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Archive for March, 2013

A Fujifilm ‘Bridge’ and a Nikon ‘Superzoom’

March 28th, 2013 No Comments

Fujifilm X20

If you’re looking for a compact camera to carry around 24×7 whose looks won’t make you feel sheepish and which takes more than serviceable photos, Fujifilm’s new X20 could be for you.

In a review posted earlier today, PhotographyBlog raves about its chic design and solid build quality.  It ticks all the boxes for the expected core features and adds a few to the mix.  

Though a spec of 12 megapixels doesn’t exactly stand out, the aperture of f/2.0 at 28mm and f/2.8 at 112mm does.  The 12 MP resolution goes with a 2/3-type X-Trans CMOS II sensor which identifies the X20 as a ‘bridge camera’ rather than, strictly, a compact.

It has its quirky failings, such as exposure problems at certain shutter-speed/f-stop combinations, but also its quirky bonuses: how about a 1cm focussing distance and a top shutter-speed of 1/4000 in full manual?

In keeping with its classic styling the X20 has a viewfinder – and it even displays current settings and other information (like viewfinders used to in the good old days).  

Are its images any good, you ask?  Click here to find out.

Nikon P520

This camera too is one of those that falls outside the established classes of cameras, for it’s a ‘superzoom’, the successor to Nikon’s P510.  Its focal length ranges from 24mm to 1000mm for a crazy multiple of 42.

The Nikon P520 debuted earlier this month and Pocket-lint was at hand to check it out while ePHOTOzine provides specs and sample images.

The main upgrades are that this newer model is wireless ready, needing an adaptor, and boasts an 18 MP resolution.  Pocket-lint is on the fence about the enhanced resolution, though, as packing more pixels may not ‘sit well’ on the relatively smaller sensor size. 

Indeed, the reviewers seem to be on the fence about the camera as a whole but they fail to ask the burning question:– Does one needs a single lens that goes from 24mm to 1000mm at very modest f-stops of f/3 to f/5.9, and with all the attendant optical and image quality shortcomings that are a natural consequence thereof?

In an age when technological advancements mean that so many combinations of specifications dreamt up in the design studios can actually be implemented while others are out of reach, it may make sense to ask whether or not a particular combination of specifications that is attainable is also useful and valuable.

The Rock, the Pyramid, and the Survivor

March 27th, 2013 No Comments
An Alcatraz Island Prison prisoner tag

An Alcatraz Island Prison prisoner tag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The epithet ‘The Rock’ identifies, variously, Rocky Marciano, the promontory of Gibraltar, and Alcatraz Island, and it’s the last definition that’s relevant today: for infamous Alcatraz Prison is the lead story in our weekly three-pack of interesting or eye-popping Photography News.

The Rock

Also the title of a Nicolas Cage – Sean Connery thriller, maximum-security Alcatraz Prison has been boarded up for five decades.  Now a national park with a crumbling penitentiary at its centre, this symbol of American Justice recently made the news because its “final days” were “revealed in new photographs released for 50th anniversary of prison closing its doors for good.”  

Daily Mail’s detailed news story has photographs of the historic photographs as an exhibit on Alcatraz’s walls.  For the actual historic photographs, visit this San Francisco Chronicle page where you can see Alcatraz Island, a latter-day chain gang and mugshots of inmate #85 – Al Capone.

The Pyramid

These Russian risk-takers are evidently not scared of heights: two days back Daily Mail reported that they scaled the Great Pyramid of Giza to its very summit so as to take in ‘the view’ – and what a view it is.

It was – as one might guess – an illicit caper as indicated by a grainy nighttime shot of their getaway.

This story is not about High Art Photography, rather the subject-matter is squarely in the field of Adventure Photography.  However, the illegality of the ‘photo shoot’ seems to have put many people off.  Perhaps this story is grist for the mill for our ‘Controversy of the Week’ post over on BPro’s blog.  Either way, some of the vertiginous photos are breathtaking.

The Survivor

If there was a Survivor-style ‘reality show’ for cameras, Lindsay Scallan’s Canon snapshot camera would win it hands down.  Twenty-four hours ago DPReview posted a story on how Scallan lost her camera while scuba diving.  The kicker is that she lost it off Hawaii in 2007 and the camera was recovered off Taiwan in 2013!

The Good Samaritan who found the camera bobbing on the waves by the Taiwanese coastline took the time and trouble to check the memory card and then track down Scallan using, among other sources, Hawaii’s tourism bureau.

The camera spent six years in the briny yet kept an undamaged memory card!  This makes the episode an adverstising dream for Canon because the camera was “encased in a Canon WP-DC60 all-weather housing;” see it here.

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A Meaty Tutorial on Flower Photography

March 26th, 2013 No Comments

SmallPurpleFlowers-2-cropFloral Photography is often a great draw to novices and amateurs . . . who are equally often disappointed by the results they achieve.  Anyone interested in this field can raise his/her game a few notches by following the suggestions in a meaty new tutorial by Jose Antunes on photo tuts+.

Antunes begins his how-to by disabusing readers of the notion that expensive equipment is essential; he says “it’s not the gear that is important. It’s the photographer,” and goes on to show a few images he shot with compacts.

Point 3, “Sit, Meditate and See” should surely have been Point 2.  This is a prerequisite; do this before you touch your camera.

Novice, amateur, or experienced, Antunes wants you to play and experiment with your lens where Flower Photography is concerned.  You may be able to get so close that you can get “just get a little bit of the flower. Do it, sometimes less is more.”  He actually demonstrates this point in another instruction.

Point 7, “Use Contrasting Backgrounds” (the title is poor; there is only one ‘background’) is particularly important in this area of photography.  What is meant is that complementary colours – hues opposite each other on the colour circle – be used as foreground and background colours.  Incidentally, Antunes does this to fantastic effect in his photo accompanying point 1 in which saturated orange explodes against an equally saturated azure.

You may miss the lessons that a single image imparts if you focus solely on the written instruction, as valuable as it is.  For instance, in “Get Down on Your Knees” the accompanying image is an object lesson in composing, cropping, and positioning of the foreground elements relative to the background.  It also indicates the importance of depth of field and choice of aperture.

Read the tutorial through, you’ll surely find one tip you will want to run out and use immediately.  For instance, if you want a sharply delineated flower in a splash of vivid colour, Antunes tells you how to do it in “Control Your Depth of Field.”

Point 8, under the misleading title “Get the Whole Picture,” is probably the most important one.  Not only is the overarching philosophy appropriate for flowers, it is one of the keys to good photography for any kind of still life and perhaps even portraiture.  It is worth closing this post with: 

“I can start by doing the photo that attracted me first, but then I go back to general views and move towards getting more detail again. [This] is a good working solution when you are facing a subject you feel has potential, but you seem to not be able to get a good picture of.  Slowly moving from general shots to more intimate images helps to, eventually, reach a moment when everything fits in place and you get your picture of the day. From my experience I’ve found that the more you stay with a subject, the more you can discover about it.”


Weekly News: Photography is for the Astute and the Imbeciles!

March 23rd, 2013 No Comments

sipa (Photo credit: isriya)

Today, our weekly three-pack of Photography News is not quirky or wacky but curious – and very interesting and equally diverse.  We look at news from the past 24 hours about an alternative energy-source camera, a resurrected photo agency, and a celebrated French portrait photographer.

Sun and Cloud Camera

If you’re going to be in the desert for a month consider taking Superheadz’s Sun and Cloud camera with you.  You don’t have to worry about running out of juice because this kit makes its own juice from the sun’s rays or from (your) elbow grease.  It has a solar-power panel and a crank which you turn to charge the camera.  Who needs batteries or electricity?!

Unfortunately the specs are distinctly underwhelming, as reported by ImagingResource.  ISO of 100 or 800.  640×480 video.  A resolution of 3 MP.  This is either a novelty camera for science labs or that precious fallback you want to keep in your bunker if you’re one of those who wants to be ready for Doomsday.  With no batteries and no electricity, you’ll be one of the few to take photos of Humankind’s last few days if you have the Sun and Cloud Camera (or a good old Nikon F3).

Sipa Resurrected

And then there were four: Black Star, Magnum, Gamma, and Sigma were the survivors after one of the ‘Big Five’ Photo Agencies, Sipa, bit the dust in November . . . but only until yesterday: for that’s when a court approved a buyout offer made by Rex Features for 50 percent of Sipa with Isopix of Belgium shelling out for a minority stake. 

Sipa will now be known as Société Nouvelle Sipa or ‘SNS’, reports the BJP.

Miguel Ferro, CEO of Rex, says that photo agencies for the most part need to be remodelled: “Selling images accounts for just five percent of [Rex’s] revenues. Today, an agency cannot simply sell photographs, it has to offer different services to its clients. . . . we’ll have to change people’s mindsets.”

Sipa or SNS still has to navigate some treacherous shoals: retrenchment, pending lawsuits, claims on archival material.  Still, it’s good to know that one of the original old ‘Big Five’ photo agencies is still alive and kicking, and may make it to its Golden Anniversary ten years hence.

The Photographer of French High Society

Balloonist, Political Cartoonist, Intellectual, Whatnot – if one examines all facts of the man Imaging Resource calls ‘The Incomparable Nadar’ we’d need a multi-part article!  Among many other things Nadar was a pioneering photographer who took advantage of then-new collodion plate negatives.

Like a painter, Nadar instinctively understood the importance of the play of light.  Like a portraitist, he tried to tease out and present the essential character of his subjects.  His intention was not to ‘bring out their best side’ let alone glamourize his subjects, as exemplified by the portraits that accompany Imaging Resource’s article.

He became the photographer for the rich and famous of his day, his clientele reading like a Who’s Who of Nineteenth Century French High Society.  He counted among his close friends Futurist Jules Verne.  In a way he can be said to have been the Gallic predecessor of, or the ‘model’ for, Cecil Beaton.

Last word to Nadar: “Photography is an art that excites the most astute minds – and one that can be practiced by any imbecile.”


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Hey Amateur! Flirting with Going Pro?

March 21st, 2013 No Comments

A month and a week back this blog brought you a few caveats about going pro.  Today, Annie Tao casts light on How To Know You Are Ready To Become A Professional Photographer.

Actually, she does a bit more than that: she proffers some very sound advice on those oft-overlooked prerequisites, those ‘must-dos’ before you take the plunge.  Making mention of the plethora of books and courses on the subject, Tao’s goal is to provide “a short list of topline things” that will tell you when you’re “ready to make the leap.”

Tao’s seven-point checklist-style lesson starts off with “You know your equipment like the back of your hand” which she describes in two pithy lines.

Point 2 is the ‘Reality-Check Point’ (or ‘Reality Checkpoint’): Don’t forget that “Being a Professional Photographer means being an Artist and a Business Person” – the ‘and’ should have been emphasized.  Tao gives you a heads-up that “a larger portion of your time” will be taken up with business-side – make that boring-side – activities, of which she lists some.

Points 3 and 6 are related and have to do with the nitty-gritty of the business side.  The latter point, though its title talks about ‘documents’, enlightens you to the importance of things like contracts, business registration, separate bank account, and consulting with a small-business attorney.  Point 3 advises you to get your business plan clear in your head “before you start your business” because changing course later can be difficult.

On these scores, it wouldn’t be out of place to mention that our Australian readers would do well to look up the AIPP for career planning from the very outset.  For the pro who’s just getting started the AIPP can be a goldmine of guidance.

Points 4 and 5 are marketing-side items and it’s a pity they’re not fleshed out.  It’s all well and good to advise readers that a good portfolio is essential and to use social media to share your images but how do you differentiate yourself from the crowd?  Entering contests and getting a win or a recognition, face-to-face networking with everyone from fellow pros to friends, and keeping your own blog ticking with fresh content, are a few concrete ways to market your services and (try to) stand out.

Tao closes out her list with a “ridiculously simple, but . . . often overlooked” essential: Photographer, Know Thyself.  She advises you to choose your speciality and do what you do best and love most in the field.  Sound advice.

If you’re an amateur flirting with going pro then this very readable article is an excellent preliminary checkpoint.


A Tale of Two Lenses: A ‘First’ Each for Nikon and Canon

March 18th, 2013 No Comments

It was the ‘best and biggest’ of lenses, it was the worst and ‘shiftiest’ of times . . . .

Enough of the pseudo-Dickensianisms.  Let’s start with the biggest lens.

Here’s a candid portrait of the new pope, Pope Francis.  Shot with, say, a 70 mm?  Um, no.  The photographer was at ground level and the pope was on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.  As such, this ultra-long-range shot was taken with a Zoom-Nikkor 1200-1700mm f/5.6-8P IF-ED super-telephoto, PhotographyBlog reported earlier today. 

PhotographyBlog calls this lens a ‘monster’ and it is – it weighs sixteen kilos!  You’re not going to be taking this baby in your camera bag, right?  However, it’s also a legend of a lens deserving of its own page on Nikon’s website as it, “at the time boasted the longest focal length of any zoom lens for 35mm-format cameras.”

This page discloses that this lens was made especially to photograph high school baseball games in Japan!  Back in 1990 this ‘tuna’ was a state of the art zoom.  If you’re inclined towards photographic history, check out the 1200-1700mm’s ‘recollections’ page for an interesting read.

On to the ‘shiftiest’ (though far from the worst) lens.  This, of course, is a tilt-shift lens.  And how appropriate that it is . . . a Canon!

Trevor Dayley calls the Canon TS-E (Tilt Shift) 90mm f/2.8 “My New Favourite Lens.”  Interestingly, this lens too boasts a ‘first’: “The world’s first 35mm-format telephoto lens with tilt and shift movements for perspective and depth-of-field control,” according to this lens’s page on the Canon website!

If you’re not quite clear as to what a tilt-shift does, here’s one good way to look at it.  Just as using the native aperture of a lens allows you to focus on one plane while throwing other planes, both front and rear of the focus-plane, out of focus, a tilt-shift allows you to focus on a very small spot on one and the same plane, throwing all other points on that very plane out of focus.

Dayley not only has an excellent idea as to just how and where to exploit this type of lens’s capability, he proves it with pictures.  A 90mm T/S lens is, all-too evidently, a top choice for bridal portraits.

Soft focus, diffusion, bokeh, high key – all these have been staples of bridal photography.  Given its effects Tilt-Shift is, come to think of it, another arrow from that same quiver: “if I were shooting a couple up close and I wanted nothing but their faces in focus, I could tilt the lens to blur everything in the picture but their faces creating a unique effect,” writes Dayley. 

If you’ve associated T/S lenses with shorter focal-lengths, urban landscapes and trick photography, then read Dayley’s write-up and look at his striking portraits.  It’s one of those how-tos in which the pictures speak louder than words.


Portrait Shooting: A Few Smart Ideas

March 16th, 2013 No Comments

Head&Paws-Freaky-CropIf you’re a portraits specialist, you’re in luck: Jason Weddington offers imaginative tips on framing, composing and posing for portraits in one of those unusual articles that’s short on text but high on ideas and ‘meat’.

5 Tips for Improving Your Portrait Photography starts off by advising you to ‘frame tight’ when shooting faces.  Ho-hum, what portrait specialist doesn’t know that?  But wait— Weddington wants you to frame so tight that you slice off the top of your subject’s head.  He says that that maximizes the tug of your subject’s eyes, referring to it as a covert Hollywood trick.  Clever! 

Talk about eyes, another technique is to get your subject to position the eyes so that the irises are centred from the camera’s perspective.  He’s right.  This technique will usually result in a portrait that one would describe as ‘hypnotic’ or ‘arresting’; one that makes an immediate ‘connection’ with the viewer.  Better yet: Weddington advises that you try to generate catchlights in the eyes and explains how you can do so.  

Here’s another tip: let your model stay in the dark for a few minutes.  That’ll dilate her pupils.  Then open the lights and work fast, whether you use flash, lamps or natural lighting.  The opened-up pupils will result in those desirable catchlights and will also contribute to a ‘hypnotic’ or ‘arresting’ face.

“Have you ever heard a subject complain ‘I don’t know what to do with my hands?’,” writes Weddington.  Actually, even when they don’t say that, they often behave that way!  The solution is to put hands to work and Weddington suggests using “a prop.”  A pen is often used.  

Another idea would be to go prop-less and ask your subject to pose in a way one sees so often and is so natural, yet seldom photographed: fingers idly drumming on a tabletop or other surface?  Goes well with a blank or happy expression!  Want a pensive expression?  Goes like salt and pepper with clasped hands or someone looking at her palms, fingers curled.

Weddington goes on to describe two further ideas, one to “let kids run wild” and another very valuable one to “shoot into the sun.”  That gives you the backlighting and highlights that you don’t get with the sun over your shoulder.  Weddington doesn’t mention that you may need a reflector or fill-flash if you use this technique.

This article is complemented by some very nice images that get across each tip and set you up for your own photographs using these ideas.


Simplicity and Starkness: The Holy Lands in Black-and-White

March 15th, 2013 No Comments

Yesterday The Leica Camera Blog posted Aaron C. Greenman: A Candid View of the Holy Lands, Part 1.  The interview is short to non-existent but this post is worth visiting purely for the images.

Among the qualities of B&W that differentiate it from Colour are simplicity and, sometimes, starkness.  Much has been written about how and where the advantages of a kind of B&W can be leveraged.  Greenman’s Holy Land photographs shot in B&W demonstrate these advantages.  Perhaps it is because prayer, worship, ritual, especially in a centuries-old place such as Jerusalem, can be simple and stark at the same time, the qualities of B&W are a perfect match for the subject matter.

Leica’s post part 1 has only a small selection of images from Greenman’s In Focus: Holy Lands portfolio.

The attributes of the black-and-white medium are ideal for this image of white-clad women in church: there is a photojournalistic quality to the image while B&W accentuates the starkness and simplicity of the sober scene.  

Photojournalistic images abound: what is the news-story here – that’s one unwilling worshiper!  We do know what story there is here: humour!

Greenman’s gallery is also a virtual tour: we have seen countless photographs of worshipers at the Wailing Wall but how many show us what is tucked into the narrow bylanes of the ancient Walled City?  Here’s one such glimpse.  —And as for those countless photos of Wailing Wall worshipers like this one, for a change, Greenman provides this arresting composition.

This gallery does not concentrate on the Jewish people; as the photograph of the Christian worshipers may have indicated, Greenman takes a multi-religious, cosmopolitan approach towards a locale that is often considered primarily a Jewish religious experience, while also introducing a few tastes of the lay of the (holy) land.

As wonderful a document as this gallery is for its variety of captures, the finest are surely the sincere, superbly-composed, ‘fleeting moments’ such as the one of doorman and visitor or patriarch and worshiper, each one an exceptional documentary photograph.


Rated ‘Triple S’: A Stroll on the Strange Side

March 12th, 2013 No Comments
Lara Zankoul & Naeema Zarif

Lara Zankoul & Naeema Zarif (Photo credit: CC Beirut)

We get the week underway with our weekly Stroll on the Strange Side with this ‘Triple S’ post, beginning with the . . .


Yesterday, ‘confirmation’ of ghostly activity was reported in a tavern in New Jersey.  The connection to this blog is that you can view it!  Click the link to read about and see an ‘orb’ bounce around and run down a hallway.  Make that two – you can see two different videos of orbs on the move.

The writer of the article, Kelly Roncace, is a professional ghostbuster of sorts (“paranormal investigator,” to be politically correct) and she says: “a certain traveling, flashing ball of light that was captured may be the real thing. . . definitely an energy orb.”

We’ll take that with a pinch of something else beginning with ‘S’ . . .


Lara Zankoul ain’t no ghostbuster; however, she must be a devotee of Dali and Magritte, for she’s that rarity among photographers: a Surrealist.

Lebanese newspaper Al-Shorfa ran an interview with the winsome Miss Zankoul but, unfortunately, they do not do her talents justice: only one photograph adorns the interview.

Not a problem: Zankoul has a portfolio online and it’s a Surrealist sensation.

She has a whole section on ‘Tea cups’, a bigger and better one called ‘Expressions’, and a few images of levitating persons and one of a very unfortunate girl who woke up in the wrong place.

Amazingly, Zankoul does all this as a hobby – and, man, that’s just surreal!


Transitioning from colourbursts to shades of grey – make that shades of black, shadow black:–

Photographer Romain Laurent says that his “series is about the ‘surreal impression’ he felt while walking around on pitch black streets for hours over several nights,” in A Study of Shadows in Manhattan During the Blackout

This third element of our weekly ‘triptych’ of a kind unites the first two elements: not only are Laurent’s photographs about ‘surreal impression’, they are downright spooky, showing the ghostly side of what appears to be a modern-day ghost town.

A couple of the photographs here, such as this one, are genuinely top-class, evocative, well-balanced images in their own right and that should not be overlooked as a consequence of their novelty appeal or because they are part of a themed set.

Enjoy our ‘Triple S’ Post!


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Attention Newbie: A Trio of Tutorials to ‘Up’ Your Game

March 7th, 2013 No Comments

Today we feature a trio of somewhat related tutorials that are bound to ‘up’ any newbie’s photographic game.

A short and sweet how-to on DPSchool explains how you can nail sharp close-ups every time.  The first of three tips Steve Berardi provides has to do with contrast.  If your subject and background differ sharply in contrast, the subject will ‘pop’ and, as a result, the image will look sharp.

Next, every lens has an optimal aperture, shooting at which you can attain maximal sharpness for that lens.  Finally, Berardi advises that the camera’s sensor be kept parallel to the subject, i.e. the camera should not be tilted or be at an angle to the subject.

ePHOTOzine offers and equally to-the-point tutorial for dog-lovers.  Though it offers a couple of tips you can use to make cute portraits, such as lighting and exposure, the emphasis is on capturing action shots of dogs.

Besides providing predictable tips such as shutter-speed, this how-to instructs you to rope in some family members to call or play with the dog so you’re left free to concentrate on capturing the key moment.  Another technique is to predefine or anticipate a plane of focus a la athletic photography, and snap the shutter when the dog enters the plane.

Take an ultra-sharp photo of your romping pet by combining what you learnt in the above two tutorials – or perhaps we’ll let Paul Burwell furnish pinpoint advice in Making Sharper Wildlife Photographs.

Practice makes perfect is not an oft-heard tip but that’s precisely what Burwell prescribes in telling photographers to get acquainted with their tripod heads and mounting so that when a kingfisher swoops, you snap – or, rather, squeeze: eliminating the least jerk from your shutter-press so that your action is a swift yet gentle squeeze was one of the key tricks to being able to take handheld photos with low shutter-speeds in the old days when lenses had no stabilizers, and Burwell recommends it to this day.

A counter-intuitive tip to dampen camera vibrations with body weight is also on offer.  Now this is one you’ll probably have to practice.

Indeed, every newbie would be well advised to practice, and put into practice, all the diverse tips and tricks these three tutorials provide.

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