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Street Photography Is Not a Crime. Let’s Keep it That Way.

The New York Daily News recently published an opinion piece by a writer named Jean Son titled “When your photograph harms me: New York should look to curb unconsensual photography of women” and I would like to address it here.

The premise of Jean Son’s article is that any photographing of women in public places constitutes “gender-based violence”, which I find hyperbolic and irresponsible.

The author says that “there’s only been a few times in my life when New York let me down, and they all happened in broad daylight in some of our most recognizable public places.”

Wow. Something dramatic must have happened, right?

The first example that Jean Son relates is that when she was 17 she was sitting in Bryant Park when “an older man walked by with two cameras and discreetly aimed one at me. I immediately called 911.”

…Really? Is calling 911 for someone taking a picture of you the appropriate action in this situation? Seems like a bit of an overreaction.

She then goes on to describe the rest of the interaction: “a police officer made him destroy one of his rolls. Because he refused to say which camera he’d used, to this day I’m not sure if the photo lives on somewhere. What I do remember is the violation and fear that I felt as a strange man captured something of mine, my image, without my permission. He got to walk away.”

He got to walk away? Yes, he got to walk away — he did nothing illegal or wrong. What is Jean Son’s expectation here? That the photographer be thrown in jail for doing something that’s perfectly legal? Not to mention that the police officer had no right to make the photographer destroy his film.

Here’s how Jean Son describes her next encounter with a street photographer:

“I was walking down 57th St. A man with a long-zoom camera lens pointed it at me and took a rapid series of photographs. When I confronted him, he said it was a ‘free country.’ As he tried to get away, I grabbed him and called 911.”

The photographer was right — at least in the sense that photographers are free to include anyone out in public in a photograph as long as it’s not for commercial use.

And the interaction unfolds:

“Four Business Improvement District workers approached us and began commiserating with him as I, the victim, stood gripping my perp by his bag. One said I was ‘making a scene’ while another joked that ‘maybe he just liked the pictures.’”

This is where the author is really reaching in my opinion. She starts using police language to describe the interaction. She’s “the victim”, while the photographer is “my perp”.

I mean… What was she the victim of? A photographer who pointed a camera at her and pressed the shutter button. And that somehow makes the photographer a “perp”, as in a perpetrator of a crime.

Not only that but she grabbed the photographer by his bag and wouldn’t let him go. If anyone is guilty of assault in this situation, it’s Jean Son.

I can honestly sympathize with Jean Son that she was made to feel uncomfortable. But I can’t help but find it amusing that she chose to include how the witnesses of the whole thing were joking around and thought that she was making a scene out of nothing— because that’s sure what it sounds like she was doing.

Here’s how the interaction ends:

“The cop who arrived 40 minutes later discovered that my assaulter had taken dozens of full-body burst shots of me, which he was told to delete. I watched him walk away in his tan cap and polo shirt, with tears streaming down my face and cramps in my hand. I wondered whether I should have worn a different dress to work that day. I wondered whether he’d think twice before pointing his lens at another young woman, or whether, more likely, he’d become even more emboldened, knowing that at worst he could walk away.”

OK, so the fact that someone pointed a camera at Jean Son and took a picture caused her to not only 1) cry, but also 2), grab the photographer’s camera strap and hold on so long that she got cramps in her hand.

For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think an interaction as negative as this would embolden any photographer to go out and shoot more. I think it would make the photographer want to take a break so as to not have to deal with someone so unreasonable as this, at least for a short while.

There’s one last encounter that Jean Son claims to have experienced, which she describes as such:

“In the wake of #MeToo, I often found myself thinking about this last incident. I was proud that I stood up for myself, but I promised myself that if it ever happened again, I’d do something ‘real’ about it. Then, last December, I was in Chelsea with my mother, talking and laughing. A young man lifted his camera inches from my face.

‘It’s not illegal,’ he said. ‘It’s art. Get away from me.’ He deleted my photo and walked away.”

Based on the previous interactions this person has had with people taking her photo in public places, it sounds like the photographer’s best course of action was to walk away, so it sounds like he made the right decision.

Jean Son acknowledges:

“He’s right: It’s not illegal to take photos of people in public.”

But she goes on to say:

“But women are victimized by this lack of legal protection of our images.”

OK, well I’m all ears if we’re talking about women being victimized.

She then goes on to cite three examples of cases where men took inappropriate photos of women in public and violated their privacy (and I agree that their privacy was violated in these cases). Here are the headlines from the cases she cites:

1. Upskirt Photos Don’t Violate A Woman’s Privacy, Rules D.C. Judge

2. Trailing Women With a Camera Was Legal, Appeals Court Rules

3. Texas court upholds right to take ‘upskirt’ pictures

I will be the first to admit that these court cases are egregious and their rulings are morally wrong and I disagree with them. Anything resembling upskirt photos violates privacy and should absolutely be illegal.

However, why are we lumping the actions of some random perverts in with street photography as a whole? Taking “upskirt” photos is not street photography at all. It is absolutely NOT the same thing and should not be treated as such.

Jean Son acknowledges that upskirt photography is already illegal where she lives in New York:

“Taking upskirt photos is a felony in New York. But while it’s great that taking photos of specific body parts is considered a crime, any act of photographing someone in a degrading, violative way without her consent in public is wrong and the law should reflect that.”

If we break this down we can basically objectively say that pointing a camera up a woman’s skirt constitutes a felony because it’s taking a photo of specific body parts of a woman. But if we’re talking about photographing someone “in a degrading, violative way”, that becomes entirely subjective.

So Jean Son gives three examples of herself being photographed in public that are dissimilar to cases she cites of women being photographed in sexual ways. None of the examples she cites from her personal experience were sexually exploitative, so the only conclusion I can really make about what she wants to make illegal is any kind of photographing of women in public, even if it’s not sexual in any way.

She says that “we should set an example for the country and protect women against all nonconsensual, exploitative photography and videography.”

Jean Son says that she has been “working with Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer on legislation convening an image privacy task force that will address photography as a vehicle of gender-based violence in public places. If this bill is passed, the next perp will have to think twice before assaulting another woman on our streets in the name of “art,” or a “free country.”

Again, she labels any photographer who dares include a woman in public in a photograph a “perp”, to imply insidious motives and criminal activity when in reality the only “crime” that was committed was taking a photo.

On Twitter, the New York Daily News posted their article and a photographer named Eric Henne commented:

And I have to agree — these photographers would not have been able to do all the amazing work they did and we would not be able to enjoy it if we ban street photography like Jean Son is proposing we do.

And here’s where it gets strange, when Jean Son adds to the conversation:

For one, she claims that she wants “predators” who shove their cameras in a woman’s face to be penalized. But in her first two interactions with street photographers, she doesn’t say that the photographers got up close to her. In fact, in the second example she gives, the photographer was far away and using a long zoom lens. Her criteria for what kind of photography she wants to criminalize is totally inconsistent.

And it really can’t get any more inconsistent than wanting to essentially ban street photography and make it illegal while at the same time claiming Garry Winogrand as one of your favorite artists. It makes zero sense.

Here are some of the photos Garry Winogrand took throughout his photography career:

Photos by Garry Winnogrand.

As you can see, Garry Winogrand took lots of photos of women. And men, and people of all colors and ages. And as far as I know, all of his personal street photography work was candid.

And in fact, Garry Winogrand caused a lot of controversy when he released his book Women are Beautiful in 1975. I don’t even think it’s his strongest work; I just mention it because what Garry Winogrand did to make his photography is exactly what Jean Son wants to criminalize.

But guess what? All those people who Winogrand photographed went unscathed after he photographed them. Because photography is not violence. It is not a violent act and to label it as such is extremely dishonest.

And by the way, what about women street photographers — where are they in this discussion? Assuming that all street photographers are men is erasing them. And how about when a woman street photographer takes photos of men — should that be a crime too?

I believe street photography benefits society. There’s a reason why museums all over the globe display it.

To ban street photography in public places would be to eliminate the joy that so many get out of it and we would lose documentation of places in time. Banning candid photography in public places is also a slippery slope that leads us down a path to where photojournalism would likely be attacked as well.

Here’s a rational, mature, adult way of dealing with a situation of you’ve been photographed by a street photographer and you don’t like it: politely ask the photographer if they took a picture of you, and if so, if they would delete it. And if they refuse, that’s their right and you go about your day.

If being photographed while out in public causes you such distress that you lobby to convene a task force to ban it, I don’t think photography is the problem. I think you have some underlying personal issues that you need to work through and confront as an individual, rather than making this into a systemic problem that doesn’t actually exist.


The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.


About the author: Brandon Ballweg is a photographer from Kansas City. He is the founder of ComposeClick. This article was also published here.

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.

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.

Gear Doesn’t Matter? Actually, It Does

There is a phrase that I see regularly pop up on photography forums that I think is horrible advice for emerging photographers or anyone getting started in the image-making business. It is repeated over and over again and while the intent might be good, I think it does a disservice to beginners who don’t know any better.

That phrase of course is “gear doesn’t matter.”

I think the intent of this phrase is to point out that without a solid understanding of composition and lighting, it doesn’t matter what you shoot with, and I agree with that to a point. I see photographers who shoot with insanely expensive gear who’s work I consider mediocre because of the lighting and composition. But I believe that telling a beginner that gear doesn’t matter is not setting them up for success.

Gear absolutely matters. To create great work in any industry, you need the right tools for the job. Photography is no different. If someone is trying to shoot fast action with a slow focusing lens, or headshots with a fisheye, they are going to quickly discover exactly how much the right gear matters.

I have a friend who dabbles in photography. We were at a wheelchair basketball tournament and he turned to me and said, “Man, can you set up my camera so I can get some good shots? Everything I shoot is blurry.”

I took his camera and dug into the menus and got everything optimized for the environment we were in and then tried to take some shots. As the lens hunted to try and find focus and never locked on to anyone, I gave it a closer look and saw that while it was a 70-200mm, it was an f/5.6 lens that had a super slow time to focus. I shoot a lot of athletes and fast action with my 70-200 f/2.8, but that is because it focuses incredibly fast. I gave him the best tips I could provide under the circumstances, but also told him that if he wanted to shoot sports he needed a faster lens. Because gear matters.

And speaking of shooting action, if you are trying to shoot an athlete with strobes and have lights that don’t cut themselves off quickly on the back end, you are not ever going to effectively freeze the action. That requires either a power pack that can cut power at the exact right time or something like the Paul C Buff Einstein lights which accomplish the same thing without an expensive pack. But the Einsteins come with a trade-off because they can’t do high-speed sync. If you can just nail your perfect moment, that doesn’t matter, but if you want to capture a super-fast burst of images all consistently lit with strobes, you need one of those power packs or a light with that quick shutoff that can also handle high-speed sync.

I know I went a little into the weeds with that last example, but that’s the point. There is a reason there is so much gear out there for this industry. Gear absolutely matters when you are setting out to achieve a specific objective, and using the wrong gear can result in missing shots or mediocre results that clients will not accept and the photographer most likely won’t be happy with either.

Another issue with telling beginners that gear doesn’t matter is that it encourages them to waste money on a bunch of junk that they will quickly outgrow instead of investing in a lens that they will continue to use for the next 10+ years. I have 4 lenses for my photography kit. That’s it. And I have never once been in a situation where I couldn’t accomplish a client or personal objective with exactly those lenses. But I knew my style and what I wanted to shoot and got gear that specifically catered to that.

The last photography lens I bought was in 2013, and as I said, there has never been a moment where I have felt like I needed something other than what I currently have in my kit.

Now, these lenses are on the higher end of the spectrum, but I also only have 4 of them, whereas I know a lot of photographers who have a million lenses, but most of them are garbage they outgrew and have no resale value, so they sit on a shelf collecting dust. Probably because at some point early on someone told that photographer that gear doesn’t matter.

So please stop telling beginners that gear doesn’t matter. Tell them that the right gear matters and to not waste their money on gear that doesn’t cater to their niche. That will give them a much better foundation for building their career and working towards achieving the images they aspire to create.


About the author: Rob Gregory is a photographer and advertising director. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Gregory’s work on his website and Instagram.


Image credits: Header illustration based on photo by Azlan DuPree and licensed under CC BY 2.0

Social Media Injustice?

Social media is always an uproar, there’s no way around it. Photography social media is much the same, and mostly it’s mostly harmless fun. I want to draw attention to two recent episodes that were not harmless fun, and which I worry point toward a larger trend.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

A graphic designer from Italy named Gian Butterini published a photobook in 1969, called London. Some decades later Martin Parr discovered the book, found it interesting, and arranged for it to be re-issued in a kind of facsimile edition. The opening essays were translated to English, Parr added an essay, and some very small cosmetic changes were made. In 2019 a British academic stumbled across a spread in the book: a photo depicting a black woman, a ticket inspector for the London Underground, was placed across from a photo of the gorilla in the Regent’s Park Zoo.

The academic immediately noted that in the present era, in the western world, this reads as a racist trope. It compares a black person to an ape. The academic and his daughter took to social media as well as to the street, raising a furor. In the fullness of time, the publisher pulled the book from distribution and Martin Parr stepped down from one or two roles.

More recently, under the auspices of the BredaPhoto Festival, Erik Kessels exhibited on the surface of a skate park a display of digitally generated images of facial plastic surgeries gone awry, the faces female in appearance. The exhibit, entitled “Destroy My Face” was intended to last until the photographs had been fully eroded by the action of skaters skating.

A small cadre of social media residents, overlapping with the critics of London, read this as violent and misogynistic. They took up a campaign to do, well, something about it. The result was that the skate park has committed to removing the photos, while the BredaPhoto Festival has so far stood firmly by their curatorial decisions.

Well, so what?

The issue at hand is that in both cases a small cadre of social media residents read the work in a particular, singular, way, and successfully parleyed their opinion into a dominant one — with real-world consequences. Artwork was removed from view on the grounds that it “said something” the cadre found unacceptable.

When some ordinary person walks up to a piece of art, they’re likely to come up with a single way to understand the work. Opening London to the spread, they might well recoil from the evident racism. Or, they might see it as a commentary on, an indictment of, racism. Or something else. This is the point of contemporary art after all, If a piece of art only said one thing you could just write that one thing on an index card and skip all the painting, photographing, sculpting.

And this is where the trouble lies. The loudest voices against Butturini’s book and against Kessels’ installation were academics, educators, experts. They should know, if they know anything, that art allows multiple readings, and that these multiple readings are a large part of the point.

Art which critiques, let’s say, racism must of course reference racism. In its richness and ambiguity, it can then be read as racist by anyone who sees only the racism being referenced. That’s ok — it’s unfortunate that the critique doesn’t come across for some people, but that is virtually inevitable. If you don’t want ambiguity, just write it on an index card and be done with it.

The academics arguing against London never showed a single other page from the book, only repeatedly hammering the single spread with the single idea of it being inescapably racist. They omitted mention of Buttutini’s opening essay that specifically addresses the two photographs in question. They omitted other spreads that showed Butturini’s methods. They insisted that their single reading was the only conceivable one and that context was unnecessary. They loudly labeled anyone who disagreed as a racist, or a racist enabler.

Again, these are academics who should know as a basic part of their job that context matters and that multiple readings are a thing.

The voices arguing against “Destroy My Face” similarly included experts who ought to know better, and similarly hammered a single point of view. Again, any attempt to suggest that alternate readings might be available was met with name-calling and boastful blocking.

This strongly resembles the campaign against “Piss Christ”, a 1987 photograph by Andres Serrano of a crucifix submerged in urine. This photo also admits multiple readings. A vocal cadre saw only blasphemy and hammered that story to the exclusion of all else, raising a national hue and cry in the USA. Copies of the photo were physically damaged, and so forth. It was an exciting time.

The difference is that the professional artist class (whatever that might be) of that era stood with “Piss Christ,” rather than calling for its removal. They understood that art is complex.

To be fair, “London” can be seen as racist, “Destroy My Face” as misogynistic, and “Piss Christ” as blasphemy.

They can also be seen as a critique of racism, a critique of social beauty ideals, and a critique of the commercialization of religion. That’s not all, of course, but let’s stop there, as these are the documented intentions of each artist. We know what the artist intended, in all cases, and those readings are clearly visible in the works.

It’s not that the voices decrying these works are wrong, or should be silenced. Far from it, let them be heard loud and strong!

But let other voices also be heard. Shouting “troll!” and boasting about blocking other voices in no way resembles discourse — it is unhealthy, it is damaging. It is not a conversation. It is not how serious educators, serious thinkers-about-art, should be reacting to art.

One of the professional educators decrying “Destroy My Face” (referring to remarks Kessels made) went so far as to ask “Now how about that ‘conversation’ he promised?” to which I have to reply “many of us were having it, but it was a little difficult because your lot kept yelling TROLL! and BLOCKED!!!!” over and over.

The voices that refuse to accept dissent and that refuse to grasp the basics of how art functions should be heard, make no mistake — I listen to them. They’ve usually got some kind of a point to make. In a narrow way, they’re even right.

They’re right, but they’re not completely right. I submit that they are not right enough to be dictating what hangs on the walls of galleries, museums, and our public spaces.


About the author: Andrew Molitor writes software by day and takes pictures by night. Molitor is based in Norfolk, Virginia, and does his best to obsess over gear, specs, or sharpness. You can find more of his writing on his blog. This article was also published here.

What Are Pro Companies Like Profoto Doing Producing Gear for iPhones?

Over the last few years, several companies have been actively producing accessories for smartphones. The majority of these accessories have been for iPhones and for the most part the accessories haven’t been overly significant devices. What I mean is that the accessories most manufacturers produced have been small LED flashes or add-on lenses. This seems to be changing with what Profoto has done and I wonder if this is the right direction for the market.

Not so long ago, Profoto released the C1 and C1 Plus flashes for the iPhone. For many photographers, this was a strange move from the company. Since then, the company has leaned further towards the smartphone industry. They have since made their B10 strobe fully compatible with the iPhone. You now have the ability to use pro-level lighting equipment with a smartphone and it’s actually pretty good.

Smartphone Photography

Smartphone cameras have improved so much now that they can produce meaningful results. Most smartphones now give you the ability to shoot raw and also control many of the settings you’d see in dedicated cameras. Their portable design means that most people always have their smartphones with them.

In many cases, it is far easier and quicker to take a picture with a smartphone, than it is to shoot with a more dedicated camera. Smartphones are also far more connected than most, if not all, current dedicated cameras. It takes little effort in comparison to snap a photo with a smartphone and then share it with friends or on social media. These are some of the reasons why the vast majority of images are being taken on smartphones.

When you look at the market itself, there are far more smartphones in circulation than there are dedicated cameras. The difference in numbers is incredible. For example, in 2019, more than 1.52 billion smartphones were sold worldwide. The number of cameras sold in the same period is tiny in comparison.

For this reason, it may make sense for companies to want a piece of that market. Producing accessories or devices that are compatible with smartphones, makes complete sense when you look at it from that perspective. Having said that, there some other points to consider too.

Portability

One of the main reasons smartphones have become so popular is because they’re easy to use and portable. Adding accessories to them tends to counter these features. A Profoto B10 is not portable in the same way. It’s pretty impractical to have to set up a light if you’re planning on shooting with a smartphone. If you’re carrying and setting up lights, you may as well just use a “proper” camera. I imagine very few people would buy a B10 primarily because it’s compatible with their iPhone.

Most smartphone accessories tend to overcomplicate the process. In my personal experience, I’ve bought a bunch of accessories and addons for my smartphones, only to find them collecting dust after a few occasions of use. This seems pretty common across the board. Most people that shoot with smartphones, prefer not to be over-encumbered with large accessories.

Effectively, you end up spending a similar amount of time and effort to produce worse results, than what you could have produced with a dedicated camera.

The number of smartphones being sold is extremely attractive, however, the market and mentality are quite different. Even something as small as the C1 is a bit of a hassle to have to charge and carry around; especially if you only plan on shooting with a smartphone.

Market Viability

Plenty of hardware manufacturers have produced accessories to help you produce better images. Additional lenses, addon flashes, hand grips, and so on. It’s very uncommon to see them being used out in the public and even less common among photographers. The accessories that tend to work well within the market seem to be phone cases, screen protectors, and skins. Accessories for the camera or for photographers, rarely do extremely well.

Currently, there are very few companies that are doing well by producing smartphone camera accessories. In fact, the only company that I can think of is Moment, and they seem to be diversifying pretty quickly away from just smartphone accessories.

The main issue is that most people don’t particularly care about taking good quality images; photography is a niche. Even among the photography crowd, most people tend to prefer to shoot with more dedicated cameras as opposed to using accessories to improve images from their smartphones. For this reason, the huge number of units being sold does not really mean a great deal if you’re planning on producing smartphone camera accessories.

This is even more of an issue if you’re only supporting iOS devices because the number of iPhones being sold is significantly lower than the total market.

The point is that when you start breaking down the market, it’s not as attractive as it may have initially seemed. Not so long ago, disposable cameras were the most popular cameras in the world. It was probably a bad idea to produce pro-level equipment for those types of cameras too.

Profoto and the iPhone

In a discussion I had with Profoto CEO Anders Hedebark, he made a point that really stuck with me.

“We don’t make lights for cameras; we make lights for creatives,” he said.

In essence, Profoto does not care what device a creative person wants to shoot with, Profoto just wants to be compatible with that device. It doesn’t matter if it’s Canon, Sony, Phase One, or the iPhone; all that matters is that its lights need to be compatible. On that basis, having the B10 compatible with iPhone is simply a matter of widening its compatibility. Effectively, if you already own a Profoto B10 light, it is now compatible with more cameras than it was previously, therefore offering greater value.

I’m completely for this expansion towards the iPhone because when you consider it from that perspective, it makes complete sense. The only slight chink in the armor is the fact that Profoto literally does produce lights for cameras. The perfect example of this is the C1 and C1 plus lights. These are explicitly described as smartphone studio lights and they’re currently only compatible with the iPhone. Based on that, it does feel like Profoto is leaning quite heavily into the smartphone industry and I’m not entirely convinced that this is a good move.

The Budget Market

One of the trends that we’ve been seeing over the last few years is how camera equipment has dropped in price. Good quality lighting equipment is much less expensive now than it was around a decade ago. Cameras are also becoming less and less expensive and this due to manufacturers like Canon with its EOS RP, Sony with its a7 III, and even Fujifilm with its medium format cameras. The majority of income seems to be made from the budget photographers.

This makes sense because the industry has had a huge influx of new photographers, but most of these photographers probably don’t have the budget to buy super expensive equipment. Maybe catering to this market is a smarter thing to do.

Companies like Godox seem to be doing really well in this market and the products they produce are of a high standard. Budget doesn’t necessarily mean cheap; it generally means less expensive.

Maybe it’s a better idea for Profoto to consider this section of the market instead of the smartphone industry. This way, they can attract photographers that may be starting out and then bring them into the ecosystem.

I’m not convinced yet that the smartphone photographer is the one to be targeting with high-end lighting equipment.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to mention that Hedebark is an extremely capable CEO with a proven track record. Through his leadership, Profoto has seen a great deal of success. It’s likely that Hedebark is seeing something that I’m missing, and this may be the reason Profoto is leaning so heavily into the smartphone industry.

What are your thoughts, do you think Profoto is making the right move towards smartphones, or should they focus on the budget market instead?


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.

Rant: Don’t Ask Your ‘Friend with a Nice Camera’ to Shoot Your Wedding

What’s happened has happened. But I just kind of want to rant so that maybe, if some future brides/grooms see this, they’ll understand the perspective of a photographer who may also be their friend.

Friends of mine got hitched. It was kind of last moment but they delayed their wedding due to COVID and decided to have a small two-man ceremony (bride, groom, two witnesses and the commissioner).

I was given details about the wedding two weeks prior to the wedding. Then, one week before, I got the inevitable “please bring your camera.” I’m usually pretty passive and I honestly don’t mind, but since it’s such a small intimate ceremony I wanted to share the moment with my homies rather than running around all over the place with the camera.

I am by no means a professional. I would, however, consider myself a pretty serious shooter who can consistently generate decent images. Also, I generally dislike any type of work where I’m being told what to do, although I do love photography. I didn’t think I’d get an opportunity like this in the future, though, so I just sort of let it slide.

The day comes and I take a half-day off work. I start to get ordered around by the bride and groom, being told what type of photos to take, they ask me to take some posed studio photos typical of weddings (bouquet shots, vows, veil, etc). And while I’m very happy to join them on their special day, I honestly just wanted to be intimate with the ceremony and enjoying the moment of my two friends coming together.

Instead, I was running around trying to get them the best shots possible because I want them to have the best photos ever because I need to ensure the quality I output meets up to my personal standards. I made a light-hearted comment about how on average a wedding photographer gets two to four grand for the day and that’s my wedding gift for them until they have their real ceremony post-COVID.

Most photographers aren’t as passive as me and we honestly just want to enjoy your special day. If you do want to use a friend for photography just be honest and a have a serious discussion like a work contract. Always offer financial compensation, gear, time and skill set are extremely valuable. And even though I probably would have refused it, it’s just a nice touch that can make the situation slightly better.

Don’t forget: if your friend screws up, it can really strain a relationship. If you are not happy with the quality of the photos they take, it can make things awkward between you two as well.

Regardless, I’m happy for my friends and I’m happy to have been there. I’m not really mad at anything that transpired, but just understand that it’s difficult to celebrate your moment with you. Understand that this is work and hiring a professional can be expensive as hell.


About the author: Andreas Samaris is a Vancouver, Canada-based semi-pro landscape and travel photographer and a Red Seal plumber by trade. You can find out more about Andreas on his website or follow him on Instagram. This article was also published here.


Image credits: Header photo by Drew Coffman, CC0