Leica produced a 45-minute (!) video showing the entire hand-polishing process for their beautiful new Leica T camera. If this isn't dedication, I don't know what is.
Craig Mod's Goodbye, Cameras was an excellent piece, but he still had a lot more to say about the ongoing cultural and technological shift away from dedicated cameras — so now we have the even more wonderful Photography, Hello:
“The shift to a smartphone for photography scares me because I love the boxes. Love their purpose. Their simplicity. So dearly love knowing I’ve captured all that detail. Love their constraints and all the potential packed within them. But in the end, for me, photography has never been about a box. The box was always a means.
“From physical to digital film editing, from physical to digital graphic design, from anything to the iPad, and from physical to digital photography, we’ve heard it before: Craft is lost!
My belief is is much simpler: craft inhabits whatever medium or tool you work with, if you let it.”
You'll want to grab a cup of coffee before reading the whole thing.
I always enjoy Craig Mod's pieces (a previous example being Subcompact Publishing) and this latest one is no different. In it, he talks about his transition from manual cameras to digital ones, and then to the iPhone — and the iPhone is quickly doing away with the old methods.
“Yet if the advent of digital photography compressed the core processes of the medium, smartphones further squish the full spectrum of photographic storytelling: capture, edit, collate, share, and respond.”
He's totally right. I've been longing to buy a mirrorless camera to replace my decade-old DSLR, but it's getting harder all the time to justify such a purchase.
The camera I carry with me every day – my iPhone 4s – is already capable of handling most of my photography needs, including editing. If I upgrade to a 5s, I'm sure it'll be even more difficult to justify carrying a dedicated camera. And so on, and so on.
Shawn Blanc, earlier this afternoon:
“At the end of the day, Flickr is the only place I’ve got to put my best photographic work. And as much as I love the service, it’s just not cutting it — it doesn’t feel like the right place for my best photographic work. And I suspect I’m not alone.”
I've been thinking about this a bit myself, lately. For a while, I was excited to see that Flickr seemed to be making a comeback, and I started using the service a lot more than I ever had prior to 6 months ago.
Unfortunately, it looks like the majority of the web hasn't agreed with me. I have a few Flickr contacts who upload consistently, but nowhere near the levels of uploads I see from my Instagram friends every day. And as Shawn has noticed, there's a lot less engagement happening on Flickr than I would like.
My theory for this is two-fold:
Many people see Flickr as the product of a bygone era. To them, it had its heyday in the mid-2000s and can't recapture that magic now that Instagram is so deeply embedded in our culture. Or, if they're young enough, they may not have ever used Flickr in the first place.
To put it more bluntly: Flickr is for the old guard, Instagram is for the new generation.
Instagram has made the experience of browsing/uploading/commenting on photos so simple that even my mom can do it, and she doesn't even understand iOS App Store updates.
To me, Flickr's iPhone app is relatively straightforward considering the advanced features it allows, but there's no denying that it conveys a certain "pro photographer" vibe that could be offputting to newbies.
Now, my photo uploading habits are a bit different from Shawn's. I keep my photos in several places, for different reasons.
Flickr: I dump pretty much all of my photos here, good or bad. I think of Flickr as a kind of archive for everything I shoot, and the ability to organize everything into sets is awesome. If I think something really isn't worth public scrutiny or I'd rather not have anyone see it, I just mark that set as private. Boom.
500px: This is where I post only (what I consider to be) my best work, no matter what camera it originated from. If I wanted to show someone the cream of the crop, I'd just point them to my 500px page. I don't worry too much about sets or whatnot here.
Instagram: Actually, my "workflow" here is similar to Shawn's except I add the extra step of exporting from VSCO back to my camera roll before uploading to Instagram, because sharing to Instagram straight from VSCO doesn't allow you to adjust the image crop. Like with 500px, everything I put on Instagram is what I consider some of my better work, with the exception of any DSLR shots.
VSCO Grid: Just today, I received my invitation to create a VSCO Grid, which is essentially VSCO Cam's own photo-sharing service. I've already uploaded all my best VSCO shots there, and I may play around some more with it, but I do like the way it looks so far.
Of these, I still think Flickr is the overall ideal place to host photos, just because it's an easy way to upload my DSLR and iPhone shots together, but I have to agree with Shawn about one thing — the community just isn't there right now.
Pro accounts are being phased out, but existing Pro users get to keep their unlimited space, ad-free browsing, and statistics (for now). In place of Pro accounts, Flickr is now offering paid upgrades for either going ad-free ($50/year) or doubling your space to 2TB ($500/year).
The revamped UI takes cues from other social platforms like Twitter, App.net, Facebook, Google+, and Path, in that it allows you to upload a cover photo and displays your profile in a similar manner to those services. It's not wholly original or anything but I think it looks great. At least it doesn't look like 2006 anymore.
Photo pages are also much nicer, with images displayed in full resolution and shoving all the related info (description, comments, etc) below. It gives the photos a chance to breathe, which I love.
I need more time to play with this new interface, but I'm already really liking it so far. Kudos to Marissa Mayer and the Flickr team for shipping such a fantastic update.
Here is my Flickr page if you'd like to check it out.
The Verge interviews the man behind Apple's iconic product images. The Apple stuff is interesting of course, but I particularly liked this part:
“What do you photograph for fun?”
“My kids! I know that sounds boring but it’s not. I’ve been taking a photograph of them everyday since they were born. This is a great outlet for me because it’s very different than my normal work. It’s something I can do and not worry what a client or anyone else thinks. Without that pressure I can take risks and experiment. I’m the dad that shows up to baseball games with a 400mm lens. I can hear my kids say to their friends, "It’s just what my dad does — ignore him.”
Markus Spiering, Head of Product at Flickr:
“I can’t talk about the things that are coming up. But if you think 2012 was a big year, 2013 will be bigger.”
As I discussed not long ago, I'm excited that Flickr is making its way back into the web photography discussion, and it looks like Yahoo feels the same way now that Marissa Mayer has become CEO. I'm looking forward to what they've got in store.
"Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk" —Edward Weston
It's been a little while since I last talked about photography around here, and I've had the itch lately so you can expect a few more upcoming articles on the subject. Today's topic is photo composition.
Composition is one of those subjects that comes up all the time in photography. There are entire books dedicated to the rule of thirds (sometimes referred to as the golden ratio). The masters tell us to use leading lines whenever possible, and to focus (heh) on our depth-of-field.
These kinds of tips are great, and a lot of the time they will help you produce better photos than if you just pointed your camera at something and snapped the shot without thinking about it. But worrying about composition too much can also cause the photographer to miss a crucial moment.
Take this photo of Jack Lew being sworn in as Treasury Secretary, for example:
When I see this photo, I don't see a political agenda, or any of the usual bitterness shared between members of upper government. I have no idea at all where Jack Lew stands on any issues. What I see is a man, surrounded by family members, all of whom dressed up nice and came with him to the Oval Office to support him on this momentous occasion. Just look how happy everyone is.
And yet, it isn't an especially fantastic composition. It doesn't have to be in order for the photo to turn out great.
This scene wouldn't have been empirically better or more interesting if the photographer had stood up on a chair and tried to capture it all from some weird vantage point. Jack Lew and Joe Biden aren't perfectly centered. In fact, everything is a little off-balance because of where everyone is standing. But none of that really matters.
The photographer simply stood across the room, made sure everyone fit into the frame, and pushed a button at the right time. Sometimes that's all it takes to properly convey the story.
Patrick Rhone very nearly touched on this idea in his "Happy Accidents" piece:
“Once again, action shots should have action. They shouldn’t be perfect. They shouldn’t be still. They should be blurry and full of energy. Glad I did not toss this one.”
I'm sure many of us have been guilty of the same thing, quickly trashing images that didn't meet our expectations or weren't as well-composed as we had hoped because we were in a rush. But what I've found is that those "accidents" can sometimes be more exciting than a "properly" composed image.
None of this is to say that nobody should study the rules of composition. In fact, I highly encourage doing so because then you'll know exactly how to break the rules when it's required. Still, I would argue that the more important factors of a great shot are usually timing and luck, rather than the composition itself.
Writer's block is something we all face at some time or another. That frustrating feeling of having this desperate urge to write, but being unable to get the words out. Sometimes it's so bad we can't even think of a topic to write about! After banging our heads against the wall for a while and getting nowhere, we throw in the towel.
(Inevitably, we'll wake up in the middle of the night, suddenly struck by an idea that we must get out of our head immediately or else risk losing it. The human mind sometimes works in mysterious and beautiful ways.)
I've said this before, but I feel that I face this block more often than other writers. That may or may not be true, but try telling me that when I'm in the middle of an agonizing session of futility. I'll probably look at you like you're crazy.
Those magical moments when the words seem to flow effortlessly? They're rare. You can't just sit down with your writing tool of choice—whether that's a typewriter, a laptop, an iPad, or even just pen and paper—and expect the magic to happen. It's not realistic.
Sooner or later you're going to hit that wall, just like everyone else does.
So, how can we overcome this wall? After some trial and error, I've found some ideas that have worked for me, and I thought I'd share them with you guys. I don't claim to be an expert, but maybe this stuff will help you too. That's the goal, anyway.
Tip #1: Exercise
You might ask yourself, "What the heck is this guy on? Exercise? I'm trying to get some writing done, not break a sweat." But I'm completely serious here.
One reason I end up having writer's block sometimes is that my head is too full of information I've absorbed throughout the day. After skimming hundreds (if not thousands) of RSS posts and tweets, not to mention all the fantastic stuff people have been linking to, I find it difficult to focus on my own task at hand.
Our brains aren't really built to process such a river of information every day, and yet I and many others keep doing it. It's an information addiction I'm working to rid myself of.
When I need to clear my head of all that cruft, I simply step away from my laptop and go for a light jog around the neighborhood. Give it a try, it may work wonders for you. Preferably sans-iPhone, so that you're not tempted to put on music or a podcast or whatever. That would defeat the purpose of what we're trying to accomplish here.
During the jog, try not to think about all the stuff you need to get done, or the deadlines you're facing, or the work you failed to finish previously. None of that matters right now. Instead, focus on your breathing. Enjoy your surroundings. Wave at the neighbors. Smile.
By the time you're done, you might just feel more relaxed and have a clearer mind. And if you do, I bet that the words which seemed so far out of reach earlier will come to you more freely.
If exercise really isn't your thing, give meditation a try. You don't even have to leave the house or office. Shut off all distractions, find a comfortable place to sit up straight, close your eyes, breathe slowly and deeply, and try to empty your thoughts of all worries.
Even if it doesn't solve the writer's block, you'll feel tons better.
Tip #2: Photography
Writers are creative thinkers. Whether we know it or not, this tends to translate to having a natural eye for photography. Maybe not true in all cases, but in my experience, some of the best writers I know can produce some incredible photos. These skills seem intertwined as far as I can tell.
So, when the part of your mind that controls word production gets a little worn out, try getting out a camera and taking some photos for a while. Find something you've seen a million times and find a new way to capture it, perhaps using a different perspective.
Engaging a different portion of your artistic side this way can be the spark that ignites your creativity.
It doesn't have to be a DSLR or anything. If you've got a smartphone, chances are you've got something decent to work with. Or maybe you've got an old disposable camera laying around somewhere. As the saying goes, the best camera is the one that's with you.
Tip #3: Writing Assignments
Rather than doing all the work of coming up with a topic to write about, allow someone else to take care of that part for you. Writing assignments are wonderful exercises that can help jump-start your brain and get the creative juices flowing. They can also be done as a warm-up before you get started on your own topic.
A good resource I've found for writing assignments has been over at First Today, Then Tomorrow. There, playwright and author Randy Murray puts up a new practice writing assignment once a week, and they've never failed to get me thinking. Great stuff.
Tip #4: Look to Other Writers for Inspiration
Most of us have writers that we look up to and respect. Chances are, they've written about something that has interested you, or else you probably wouldn't have become a fan in the first place.
If you're struggling to find a topic, get out a book or browse through some of your favorite blogs until you see something you can add some insight to. There's nothing wrong with expanding on an idea you didn't originally come up with. Writers borrow from one another all the time. It's a natural part of what we do and I daresay that the world would be a dreary place without the sharing and building upon of such ideas.
Tip #5: Write Something. Anything.
Yes, you read that right. Another way to overcome writer's block is...write something. Anything at all. You can write about the coffee you had this morning. You can make up a backstory about that cat you see wandering around the neighborhood every day. Write a letter to your kid that they'll read when they're older. Write about the delicious meal you just had.
Seriously, just write something. It doesn't matter what. There's no need to share it with anyone else, so don't worry too much about content or style.
Sometimes the most difficult thing about writing is simply getting started. We could make every excuse in the book before we've even begun. Don't defeat yourself that way. Once you've started, you've already started winning the battle. You may even notice your hands struggling to keep up with all the words trying to escape your head. It feels completely manic, but in a good way.
Every person, whether they know it or not, is living a life worth writing about. They just have to find those stories, however small, and connect the dots until a story emerges. It's kinda like weaving a tapesty but WAY simpler. Anyone can do it.
* * *
There you have it. Those are the techniques I've used to help me overcome my writer's block. I really do hope you'll find some use for these tips, or be inspired to put together a list of your own.
If you have a great technique not mentioned here, let me know! It's nice to get a peek into the minds of other people struggling with the same things I am.
I've recently been enthralled by the work of photographer CJ Chilvers, who runs the blog A Lesser Photographer. His minimal approach to photography is one of thoughtfulness and creativity, rather than focusing on expensive gear or "professional" methods.
His blog is full of fantastic posts, but I recommend starting with the A Lesser Photographer Manifesto, which is a free-to-read PDF ebook (look at me staying on-topic today!) that encapsulates his views on photography.
A couple of choice quotes:
"Every new, professional grade camera aims to remove the photographer another step from the mechanical processes of the camera to “focus on the image.”
This has the opposite effect.
Creativity is always enhanced by a constraint. This is true in filmmaking, music, painting, writing and even photography.
How many times has one of your favorite bands, whose best album was produced in days using half-borrowed equipment, gone on to spend a year in the studio on their next album, only to produce a mediocre (at best) result?
How many times has a talented filmmaker been given unlimited funds and technical possibilities only to produce a Jar Jar Binks?
A lesser camera makes you think. Thought is better than automation in art. Automation leads to commoditization. Your art becomes easily replaceable or worse, forgettable."
"For years, photographers have been wisely imploring writers to learn to create compelling images to enhance their storytelling. The same argument must be made in reverse. Photographers must learn to write to enhance their storytelling, or ﬁnd a writer to collaborate with. The two skills are inescapably linked now.
This is why it makes no sense for a photographer, with no professional mandate, to keep a portfolio section on their website. Viewers would be better served, and in turn photographers would be better served, by telling stories. Those stories are better served with great writing. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the worth of a great story is incalculable."
CJ has inspired me to reflect on my own approach to photography and I recommend checking out his work. Be sure to subscribe.
They're offering all users 3 months of Flickr Pro for free. Existing Pro users will simply have their service extended by 3 months. If you've ever thought about checking out the service, now is absolutely the time.
Jeffery Inscho on the new Flickr app:
"Feeling nostalgic for my glory days of the web, I downloaded the app to see what all the fuss was about. And the fuss, in my opinion, is justified. With one fell swoop, Flickr has injected itself back into the conversation of web relevance."
This is a perfect way of putting it. Flickr's diehard fans have long expressed worry that the service is waning and that Yahoo! hasn't paid enough attention to it even though it's likely their best product.
Now that Marissa Mayer is manning (womanning?) the helm, Flickr seems to be setting itself up for a resurgence. I'm still amazed at how good the new app is, and I've noticed a few subtle design changes taking place on Flickr.com itself. Despite following a large number of tech bloggers and photographers online, I have yet to see a negative statement about anything Flickr is doing right now.
It's pretty wild that a single app update on a phone can cause public opinion about an entire company to sway suddenly and drastically in the opposite direction. Any app developers out there not taking their work seriously would do well to consider that.
Phil Plait, astronomer and writer of the Bad Astronomer blog, has assembled some truly fantastic images from the world of astronomy in 2012. I highly recommend checking them out.
Relatedly, Phil also wrote about an image taken from the dark side of Saturn. Make sure to head over there and click for the big version because it's magnificent.
This morning saw an update to Flickr's maligned and oft-ignored iPhone app. Until today, it was basically usable for browsing photos and maybe uploading here and there, but the experience wasn't all that great. With this new update though, Flickr has decided to bring their 'A' game.
Clearly the new UI has been inspired by Instagram, right down to the addition of photo filters. As popular as Instagram has become, I guess it was inevitable that Flickr would one day see them as a competitor.
While the old app was a big sluggish and weird, the new app is sleek, beautiful, and quick. Photos load nearly instantaneously, and scrolling through the gallery of recent uploads by my contacts has been a joy. The new photo filters aren't too bad either. This was my first test shot:
I only recently started getting back into Flickr after years of neglect, but it feels like I'm late to the party because I don't see as much activity going on around there as I used to. Of course, there are still a few remaining diehard fans who have poured years of their lives into the service, but the rest? Who knows.
Now, with this fantastic update, I can imagine lots of people returning to their Flickr roots and I'm honestly pretty excited about that. It's Yahoo's one killer service and I think it deserves a chance to stick around for a long time. It's certainly been the topic of discussion on my Twitter feed today, and I'm taking that as a good sign.
Either way, I'll certainly be spending even more time on the service.
Thanks to Shawn Blanc's post on mirrorless Micro Four Thirds (M4/3) cameras, I've been considering picking one up myself.
Like Shawn, my iPhone has become my default camera, mostly because I always have it with me and it performs pretty well in my experience. Still, I would like to take my photography up a notch.
As I mentioned in that Monochrome iPhoneography post linked above, I actually own a DSLR camera: the Canon EOS 20d. Even with my basic kit lens, I can achieve better results than on my iPhone, but the problem is that shooting with this camera is very un-fun. It's bulky, heavy, there are way more settings than I ever need, and the rear LCD monitor is laughably small. Images that looked perfectly clear on that tiny screen inevitably turned out to be blurry when I got them onto my computer.
It hasn't been an entirely negative experience, though. This camera is really what introduced me to hobbyist photography in the first place, and because it was already considered an old model by the time I purchased it used from a guy on Craigslist (which is the only reason I could afford it at all), I had to learn things in a slightly more difficult way than people using modern equipment did, and I think that was beneficial.
I've just gotten tired of lugging the thing around and dealing with all the little things. I'm pretty sure I spent more time fiddling with settings than I did taking photos. Every time I needed to charge the battery, it involved removing the battery pack entirely and hooking it into this enire other apparatus that I needed to have with me at all times; you couldn't simply connect a power cable. If I happened to be carrying my DSLR bag around somewhere (which was a pain by itself) and wanted to get a shot of something interesting happening, I would sometimes miss the shot because it took too long to get the camera out of the bag and primed for shooting.
Because of all this, the DSLR bag has been collecting dust in my living room closet for a couple months now. Nearly all of the most recent photos on my 500px page have instead been taken on my iPhone 4S. And why not? It's so much easier to take out my iPhone from my pocket, swipe up on the lockscreen, and start taking photos within seconds.
Lately, I've been seeing examples of photos taken with mirrorless M4/3 cameras, and I'm jealous of the quality they're achieving with such small devices. These things are like mini-DSLRs, in that you can buy different lenses and swap them out at will, despite the camera bodies being about the size of point-and-shoot devices. This type of camera looks right up my alley, and the fact that they're way more affordable than most DSLRs makes them even more enticing.
I'm still on the fence on which mirrorless M4/3 camera I want. From Shawn's research, the two cameras that look best suited to my needs would be the Sony Alpha NEX-6 or the Olympus PEN E-PL5. Based on price alone, the Olympus camera is the better deal (right now it's on sale for $600, $200 off the usual price) over the Sony's $999 price point, but the Sony takes better photos from what I've seen so far.
I'll continue to do some more research on my own and we'll see what happens.
The idea is that it's a camera you wear on a lanyard around your neck, and it automatically shoots about 2,000 photos a day while you go about your daily activities. According to their website, these will be the best possible images from that day.
This seems neat for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it frees the user up from worrying about capturing a shot of an event. They can simply live the experience and have it recorded for them automatically. Secondly, this camera could potentially capture things that the person may not notice themselves. I've found no mention anywhere on their site or elsewhere about the quietness of the camera. Hopefully it's not making loud clicky noises all day long.
I think that the future is going to be full of methods like this for recording people's entire lives automatically, whether it will truly be useful for us or not. This is just the beginning. It might even sound creepy to an adult today, but the kids growing up with this stuff will more and more often see this as a normal activity.
Today, it's a camera on a lanyard. Tomorrow? Cameras built into eyeglasses or maybe even shirt buttons.
Lately, I've been feeling a little inspired to get back into photography. I know I mentioned in my last post that I might dust off the ol' DSLR (a Canon EOS 20D, if you care to know) and shoot with that, but right after writing that post, the family and I took a vacation and I hate carrying a camera bag around all day long. Instead, I decided that I was going to shoot exclusively with my iPhone 4S, and to make it more interesting, I was going to do a little experimenting with monochrome.
This is an experiment I've been wanting to do for a while now, especially after reading about the Leica M Monochrom camera, which ONLY shoots in monochrome. I have to admit, the Monochrom takes some incredible photos, but there is no way I'm putting down $8,000 even for a camera like that.
Luckily, an app exists for iOS called Hueless, and it performs the same basic function as the Monochrom: it forces you to shoot in black & white. This isn't like applying a filter over a color photo, though. Photos shot in Hueless are truly black & white, with deeper blacks, crisper lines, and a relative lack of photo "noise" compared to, say, Instagram's black & white filter. And the app is only a couple bucks, so the price of entry is obviously much lower than buying the Monochrom.
Now that I'm back from that trip, I'd like to share some of the photos I captured, as well as a few things I noticed along the way (which will seem obvious to your average professional photographer, but I'm kind of self-teaching here so please excuse my amateur-isms).
One of the things I first noticed is that this app is perfect for capturing sunrise/sunset silhouettes.
It also performs surprisingly well in low-light situations. In most cases it's a much better alternative to using the iPhone's terrible built-in flash, which tends to make photos garish and unflattering.
Of course, when you've got some real light to work with, you can capture even better images. Reflective objects photograph especially well in monochrome.
I absolutely love the way architecture (or any other large structure) looks in monochrome.
Black & white photos can show a surprising amount of detail (like lines and shadows) compared to their full-color counterparts.
Overall, shooting with Hueless seems like an easy way to make your photos "pop" in an interesting way. I wouldn't say it's a fix-all for every boring photo, though. Obviously, subject and composition still play a huge role in the shot, and sometimes it's just plain better to shoot in color.
Take this motorcycle, for example. I shot both a full-color version and a monochrome version, and I honestly find the color version more compelling visually:
[These photos remind me of the inherent limitations of the iPhone 4S' camera, even as capable as it is. For one thing, it's nearly impossible to adjust the depth-of-field the way I'd like. Had I been shooting with my DSLR, I certainly would have shot with a larger aperture in order to have a hazier background while keeping the foreground in focus. Not a huge deal, but something to keep in mind if you plan on shooting with just about any smartphone camera, as of this writing, anyway.]
I shot two versions of this engine-order telegraph as well, and also found the color version more interesting.
I have other examples of this phenomenon I could display, but hopefully you get the idea. Don't just expect that a monochrome photo will automatically look better than a full-color version. Shoot in both if you must, but always try to capture the best image you can without trying to force the subject to fit into a certain style of photography.
Overall, I'm pretty happy I tried this experiment out. I feel like a whole new level of photography has opened up to me, and I fully expect to capture more monochrome shots in the future. I found that I was composing photos differently than I normally would, because certain perspectives are more visually appealing in black & white, and vice versa. It has also reminded me that photography can be fun.
Even if someone hates the photos I took with Hueless, they can't take away the fact that I had a blast with it.