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2016/11/11

Why Can't We Let Film Die?

In the early 00s there was no question that film was still a better option for quality than shooting digital.  But that was more than a decade ago. Digital has better resolution and can shoot in virtual darkness to capture things that were impossible to get with film.

Kodak gave up and quit making film. There is no place on the planet to get a roll of Kodachrome developed (Sorry Neil Simon, but they did take your Kodachrome away)(**Edit - there are now rumors that Kodak is looking into the possibility of bringing Kodachrome back)

One hour film processing is very hard to find.

So why isn't film dead already?  Worse yet, why is it making a "comeback"?

What is the upside for shooting film?  There are many downsides, but the only upside I hear is "because it is cool."  The worst thing is that people who are wanting to go back to using film are also likely the same ones who are concerned about protecting the environment. You know, stopping climate change (aka Global Warming).  How can you be about protecting the environment if you shoot film these days?

Manufacturing a film camera uses almost as many resources as a digital camera - metal, plastic, batteries, glass and so on.  But when the digital camera comes out of the factory it's impact is nearly done.  With a film camera you are just getting started.

Have you thought about what exactly this film is that you want to use?  People complain about the plastics from K-Cups and water bottles, and their manufacturing. Film is plastic. In metal containers. With plastic spindles and felt liners for the opening.  It is also a host of chemicals - like silver halide crystal- added to it.

Once the film is made using all of those things it needs to get shipped to the store or delivered via Amazon or other web store.  That's fossil fuels used to deliver it.

Then once it has been shot we start another whole chemical waste process.  I worked in film labs, both color and black & white. There need to be companies out there manufacturing the chemicals that develop that film. These are some pretty dangerous chemicals, and of course they need to be shipped to the processing lab.  You have developer, bleach, fixer, and lots of water. We don't have enough drinking water in California, but we are going to waste gallons and gallons of it processing film? 

There are waste disposal issues with the chemicals. Usually the chemicals go right down the municipal sewer and into the groundwater. Some labs use silver recovery units to try to pull the silver out of the water before it contaminates anything, but I have also been in labs (like in college) where things are just dumped straight down the drain.

Once the film is developed people will want prints, or a DVD of the images. Anymore I know of almost no photographers putting the bulk of their images onto DVDs - but for the sake of argument lets say that they do and say that both types of photography use DVDs.  Prints are another matter.  Very few people are making prints of all of their digital files.  I know that I only print less than 1% of my own photos. With film there is a lot of printing.  Every picture gets a print. So we are talking about paper manufacturing - more plastics because unless you are doing fiber based prints your paper has plastics in it. You are talking about more chemicals to process those prints. These chemicals are dangerous.  For black and white they stain your fingers brown if you process with your fingers instead of tongs.  For color chemicals they can cause allergic reaction. One of my co-workers in the print lab I worked at in Minneapolis used to stick his hands into the chemical tanks to clear paper jams, and after months of doing this developed a serious and permanent allergy that ended with him having to quit his job.

Film also requires storage of the negatives.  Some shops will slap all of the negatives together into a single paper envelop, but that is far from archival. When I worked at Ritz camera each roll was cut into strips of 4 and then placed into individual sleeves. More plastics.  Or you can buy the archival 3-ring binder pages (also plastic, just higher quality).

Meanwhile I have taken the same memory card that I have had for more than 9 years now and reused it again, saving the images to a single hard drive and deleting the ones that were not worth keeping.

If you really want the look of film get a Lightroom or Photoshop preset, like from VSCO, and stop polluting more than is needed to make your pictures.  Somethings are best left in the past. I don't see people clamoring for the return of VHS and 8-track tapes. Digital is better. So why do it for film?

2016/10/01

Oggl is Updated and Ready to Shoot

 I was excited about the announcement that iOS 10 would allow iPhone users to shoot and edit RAW files, and even installed the Beta version of the operating system so I could have access to the feature.  And there are some apps that had early version out that supported RAW, like ProCamera.

The downside to the update was that two of my favorite apps, Hipstamatic andOggl (by Hipstamatic) no longer worked properly.  The Hipstamatic app worked on a limited basis, but importing photos not taken in that app would crash the program. 

For Oggl things were worse.  I could access the community portion of the app for viewing and sharing photos from others, but the app would immediately crash when I tried to go to the camera side of the app. 

Today they rolled out an update and they have fixed the issue with version .3.1.  It is good to have Oggl back.  Unfortunately, and this is beyond the control of the Hipstamatic people, so don't fault them, you can no longer directly connect to Instagram or directly post to Instagram in the Oggl app.  One more thing Instagram has changed that I wish they hadn't.

So what is Oggl?  The app is two parts.  One is a camera and filter app that allows you to shoot pictures, or use pictures shot in other apps, and apply filters and presets to change the look of the images.  They have different types of filters which are in three categories, films, lenses, and flashes.  You can mix and match until you get the one that looks best for your image.

On the other side of the app is a sharing app that is similar to Instagram, but it is more focused.

Oggl is available for iPhone and for Windows phones.  The app itself is free and it gives you an introductory set of films and lenses.  For some people that is enough.  If you want more you have a couple of options. 

1. If you are a Hipstamatic user and have purchased films and lenses for your Hipstamatic app you can import them into the Oggl app for free. In the camera mode press the lower right icon that looks like a roll offilm with a lens in front of it. Then press the red "get more gear" button on the next screen.Then in the top right of the following screen you will see the word "import".  Press that and you can import your film, lenses and paks into Oggl.

2. Buy a subscription.  For $9.99 you get access to all of the lenses and films. Every last one they have.  If you are unsure about committing for a year, you can buy a three month membership for $2.99.

If you are looking for an alternative to Instagram to share your images, or if you want an aditional outlet, give Oggl a try.

2016/09/30

Football Defeat - Shooting without light


For a few weeks now I have enjoyed using a Nikon D4 camera body for shooting some night time sports.  While My Nikon D7100 does a reasonable job with things, the D4 is such an improvement that I am beginning to see why people are willing to spend the thousands of dollars for the camera. I hit the field with the D4, my D7100, a 300 f/2. and a 70-200 f/2.8 lens.  I also had a pair of SB-800 flash units in my bag in case I needed them. (I never touched them).

 
Here are  the results from shooting the first half of the game.

The Miyamura Patriots came in with a 4-0 record, but their opponent, with a record of 4-1, was ranked much higher in the State.  During hte first half Miyamura tried to keep it a close game, going into the locker room at half-time trailing 34-29 against St. Pius X.

The second half saw the Patriots come out and turn the ball over with an interception, and things just got worse.

In the end The St. Pius X Sartans left the field with a basketball score: 69-38.

 I was only able to stay for the first half of the game as I was working for The Gallup Independent and unlike years ago when I worked there, they now do their Saturday paper page layouts Friday evening.  As a lot of news photographers can tell you, this means leaving early to get photos to the page editors in time for them to get to work.
For those interested in the technicals, I started shooting at ISO 5000, and soon move to 6400 on the D7100 (that is the max) and the D4 I nudged up to ISO 8000. 

I was shooting 1/500 or 1/640 for my shutter speed, and manually set my white balance to 3500K.
Once home I did my selection using Photo Mechanic and then the edits were bare bones - open them in ACR and bring them into Photoshop CC  2015.5. I little bit of tweaking of the white and black points was all I really had to do.  Then I applied the Imagenomic Noiseware filter set for night scene to clean up the noise in the background.

2016/09/09

iOS 10 Upgrade - Shooting RAW photos

As a professional photographer I am always concerned with getting my images to look the best they possibly can. That means paying the extra money for fast glass, shooting RAW files instead of JPG (even though it takes longer to edit and takes more file storage space), using remote flash units and more.

So when app makers started unveiling the ability to create RAW files on iPhones I was excited.  There are limitations to do it right now though.  You need to have a new enough device that your camera is a 12 MP (which my iPhone 6s has), and you need to be using iOS 10.  Wait a minute.  What was that last part?  iOS 10? It is not out yet.  So for the last several weeks I have been using the iOS 10 beta system on my phone.

Why shoot RAW?  A simplified explanation is that all cameras have to do some computer processing to your image to turn it into a JPG file.  This includes applying sharpening, locking in white balance, setting the contrast level and more.  A JPG image is also a compressed image.  The computer (there is a computer in the camera/phone) does the compression and in order to make the file small for storage and for uploading/downloading.  It does this by simplifying the pixels in your pictures.  It looks at areas of the photo and it says that this group of pixels here are all very similar in color, so we are going to package them together and say they are all the same color. This mean that it is lowering the quality of the image.  By shooting RAW the pictures are not compressed and sharpened.  The pixels are all as the sensor recorded them, and you get to edit them the way you like.  Just remember that when you edit a RAW file if you save it as a JPG file you are doing the compression yourself.

By shooting RAW you get to control how much sharpening is applied to your image and you also get to avoid the artifacts in the images that come from the compression that goes into your image being made into a small file.

In short, shooting RAW will give you the pixels untouched and in the best quality.  Like I said, I want the best quality I can get.  So shooting RAW is a no-brainer, right?

It is not quite that simple.  

You could make the argument that RAW does not matter for most iPhone users since the images will be going to social media like Instagram and Facebook which add their own compression to the files and negate the effort of shooting RAW.  Not only that, the vast majority of these images are viewed on small mobile device screens and the images will not be carefully examined.  But not shooting RAW means that your image is being compromised two or three times -- the JPG compression of the phone is lowering your quality right away. Then when/if you make edits it saves the fie and applies the JPG compression again - compressing and damaging the pixels that have already been compressed.  Then when you post it the site runs their own compression scheme on the image, lowering the quality again.  If you shoot RAW to begin with you are getting the image at the best possible quality and getting rid of the first image compression step, so the image is higher quality when it goes to the social media site.

The ultimate answer is that you need to decide what works best for you.  If you have an iPhone 6 or older the point is moot - your phone will not let you do RAW files.  If you have a newer iPhone and can do RAW you still have to consider the larger file size (how much memory does your iPhone have to store the bigger picture files?)  and your own workflow.  Does the app you use support RAW? Google's app, Snapseed and ProCam 4 by Tap Tap Tap both have RAW support - but what about other apps like Aviary or Mextures or Photogene4? 

For me, if image quality is truly critical I am going to bring out my Nikon DSLR kit and shoot with the bigger sensor and higher quality lenses to get the best possible image.  That does not mean however that I am going to not shoot the best quality image I can get with my phone. I have the iPhone 6s with 128GB so I am not squeezed for space on my phone. For me, shooting RAW makes sense.

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As a side note, until the official release of iOS 10 comes on Sept 13th I have to run the beta version.

Running the beta has proven that not everything works yet (that's why it is beta).  The app that got me really interested in iPhoneography is Hipstamatic. The app has hundreds of different lens and film combinations (filters, really) to get an amazing range of looks to your images.  In the beta version of iOS 10 the Hipstamatic app (and its sister app Oggl) do not work properly. The camera works, but being able to go into other images and apply the filter crashes the program.  In Oggl I cannot even add a photo to the editing section. 

I have been in contact with the people at Hipstamatic and they are hard at work making sure their app will be fully functional when the official non-beta release rolls out (scheduled) on Sept. 13  In the meantime I will just shoot with Hipstamatic like it was the classic version where you can't edit after the fact.

2016/09/05

Rewind - Canon Photo Safari

Back in 1999 to about 2003 both Nikon and Canon were doing televised photography programs.  The Canon version featured a celebrity paired with an expert photographer on trips around the world and was called the Canon Photo Safari which aired on ESPN. What is surprising to me is that there is virtually nothing about the shows available on the internet - nothing on Youtube.

Last night I stumbled across several old VHS video cassette tapes, including two that were filled with episodes of the show.  They include things like Michael Gross in Antarctica, Carol Alt in Egypt, and William Shatner in Israel and in Hawaii. 

On the Nikon side I remember Bob Krist hosting several episodes, though I cannot remember the name of the program or find any traces of it on the internet.  Anybody know it?

I no longer have regular TV, or cable or satellite - only Netflix, so watching the tapes is frustrating.  The program itself is decent with some good shooting tips that are not equipment specific. The issue is the endless string of commercials.  Could a TV show like this be made today? I think not.  With so many options on the internet, people making their own tutorials, YouTube and Vimeo, and a plethora of pros posting content to drive traffic to their sites, it would be pretty difficult to convince corporate execs to invest the money into their own TV shows.

Examples are things like Creativelive.com and Kelbyone for instruction and sharing. What sites and resources do you use for when you want to learn or get some inspiration?


2016/09/04

the Return of the Sports Shooter



 School is back in session, and along with it is the fantastic photography opportunity called High School Sports.

Certainly the athletes are not in the same zone as the professionals, but High school sports are so much better.  There is better access to the action, and real emotion and effort.

For the past two weekends my shooting has not only been to have images to use in the yearbook, but also to have my images published in The Gallup Independent. 

 
 The first images are from the Miyamura Patriots playing against the Valencia Jaguars today.  The Lady Patriots have been having a tough season and are 1-5 so far including today's 0-4 loss.

To see more of these photos check out the gallery on MaxPreps.com, which should be getting approved and going live in a day or two.


 Last night was the Patriot's second football game of the season, an their first home game.  They had a great game, defeating the Rio Grande Ravens 60-18. 



2016/06/25

Ditching the Big Rig? if only I could.....

 Fumbling with large camera bags, long and heavy lenses, multiple strobes/speedlights, memory cards and more has been the name of the professional photography game for the last 15 years.  Before that there was also film to keep track of.  A lot of photographers have ended up abusing and damaging their bodies from years of work.

Now there are other options for a lot of shooters. Things like the Sony live-view (AKA "mirrorless" cameras) and the even more easily carried smarthphone.

I am a member of the 365project.org site and I saw a member post that her entire series would be dedicated to images shot solely with her iPhone, and she sold her Nikon D7000.  Wow. Gave up her Nikon?

Can a photographer really work solely with a smartphone? As so many things in life, the answer is "it depends."  Two years ago my daughter gave me a couple of wide angle lens attachments which secured to my old iPhone 4s with a magnetic ring.  They were low quality and softened the images a lot (especially the fish-eye) but there was something nice about having them to play with.

Now I have moved on from the old 4s and am shooting with the iPhone 6s quite a lot. (If not for the camera and photo apps I would almost certainly still be using the old iPhone 4s).  And after looking around I found that there are actually a lot of optional lenses out there for the smartphones.  They range from the absurdly cheap sets you clip on to you phone with a clamp and can purchase for less than $10 all the way up to lens kit that can run you several hundred dollars.

I was about to pull the trigger on the Olloclip lens system but I hesitated because I can be a bit rough with my phone, and the clip really requires that the phone not be in a case to fit properly. I was also concerned that the iPhone 6s lens actually protrudes a bit from the back of the phone and worried that sliding the clip on and off might potentially scratch the phone lens.  Still, it seems like a good unit and has a lot of happy users, and I thought it would be the best option for price and quality.

Then just by chance I discovered the iPro Lens System from Schneider Optics.  I know that Schneider makes some good glass from back in the film days when the Schneider Lupe was the only one to have when editing film.

The iPro lenses are truly a system. You start with the lens case that is specific to your phone. The case has threading for connecting to a standard tripod head, which is a nice feature I have not seen in any other cases. And it has smaller threads on one side to attach their handle/storage case.  In the top image of this post there are my four lenses, and in the back row are the storage compartments. Each one holds a lens inside and then they all screw together to make a cylinder handle to help hold the phone.

Then there are lenses. In total Schneider makes 5 lenses for the system: 2x tele, wide angle, super wide angle, fish-eye, and macro.  I am not a big fan of fish-eye lenses, or at least not a fan enough to spend the money on one right now. 
As you can see from this second image, the lenses are quite compact in size and the whole kit can be packed up into a tube that is roughly the size of the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper.

The lenses easily mount onto the back of the cell phone case with a three pronged bayonet that is quick to add and remove the lens.

For the iPhone 6s the phone has a roughly 30mm lens on it (using the full frame/35mm film settings as a reference).  This means that the 2x teleconverter gives you an 60mm lens. Certainly not something you will use for a professional sporting even or wildlife photography, but it can be good for portraits or bringing that landscape shot a bit closer.

The wide angle lens makes the phone shoot at roughly 19mm and this lens seems to be aspherical, with very limited distortion. It is my favorite lens of the bunch.

The Super Wide angle lens to 14mm, and it has a massive amount of distortion to it. (see image 3) A photo shot of a straight horizon in South Dakota appears to show the curvature of the earth.  With this much distortion in this lens I doubt I will even consider needing the fish-eye lens.

The whole system gets to be a bit expensive, running close to $300 for the case, handle and three lenses, but they have just announced new lower pricing and Adorama is selling the kit for $229.

Now, back to the original question - can a professional photographer ditch the big gear for something like this?  In some cases I would say they could.  Especially street photographers and people shooting for online outlets.  I know I am grabbing the little kit on almost a daily basis and only using the big rig for sports, wildlife and weddings. The iPhone 6s has a lot of limitations, but this kit certainly does a good job of breaking past a lot of them and making the smartphone much more of the camera I want it to be.

2016/04/18

Envisioning the Weather

 Ansel Adams said he was not photographing the landscape as much as he was the weather.  He also was known to spend days in the darkroom manipulating his negatives to get the prints to look the way he envisioned them.

 As a photojournalist that type of vision was something that I was not allowed to have. I would see interesting things and interesting light and the way they got printed is pretty much the way they came out of the camera. The pictures are supposed to be a close to reality as possible when working with news. There are times when photographers have to color correct or fix contrast and brightness  to make the image visible and clear for the readers, but otherwise it is hands-off. (Or, it is supposed to be).

After having snow on Saturday and rain on Sunday we had some interesting fog this morning as I was driving to work.  This first frame is what I got out of my camera with the default Adobe Camera Raw settings.  The fog is interesting, but what the camera recorded is not what is shown here.  One thing is that the scene did not appear this blue. To my eye there was also more contrast and separation between the different hills, and the Pyramid Rock in the back left of the frame was certainly more visible than this.


This is not really the fault of the camera. Just like when I worked in the film processing lab the camera and film had the details. What was missing was a proper processing for the image. With film it was often a bit of contrast adjustment and making some color adjustments in the printing machine.  With digital files it is telling Photoshop (or Capture One or ACDSee or Lightroom or.....) to adjust the pixels to show the way they should look.

The details are usually there in the image. It just takes some coaxing to get them to show through.  It also takes some decision making for you to determine what the image should look like to express your vision.  For this image I decided it should look like this:

All the details are there, the pixels are there, recorded and just waiting to be coaxed out. 

Don't be afraid to make your images look the way you see them inside your mind.

2016/03/28

Photojournalism: Is It Narcisism or Anthropolgy?

I have a camera. I am a photographer. 
Anybody can call themselves a photographer these days. After all, the only prerequisite is to have a camera and take a photograph. Almost every adult I know has a camera with them every day, in the form of a smart phone.

Wait. Do smart phones count as real cameras? I used to say no. But there are so many strong images made with the modern phone camera and in a lot of cases the tool itself is not what matters.  Would Hemingway's novels be different to read if they were written on a computer instead of a typewriter?  It is not the tool, but the person behind it. Is my writing any different if I use a No.2 pencil or the touch screen keyboard of my phone instead of a word processing program on my PC?  The process of creating will be different, but does it change the meaning?

So it is all about the person. The writer, the artist, the photographer. With that person comes the experiences, the attitudes and opinions. With that person comes the successes and failures. With that person comes the ego. The ego can be small and unnoticed, or it can be enormous and overbearing.

When you push the shutter button, what is your intent? Are you there to make your own image, to make the art you force the subject to fit into? Or are you there to watch and let the subject reveal itself to you? You can be a photographer, or a photojournalist.

I recently reread an article in The New York Times about the death of Henri Cartier-Bresson and how he was an anthropologist that was not really interested in people. What do we do with that information? Is it okay to be interested only in the image that you can get rather than the subject? HCB was certainly successful in his approach.

There were assignment that I would go to and have no connection with the subject. I would go in blind, no background information about the story, and no time to make any connections as I had three more places to be. Looking through some of my archived newspaper work last week I realized that those were the images that I did not remember anything about. I had to read the caption IPTC data to even figure out what the purpose of the image was. Those are the images that I am finding myself hitting the delete button on more and more.

I think that all photographers fall on a spectrum from being narcissists on the one end to anthropologists on the other extreme. Most photographers fall somewhere in the middle. I would suggest that the more narcissistic you are in your work the more likely you are to engage in heavy manipulation of lighting, of subject, and working the image a lot in post.  On the other end are the photographers who are anthropologists. These are often the photojournalists with the strict discipline of not manipulating anything in the frame or after the shutter clicks. They are recording the world as a reality.

There is a problem with that model though. How do we end up with famous photojournalists? Wasn't Eddie Adams being wrapped up in himself when he held his Barnstorm seminars and made his grand entrance under spotlights like a rock star? Aren't photojournalists being self absorbed when they publish books and promote their work? Cerainly there has to be some ego in the process, or else they would not consider the work worth viewing and publishing. But how do you know when you are crossing the line of doing good and helping others and instead taking the photos for your own selfish reasons?

When you post a photo on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or Oggl or any other of countless social media sharing sites, why do you put the post out there?  Even if your intentions were to be an anthropologist when you pressed the shutter, you can change that work to be very self serving when you put it out there in front of the world.  We all want our images to be seen. We all want our images to have impact. It is why we have like buttons on our social sharing sites. We need that feedback to know that our work matters. Is that being a narcissist? Or is it just being human?

I am not saying that it is not good to put yourself into your work and be proud of the accomplishment. Rather, I am saying that you should simply be honest with yourself about why you are sharing your images.