and thus anecdotal but qualified — experience, I have found that:

1. None of the locations in question would prevent anyone from taking a photo with their smartphone.

2. A few of them would approach you for shooting with a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a typical wide-angle lens.

3. Many will ask you to refrain from shooting if you carry the same camera with a bigger lens, such as a telephoto zoom.

4. All of them will ask you to leave the moment your tripod touches the ground as you set up.

My interpretation of these findings is that the larger your overall equipment is, the more likely it is you will not be welcome to take photos. An assumption I am making here is that outsiders (i.e. those not familiar with photography) associate “larger equipment” with “more professional”, which would imply that the rules set by these locations are “we do not allow professional photography”.

I would welcome any of these companies and organizations to comment here with feedback on whether this is the case. Until then, let’s continue with this assumption.

The problem is that the boundaries of professional photography have long been no longer defined by the size of the equipment. The advent of smartphones with Instagram & Co, the rise of the influencer culture relying heavily on photography, and the significant advancements in mobile photography have allowed people to do commercially viable work with equipment that fits in their pocket. Heck, movies are now shot on iPhones. This discredits the entire reasoning why a regular DSLR and lens should be treated differently from a smartphone when it comes to what is “professional”.

Let’s move to the next level: using a big telephoto zoom lens. Also in this area, we are now approaching times where smartphones are capable of producing extreme levels of computational zoom, enabling everyone to take photos of objects and people far away. A camera with interchangeable lenses will (for now) still have an advantage in some ways here, and produce better quality — the question is: why would that be a problem?

I can think of privacy as the major reason — as a location owner, one wants to make sure people do not feel uncomfortable and be under the perception they are being photographed from far away without their knowledge or consent. My argument though would be that if this was a photographer’s intention, and they would do it maliciously, the laws around privacy protection for others would still apply — whether in a location that is privately owned by a large developer, or a public square. It’s unlikely that a private security guard will be able to deter someone from engaging in such activity if even the law is not able to.

Moving on the last and seemingly worst offender: the three-legged friend of the long exposure photographer. A tripod. Here, it may be worthwhile to quickly explain why photographers chose to carry this device around. Generally speaking, cameras need to capture light for a certain amount of time to produce a well-exposed image. When it’s bright outside, less than a second is enough to achieve that, maybe 1/100 or even 1/1000. When it gets dark, this isn’t enough anymore.

The camera may need 3 or 5 or 10 seconds to capture sufficient light to produce a good quality image. The problem is, no one can hold the camera steady for that long, meaning that movement occurs during the light capture period, resulting in a blurry shot. This is where the tripod comes in, keeping the camera steady while it collects the required photons. Granted, there are other uses for a tripod, but generally speaking, they revolve around similar concepts.

So, I ask myself: why don’t venues want to see tripods being used? More than once I placed my camera on a rail, stone, bag, or whatever when asked to stop using my tripod, and this was acceptable. How does that make sense? The result is the same, except my composition might be worse and it’s riskier (the camera might fall, etc). My tripod will probably still be around, leaning against a nearby wall.

As we discovered earlier, in many places it is seemingly ok to use a camera, but only the tripod triggers something in the security personnel that makes them ask you to stop. This seems illogical: we can shoot the same exact photo during daylight in great quality (enough light for a short exposure), but at night when we need a tripod to capture enough light to get the same quality, it is deemed as not acceptable. It doesn’t appear likely that daylight photos are ok for a location owner, but night time shots are not.

Lastly, similar to the argument with telephoto lenses, the latest generation smartphones are slowly catching up in this area, using digital stabilization to capture acceptable night time photos, and further blurring the lines between the size and type of equipment needed to capture similar looking photos.

You may ask why we still need dedicated cameras and lenses. Well, smartphone technology is not quite at the stage where it can handle all the photographic challenges a specialized camera can, and while for average photos for an Instagram post on a small smartphone screen this may be less of an issue, if you are looking to print a photo, for instance, this is where the difference between the two classes of equipment do show up. Some kinds of photos aren’t achievable with smartphones just yet, but that doesn’t mean they are automatically “better” or more professional or commercially useful.

As smartphones catch up with dedicated cameras for these last scenarios, will the organizations making these rules soon forbid any kind of photography in their locations? My prediction is their marketing departments would quickly scream and shout when faced with the loss of the free social coverage, aside from it being practically impossible. If the assumption made at the beginning of this post is correct, the rationale should shift from “we do not allow professional photography” to “we do not allow commercial photography” — this may make sense as the venue wants to control commercial activity. But how can you do that when an influencer shot taken and edited with a smartphone can easily generate much more money than a photographer with a dedicated camera taking a shot planned and edited for hours, printed on fine-art paper, and sold in a gallery?

So in anticipation of that, it may be the right time to redefine what “commercial” or “professional” photography means in this context and start a conversation on establishing clearer and logical rules for what scenarios and equipment are allowed, or not, and for what reason. In the end, it is clear that companies are free to ask anyone to leave their premises or to not use a camera bigger than a smartphone, or an orange, or whatever arbitrary definition they chose, regardless of the reason.

Ultimately, this will probably make photographers try to take a photo by whatever means is allowed, instead of what produces the best result. That photo may just not be as good, not as creative, not as interesting, or it may not happen at all and the moment will be gone forever, leaving the photographer and his or her audience disappointed, and taking away a chance for the location to create positive impressions or attract new visitors due to the existence of the photograph, for no logical reason.

I, and I am sure the whole photography community in Dubai and around the world, are open to engaging in this discussion with the decision-makers at the various organizations, for the benefit of everyone — for us to follow our hobby and passion without hindrance, for the public to enjoy great photography, and for organizations to benefit from high-quality coverage.

I see several ways a middle ground can be found: Ask photographers to sign a release form giving the location permission to use the photos. Make photographers sign a disclaimer that ensures we cannot publish the photos commercially or re-sell/license them. Create a system for granting permission to a person on a yearly basis, not for one single shoot. Request IDs in order to know who shot when at the location. Train security guards to determine in which cases there is a genuine issue caused by a photographer. Or, just treat photographers with a camera the same as someone with a smartphone.

Admittedly, there are details and issues to be addressed with these suggestions, but I am confident there are better ways to establish a mutually understandable and viable basis than the inconsistent and illogical approach many places seem to follow right now.

Let’s sort this out. All we want is to take great photos of the cities and places we love.


About the author: Florian Kriechbaumer is a photographer and business executive based in Dubai, UAE. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Kriechbaumer’s work on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and 500px. This article was also published here.

Why I’m Still Using Picasa in 2020

Google’s Picasa was first released in 2002 as a quick way to catalog and edit your photos en masse. In 2015, Google released its last update and has since replaced it with the now ubiquitous Google Photos.

It works just like Adobe’s Lightroom without all of the bells and whistles for editing, and instead it just gives you basic features: red-eye removal (when was the last time you saw red-eye?) auto-white balance, cropping, light-sliders, color change, etc.

What Picasa does that neither Lightroom nor Google Photos do is allow you to browse all of your images lightning fast. Google Photos is impossible to quickly scroll through because it needs to download every single image as you browse. Lightroom could potentially be used for the same purpose but, unfortunately, it just doesn’t. With every image loading, the original file with edits overlayed in Lightroom, and with my stupid amount of custom presets, Lightroom struggles after a certain amount of files loaded and it needs purging.

Picasa, on the other hand, displays all of my images (a quarter of a million, over 1TB) in thousands of folders across three (sometimes four) different drives seamlessly. Every image I have taken can be seen in one place without having to cross my fingers each time I double click on a folder. The best part? It handles RAW files like a godd**n boss.

Picasa opens and closes instantly and doesn’t require you to manually import every file — just select which drives you want it to watch and it will always be up-to-date. Clicking through random folders and seeing images you long forgot is almost therapeutic in its simplicity.

There are some drawbacks, I would love to see so many improvements made with Picasa such as being able to select numerous folders at once and edit them (adding tags, etc), and I’d love if they brought back being able to upload to Google Photos directly again. The UI hasn’t aged too well with a boring grey theme but that feels like picking hairs.

I am grateful that I am still able to use this defunct software and it still serves a purpose for me: finding stuff! You can’t download Picasa directly from Google anymore, but you should be able to find a copy online if you look in the right places.

I feel like Adobe has seriously missed a beat with Lightroom, is it too much to ask that I can see every single file on my system without the whole app slowing to a halt? If anybody has a modern solution to this problem, I would love to hear it, but for now, I will continue to use my antique Google app.


About the author: Danny M. Thompson is a photographer based in Manchester, UK. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Thompson’s work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published here.

How COVID-19 is Impacting the Commercial Photography Set

Has COVID-19 impacted the look of ad campaigns? Maybe, but probably not by as much as you might think. What is impacted, however, is the way that a commercial photography set operates for the foreseeable future.

As an advertising photographer, you are responsible for everything that happens on set while shooting a campaign. This can range from not just the lighting scheme, but the choice of using craft services versus having a chef on set, choosing the appropriate camera and related equipment, and most importantly the safety of everyone present.

This isn’t to say that there are not safety officers on set, or form specific trainers when we photograph professional athletes, but that the buck always stops at the photographer. For those that do commercial photography, we know that there are never-ending insurance certificate pulls happening just to step foot on set. But how do we create when it comes to an unseen virus, and what will those campaigns look like?

I wanted to look at two photoshoots I did that had drastically different sets but with creative demands and outcomes that were very similar. One set of images was produced of Portland Trailblazer basketball player CJ McCollum in Beijing, China with a crew of about 60 personnel. The other photoshoot was done with Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors in California with a crew of 4 people.

The approaches to each shoot differed in scope, but in many ways held drastic similarities. For CJ’s photoshoot, we had an entire arena closed down and had a 15-man construction team brought in. They managed to build walls and locations so that we could keep up with a very demanding shot list and pivot from one set to another. Since I was in China, I also needed multiple translators to give direction to the various crews that were building and striking each set as we progressed.

The photoshoot of Stephen Curry was vastly different in that the complexity of the shot schedule and post-production approach enabled us to dramatically reduce crew. The client had commissioned three images for the entire campaign, compared to 30 for CJ. On top of this, we approached the Curry shoot knowing that we had far less time with the athlete, so we would compensate by shooting in a studio so that we could build the environment later.

Now the tricky part. Modern-day social distancing and precautions in a COVID-19 environment necessitate limiting the number of people on set. Yet how are you expected to produce the same look from a shoot with so few people on it? The answer is through meticulous planning and coordination with the client and knowing exactly who will be needed on set.

For the Curry photoshoot, we knew that time would be critical to getting every shot. While it would have been possible to do the photoshoot by hiring all local crew, there would have been inherent risk. To mitigate such risk, we pre-lit and practiced the shoot in Arizona with the set transitions choreographed so that the time lost in breaking down sets would be minimized.

The next big part of being able to operate a photoshoot so efficiently comes down to trust between a client and photographer. I am specifically addressing how much control the client may want to have over the photography process specifically. With the photoshoot of CJ in China, we had multiple digital techs on set and a digital village to preview the images as I shot them. This was in an effort to convey our immediate in-camera results, and then through translators further define and describe direction.

However, for the Curry photoshoot, there was not a digital tech on set and I was not tethered. The client knew that the risk of slowing down the shoot to check each image could mean not getting all of the images needed. Instead, the client trusted that I would know exactly what they needed for the final creative.

The final aspect of keeping a set small and still retaining high-quality images comes down to the skill of each individual. Where on many sets we have grips and assistants, photoshoots during the pandemic will need to have job crossover to keep crew numbers low. This isn’t necessarily to say that budgets need be drastically cut, as I believe crew should be paid for their responsibilities; instead day rates will actually increase to a higher level than before. Producers may have to run a campaign without three Production Assistants, and perhaps even remotely for the time being.

As crazy as it sounds, I am excited about photoshoots during this time, all while being extremely anxious as well. Some of the greatest satisfaction that I get from doing advertising photography comes at the conclusion of a campaign when I finally manage to sit down in my car after wrapping. There is an adrenaline crash and the feelings are difficult to describe — it is simply being wiped the hell out. We are talking so exhausted that I just sit and stare out from the car window for several minutes before even remembering to start the car.

There is something to be said about the feeling of giving a photoshoot everything you can while leaving nothing behind that you wished you had done. With productions being so small in the future, there is no question as to how tired everyone will be at the end of the day, but it will be worth it in safety and satisfaction.

The world has changed around us in only a number of months, and while there will be a future where the normalcy we once knew returns, the time in-between will see boundless creativity. Not just in what we create, but in how we create it.

Safety has always been the end-all for photoshoots and something that was never taken for granted. But now is the time when we have to plan the entire process of creating imagery around the strict limitations of safety on set. I view this as not an obstacle, but rather an intertwined dance that can be carefully orchestrated to give everyone the ability to step foot on set once again.


About the author: Blair Bunting is an advertising photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona. You can see more of his work on his website, blog, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published here.