Primes vs. Zooms
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
I've often liked using prime lenses. In fact, all things being equal, I tend to prefer them to zooms. I've always felt like working within the box of a fixed focal length forces you to be a more active seer. I could never quite put my finger on it, but I figured it had something to do with the idea that when working with a zoom lens, if something doesn't fit just right you adjust the focal length and make an easy fix. But with a prime lens, you move in and out, side to side, up and down... you're engaged with your subject, working to see, conscious of making the perfect composition.
Then I read an offhand comment by Michael Johnston of The Online Photographer blog. In a post about what makes Leica rangefinders so great (which you can read at http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2010/09/the-secrets-of-the-leica.html) he listed the cameras’ prime lenses as a major benefit. He wrote, "You learn how to see like the lens sees." Aha! That's it! The difference between prime lenses and zoom lenses is that simple, and that profound. A prime lens forces you to see as the lens sees, while a zoom lens can be forced to see the way you see. It may be simple, but it means a lot. At least, it does to us prime lens shooters.
If you don't shoot with primes, I recommend trying one out. They're often really sharp, and really fast, and they can be pretty affordable too. The normal 50mm prime used to be industry standard in a new camera kit, but it's been replaced by the mid-range zoom in recent years. If you've got an old dis-used prime of any size, strap it on and go for a walk. Or consider purchasing a new prime; the lenses are popular enough that Nikon has just introduced another great professional prime—the 85mm f/1.4. Whatever prime you choose, enjoy giving up a bit of control to the camera, and see how the lens sees. You might like it. You may even find it freeing.
Big Old Polaroids
Monday, September 13, 2010
Forbes magazine just did a great little writeup on the massive 20x24-inch Polaroid Land camera. Only seven were made, with four of them remaining in useful existence. If you’ve got the budget—close to $2000 a day and $200 per exposure—you can rent the camera for your next shoot. If you’re looking to differentiate your work in this increasingly all-digital world, I’d say you can’t do much better than a mammoth 20x24-inch Polaroid original. See what some renowned photographers have done with the camera online. Jennifer Trausch, mentioned in the Forbes story, takes the 20x24 on location to shoot in the real world—not something often seen with the cumbersome machines. William Wegman popularized the format with his series of portraits of his dogs, and Elsa Dorfman is perhaps the photographer most closely associated with the format as she has one in her own studio. Each of these photographers is worth investigating, and if you have the good fortune to see original 20x24 Polaroids in a gallery or museum near you, be sure to search them out. They’re unlike any other photographic format you’re likely to have seen before, nor ever will again.
Pix Boom Ba
Friday, September 10, 2010
Well this is a fun idea. Ever want to ask a studly National Geographic photographer for some picture-taking advice? Now you can, thanks to the new web site Pix Boom Ba. The ridiculously named URL should give you an idea of some of the charm of this photo tips site, and that's the fact that the guru photographers involved—Bob Caputo and Cary Wolinski—are having fun while answering questions and offering photographic advice. With so many online resources geared to teaching photographic basics via blog, text and video (as this site also does), it's great to see someone putting effort into making photo tips entertaining too. And that’s something this site does better than almost any other.
Light Painting with Harold Ross
Thursday, September 9, 2010
While recently surfing the Photography Served photo blog, I stumbled upon some excellent work quite unlike anything I'd ever seen before. That's increasingly rare these days, so it came as a very pleasant surprise to discover that the amazing light painting photography by photographer Harold Ross was not a fluke; his whole portfolio is full of amazing work like this. So I got in touch with Harold, a well established commercial shooter from Philadelphia, to find out how he goes about making such great light painting photographs.
"I've been painting with light for well over 20 years," he told me, "and I currently use the technique in virtually every image I make. I started painting with light as a response to my desire to have more creative input into the commercial photography that I was doing at the time. I felt a bit constrained, having to follow a layout that included type placement and, as I was shooting product work and food, the subject matter was chosen for me."
Harold started with large format film and Maglight flashlights, and quickly saw that he could create more dimension, texture and color using the highly controllable light sources.
"I also found that I could create an ‘illustrative’ look to my photographs," he said. "This is partially a result of being able to place highlights exactly where I want them, just as a painter does. My clients came to appreciate the unique look of the images I was shooting as well as the problem-solving capabilities of light painting. I actually feel less encumbered when light painting in a more direct connection with my own creative vision and how I light my subject."
The challenge of light painting was trickier before Harold made the switch to digital. On 4x5 and 8x10 film, he had to get everything right on a single sheet of film. In those pre-Photoshop days, the fantastical images looked like nothing anyone had seen before. Today he shoots digitally with a Cambo Wide RS camera with Phase One P45+ back, sometimes substituting a pre-digital Hasselblad body for the Cambo. Noise was once a problem with digital long exposures, but not any longer.
Make The Ordinary Extraordinary
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
I like simple and I like great. The work of photographer Caleb Charland would have to qualify as both. Charland got a recent writeup on the DIY Photography blog, which is where I stumbled across the man and his work. What is perhaps most "DIY" (do-it-yourself, for those uninitiated) about Charland's work is the fact that he's building interesting constructs and contraptions to photograph. The photography is fairly straightforward, albeit beautiful, but the subjects themselves make the work totally fascinating. I particularly like the idea of illustrating everyday concepts—like magnetism, for instance—in such a simple way. Simple, yes, but plain? Definitely not. I love photographs like this that take something ordinary and make it look extraordinary. Check out the writeup at DIYPhotography.net, then head over to Charland's web site to see more of his work. His new series of color images is mind blowing.
Buy Nikons, direct from Nikon
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Well duh. Why didn't I, or they, or any camera manufacturer for that matter, think of this sooner? I'm sure it's got to do with all sorts of things I can't comprehend regarding distributors and middlemen and contracts and such—after all, if you've sold Nikon cameras for 50 years you're likely not happy with the company trying to cut you out. But what's bad, or potentially bad, for retailers could be good, at least potentially, for us customers. Now you can buy Nikon gear, including refurbished and discounted items, direct from the manufacturer. I don’t think bricks and mortar retailers have too much to worry about because buying a camera is like buying a car—you’ve got to test drive the thing first. Holding a camera in your hands is still an ideal way to see what a camera is all about before you plunk down the money to purchase it. Still, if you know what you want, buying straight from the manufacturer does seem convenient. We’ll see how this all shakes out fairly soon, I’m sure.
Happy Labor Day!
Monday, September 6, 2010
Today is Labor Day, so hopefully that means you’re not reading this at the office computer but on the couch—or even better, on the patio warming up the grill for a backyard barbecue or getting ready to take an end-of-summer dip in the pool. Either way, enjoy your day. If you’re looking for something online before you get out there and enjoy the day, check this out: it’s a gallery of great photos that are bound to remind you that summer is fleeting, and swimming weather is almost gone. It’s a collection of diving photographs on The Boston Globe’s Big Picture Blog, and it’s bound to make you miss summer before it’s even over.
Bits of Bits
Friday, September 3, 2010
Steve Berardi is the PhotoNaturalist, and I highly recommend reading his blog if you're at all interested in wildlife, landscape and nature photography. But his expertise goes well beyond topics of use only to outdoorsmen, as evidenced by a techie think piece he recently wrote for DPS. It answers a question about which I’ve always wondered: what exactly is a bit and why does it matter? Analog-to-digital converters, color depth, even Photoshop itself uses the ìbitî terminology, but none of them seem to mean exactly the same thing. So if you too wonder about bits, check out Steve’s great new post. And then be sure to visit his own blog to see what wildlife and nature photography bits you can learn about too. (See what I did there?) Pardon the pun, but it is true: there’s always lots to learn from the PhotoNaturalist.