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Nov 102016
 

Selfie Shooters in Candid Camera

by Brad Nichol

An elevated view gives a nicely different perspective to this Selfie Candid.

 

Selfies are a polarising photographic genre. A certain demographic of the Facebook generation revel in the medium, they love to “pull the Kardashian” preen, pout, parade and share with the obligatory “softie glow filter” to a world apparently just waiting with bated breath for the latest insight into their very, very important daily life. For this group the selfie is the tool by which life is bagged and bragged, it’s shot and shared and 15 secs of fame and adoration quickly flows via the social media channels.


To this first group, the selfie is a See Me, Facebook Me, Instagram Me but most of all Adore Me vehicle, it is in many ways a purely narcissistic pursuit which might help explain why so many people have negative attitudes to the whole selfie movement and few serious photographers take the genre, well, seriously. I might also help explain I suspect why body image issues are now becoming so worrisome thing for young people.

It all begs the question. If you go somewhere and there is no selfie, were you really there?


There’s no lack of examples of bad selfie behaviour to irk the dissenters, selfie sticks are banned in many locations and many “would be Kardashians” (and yes they are normally young women) seem to lack any concept of good social graces. My wife and I witnessed first hand at the Alcazar Palace in Seville, Spain, some terrible selfie driven behaviour.

A group of three young girls had decided the Palace was a great place for an all-out selfie fest photo shoot. They blocked doorways, passageways and views to paintings, annoyed the tour guides and generally frustrated paying tourists in the crowded venue as they pranced, preened and performed for their cameras and hurriedly whizzed them straight to Facebook.

The aspect that really annoyed my wife and I was pretty straightforward. “Alcazar” is one of the most incredible locations you could ever visit, simply stunning and incredibly significant historically and artistically to both Span and the rest of Europe, yet to these girls it was all about the selfies. We seriously doubted they left the palace with any idea of its history and architectural significance or gained an appreciation of the nuances and features, much less soaked in the Islamic influenced beauty of the place, it was all about them!

But it is far from all doom and gloom, I generally feel very positive about the whole selfie phenomenon.
On the flip side a great many pop us just want to record a moment in time and place, maybe share it with a few close friends and most of all have a lasting reminder of the fun aspects of our lives. The selfie is a kind of proof of life, proof of locale and proof of time and I have no doubt that in the future many of those selfies are going to be truly treasured images, images that when held in the hands of children and grand children to come will spark insight and nostalgia for their forebears.  Even older generation folk like my wife and I take selfies and why not, they’re a source of fun and part of our personal life story.

Who could resist a selfie when you have the joys of Florence at sunset behind you!

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The smart phone made it all possible of course with the genre exploding in popularity over the past few years. It’s the attack of the Androids and iDevices, and they do it so well but as an aside a good laugh can be had watching someone try to pull a selfie with a heavy DSLR. We actually saw this feat of physical ingenuity several times on our last holiday, though I didn’t shoot those pics as the subjects just looked pained and frustrated as they wrestled with the DSLR beasts with relatively tiny flip out screens. I know many people hate the smartphone for its role in selfie fever but I personally think it has been a great development, the alternative is just messy.

These guys were on the Rialto Bridge in Venice, a happy selfie hunting ground but tightly crowded, getting a clear shot was real challenge.

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Lovely light and such a sweet expression.

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The selfie has spawned whole new industries too, in Europe every tourist location is home to dozens of selfie stick sellers, you almost can’t walk 10 metres without tripping over one of them, which begs the question how many selfies sticks does one actually need?

Now that selfie sticks can be attached to mini tripods the more enterprising sellers are even offering tripods colour coded to match your new selfie stick….”price negotiable but I can do a deal, would you like two or three and how about an umbrella with that, cause it looks like rain”. 

I’m sure new business opportunities will grow from this continuing selfie genre, like rapid action ram raiding of phones attached to selfie stick tripods and then ransoming the whole shebang back at an extortionate rate. Perhaps the enterprising will hone their people skills and offer to hold the contraption in place for a 2 euro fee whilst you pose. Just maybe we will see super long “shoot from 4 metres above you” selfie sticks popping up, literally. My selfie drones that fit in your Gucci handbag.

There’s a sweet little story here, this lovely couple had just got engaged about half an hour before on Burano island, my wife overheard them talking about it on the Ferry coming back from Burano (near Venice), so we offered to take an “on the spot engagement portrait” in return for a selfie candid. They emailed us back afterwards and told us the selfie and the portrait would remain very special for them, it was really nice to share that moment with them.

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Regardless of all the above mirth, I reckon any traveller needs at least one selfie stick, hey maybe there is a market for custom wooden handled super ergonomic gold plated, jewell encrusted selfie sticks that cost more than the phones attached to them….don’t laugh I’ll lay odds that someone, somewhere has already figured that market potential and is selling them as we speak, or they at least have prototypes on the drawing board.

My wife and I are a 4 selfie stick and 2 phone family, I also have a monopod that works like a selfie stick which my M 4/3 camera mounts via a tiny ball head and it’s of course remote controlled from my iPhone. I have no issue at all with selfie sticks though I have had a few photographers in my classes who think that a selfie stick is only slightly more appealing than a bad dose of the runs.

Yep, my wife Wendy loves to take a selfie or two.

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So moving on, here we were on our last holiday, a five week Italian and Spanish trip that encompassed many of the most famous tourist locations and I became utterly taken with the fun of watching everyday people taking selfies in these locations. I got so fascinated by what I saw that sometimes I had to give myself a good stiff uppercut and forcibly avert my gaze to the vistas in front of us. So what you may think, it’s just people taking selfies, no big deal.

Let me explain…..

The selfie is a vastly different style of image to the regular portrait, there are aspects that I feel make for a clearly different look, and I’m not talking about that “close up with the wide angle, doe eyed, pouty duck face smoothed over synthetic look” I mean when regular people take holiday selfies the images often possess a look that is both charming and compelling and often tells a terrific story. This is what I was attracted to and I found that after taking a couple of shots of selfie shooters in action I was hooked.

Over the next few weeks I kept my eyes open to the antics of selfie shooters and managed to grab about 60 selfie shooters doing the selfie and since then it has become a bit of an ongoing habit which I have continued that pursue since returning home.

I must add this “shooting selfie shooters addiction” has allowed me to strike up some nice little conversations with people along the way.

This lovely young lady was one of the very few that had any idea I’d taken their photo, she looked at me with a great big smile and said “did you take our picture” well of course I did, would you like to have a look, great couple, I hope they enjoyed their selfie candid.

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I feel my COSS portraits (Candids of Selfie Shooters, well I had to give a name) have a life to them often lacking in my regular portraits, to me at least they are rather fun. Initially I was not quite sure of the appeal but then I applied some mental effort (always hard for me to do) and exercise to the selfie process and came up with a few conclusions.

Usually when we shoot a selfie we are in a pretty positive frame of mind, I’m sure occasionally some folk might explore the “Mr Sad Face” selfie option but normally we take a selfie to convey the story of the better aspects of life……. like travel, being with friends, sharing a great moment at a party etc.

Selfies are not normally for sad sacks!

One the other hand when someone takes a portrait of us we are not necessarily the most willing or participants, we are expected to perform, grin or grimace on command often in a situation detached from reality, our smiles are often anything but heartfelt, I know I personally have great difficulty with this, my wife is always saying, c’mon smile, to which I reply, I am!

In a regular portrait shoot the subject does not know the precise moment the shutter is going to trip and with their best expression possibly a mere fleeting moment it becomes challenging to “just fake it” on command, alternatively the selfie shooter knows exactly when the shutter is going to trip, the middle man has been cut out!

Happy times at the Colosseum

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Selfies offer a positive feedback loop, you can see yourself right there on that screen, it acts like a mirror except even better because the image is not flipped, the myriad of subtle nuances that flow across your face are obvious, you can move your facial muscles infinitesimally to alter the image on the fly, no words need to be spoken, no shots needs to be taken to allow you to gradually work into that perfect expression, it’s done quickly in just one or two takes.

Probably, and I think most importantly, with the selfie shooter being their own photographer there’s no need for an introduction, idle chit chat, calming words, discussing options and all that other stuff that the goes on between the photographer and the subject, we know ourselves pretty well and having gazed at our image over many years in the bathroom mirror we’ve a pretty fair idea of what looks right, happy and appropriate. In any case what’s to lose, if the selfie doesn’t work out, no one need see it!

In short the selfie shooter is disarmed, relaxed and uninhibited, three good ingredients for a great portrait.

I was very lucky to catch this pic in Barcelona, I looked down from a verandah and there they were, all smiles and enjoying the afternoon whilst wandering in the old section of the City.

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It’s not all roses as they say, there are a few technical issues that impinge upon getting a great result, mainly the lens is a bit on the wide side and doesn’t quite render our features as naturally as we might like, but oddly some folk seem to have a “selfie face” and others unfortunately look worse than in real life (I think that is me, its a problem with having a round fat face that the lens just likes to make fatter still).

Basically success comes down to the shape of the face and how the slightly wide angle view renders it, for example, selfies are often not great for those who have a longer than normal proboscis or wide spaced eyes or small ears. Lighting for the selfie is often not the best either, especially if you use the flash/LED on the camera or have no idea of how to position yourself in relation to the main light source.

Here’s the crux of the matter, taking photos of people taking selfies kind of combines the more positive elements and suppresses the negatives, the selfie shooter gets the expression, joy, fun and story happening whilst the remote location of my camera allows for a better viewpoint and some control of the lighting angle, it’s a win-win I reckon.

Posing for the camera in Burano, Italy, I just love it.

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Looks pretty cool doesn’t he, till you notice the unfortunate map placement!

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Technically the process is pretty easy, In my case I use the tiny M4/3 Panasonic 35-100mm f3.5-5.6 zoom, usually wide open. There are two main advantages to this choice, first the lens looks like a standard wide angle kit zoom and it seems most people just assumed I was taking a regular scenic shot, not a close up of them. Two, whilst accuracy of focus is important there is a little more wiggle room than with a longer focal length on a larger format, this aspect being important when you are trying to shoot quickly and unobtrusively. You really can’t take the time to subtly fiddle with the focus and depth of field issues, the game will be over and that fleeting expression gone.

Of course the camera and settings do matter and in my case the weapon ion choice is an Olympus EM 5 Mk2, I find it the perfect tool for this genre. First up I use silent shutter, there’s no noise at all and that helps if the environment is quite, but more importantly the silent shutter and excellent image stabilisation combine to broaden the shooting envelope when the light is less the ideal, like down alleyways, in fading evening light etc.

These young ladies were having a great time in Rome, I was very lucky to get the shot as the crowds were utterly incredible that day.

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More importantly and certainly not to be underestimated the EM5 mk2 does not look intimidating, as soon as you point a big camera and large pro telephoto at someone the whole mood changes but I found with this dinky little rig I could be almost on top of people and they seemed not to notice that anything unusual was happening, in fact all the people I was able to approach after taking the shots had no idea I had even taken their picture!


A couple of other pointers, I use the face detection mode, that just seems to make things a little more accurate focus wise unless there were lots of people in the pics, but normally it was ideal. I set the shutter delay time to zero for instantaneous shutter response, this is important as I only use the single shot mode and try to get the timing perfect, I still occasionally miss the moment but generally I’m pretty happy with the results.

Not all selfies are a festival of smiles “There is just no way I am going to be in this selfie”!

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Yeah, yeah, this one was a little bit set-up but I find it rather nice, it was taken at a Steampunkt Day in my home town of Goulburn, Australia.

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The camera is normally set for a lower contrast/saturation rendering (though I shoot in RAW), this means should I get the chance to show the subjects the pic it looks a little nicer as the highlights and shadows are better rendered and the their wrinkles don’t look so deep in the often high contrast lighting. I also set the WB to a slightly warmer rendering, which I find most folk prefer for portraits.

Steampunkt in Goulburn, the taller lady is a famous Aussie model and Novelist, Kate Moss, and no just in case you’re wondering this was a true candid.

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One other trick/tip that I occasionally use is to pan across the scene and then hesitate briefly at the point where the subject is, snap off the pic then continue the pan, I do this when there are no other people around as pointing the camera straight in the subjects direction would be really obvious the pan helps keep them remain unaware.

A pair of fair Steampunkt ladies in all their finery at the Goulburn Steampunkt event.

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Sometimes you really do have to get the selfie on the fly, this was taken at the Rome, Ride of Distinguished Gentleman, which will be the subject of an upcoming blog post on my site.

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Occasionally someone would be a wake up to the situation, but it never proved a problem, I just engaged with them and explained what I was doing, showed them a pic or two and often they were more than happy to pose for more, even better, on a couple of occasions they were happy to take some pics of my wife and I with my camera.

I still feel I have more refining to do, getting a little more of the background behind the subjects may help tell the story better, improving my ability to see and respond more quickly will help too, I know I missed a few great opportunities through being too slow.

Overall though I am pretty happy with the results and “happy to share”.

Sep 082016
 

life

Birth, Life, Stress, Rebirth, Love, Joy, Happiness (and Workshops)

by Steve Huff

Wow, 2016 is almost over and done with. CRAZY!!!! Time has been flying by, faster and faster each year and each year we have more and more cameras, lenses, gear and photographic tools to lust over but for me, life is more of a priority than anything I do in my life. These days, I have learned the way to be happy and 100% fulfilled in life, and it has nothing to do with gear, nothing to do with material things and everything to do with love, respect, peace, positivity and overall happiness. I mean, think about it. Yes, you are here reading a Photo blog, but my blog has always been more than just about a camera review. Over the years I have typed some very personal words, as I feel many of you are like friends here. These days, we can have friends around the world even when we never physically meet those friends. So yes I consider many here friends and this post is not so much about cameras…instead it is about life and how I made a decision 6 years ago to improve all aspects of it. 

Yep, about six years ago I made a decision in life to always be positive, always look at the good in every situation, and try my best block out negativity, hate and the nonsense that sucks our very souls and wastes precious moments of our life. Before that I often found myself being negative about life in general, and when I did that I ended up getting just what I was putting out there (negativity). I was getting stress, strife and was usually down and out about something. When I made that choice to drop all negativity in my life I started noticing a drastic change for the better in all aspects. 

A great friend made this photo for my facebook. Debby is at the top, I am at the bottom, Kindergarten 1975. 

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Months of positive thinking, months of treating all with respect, helping those in need and tackling head on anything standing in my way for that happiness was starting to bring so much good. In fact, shortly after I started practicing this I met Debby, who is indeed the true love of my life (you guys see her photos here in many reviews). I have never known or met anyone who is as caring, has a bigger heart, is more understanding or shares the same beliefs as me about life in general. Sep 6th marked five years since we “re-connected” one day during a photo workshop I was putting on in Chicago. So because I was doing a photo workshop we reconnected, and I feel absolutely blessed it happened. Not only meeting her there but also the workshop in general. That was a GREAT time, even though it was one of my 1st events. Those who attended were AMAZING and while I never met them until that day, it seemed as if we all knew each other for years due to our shared love of Photography. 

The Chicago Workshop was AWESOME! I still remember everyone who attended and how great everyone got along. 

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Debby and I went to grade school together, kindergarten through 8th grade. Then in 2011 we reconnected and we hit it off instantly. Here I was, divorced and thinking that I would spend the rest of my life as a single guy, dating here and there but never truly connecting. Was my positive vibes paying off? I guess because ever since that day we have been joined at the hip, and instead of getting sick of each other, our love grows, the respect grows and the love for life grows. With happiness like this, other things in life start to open up and I truly believe we get what we put out into the world/universe.

When I was down and out, negative and stressed my life was just that..stressful and not very fulfilling. When I started changing my entire thought process and even started meditating I then started to truly deep down realize we have ONE LIFE TO LIVE here!!! WHY WASTE IT?!? When I added positivity and love to my life it did a 180 and I started seeing opportunities come my way, and lately it seems all I have to do is truly wish or push for something in life that I want..and sooner rather than later I am realizing that I am getting just what I had hoped for months prior. There is indeed something to thinking positive and putting things out into the universe. Sounds insane but it seems to truly work for me. We do indeed create our own destiny and no, I have never read “The Secret”. 

… 

So I had my birth, went through life with some stress and negativity as we all do at some stage in life. I ended that era with a rebirth of sorts..a new mindset and thought process… and here I am today with love, joy and happiness. IN ALL aspects of life, not just love. I love what I wake up and do every day, I love who I spend my life with, I love my family, friends and all who have taken some of this journey with me. I love all the new friends I have made in the last year alone during my travels. I am grateful for all of the workshops I have been able to do around the country, while meeting so many like minded individuals who I have learned a great deal from. While I am not even close to being rich or even well off, and while I live in a small house, I have all I need in life to be happy. A roof over my head, a great camera (or a few) to shoot with, a great woman to spend the rest of my days with, a great family and a Son I am so proud of, two dogs who bring joy to my life and a peace of mind that I’ve never had before. Life is good ;) 

While I took a break from meetups and workshops in 2016, in 2017 I will be planning and hoping to do TWO of them, and from what I am thinking, they will be pretty epic. I am thankful for the past workshops as they have been so much fun and guys like Todd Hatakeyama and Ashwin Rao were so important to most of  them. I hope to have them back for my two in 2017. 

Seattle!

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Los Angeles

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The Huff CRUISE!

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Palouse!

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A small personal Vegas street meetup with only a few as we stayed in the “Real World” suite at the Palms!

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Valley of Fire

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Southwest Road Trip

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So while this is not a photo post, it is a post about being positive, being happy and doing our best to rid ourselves of negativity. I feel when we do this, life just gets better and better. I do not know about you, but I choose to live my remaining days here as happy as I possibly can. Sharing good times with friends, family, and making new friends along the way. Being kind to all, showing respect to all and pushing on to be the best person I can be. 

I also have plans for 2017 for this website, and the workshops and meeting so many more of you. Maybe teaming up with Ashwin Rao again for a new Palouse workshop and then a 2nd one which may involve water, maybe with Todd Hatakeyama and Jay Bartlett ;) 

So thank you to ALL here! Thank you for being here, visiting and to those who submit posts and articles. As I have always said, this site has never been about me, but about all of us as a community which is why I share the space with all of you who want your voice heard about the latest photo gear (or past). 

Lots to come in 2017 but for the next few weeks:

Canon 50 L vs Sony/Zeiss 50 1.4 on the A7RII

Olympus 300mm Pro and 7-14 Pro  Review by Craig Litten

Leica 28 Cron vs 28 Lux on the M

Also a refresh review and look at the Leica SL today (after Photokina)

Photokina 2016 with loads of announcements I am sure!

Thank you!

Steve

Sep 072016
 

This should be your first Camera

by Jozef Gwizdala – see his blog HERE

So, you’ve decided that you want to get your first “proper” camera. You may have shot a few photos on your iPhone or other such devices but now you want a dedicated piece of equipment to take photos with. You haven’t done that much research into photography but you know the basic fact that if you want to take good photos you need a Canon or Nikon DSLR. However, this is the first mistake. People naturally blindly follow what they believe is the only route into “proper” photography but there’s a way that’s cheaper and better for learners.

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I have a strong belief that a film camera should be your first camera and I’ll tell you why. The first reason is the cost. People naturally assume that digital is cheaper but if you add it all up you’ll realise how cost efficient film is. First of all, the price for the camera is less. An entry level film camera such as the Zenit E can be picked up for less than a tenner. Now, that’s an extreme but a camera like the Praktica MTL 50 can be found for around £25. An entry level digital camera will be over £300. If you want a step up from the Praktica, cameras like the Canon AE-1 or the Pentax MZ5N are available for around £70. However, the best selling point of these cameras is the wide availability of the lenses. As well as being widely available, the lenses can be bought for next to nothing. A quick look on eBay turned up a good quality 50mm 1.8 lens for £10. Not only is the lens cheap, but it will also be good quality and last longer than the new plastic lenses that are thrown in with digital cameras. You could buy 30 Zenit cameras before you even reached the amount you would have spent on an entry level Nikon.

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However, a great reason why you should use a film camera for your first camera is that the photos will simply look better. Digital cameras are designed so that the images that come out of it are bland. It may sound weird but bland photos make photos that are easy to edit. So if you’re shooting digital, you need to edit your photos. Every photographer who takes his or her work seriously, will edit their photos. The ironic thing however, is that many of them (including myself) will edit their photos to look like film. The visual supply company (also known as VSCO) have presets for Lightroom that are made to emulate certain films. An easier way is just shooting on film to start off with.

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Now, film isn’t as expensive as one may think. Fuji c200 is a great consumer film that yields wonderful results. Fuji c200 is rebranded in England as Agfa vista 200. This film can be purchased from Poundland meaning that a roll of film only costs 1 pound (24 shots a roll). From this roll of film, you will get photos that instantly look much better out of the camera than any un edited digital photo. If you really want to, you can edit your negatives digitally or manually in a darkroom but the point is that this isn’t necessary. Editing is perhaps one of the most tedious things that a digital photographer has to do. Not only that, but it is time consuming. Lets say you took 200 photos of an event or place. For arguments sake, we’ll say that, that number was whittled down on your computer to 50. This means it would take 2 and a half hours to edit these photos. Conversely, if you were shooting film, it would actually be quicker and cheaper. Lets say you shot 2 rolls of vista 200 (£2) and then developed it in fuji hunt c41 chemicals (£1) and then scanned the photos (£50 one off purchase or your lab can do it), you would be done in under an hour with photos ready to upload. Or if you’re not in a rush, you can send it off to somewhere like AG photo lab who can develop and scan your photos for you. This is especially useful if you’re new to photography as editing is one of the hardest practices to learn.

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I have already mentioned the cost of film over digital but here is a proper comparison. For this, I am going to compare a mid range film camera with a mid range DSLR.

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Now, I’ll be honest, my numbers may be a little exaggerated but conversely, not overly unrealistic. Film is cheaper. This low entry price makes it great for beginners as you can enter what is naturally presumed to be an expensive hobby. The fact of the matter is that you can make film even cheaper because you’ve probably already got a few film cameras that aren’t being used lying around your house. If you’re never shot with a “proper” camera, it would be safe to assume that you’re reasonably young. Take advantage of the fact that your parents shot film when they were younger and take one of the cameras that they have lying around. If they do, you can try out photography for a couple quid for film and developing instead of thousands.

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However, cost aside, perhaps the most important reason to have a film camera as your first camera is that it will make you learn about manual control. Now, automatic control is great on new digital cameras but if you rely on it, you suck the joy out of photography by turning your camera into a glorified phone camera. Not only that, but if you want to really learn how to get the photo you have in mind, you need to be able to manually operate your camera. Even if you already have a digital camera, it is worth picking up a film camera so you can learn to master full manual control without electronic aid. Having a limited amount of frames forces one to actually think about the shot. You will take fewer shots with a film camera because you don’t want to waste film and as a result of this, the shots that you take will be better.

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In conclusion, if you’re starting out with photography or you’ve been shooting digital for years, film is perfect as a learning tool and an instrument to develop your skills on. It can be affordable, fun and most importantly, film photography is photography in its purest sense.

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Aug 152016
 

sister

The Sister I Didn’t Know I Had

By Olaf Sztaba

Ten years ago I was yet again a dying man. Regular dialysis kept me alive but drained my body of precious energy so I paid almost weekly visits to the Emergency department. I felt tired, depressed and very sick.

This physical and emotional end-of-the-road exhaustion came exactly three years after my multi-month stay in an intensive care unit. That was when I was dying the first time.

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It all started one ordinary Sunday afternoon when I was playing soccer with my friends. During the game I suffered a small scratch on my leg – one that you would probably ignore. So did I!

However, within hours I started to feel unusually weak. That evening I knew something was horribly wrong. By the time I got to a hospital and got a diagnosis, deadly flesh-eating bacteria had already eaten a great chunk of my leg. Who knew it would be just the beginning?

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I spent the next six months in an intensive care unit fighting the impossible. With the help of every known piece of life-sustaining machinery I was kept alive. However, with the C-difficile, numerous bouts of pneumonia, blood poisoning, septic shock and another long list of medical hazards, the verdict was in. The doctors didn’t think I would make it.

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For some unknown reason and to the great surprise of the medical personnel, I survived it all. However, I couldn’t go back to a normal life. For the next three years I had to have dialysis to keep me alive.

After each session of dialysis my body grew weaker and weaker. Almost weekly visits to Emergency due to numerous complications drew on my stocks of physical and emotional energy.

The only way out was a kidney transplant. Given the average waiting time for a kidney transplant and my deteriorating health I knew that the prospect of receiving a kidney in time was nil. The only option was to find a living donor. I was incredibly lucky, as most of my family members immediately volunteered to help. Unfortunately, my unique blood mix quickly reduced the number of candidates to zero.

To my amazement a few people I barely knew tested their blood to see if they could help but without much success. That’s when I gave up but my wife, Kasia, did not. She kept fighting and spreading the news about my situation.

And then, after months of stress and despair, we met Madeleine. I remember our first meeting. After years of suffering, disappointment and setbacks I had little hope, but the first time I saw this Frenchwoman I felt there was something different about her. Her strong and peaceful persona spread a calming tonic in the air – a feeling I hadn’t experienced for a long time.

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After months of medical tests, I was born again on November 28th, 2006. Madeleine had saved my life and become my other sister.

This year we will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of our transplant. During these ten years I could travel, take photographs and share my writing with you. Without Madeleine and her gift there would be no olafphotoblog.

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In these years, I have spent a lot of time thinking and debating why a Frenchwoman found so much courage to save one man’s life. Where did her strength come from? What triggered this decision? Why was I so fortunate?

Kasia and I always knew we wanted to meet Madeleine’s family to get to know her history and visit her place of birth. This year, we did just that. This photographic essay is all about Madeleine and her family. This is a story that must be told – over and over again. It is a story of real courage.

Upon our arrival, Madeleine and Raymond (Madeleine’s husband) had an entire apartment ready for us. Here is what we found on the table.

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THe next day we headed to St.Pierre Jolys where Madeleine was born and where she went to school.. Her school is run by nuns but is now a local museum and that was the first stop.

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Madeleine showed us a statue on which her father, Rene Mulaire, had worked for years. She gently put her hand on the figure. We all could feel the warm and calming presence of this great man.

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Madeleine and her mother Cecile leafed through some documents and old books. The page with an image of Rene and his employees in front of his pharmacy caught our attention.

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We visited a few more rooms, each one revealing more stories about the town of St. Pierre Jolys and its people.

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A rosary caught my attention. Who did it belong to? Was it prayed on?

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Then I ventured into one of the rooms and found dusty old Brownie camera, sitting on a top shelf.

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For some strange reason, I started to ponder about my road to seeing.

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The last ten years have been especially rewarding, as this gift of life allowed me to take a new path. Seeing has become my way of communication in this world. I found that doubt, struggle and vulnerability pave the way to creativity and self-discovery. How telling! Who knew that the old Kodak Brownie on a dusty shelf could spark such musing?!

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In fact, I have to give credit to Madeleine who has been pushing me toward the world of seeing. Both Kasia and Madeleine have been my motivators and judges.

The same day, Madeleine’s family organized a lovely dinner for Kasia and me. We could both feel the warmth and genuine kindness all around us.

The following day we started our drive home. Over the course of the long drive we thought about Madeleine and her family. The beauty of the Glacier National Park provided a great visual background for our contemplation.

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I realized once again that without Madeleine I wouldn’t be here to feel, connect and see. Strangely enough, the dramatic visuals only underlined this belief. I took out my camera and started seeing. It was my thank you and it always will be.

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If you have enjoyed this personal series, I have a favour to ask of you. There are thousands of people waiting for an organ transplant in North America. In the meantime, most people die each year taking their organs with them.

Could you please find a few minutes today to make the decision? Consider becoming an organ donor after your death. Please let others know your decision and register at BC’s Organ Donor Registry https://register.transplant.bc.ca. In the United States http://www.organdonor.gov

You can find similar programs in your country.

Think about it. You can save as many as eight lives just by signing on. No effort is required. And if you’re lucky you can help your new friend take photos after your death (:

Still not convinced? Then watch this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeVLxcekEsw.
www.olafphoto.squarespace.com
www.olafphotoblog.com

All images taken with the Fujifilm X100S, Fujifilm X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 50-140mm F2.8.

Feb 182016
 

The Pursuit of Perfection featuring the Leica M

by Joey Zheng

Leica M_Typ 262_01

Before I start, I wanted to give Steve my deepest thanks for allowing me to write this article for his website and community. I also wanted to let you, the reader, know that this isn’t really too much of a “gear review” as it is a summary of the experiences I had when I first forayed into photography as a child years ago.

It was December 23, otherwise known as Christmas Eve eve. My feet slap against the rain-soaked steps as I slowly follow a throng of people trying to get home after a hard day’s work. A huge raindrop somehow dodges my glasses and hits me square in the eyeball. As I climb out of the packed subway station, the sounds of thousands of tons of echoing, grinding steel gives way to the clamorous battle between the roar of vehicles and the staccato of raindrops hitting the hard, weathered concrete. I pull my hood over my head as I push through on my way home. It’s a miserable day and the fact that water began soaking through my supposedly weather-proof jacket wasn’t helping; yet I couldn’t help but feel happy. And when I finally reached the steps that led to my home, I broke into a massive smile. There, sitting in front of my front door, was a medium-sized brown box (to my slight chagrin, it was slightly wet. Curses, UPS). I took it upstairs, set it on the table, and stared at it for what seemed like an hour before gingerly revealing the contents within.

Okay, that didn’t actually happen. Or rather, it wasn’t nearly as dramatic. I briskly walked home through light drizzle, bolted up the stairs haphazardly after grabbing the box and tore into it with as much energy as someone who’d been on a six-week juice cleanse giving into their desires.

Finally; after almost seven long years of dreaming, I held a pristine Leica M-P typ240 in my hands. Before you could say “Noctilux” I slapped on a lens, threw in the battery, and flicked the switch. The battery had almost no charge and the camera shut itself off to protect it. Rats.

So, after unpacking the rest of the sublime Leica packaging, I began the excruciating wait for the charger to juice up my battery so I can experience my first very own Leica system. While I waited, I spent quite a while thinking about the past seven years and all the experiences and adventures I photographed.

Leica MP typ240, Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 FLE

Leica 1

Leica MP typ240, Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 FLE

Leica 2

I can still remember the days in my childhood when I took the family camera (an Olympus C740 Ultra Zoom) out to my backyard and spent hours shooting pictures of flowers in all its 3 megapixel glory (my phone has a higher resolution than that!). Of course, since I was only 10, I didn’t think about resolution, MTF charts, chromatic aberration, or anything like that. All I cared about was if the picture looked cool on that tiny 1.5” screen.

As I grew up and got accepted to take part of my high school’s yearbook team (using that old Olympus, somehow), I decided to graduate to my first dSLR, a Canon Rebel XSi with a kit lens. It was like entering a whole new world of photographic potential; I didn’t have to rely on slow, imprecise, and loud zoom and focus motors, had more resolution (or so I thought at first) to play with, and the lightning-fast operation that dSLRs are known for. I was indeed excited, as my first photo proves:

ouch

Ouch. I didn’t know what an AF switch was. I had a long ways to go (still do).

As the honeymoon period started to wane, I began to…ahem…pixel peep. Through yearbook, I was exposed to quite a wide variety of equipment; particularly lenses. There was one lens in particular that I was particularly obsessed about (as well as all the other yearbook photographers on the team), and thus began my gear lust. I started devouring every article across the world wide web about the best lenses, camera bodies, and equipment available. I became inundated with MTF charts, resolution graphs, and all this technical jargon. I couldn’t afford 99% of the gear I saw, but yet I dreamed. Oh yes I dreamed. Don’t even get me started about how shocked I was when I first discovered Leica and the uber-expensive Leica M9 at the time. Oh how naïve I must have been.

Images from Abu Dhabi – Canon AE-1 Program, Canon 50mm f/1.4, Ilford HP5

Canon AE 1

Canon AE-1 Program, Canon 50mm f/1.4, Ilford HP5

Canon AE 2

Canon AE-1 Program, Canon 50mm f/1.4, Ilford HP5

Canon AE 3

Canon AE-1 Program, Canon 50mm f/1.4, Ilford HP5

Canon AE 4

The next few years I kept trading around my kit, at least when my financial situation allowed me to do so. I always kept searching for the perfect system and became disheartened when my expectations weren’t met when things were blown to 100%. I spent hours watching DigitalRev and their wacky (and sometimes informative) adventures throughout Hong Kong with a variety of gear I dreamed about. But the problem was I was never really satisfied with what I was getting. And the thing is, no matter how I shuffled around my gear, my photography didn’t really improve all that much.

Fashion Week – Canon 5D Mark II, Sigma 85mm f/1.4

Canon 5D 0

But it wasn’t just self-criticism that I faced during those early stages of my photographic history. Other people weren’t exactly the most supportive either. As I became even more interested in photography, I started taking official classes in school and looked at going to New York to study photography as a major in college. I asked around for advice and comments from my teachers and peers about my work. Let’s just say the two remarks vying for most comment feedback received were “Ew. I look gross. Please delete.” And “Why?”. When I showed my teacher my portfolio for my application to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, the only comment she could muster was “These aren’t strong enough. You have to work harder.” Basically, I was on my own.

Images from China – Canon 5D Mark II, Sigma 85mm f/1.4

Canon 5D 1

Canon 5D Mark II, Sigma 85mm f/1.4

Canon 5D 2

Canon 5D Mark II, Sigma 85mm f/1.4

Canon 5D 3

Canon 5D Mark II, Sigma 85mm f/1.4

Canon 5D 4

Fast forward a few years and I find myself living it up in the Big Apple. Yes, despite all the negative feedback about my work, I somehow got accepted in the Photography and Imaging department at Tisch. I still consider it 85% luck that I got in, or because I’m Asian and they wanted diversity, or something. Either way, I found myself with a plethora of interesting subjects to photograph. I was finally out of the sleepy, vanilla suburb I grew up in and thrown headfirst into the chaos that is New York. But I didn’t photograph much. I lost my passion for it, and my camera sat on my shelf, gathering dust.
I glance at the charger. Still halfway to go.

I thought about why I stopped taking photos. Quite simply, I realized that I hated ‘studying’ photography. I wasn’t particularly inspired by my classes, or fit in with my peers too much. I didn’t like being sent on assignments with a particular goal in mind. My classes simply weren’t fulfilling my creative side; in fact, it only served to dull the spark.

I was obviously at a crossroads; my choice of becoming a professional photographer for a ‘career’ became my only hurdle. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life creating images for other people. I wanted to take photographs for myself. I wanted to experience photography. I wanted take photos of whatever I thought was fascinating. And if people liked my work, great. If they didn’t; great. The point is, it didn’t matter to me anymore.

Nagasaki, Japan – Fuji X100T

Fuji 1

Two kids playing just meters from the nuclear bomb epicenter, Nagasaki, Japan – Fuji X-E2, Fuji 35mm f/1.4R

Fuji 2

Osaka, japan – Fuji X-E2, Fuji 35mm f/1.4R

Fuji 3

On the train in NYC — Fuji X-E2, Fuji 35mm f/1.4R

Fuji 4

Long story short (even though I’m probably already boring you with my blathering; kudos and cookies for those who have made it this far), I dropped out of school, found film, and I’ve somehow been sustaining myself for the past few years. And the best part is, I’ve rediscovered my passion for photography; except this time, I feel it’s purer. I’m no longer plagued by thoughts of “Oh, this isn’t sharp enough. Trash bin.” Or “If I had this lens, my photographs would be so much better.”
Though the gear lust is still kicking around my noggin somewhere (Noctilux or APO Summicron anyone?), I barely think about it. You can say that yes; I have a Leica…I spent mucho dinero for quality. And in a sense, you are right. But the Leica didn’t become the object of my desires because of its prestige or technical quality. After all, there are cameras out there that have even sharper sensors and a bevy of incredible technologies. I chose Leica because of its simplicity. It’s the most ideal camera for me. I don’t seek to capture the moment perfectly; I simply seek to capture the perfect moment. Like many others have said, the Leica experience is just…so pure. Nothing gets between me and my subject, save for my own skills.

Leica MP typ-240, Voigtlander 50mm Nokton f/1.5

Leica 3

Leica MP typ-240, Voigtlander 50mm Nokton f/1.5

Express permission from Joey Wang required to use.

But that could be said about any camera, really. The old adage of “it’s not the camera but the person behind it” stands true. Before the Leica, I’ve shot with a variety of digital and film cameras, and some of my favorite images come from cameras that can be purchased from eBay for less than a few hundred dollars. All that matters is the image; just like the time I spent in my backyard fiddling around with the flowers.

iPhone

Although it has been less than a couple of weeks with my Leica, I am no less impressed with this machine. Shooting is an absolute joy, although I don’t have the chance to really put the camera through its paces, at least just yet. Almost all the photos from the Leica you see in this post are pictures that I took to and from work that have been zone focused with manual everything. In the future, who knows. All I know right now is that I want to continue to learn and grow as an (amateur) photographer. It’s an endless pursuit, but I plan to enjoy every moment of it, and I hope that everyone reading this does as well; no matter what camera you have, just go out and shoot. Photography is a beautiful thing.

The rest of the images.. all shot with Leica and Voigtlander 50mm

LC100116

LC100282-2

LC100311

LC100455 1

LC100687

LC100741 1

LC100881

LC100884

Once again, I thank you so much for this opportunity.

Best,
Joey

Feb 102016
 

A Return to Film from the Leica Monochrom

by James Suojanen

Hey Steve!

I began making photographs in the 1960’s using a 35mm rangefinder and developing my own black and white film. I also made contact prints and did some enlargements. But I fell away from photography through college, professional training, career and early family life; no time, no money. And color photography eluded me. But when digital became affordable with the Nikon D70, I began again. Initially I went the SLR route, but as I got older I disliked the size and weight so I ended up back with rangefinders, eventually acquiring a Leica Monochrom to complete the return to my roots; or so I thought.

Using the Monochrom with just about any decent lens produced unbelievably sharp images.

This image was made using a 60+ year old 50mm Summarit during the Memorial Day Parade in my town (Summarit yellow filter, handheld) – Leica Monochrom

Return_to_Film-9

I made this image I made at the Military Cemetery in Bourne, Massachusetts. Normally the graves can have NO decoration. But the father of a posthumous Medal of Honor soldier buried there won the right to have flags placed at every grave site for the Veterans Day and Memorial Day weekends. An amazing event in which hundreds of volunteers appear, place the flags and then remove them. (Monochrom with a 21mm SEM on a tripod with a yellow filter) – Leica Monochrom

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On a trip to my old stomping grounds in the South, I made this pic with the Monochrom and a 35mm Summilux FLE (UV filter).

Return_to_Film

I like all of these images. The prints have a medium-format acuity to them. But I just found/find them a bit sterile; they lack(ed) a certain “je ne sais pas” for me. So when I saw an announcement of a Leica Akademie workshop on film photography coincident with a trip to LA, I decided I’d take a second look at film. What I like about workshops is not only the focused time devoted to learning and practicing, but also the people the people I meet. I wasn’t disappointed by the cast of characters who assembled. And I was given 2 36-exposure rolls of Ilford XP2 for a sojourn through Chinatown and environs. Great fun, great instructor and a real adventure! Film DOES make you slow down and think about the images you’re making.

XP2 is a Black & White ISO 400 negative film developed using the C-41 process for color films. The images shown here were commercially scanned at the time of development with a 3,000 x 2,000 pixel resolution. All images were made with my Leica M7 and Voigtlander 35mm Color Skopar, except for Bruce Lee – 90mm macro elmar. I used a yellow filter for about half of them. I post-processed in Lightroom and Nik. I think the color processing gives the files a good bit of latitude for digital post-procesing. The grain is very fine and uniform. For those do-it-yourselfers, I imagine that Kodak TMax would give similar results.

Peculiar – an open but very hostile gate.

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Church in Hispanic neighborhood next to Chinatown

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Building next to the Church. As I unloaded the second roll at the end of the day, I realized I had not rewound before I opened the camera. Steve can’t publish what I said at that moment, but I quickly closed the camera back up and hoped for the best. This bit of serendipity occurs with film and can make for some interesting images. The light from the sprocket holes provides celestial framing for this otherwise boring composition.

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My favorite image of the day. Simple story within a complex image – maybe a metaphor for most of us seeking to find a path through the complicated thing we call life.

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Statue of Bruce Lee. The sprocket light made a spotlight for his face. I had a very difficult time framing since I wanted to get his hand in-between the lanterns, like he was balancing them. I had to account for the lens/viewfinder parallax while I held the camera upside down.

Return_to_Film-7

A bench. The Voigtlander lens renders very nicely on film. It’s as sharp as a 35mm Summicron (had one a while back) with very nice bokeh. Small and light, I find it’s short focus throw terrific for street photography. I spent about $350 for the screw mount lens and adapter. It also looks great on both my M7 and my Leica IIIf.

For me, I saw these images and knew I was home again – at least for B&W. They just breath more that the Monochrom pictures. I don’t really know what it is. Certainly a lens will interact with a 20µ thick film emulsion differently than a 1µ micro prism at the top of a photocell in a digital sensor. It may also reflect an analog vs digital tonal range. Perhaps some/most of you reading this (thank you for taking the time to read this piece and look at the photographs), will think me deluded. That’s okay. Art is art, and a wise man once said, “There are as many paths to God as there are people on the Earth”. I’ll paraphrase him by saying that each of us has our own path (i.e. camera, lenses, etc.) to making THE PICTURE which we all seek.

Cheers and blessings,
JNSuojanen

P.S. Given the rapid depreciation of digital cameras, I don’t think there is any significant cost between film and digital for most of us amateurs (except if you shoot action stuff). My Leica IIIf is 60+ years old and works perfectly (I can’t say the same about myself).

Oct 292015
 

The 30.001th Last Post

By Dirk De Paepe

1914-1918: World War 1 and the Ypres Salient

One hundred years ago the whole world was in the grip of the biggest and deadliest conflict in its history. From July 28, 1914 to November 11, 1918 the First World War claimed the lives of more than 16 million people. A total of approximately 70 million soldiers were deployed. More than 1.5 billion people lived in countries that were involved in the conflict. They made for more than 80% of the world population, that at that time amounted to approximately 1.8 billion. The Great War (as WW1 is often referred to) paved the way for major political changes in about all participating countries. As such, it included the end of the prewar German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires.

One of the main war zones, The Western Front, was largely situated in Flanders, Belgium. From October 1914 to October 1918 the battlefield was located just a few kilometers from the center of the medieval city of Ypres. The trenches were situated from north to south in an arc around the city: the famous Ypres Salient. During the four-year war the ancient city in the heart of the Ypres Salient was literally razed to the ground, totally destroyed. From the beginning of May 1915, nobody lived anymore in Ypres. Early 1919, residents reluctantly turned back to their former grounds and little by little they started the rebuild of their city. Many buildings were even reconstructed identical to the plans of their medieval example. After the earlier destruction during the invasion of famous historical Belgian cities, such as Leuven (with the complete demolishing of the world-famous university library), the inhabitants of Ypres had collected many plans of their important medieval buildings. Thus, eg. the famous Belfry and the Cloth Halls could be restored in all their authentic glory.

Picture 1: The medieval Belfry and Cloth Halls are faithfully rebuilt to their original examples

01 Belfry+ClothHalls

In that famous Ypres Salient, no fewer than five bloody battles were fought. A few months after the enemy invasion of Belgium on August 4, 1914, the front stagnated, which resulted in the first battle of Ypres. On April 22, 1915, the Second Battle of Ypres began with the first major gas attack ever. The chlorine gas choked thousands of allied soldiers, mainly French troops and many North Africans. It was the first time in history that a weapon of mass destruction was being used. Later in the war, the Ypres Salient proved to be an experimental battlefield on several occasions: it is here that, in July 1915, flamethrowers were deployed for the first time. In July 1917 the terrifying mustard gas appeared, also appropriately called “Yprite”. And from July 31 to November 10, 1917 raged probably the most terrible battle of Ypres, in its final stage sometimes referred to as the “Battle of Passchendaele”. (Passchendaele is a village near Ypres.) It was a massacre unprecedented. The sense and nonsense of this offensive are still under discussion to this day.

In the trenches and in the no man’s land around Ypres, about half a million soldiers were killed in action between 1914 and 1918. In addition to Germans, French, British and Belgians also Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians, Senegalese, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans , Chinese, Indians, Jamaicans and many other nationalities were included. But especially the troops of the British Empire yielded around Ypres a very large contribution to the resistance against the enemy invasion. As the victims were often horribly butchered, many bodies could not be identified. But also many of the survivors suffered serious irreversible injuries, with often amputations of limbs and even parts of the face as a result.

Picture 2: even 100 years later, all kinds of explosives are still found on a daily bases by farmers in Flanders Fields

02 WW1Explosives
Picture 3: some of the trenches are maintained

03 Trenches
Picture 4: inside a shelter in the trenches

04 Inside Trench Shelter
Picture 5: outside a shelter in the trenches

05 Outside Trench Shelter

Tyne Cot and Menin Gate

In Passchendaele near Ypres lies the largest military cemetery of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC): the “Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery And Memorial To The Missing” is dedicated to the First World War dead of the British Empire, which fell in the Ypres Salient of Flanders Fields at the Western Front. Here also all missing soldiers and unidentified war dead are specially remembered and honored.

The land on which the cemetery is located, was voluntarily donated forever by the Belgian people to all those who are commemorated here. The names of the missing soldiers are engraved on the walls at the edge of the cemetery on the one hand, and on the other hand also on the walls of the Menin Gate in the city of Ypres, which was built by the British as a special memorial for their missing, even before the Tyne Cot Cemetery monument. In the Menin Gate, the names were engraved of 54.896 Commonwealth soldiers who died here, but whose bodies have never been identified or recovered. When it became clear that there was not enough space on the Menin Gate to engrave the names of all the missing soldiers, the arbitrary cutoff date of August 15, 1917 was chosen and the names of 34.984 more British missing after this date were inscribed on the walls of the Tyne Cot Memorial To The Missing. In total, therefore, 89.880 names of fallen soldiers are engraved. An incredible number, especially when you consider that this relates only to those soldiers of the British Empire who fell in the Ypres Salient and whose bodies have not been identified or not recovered.

Picture 6: Group arrival at theTyne Cot Cemetery

06 Group at Tine Cot
Picture 7: Grave of an unknown Australian soldier at Tyne Cot

7asg
Picture 8: Locals at the Menin Gate

08 Locals at the Menin Gate
Picture 9: The Menin Gate Memorial monument

09 Menin Gate Memorial Monument
Picture 10: 54896 names engraved

10 54896 names engraved

Never forget

The First World War is still very present in those Flanders Fields, where still every day unexploded explosive devices are found by local farmers. One hundred years later!

The Menin Gate, Tyne Cot Cemetery, the town of Ypres and the entire surroundings are an area of remembrance – for the Flemish, but certainly for so many British, especially those who cherish the Menin Gate and Tyne Cot Cemetery as the only place where they can commemorate their missing family members of yore, relatives who never could get their own grave. Their name on a wall, among those of their fallen comrades, is the only thing left of them.

Every day, visitors arrive from all over the former British Empire, of course most coming from England, visiting the cemeteries and the Menin Gate. Often it concerns young people, along with their parents, to come looking for a name of a family member on the walls of Tyne Cot or Menin Gate and place a little wooden cross with a poppy, or who are making a school trip to learn about the importance of those commemoration symbols. Every visitor, without exception, is heavily struck by the symbolism of these historical sites.

Picture 11: Looking for a name.

11 Looking for a name
Picture 12: He’s there!

12ht
Picture 13: Body language speaks volumes

13 Body Language
Picture 14: Nobody rests untouched

14 Nobody untouched
Picture 15: Comrades in death

15 Comrades in death

The Last Post Association

The “Last Post” is a tune of the British regiments, played on clarion, that announces the end of the workday. At the Commonwealth cemeteries, the performance of the Last Post stands for a final farewell to the fallen soldiers.

Out of gratitude for the tremendous efforts of the troops of the British Empire around Ypres, residents of Ypres founded the “Last Post Association”. The Last Post Association in Ypres is therefore a volunteer organization. The association was founded in 1928 and since then it executes the Last Post ceremony every evening at 20:00h, including the performance of the Last Post tune under the Menin Gate, by at least four buglers. The association has eight buglers among its members. Every day, four of them come to play the Last Post under the Menin Gate. They do this in an endless week regime, on and off.
The Last Post Association sets itself as its target to keep this tradition forever preserved and to contribute to anything that can enhance the significance of the tribute. The association also wants to arouse reverence for everything the Menin Gate represents: the sacrifice and suffering, but also the solidarity, the sense of duty and heroism of the soldiers who took part in the battle. Only during the occupation of the city by Nazi forces during World War II, this tradition was interrupted – for obvious reasons. But the very day that the Menin Gate was liberated, the tradition was taken up again, even though at that time some parts of the city were still in Nazi hands.

The buglers of the organization traditionally wear the uniform of the volunteers of the local fire department to which they belong. But the Association itself is separate from the Ypres fire brigade.
In the decades after WW2 the significance of the ceremony was expanded. The performance of the Last Post now commemorates not merely the casualties of the British Commonwealth, but also those Belgian, French and other allies who contributed to the battles at all costs. But also at the “other side”, many soldiers lost their lives. The enemies of yore, are now amongst our best partners and friends in today’s united Europe. Thus the Last Post under the Menin Gate represents not only a look at our past, but also a signal of hope for the future.

Picture 16: Four buglers of The Last Post Association perform The Last Post tune under the Menin Gate in the city of Ypres, Flanders, Belgium

16 Four buglers
Picture 17: Those volunteers have been playing every single day at 20:00h sharp since 1928, only interrupted by the Nazi occupation of the city during WW2\

17 Volounteers
Picture 18: The traffic under the gate is put to halt to allow for this daily event

18 Traffic to halt
Picture 19: Playing towards the Belfry for the 30001th time, before a daily audience

19 Playing towards the Belfry
Picture 20: Four common guys with exceptional commitment just played the clarion

20 Four common guys

The 30001th Last Post

Every day, a little before eight o’clock in the evening, the Ypres police puts the traffic to halt at the Menin Gate. Daily life stands still to return through the Last Post ceremony to 1914-18 and to remember and honor the fallen soldiers. The Menin Gate was specifically chosen for this daily event, because it was here that all the soldiers marched towards the front, many of them never to return.

On July 9, 2015 this performance took place for the 30 thousandth time. To this occasion, a special ceremony was organized, named ”Tribute to the Tribute”, upon which representatives from the at the WW1 Western Front warring countries signed present and laid wreaths under the Menin Gate. Already for many years, I had attending to the Last Post performance under the Menin Gate on my bucket list. And when, on July 9, I heard the radio journal about the solemnity of the 30 thousandth performance, I realized that the right moment had come.

But more than an elaborate ceremony in honor of a special commemoration, I’m more impressed by the fact that this performance takes place on a daily basis since 1928 – every single day, irrespective of temperature or weather, always with (at least) four buglers. Volunteers… There have been chilly winter days in the past, when the buglers were virtually alone and performed the Last Post anyhow, in all modesty. But, with the increased tourism and especially with the larger numbers of British visitors to the Ypres area, today this daily ceremony is attended by many. After the visit of the WW1 museums and cemeteries in the area, people gather in the evening under the Menin Gate, to enjoy the performance of the Last Post with the special acoustics, provided by the building that is so fraught with symbolism. These people of the Last Post Association do an incredible job here, with exceptional commitment, fully aware of the importance to continue this tradition. The lesson we should draw from both world wars and thus the importance of resolving conflicts through respect and tolerance, negotiation and cooperation, absolutely needs to be kept alive. Since 1945, we manage this fairly well, here in Europe. In the countries situated around the battlefields of the Western Front of WW1 and where during so many centuries the population was almost constantly plagued by so many military conflicts, nowadays the peoples work together, aware of the otiosity of war, and they experience an unknown period of already 70 years of mutual peace. More and more countries have joined the European Union, attracted by the success of this project. Often the cooperation is difficult and needs lengthy negotiations to reach an understanding. Sometimes even, for some it may seem as if the cooperation is about to burst, as has been recently in respons to the Greek crisis. But the union always ends up resolving the problems, because all parties agree to continue to negotiate firmly, to continue to cooperate, because everyone realizes that this is the best, indeed the only path to peace and prosperity. We can only hope that this will inspire more and more countries around the world.

Performing The Last Post commemoration literally every day, thàt is the true uniqueness of what happens at the Menin Gate in Ypres. And so I wanted to capture this ceremony – not the one of the 30.000th performance, but the one of the next day, a typical day like the other 29.999. On July 9, I saw the ceremony on TV and I thought the time was right to go to Ypres. So I rearranged my schedule for July 10 and we left after lunch to the Flanders Fields of the former Western Front, where we arrived around 16:30h. In Zonnebeke we visited the Memorial Museum Passchendaele to see the trenches, which are still kept in tact. Tyne Cot is just a stone’s throw from there and was our next stop. At 19:00h we arrived at the Menin Gate in Ypres, where there were already a lot of people gathered, to attend the Last Post performance. The 30001th, on a day like any other.

I hope (some of) my images can tell you something about the subdued and compelling atmosphere that prevails here, at the Menin Gate, but also at Tyne Cot. None of the visitors remains untouched here. Their body language speaks volumes. The symbolism really works.

Picture 21: The British Empire was the largest world power in those days

21 British Empire
Picture 22: One of the corridors of the Menin Gate

22 One Corridor
Picture 23: In remembrance of Benjamin Walker, killed in action on September 9, 1915. 100 years ago, Benjamin had only fews days to live. His family was here.

23 In remembrance

Picture 24: Sharing family feelings

24 Family feelings

Every day, without exception, and no matter what, four buglers perform the Last Post at 20:00h sharp, in honor of all fallen soldiers of WW1 and to promote peace and cooperation amongst all peoples. Thàt’s the special thing about the Menin Gate in Ypres. Therefore, it was not the special ceremony on July 9 that I wanted to attend. But I wanted to be there on the next day. Because there they were again! Like they were on every single day, since 1928. Four volunteer buglers of the Last Post Association. Along with a lot of people who visited Ypres and its historical sites and concluded their day here under the Menin Gate, to take part in the striking daily remembrance of what took place here one hundred years ago. The photographs in this report are taken on July 10, 2015, in honor of the 30.001th Last Post under the Menin Gate in Ypres. A Last Post like any other Last Post. Like on any other day. Unique.

Picture 25: The Menin Gate, monument for those with no known grave

25 No known grave

Epiloge

If you want to know more about the events, just google “Ypres”, “Ypres Salient”, Menin Gate or “Tyne Cot”.

All pictures were shot out of hand with the Sony A7r, most of them with the Canon FD 20mm, some with both the Zeiss Loxia’s. You can find those pics in full size here on my flickr pages (https://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/sets/72157656745636865), where you can check the lens that was used in the tags.

Nov 242014
 

Character Style and Mood in Photography

By Peter Maynard

Adelaide, South Australia

Hello Steve. Allow me to open by saying thank you for running this site. It is one that I visit regularly for inspiration and information. I thought it was time I went about trying to inspire by providing some thoughts on the importance of character, style and mood in photography. It is a wee bit lengthy but I hope it’s worth it, so here goes.

In photography, many of us start our journey by studying and learning from the masters of the art. But my belief is that many of us will eventually develop a desire to create their own personal photographic style, rather than just copying others. This requires experimentation, learning, effort and creativity. In my case, I approach photography as an art form, not just a mechanism for documenting and recording events. This more expressive approach influences my work greatly and my ability to use photography to express myself artistically is the thing that constantly challenges, engages, enthuses and energizes me. Oh, and did I say frustrates?

What really counts for me is the creative process itself and ultimately what is important is whether I like the resulting image. I understand that not everyone approaches photography in this way and that is fine but this is my way so it is all I can tell you about. What this article is about really is the need for photographers to develop character and style in their work and in particular I would like to demonstrate the role that mood can play in image making as a part of this.

Although like many photographers, I started “serious” photography by shooting black and white, my preferred style now most often involves using colour because I find it lends itself better to artistic interpretation for my type of work. This is not invariably the case though – I like to let the image “decide” if it wants to be in colour or in monochrome, if that makes sense. It is a simple fact of life that some images work best in monochrome and some in colour. Part of our job in image making is to work out which is which. So I usually shoot in full colour then convert later if needed. Here is one where monochrome seemed to work better to convey the feeling I thought the image was crying out to convey – solitary, thoughtful, a little gloomy. I can’t say it’s a perfect photo – it has too many blown highlights for that, but it has mood in bucket loads and that is what I wanted.

Image 1

I always feel that photographs are at their most interesting when they require some degree of interpretation by the viewer. And as I have already hinted, as much as anything this is about creating mood in images rather than just capturing a scene accurately. It is about what is suggested in the image more than what is recorded. My personal belief is that this kind of photography is at its best, not necessarily when the images are technically perfect, but rather when they either capture or create a mood that “speaks” to the viewer. of course a viewer may interpret my photographs as having a very different mood or message from the one I intended, because of course the viewer will interpret the image through his or her own eyes and own experiences.

Here is a colour example I happen to like very much. Like many images that I like the best, it is not technically perfect. And like many presented here, it was shot through a window and as a result is distorted and softened by flare and reflections. Technically it may be questionable, but artistically I feel it works. This image reminds me very much of early autochrome colour images which have a lovely softness and pastel quality. And it has a lovely intimate mood which sets me thinking: who are they, why are they here, what are they talking about? That is exactly what mood should be able to achieve – set the viewer thinking.

Image 2

I am happiest with my own photos when they are somewhat ambiguous (one reason I often make liberal use of reflections when I can – think Saul Leiter who had a similar approach for, I imagine, similar reasons). I think of a good image as being one which allows room for viewer interpretation as I mentioned earlier. Here is another example. Again, it’s an image of a group of people in a warm café; sitting, passing the time, drinking coffee and enjoying each other’s company. Once more, critics could be forgiven for saying it’s a bad photo – excessively dark, soft, indistinct and vague. But these are exactly the things I love about it. It has an intimate mood that draws me back to this place and time. Hopefully it does something similar for others who may remember times when they have sat amongst just such an intimate group of friends. Once more this photo is all about its mood.

image 3

Why is it that looking in through a window on a scene so often creates that feeling of intimacy and warmth? I find this again and again – it is like looking in on a secret and private world. Here is a further example, an image that speaks to me once more of comfort, intimacy, congeniality and friendship.

Image 4

Of course the same technique can be applied in other settings. In the following two images, shot through windows in Kowloon, Hong Kong I captured the staff of two of the many small restaurants that line the streets in this part of town, at work in their kitchens. Shadows and light complemented by the blur of steam on what probably has to be admitted were grimy windows transport me back to my time in that place. To me this type of travel photo is more evocative than any number of wide-angle scenes of iconic buildings and skylines, perhaps because the images’ human scale because they capture the feeling of the places depicted. They are photos which make the most of mood and looking at them transports me back to that place and time. This is what mood can do when it works for the viewer.

Image 5

Image 6

But of course, mood does not always rely upon reflections in a window. In the following shot my aim was for the image to be about the triangle made by this mother’s face, her hands and the face of her child to emphasize the relationship between them. So after making the image I applied a vignette to emphasise those elements and not much else – perhaps just enough to give context. I have often felt that in image making a successful image is as much about what you leave out as what you capture. And that is a key creative choice that photographers should keep in mind.

Image 7

The same kind of technique can be successfully applied to other types of photograph to create mood. In this image of a city skyline, the natural shadows have been enhanced to focus the eye where it needs to be – on the juxtaposition between old and new as represented by the buildings in the image.

Image 8

In all of the above images there has been some degree of post processing to draw out final image. Perhaps it is surprising for many people to learn that the processing has involved taking detail out – not maximizing it. As I said at the outset, to me a photograph can often work best when it is a little ambiguous and allows room for personal interpretation by the viewer. This can often only be achieved if the image has lost some detail that might otherwise distract the viewer from the main message or make the main point of interest in the image less obvious. But there are times when little effort is needed to achieve this.

Sometimes, as in this photo all you need to do is to rely on natural light to capture the mood that was present when the image was made. And then maybe tweak it a smidge in post.

Image 9

But I can never quite let go of the idea of using reflections so here is one final photo to illustrate a variation on this theme. In this example it was as simple as photographing the distorted image of a crane against the sky, with both elements reflected in a grimy upper story window of a warehouse. No tricks, little processing, just an image that is both vague and at the same time, somehow evocative. You may have guessed. I love reflections for their ability to create mood.

Image 10

So there you have it, some thoughts on creating mood in photography to illustrate my central message of the importance of photographers creating a personal style for themselves. And of course to illustrate this I have shown you something of my own personal style. Your task is to find a style that works for you – a style which gives you a voice. And what about creating mood? Well, unsurprisingly I find that much of it is about using shadows and light. Speaking personally I just wait till I see an image that looks as if it is interesting then compose and press the shutter. Then when I am processing it and begin to see an image emerging that I like, I may add a bit of shadow here, subtract a bit of light there – or visa versa, till I am happy. No secret, just experience and a certain sensitivity to an image that in some way makes me go “wow, I like that, I think I will stop now!” If there is interest and |Steve agrees I am happy to prepare another article for his site on how to use post processing to enhance mood and style in photographs.
I recently found a photography book containing photos of Australia in the 1950’s and 1960s. A sentence in it caught my attention, part of which referred to “the ability of a lens to give a vision not seen by the eye”. How true that is. If we are doing our job right as photographers we will sometimes manage to capture an image that no eye, including our own has ever seen. We have caught a moment in time and when we first see the photo realise we have really seen it for the first time. I am sure we all have had that experience and am constantly amazed by the ability of photography to do this. But my central idea in this article is that even though a photo can capture something not seen directly by the eye, if done well it can tell an even deeper truth about the image by speaking directly to our emotions. That is the elusive frustrating demon I constantly chase. Maybe we all do.

I hope you have enjoyed this and even more, I hope you have found it useful or at least thought-provoking. More of my photos can be seen on my Flickr page. Nothing fancy, just photos from my everyday life and travels. Some good, perhaps some indifferent, but I hope not many that are bad.

Please visit and if you feel so inclined, leave comments. https://www.flickr.com/photos/life_in_shadows/

Or you can visit some I have placed on Pinterest for a more succinct overview of some of my images. http://www.pinterest.com/peterm1001/

Apr 292014
 

englishmaninny

An Englishman in New York.

By Paul Bartholomew

After following this site for a number of years and being intrigued by how a rangefinder camera experience might work out for me, I finally pushed the boat out and bought a pretty pristine used M9. My first lens was a Carl Zeiss f/1.5C Sonnar – I felt it would match the sort of portrait and model work I normally do with my 5D MKIII.

As a low depth-of-field junkie, I had this lens calibrated to focus at f/1.5 (it focus shifts and is set at f/2.8 by default but can be adjusted). Although I love the lens (and I still have and use it), it was the wrong first lens for me. Once I had the Leica, I was eager to get out of the studio and on to the street. Once there, I found the field of view of the 50mm was too restrictive for street work – I knew I would need another lens at some point.

Then, a few months ago I needed to go to a book-writing symposium in Michigan – both my wife and I were co-authors and we decided to spend a couple of days in New York en route. I knew that I would need that new lens
if I wanted to get some nice street images while I was there. After much deliberation looking at reviews of 35mm and 28mm lenses at this site (thanks Steve!) and others, I ended up buying the Carl Zeiss ZM 28mm f/2.8 Biogon. I’d already worked out that I was going to be shooting with a zone focusing technique at around about f/5.6 and so I felt that the Zeiss 28mm f/2.0 lens would just cost me more and be larger without giving me much more bang for my buck (or pound!). Of course I did look at Leica and Voigtlander options too, but the Carl Zeiss offerings just seemed to hit that sweet spot of image quality, build quality and price!

So, how did the lens choice work out? Below I offer a set of images configured as a bit of a photo-essay. All images were shot with the little 28mm lens, all have been square cropped and all were taken within walking distance of our midtown hotel. It was tempting to try to just shoot the edgy and the eclectic, but instead I wanted to acknowledge my identity as a tourist – an Englishman in New York, and to produce images that captured that context.

Below then, I first offer an index image to the photo-essay series and then the individual photos in a sequence. After the images, I finish this report with a few words by way of reviewing this great little lens and offer my thoughts on my adoption of the Leica M system. But first…

9 Blocks: An Englishman in New York

Image 1: Lure of the Empire

Lure of the Empire

Image 2: Lady on the Corner

The Woman on the Corner
Image 3: A populated space

A Populated Space
Image 4: Argument

Argument
Image 5: Nonstop

Nonstop
Image 6: Lunchtime

Lunchtime
Image 7: Skate

Skate
Image 8: View

View

Image 9: Don’t Walk

streetwalk

Why a Leica M?

Prior to buying my M9 I had hankered for a way of shooting that was more involving than the technically focussed SLR experience. I’d had a Olympus E410, a Canon 5DII and then my current Canon 5DIII. All capable tools – the 5DIII especially, but the experience of shooting DSLRs is, to my mind, rather like flying-by-wire – you control the electronics of the camera and the camera takes the shot. It’s all a bit sterile. My initial foray into trying to pull myself more into the shooting experience was to buy a Lensbaby Composer for my Canon – it forced me to focus manually, take my time and choose my moment. All good training for the Leica M to come!

When I invested in the Leica I was rewarded with exactly the sense of engagement I had hoped for – only it was much harder to shoot than I had anticipated! Using my 50mm f/1.5 at f/1.5 on the street was laughable – everybody moved too quick, I couldn’t keep up. Stepping the aperture down and zone focusing gave better results but the 50mm frame size was way too small for me to get decent results. I knew I needed a wider lens and (as you know) the 28mm f/2.8 was my choice.

So how does the lens perform? Well, on the streets of New York (and elsewhere since) it has been a fine choice. It feels really nicely made, the lens hood I bought for my 50mm seems to work just as well on the 28mm (I like to use a hood to protect the front element) and the quality of the images I have been getting – in terms of sharpness, contrast is exemplary.

Couple the image quality with a compact form factor and ladies and gentlemen we have a winner! Although I have little experience of other lenses on the M system, I still recommend this lens highly. I do have a bunch of Canon L
lenses and I would say the little Zeiss 28mm is my second favourite of all the lenses I own – second only to the rather special Canon 85mm f/1.2L II.

I know my M experience is limited, so perhaps I’ll splash out on a Leica lens for my M9 at some point – just to compare, but in the meantime the price and quality point of the Zeiss lens line up remains tempting and furthermore I’d contend that the ZM 28mm f/2.8 Biogon is right up there at the zenith of the quality/price curve.

Thanks for reading.

Paul

Nine Blocks

Apr 072014
 

Seven years with one camera

By Amirali Joorabchi

Hi steve , hi everybody!

I’m AmirAli , a reader of this awesome blog for about two years. I’m 23 , live in Tehran. I do painting and photography as an enthusiast. I started photography when I was 14-15. As a gift my family bought me a Canon 400D and a 50 f1.8 and if I’m right I have this set and been using it for about 7 years ! Well it’s 10mps , ISO800 isn’t clean , ISO1600is only usability in monochrome , the LCD is 2.5″(240k). The camera and two lenses weighs in at about 850g…and yes I’m still using it !

This lest seven years that has passed by..well, photography has changed a lot (which you all know better than me). The wave in digital photography started with Canon 350D (affordable DSLR for everyone) then led to this following seven years. Companies got competitive with each other , introducing new models like a mad man ( canon 40D/50D… Nikon D80/D90… Canon 5D/5DmarkII Nikon D700/D800/D610 Sony A900/A800/A99 , then mirrorless Olympus , Panasonic , Sony , Fuji…).

The more technology went further , the more prices came down , which now you have so many affordable options (heck you can buy a full frame for 1600$ which weighs less than 500g). In theory this should help people but , instead , it turned out to be a huge problem for us!

For example it became like an idea that “because a pro photographer has that camera/lens then he can take pictures that I can’t”. So I started to blame the gear and I thought if I had better camera I would have made a better photographs. This is the point when your endless loop starts (even if you are aware of the fact that getting new gear won’t make you any better), where you buy new cameras when the one you have is already very qualified. Jumping from one system to another or jump from one brand to other. You fall into this endless loop where you waste time and sources on the wrong side of the photography.

I was about to fall , but a wise photographer told me this: “Changing your gear won’t change your view , it only replaces the last window with a new window to the same view , you’re the one who should change the view “ It hit me really hard. I still didn’t know about composition , lightening , color management… My VISION was weak yet I blamed the camera that I still have. He showed me that how much VISION is more important than gear , that your vision can create beauty , you have to train it to get the most out of it. Although the truth was clear but still resisting the new gears was hard. I get another advise : “loan and play with the new ones , the hype will come off of your mind”. I took the advice and it worked most of the time.

I tested Canon 40D , Nikon D90 , Canon 1DsII , Canon 5DII , Sony A900 with zeiss 85F1.4 (this lens didn’t came off ever) , Canon 17-55F2.8 , 24-70F2.8 , 14F2.8 , Nikon 80-200F2.8 , 18-135… . All of them are far better than my set , but using them I realized that my results weren’t that different… if not worse ! The brand was different , the format was different , the lens different , but my vision was the same. Yes , new gear makes it easier to take photos like more pixels , better ISO , better OVF/EVF… . These things are not necessary to capture a master piece. These are tools to help us create. But the features has spoiled lots of photographers’ minds. A slight change in light/composition can make a mediocre photo into a master piece , yet we waste our time wondering about gear…

Well , the question is , which is worth to you more ?

1.Having G.A.S and taking mediocre images , or

2.Mastering your vision and taking eternal images

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May 252013
 

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Lucasfilm Portraits by Joel Aron

It started on Tuesday, when we had all at Lucasfilm Animation had just been informed that the two tv shows that we were working on, would no longer be in production and a majority of the crew would have their last day on Friday. Some would be staying on, but most would be unemployed. We were the first wave of layoffs in the company, with more that came in the following weeks.

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On that Wednesday, I pulled my friend Andy in to my office so that I could take his portrait. I usually have my Elinchrom 100cm Rotalux light bank setup in my office, and mostly shoot with my 5Dmk3, firing the strobe for random portraits when there is free time. I didn’t have my 5D w/ that day, only my Leica M9-P and the 50 Summicron , that I sling with me nearly 99% of the day. For nearly the last 8 years, there has always been my Leica with me. I had to go with what I had. I quickly grabbed all I could in my office as a backdrop that would work with using my light with its modeling lamp only.. two 9 foot tall matte black design boards. I stood Andy under the light, and shot 4 images. After he left, I started going around grabbing people to come in for portraits. I shot only a dozen people that day. The next day, I did the same sporadic shooting for another dozen people, since most people were understandably not into having their portrait taken. That night, I work on the processing, and posted all of the portraits that I had done so far. Friday morning, I had not even gotten to the door of the parking garage, when I was swarmed by some friends in the design group on our show.. they saw the images I posted, and now wanted portraits.

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When I got to my office, a line was starting to form of well-groomed friends and co-workers that wanted to part of this collection. It was that day that I made the decision to approach this as a project. I cleared my calendar, and spent the entire day shooting portraits in my very small office, 3 minutes at a time, getting to know people who I had only seen in passing, and hugging and crying with old friends who at 3pm would be turning in their work badge for good.

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The end of that Friday is something I will never forget. Nearly 90% of our facility had been to my office for their portrait. I decided to shoot not only the unfortunate that were leaving, but the people who were staying on..as we were all effected too. I was gutted. I held in all emotion until I got home that night and leaned against the kitchen counter with a beer. My wife asked me how the day went, before I could even answer, I melted into a mess of tears.

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A few weeks later, the layoffs hit the games division, LucasArts was closing down, and a large portion of our ILM R&D department were going to let go. I had not thought about portrait sessions, but a call came on the day they found out. I was asked to come for two days, and shoot. For two solid days, non-stop from 9am to 6pm, I was shooting. I had constructed a replica of my office setup in the LucasArts sound stage. Drinks were flowing for both days, and rightfully so. Over 200 portraits.

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A few weeks after that, the final wave of layoffs had hit the core group of Lucasfilm. People that I have known for 23 years. It was a smaller group this time, and I absolutely agreed to once again shoot.

For everyone that is and once were part of the company, these are not yearbook photos, they were portraits that captured a moment in the history of a great company, and the challenging turning point in each individuals life. It was an honor to be a part of this moment in their lives. To be a part of Lucasfilm is life long dream for all of us, and to either continue on with the company, or depart, the Force will be with us, always.

A large portion of the series is available on my site: www.joelaron.com with the entire collection available as a book later this summer.

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Aug 272012
 

One day they will fly away

By Jeffrey Dam

Dear Steve,

My name is Jeffrey. I’m a 35-year-old, Dutch newbe teacher in Design, Engineering and Innovation (for 1 year now). Before that, I was a Mechanical Design Architect. I stumbled on your blog about 1,5 years ago. I fell in love with your view on equipment and have been a follower ever sins. Even nagging you with funny Leica pics on your FB.

I stumbled on your site, because I was searching for a camera to give a boast to an old hobby.

I owned a Nikon F50 in my student years. Without really knowing what diaphragm, shutter speed etc. means LOL. In the year 2000 I bought my first digital cam. A Sony Cybershot. Although the quality was not up to the Nikon, the usability was much better. Small, pocketable etc. and the lens (Carl Zeiss) was very decent.

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After that, Sony’s came and went with the increasing number of megapixels and faster startup speed, although the IQ did not improve. When we had our first child, my wife got a hold of my camera to keep memories alive. I didn’t care that much because I was to busy with my music hobby (I’m also an audio enthusiast).

When we had our twins, I bought my wife a Canon D500. She always was making photo’s at that time of our children. But I didn’t like the look and feel of the images of the Sony point and shoot. The Canon was a big improvement, the size was something else… During the same period I also read a blog from Andrew Kim: http://www.minimallyminimal.com/. He shot photo’s with a Panasonic GF1 and 20mm lens and afterword’s with a Fuji X100. We share the same passion and that is Industrial Design.

I liked the size of the camera and IQ of the pictures it took. My web search eventually brought me to reading your reviews. My eye fell on the Fuji X100. I would have bought one, but my wife found it too expensive having three kids and a fourth welcome unforeseen present on the way. Then I found an Olympus E-PL3 with kit lens, on “Marktplaats” (Dutch ebay ;-)). Although being “second” choice I fell in love with the camera and her wonderful Olympus colors. This is almost a year ago. I’ve been pimping my camera from then on, all with second-hand equipment except for the leather skin. Here it is in full glory. The skin is from: http://aki-asahi.com/store/ very nice and helpful person!

Lenses that I use are: kit lens (rarely now that I own the 20 and 45mm), Panasonic 20mm F1.7 and Olympus 45mm F1.8. Off course always wide open.

With this set I made a lot of photo’s. Mainly of our children. Like Peter Prosophos’s life’s little moments: http://prosophos.com/. To capture and preserve time and emotions.

It was hard to narrow the number of pictures down for an entry, so here is my list with some descriptions. I hope you enjoy them and I’m looking forward in receiving (positive) feedback to improve my photo techniques.

At this moment, I only have a Facebook profile,  where I post some photos and you can subscribe. I’m trying to set up a blog, but my time is very limited. Manly because I have another hobby, making jewelry out of Silver. There are some shots on my FB account if you are interested.

Hopefully the text is readable?! English is not my native writing language and Word had to do a great job in spelling LOL.

Walking thru a warehouse with my class (B&W Grainy, Kit lens at 12mm f3.2). This is a photo from a nice set of photo’s. Due to the company secrecy I’m not allowed to mention names or show other facilities. This one I want to secretly share.

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Wintertime… I like the diorama effect of my Oly. Making children even smaller. This is the eldest of the twins, 3 years of age. On the photo she is still 2. (Diorama taken from above with the kit lens at 12mm f3.2).

 To smell or not to smell… A day in the shopping mall with wife and kids, smelling soap. My wife is keeping an eye on them behind the pole (B&W Grainy, Kit lens at 12mm f3.2).

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Princesses’ and fairy dust. My eldest daughter (she just turned 5) playing with sand on a sunny day in spring (Panasonic 20mm)

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From a distance. My eldest daughter in the dunes running towards me on a cloudy day in spring (Panasonic 20mm).

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Sand grains united. How we are dependable on all the tiny grains of sand against the brute forces of the sea, living in a country partially below sea level (Panasonic 20mm)

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Three in a row. Windy day at the beach. Three kids in a row. Like the colors of their hand shoes against the pail surrounding (Panasonic 20mm)

Good morning beautiful life! My youngest daughter born in march taking a bath in the Tummy Tub for the first time. I think her expression talks a 1000 words! (Panasonic 20mm).

Walk the line – Someone walking down the pier with flowers (remembrance of a dear one). This was an emotional moment for me losing my mother almost exactly a year ago (Panasonic 20mm)

Garbage in, garbage out  – Sulo is a garbage can brand. Just a fun shot with the Dramatic art filter (Olympus 45mm)

Poles and horses. Old fashioned ride in the zoo this summer (B&W grainy, Olympus 45mm)

Plastic fantastic… the youngest of the twins with Barbie with her new static look (Panasonic 20mm)

Growing pains – My wife comforting the eldest of the twins. She didn’t like a ride in the amusement park and cried (Panasonic 20mm)

Aliens are coming! The youngest of the twins watching a ride in the amusement park coming down, being scared it will fall on her head (Panasonic 20mm)

Santa helper. The eldest eating Cotton Candy LOL (Panasonic 20mm)

Rockabye baby. The eldest of the twins being too tired… she fell asleep at the table while eating (Panasonic 20mm)!

Pic 18: One day she will fly away – The eldest this summer after a dip in the kiddy pool. Makes you realize they grow up very quick in this hectic life. It’s just a minute or so before we also encounter the empty nest syndrome although she is only 5 (Olympus 45mm)

All pictures got some slight PP and cropping thru Photoshop. I usually do not commit to the 3:2 photo ratio as you can see. I don’t know if it’s a shame, but I like it this way.

Thank you for the opportunity Steve! Keep on the good work. Because you seem to nail it every time. It’s not about pixel peeping, it’s about life, love and passion and which camera has the MOJO to capture. For now I found mine. I know it’s flaws, but I also don’t throw away my kids when the get scratched by falling.

Thanks for reading!

Regards, Jeffrey

Jun 012012
 

 

I have always been told by more experienced photographers, that my kit lens (I used to have a Nikon one for my DSLR) is just a big body cap. And it made me hate my lens too, so I sold it and bought nice fast prime. It was like ìHo-Ho, here is your time Mr.Bresson younger, now your photos are going to be amazing, boy. Yeah!î. But no major difference happened. And during my photography life I learned about how my gear does not matter (more about it in my previous post HERE.

I mostly shoot street photography. It is my passion. But in this post I’d like to share with you my set of black and white non-street photographs. Part of them is family album. All of photos in this article were made with Olympus 14-42mm kit zoom and my favorite classic, the Olympus E-P1.

And before I start I want to clarify: I do LOVE good glass and I definitely prefer primes over zooms. So there is no reason telling me that are better lenses. I completely agree that a kit zoom is not a great lens and I can I rather put 17mm prime or any other prime in my bag. All I want to tell is that this lens is underestimated. Many photographers hate it, but I am sure that this piece of plastic and glass can find its place in almost everyone’s camera bag.

So let’s start. Here you go: 7 reasons why you should love your kit zoom:

 

1. It is cheap

This is the main point. Nikon 18-55mm costs under $140 and Nikon’s gorgeous 17-55mm costs over $1600. First is hated, second is loved. Why? 17-55mm is more than 10 times more expensive. But is it a 10 times better lens or does it produce 10 times better images? Nope. 18-55mm is much more kick-ass lens for its price than the professional 17-55mm. So for the price it is actually better!

And a kit lens is even cheaper when it comes included with your camera. With Olympus PENs you can get it for 100$ or even less. It’s the same price as SLR magic toy lenses, which are fun (just purchased one BTW) but optically can’t match the real lenses.

 

2. IQ is not that bad

I used to have the 18-55mm Nikon lens and I now have the 14-42mm in my camera bag and these two are not bad at all. The Nikon is slightly better but the Oly is still OK for most of the situations. I’ve heard that the Lumix kit zoom is even sharper than the Olympus one.

And such an irony that my 14-42mm has even less color fringing than 17mm pancake, which as a prime supposed to have better IQ. And 18-55mm paired with Nikon D40 was a bloody sharp combo, to be fair: minimal distortion, almost no color fringing and that kick-ass sharpness.

 

3. Nice focal lengths

28mm, 50mm and 90mm is the classic prime set of old school photographers (though some may consider 35mm instead of first two, me too). All these focal lengths are included in every kit zoom speaking about 28-85mm EFL ones and even more with the 28-190mm ones (such as 18-135mm from Canon, Nikon and other SLR brands). So it is suitable for most types of photography and allows you to think creatively if you want, not limiting with one focal length. Also it is great if you want to check if certain FL is suitable for you before buying a prime, for example. Then, maybe, after 20 years 28-85 zoom will be classic one, but even today it is the most classic lens among other zooms.

These are shadows on the museum wall

4. Macro performance

Can’t tell about all kit zooms, but these two, what I used, have pretty nice macro capabilities. At the maximum FL they can come up close to 20-25 cm to your subject. Personally I do not take macro shots and so that do not have macro lens. But it was a pleasure to find out that my kit lens is able to take pictures of film. It is a nice way to save money on scanning if you don’t shoot film much.

My color film shot on Kodak Profoto XL

5. Reasonably small

Of course size wise pancake primes are sure winners, but still, kit zooms are the smallest among other zooms. And Panasonic works intensively in this area as they took the Olympus idea of collapsible zoom and made it even better with their 14-42mm Power Zoom. Unfortunately this increased the price, but this lens is as small as a pancake prime, when collapsed, and still much more compact than competitors when turned on.

My Grandma’s chickens and a cat watching them from the other side of the window

6. Worlds best lens for beginners

Since film SLRs camera manufactures always include 28-85mm lens with their entry-level models. And they definitely have reasons for this. Though advanced shooter will be happier to see a fast standard prime, most of the beginners just NEED to have a lens, which includes 4 classic FLs (28, 35, 50, 90). It will help them to try most kinds of photography and find themselves in this art. Of course, most of them will grow up and buy new gear, but this old kit zoom will always be like first step, or first teacher.

Saw this lonely girl in a hospital. There were almost no people and she was sitting waiting for her doctor. Her look was so dreamy that I couldn’t resist taking a picture

7. Even PROs are using kit zooms

It is hard to believe, but PROs, who make money with photography, don’t neglect using these lenses as well. A lot of paparazzi use small cheap lens for close up reportage with flash. It is quite dangerous work for equipment, but they don’t worry about cheap one and concentrate on work.

 

So here it is: you have 7 reasons to love your old crappy cheap body cap with glass ;)

Thanks you guys for reading, and huge THANK YOU to Steve for this beautiful website. (no, thank YOU Illya)!

If you are interested in my street photography, feel free to visit my Flickr page!

Jun 092011
 

Why shooting with just a 35mm lens WILL improve your photography.

By Steve Huff

I originally wrote this article to end my Fuji X100 camera review but decided to expand on it and publish it on its own. When the X100 and even the Leica X1 were announced and released, many people were complaining that it did not have a Zoom lens, or have the capability of adding another lens. I heard things like “Who wants a fixed 35mm lens” and “These cameras are useless with just a 35”.

To me, this kind of thinking is borderline nonsense as the 35mm focal length is one of the most useful, if not THE most useful focal lengths you can use! I truly believe that if you shoot with just a 35mm focal length for at least 6 months your photography will improve and so will your knowledge of composition, reading light, and even your “vision” will improve. By that I mean, the way you see things in relation to photography.

Yes, It’s true. You can not add a zoom lens to cameras like the X100 or Leica X1 nor do they have a built in zoom lens. When you invest in these types of cameras, you are investing in a 35mm camera. Just like the old days with the classic fixed lens film cameras. But I see this as a good thing and is why I also adore the Leica X1 and X100 and even a Leica M9 with a simple 35mm lens attached.

For me, it’s all about simplicity and knowing what to expect from the camera. After a couple of weeks shooting with just your camera and one 35mm lens you will start to be able to visualize in your head what your image will look like, way before you even shoot it. When I go out and spot a scene I want to photograph, I instantly envision in my head what the image will look like. I can visualize what it would look like at f/2 or f/8, I  can see how I want it framed and what my final image will look like, even with processing! I see all of this before I take the shot. I can do this because I have been shooting with prime lenses only for so many years, and the 35 has been one of the main focal lengths I use along with my 50mm.

Some Images using only the 35mm focal length.

The house below was shot with a Leica M9 and 35 Summarit, which is a GREAT lens for this type of photo. It’s funny because the Summarit has better Bokeh than the 35 Summicron ASPH, and is about half the price and a smaller lens! True!

If you click on the house image below, you can see the quality of the lens better as the detail is also there.

The image below of the old (and what I thought was an abandoned) motorhome is one of my favorites of recent times. I remember driving down a rural road and I spotted this “scene” from the corner of my eye. I immediately turned around and pulled up to this dirty, worn down, flat tired motor home. Right when I stepped out of my car I knew exactly what angle I wanted because of the tarp that was flowing towards my lens. I knew this would look amazing in black and white and when I processed the image, it was exactly what I had hoped for.

It was shot with the Leica M9 and 35 Summicron ASPH lens.

For at least a year I traveled around with my M9 and 35mm taking photos of old buildings and abandoned places. It was almost an obsession of mine, finding these long forgotten houses, shops, cars..and even gas stations. For this project, the 35mm focal length was my most valued and used lens. A 28 was always a bit too wide, and the 50 was a bit too long.

This old service station was captured deep in the mountains of Kentucky, once again with the Leica 35 Summarit. For full detail and color, click on the image.

So OK, so far all I have shown you is old buildings and a motorhome, which are all perfect subjects for a 35. What about people? Sometimes with a 35mm, if you get too close to someone they can appear distorted, but not always. I find the 35mm focal length great for portraits IF you want to include the surroundings as well, and IMO, this makes for a much nicer “portrait”. A few years ago I started finding the typical 85mm portrait “heads” somewhat boring. I like to see more of what is going on in the surroundings…the persons “environment”, which is why you have probably heard the term “Environmental Portrait” before.

In my opinion, the 35mm focal length can produce more interesting portraits than a 50, 75 or 90 IMO. Why? Because you see the environment along with the person. You see what is going on in the scene which I find much more interesting than just a plain head shot most of the time.

Below is a fire breather who was walking the streets of Vegas and anytime someone gave him a dollar or two he would breath fire on the street, stopping traffic an all. With the M9 and 35 Summilux ASPH II, this shot was easy, and i love it!

The next shot of my son Brandon was taken over a year ago with the M9 and 35 Summarit. We were sitting down to eat and I wanted to get a picture of him browsing the menu but instead he looked up at me with the “are you taking a picture AGAIN!” look. Added a Sepia tone in Color Efex which looks better when you click on the image. This shot, when viewed at the larger size, reminds me of how great this little Summarit is. A little bit classic, a little bit modern, and the lowest price Leica 35.

Even the little Olympus E-PL1 with the 17mm pancake attached is just about equal to a 35mm foal length (34) and here is another portrait I shot with that exact combo! I really like this one as you see the environment in which the Auctioneer works. This was at an auction on a hot sweaty summer day and he was standing in the back of his truck from where he auctioned off a house and belongings. It was in Illinois and probably close to 100 degrees on that day. IT WAS HOT and HUMID.

When I shot the last Seal tour I also experimented with the 35 and really loved what I managed to capture with it. Shooting concerts with a 35mm lens sounds odd doesn’t it? Seems like it would be much too short, but with a performer such as Seal, using a 35mm is ESSENTIAL as there is so much audience participation going on. Once again, getting the subject and his surroundings is key to a really great photo. This one is with the M9 and 35 Summicron ASPH.

Using the Leica X1 which has just about a 35mm equivalent lens…

Here is one more “Environmental Portrait” I shot a year ago with the M9 and 35 Summilux ASPH II. You can see that this guy is a street performer. It tells more of a story than just a headshot would.

So as you can see, the 35mm focal length is very useful and versatile. In fact, after always going back and forth over which focal length I prefer between a 35 and 50, I always go back to the 35. It just seems natural.

After shooting a camera and one lens like a 35mm for at least 6 months you will know what angle to get, where to stand and you will get out of the “Zoom Lens” mindset, which IMO, makes you lazy. There, I said it and I mean it! Zoom lenses make you lazy. Sure it is nice to have that huge and pricey 70-200 because when you are roaming around the Zoo that is what everyone else has with them, and I used to be guilty of the same thing many years ago. Once I started shooting with a 35 and 50 my whole outlook changed and I realized that 95% of my shots taken with a zoom lens…sucked!

These days when I look back at my “zoom” shots they look flat and lifeless and it LOOKS like I zoomed in on my subject. But sometimes there will be a subject that is farther away and without a Zoom you can’t get close. Maybe you can not walk up to your subject to get closer. When this happens, I change my whole approach to the shot. Instead of worrying about the subject I look around and see what I can capture within the shot WITH the subject, and this usually makes it much more interesting.

Now of course, sports shooters and wildlife guys need powerful zooms (or primes) but for most of us, including the hobbyists, it could be a great experience to just shoot with one lens and one lens only for a while, and believe me, it will improve your photography.

I could get by day to day with either a 35 or a 50. My favorite lens in the world is actually a 50, but not for its focal length. The Leica Noctilux for its gorgeous rendering. Right behind that the new 35 Summilux ASPH. I have shot with a 35 for months on end, and did the same with a 50. Did my photography suffer because of it? NO, in fact, it had the opposite effect. It IMPROVED it.

My wrap up…

Shooting ONLY a 35mm lens for say, 3-6 months, will open up your mind to other possibilities. You will not just aim, zoom and shoot but you will look around, think and ask yourself how you can get the best shot with what you have. Shooting at 35mm seems natural. You can get great environmental portraits and even normal portraits if you step back a bit. 35mm is great for landscape and urban shots. It kind of sucks you in to the image at times and is not too wide like a 24 or 28 might be, nor is it too constricted like a 50 can be in some situations.

In many ways, in my opinion, the 35mm focal length is the perfect focal length for shooting life as it happens. The things around you, the people around you, and the daily grind in general. If you have the chance, put a 35mm (equivalent) on whatever camera you own and shoot it for a few weeks. ONLY using that lens. My guess is that by the end of the few weeks you will have some amazing keepers, and you will also have learned a bit more about composition. You will also have a liberated feeling as the stress of “what lens should I use” will be gone. Just you and your 35…pretty cool.

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