Monday, March 23, 2009

The dance goes on


Saturday night saw the annual 'Latin America' festival held in Frankston.

It is a colourful celebration showcasing music, dance, food and culture.  Last year I spent from midday until midnight there enjoying all the sights and sounds and photographing everything in sight.

This year I didn't realise it was on until I drove past the closed street where it is held.  So I spent a lot less time at it this year.  Still, I managed to get a few shots of the activities.

I guess that just shows that even if time is limited it is still possible to make images. 

All you have to do is make sure that you have a camera with you, that you are prepared to use it and most importantly, that you are open to the possibility that there are potential images everywhere if you are willing to see them.

Besides, what can be so bad about rocking up somewhere and photographing something?  I reckon it's a pretty good way of passing your time.  You might even get to meet a few interesting people.

Earlier in the week I went to the Cathy Lea School of performing arts.

 Made a few images for the project that I mentioned a few weeks back.  Didn't spend much time there - just an hour or so.  Helps the folks get used to a big stranger with a camera in hand.  
Now that I've been seen around the studios it will be easier to get shots of the students and instructors in a relaxed state.  The more they ignore me the better the images.

Street photography and photojournalism are a lot like that.  If you become almost invisible as a photographer then the chances of getting the shot increases.  That's what I reckon anyway. Ironically when you do blend in like that you still get a lot of people approaching and either posing or asking to be photographed.

Maybe it's because you appear less threatening when you blend in. Maybe they are just more comfortable.  Who knows?

I'm just glad that they do.

Stay safe.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Another perspective


In my experience I have found that most folk tend to have a certain view or perspective on life with which they are happy. Oft times nothing will budge them from their own cherished viewpoint.

(that laughter you hear is some of my acquaintances making thinly veiled references to pots and kettles being black)

No probs. Like everyone else I tend to make decisions, hold viewpoints and stick to them (at least until evidence appears which requires me to make an alteration to my perspective).

Photographers also tend to have a certain perspective on things. They may have a certain way of working that they are comfortable with and which results in images with a particular style. They may hold certain ideals to be true or may have been influenced by other photographers, artists, politicians, religious beliefs or political views. These can all bring a different view or perspective to the final image.

Then of course there is visual perspective in the image itself. This is achieved by a number of means. The most important is of course the camera to subject distance; not as commonly and erroneously held, the focal length of the lens being used.

One major constraint that is very common is the format of the camera. Over the years there have been a number of formats on the market. These include square formats, 'panoramic' formats and the most common which is a 3:2 rectangular ratio format.

It seems fairly common that a lot of photographers shoot with the 3:2 ratio in mind. Some have even stated that they would never crop an image; that it is somehow more truthful to have the entire image as captured by the camera displayed or printed. So the question is - does it have to be that way? If so - why? The image is captured in a format that was designed early last century. Who says it still has to be that way?

Modern digital SLR cameras have such a high quality of resolution that decent crops can be made while still maintaining enough detail to render a high quality image. Sure one can use a purpose built different ratio camera. The option to crop is there however and in the current equipment the quality of results has never been higher.

A couple of times lately this has been in my mind as I have been out and about with a camera. I find that thinking this way actually permits a bit more freedom in shooting. One can view a scene and not be forced to try to capture it in the constraints of the format dictated by the manufacturer of the tool being used.

The images on today's post were all cropped after capture. They were, however, made with the crop in mind. That is slightly different than making an image and deciding later that it would look better cropped.

The black and white image was also made with the camera set to monochrome. This forced me to look at the tones more so than the colours. True, some say always shoot in colour and convert later, thus having both options available. That is a pretty good philosophy. This time though, I decided to try to see the final image as a black and white one in a particular format.

Again it is all about thinking a little differently to one's normal pattern and seeing what results.

So try a little different perspective in your shooting. Look at the scene, not in the ratio of the tool you are using, but in a different mental ratio. I would be interested to hear what results are obtained by thinking just a little differently on this matter.

The final image, below, was not cropped. In a way it is still a different perspective on the scene.
The altered perspective in this instance can only be noticed by me and one other. It will not be readily apparent to the casual viewer. You see, as mentioned at the start of this post, we all have personal perspectives on things. Let me try to explain.

The first time I shot this wall several years ago, there was a friend standing beneath the sign. We had been having a meal one night at a nearby Chinese Restaurant and saw the sign up a laneway as we were walking back to the car. I was carrying a small compact digital and made an image of her standing and laughing because we both thought the words were somewhat appropriate.

I came across this laneway by accident again last week. I looked at the sign, smiled at the memory and made the image. Simple image, complex thoughts. Thoughts such as wondering what the heck happened.

The perspective is different not merely because one image is of a wall and a sign while the original, which I will not post, also had a beautiful woman in it. Rather, this is a different perspective in a symbolic, personal sense because she is in several ways no longer there.

I wish she was.

Stay safe.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The best tool for the job?


One of the most common conversations and questions one hears from wanna be photographers is around the subject of which is the 'best camera'. In fact there is a well known site dedicated to digital photography where the forum section is rife with comments from users of any particular brand of camera attacking other brands.

If half these forum users actually spent time using their equipment rather than talking about it, perhaps the quality of their images would improve.

Does it really matter to an individual which brand of equipment is used by someone else? Who cares what your friends use? Is it of such great importance that Mr. A uses brand X while Miss B uses Brand Y? Who gives a toss?

If the tools that you use do the job that you need them for, why care what anyone else uses? Furthermore, because you don't use another brand, does that really mean that it is inferior to your own choice?

Having said that, does that mean that one can't hold strong views on the ability of certain tools? No. Brand loyalty is a fact of the commercial world. Being satisfied with the purchases one makes and the subsequent ability of the equipment is actually vital. No matter what anyone says, we all have preferences which are based upon experience.

Likewise, the reputation of a company and its products can be severely damaged by just a few unfortunate occurrences.

For instance, the past year or so saw damage done to the reputation of Canon with severe focus problems in the 1D system. Those problems and the response of the company to those problems left a sour taste among many hard-bitten professionals.

Similarly, the length of time it took Nikon to produce its first so-called 'full frame' digital SLR, the D3, left many long time users less than happy.

In both instances many users decided to 'swap camps' and purchase the other brand.

This sort of thinking flows down to the amateur, where serious money resides for any successful company. It is in the realm of those amateurs where a lot of the petty 'brand wars' resides. One could almost be forgiven for thinking that these folk actually have large parcels of shares in the respective companies and therefore their well-being is dependent on the success of the company.

Now- none of that is to say that the tools are unimportant in the picture making process as some would have you believe. One should always try to use the best tool available.

If you shoot sports photography then there would be little point in trying to do so with a compact point and shoot. You would use equipment that aids you in doing sports photography. Similarly, if you worked exclusively in the studio, you would use the tools that best enable you to do so. If hand held low light work is your main area of concern, you would of course choose the camera that performed that function better than its competitors.

Don't get me wrong. I have used a particular brand for the last 28 years.  The brand has served me well.   During that time I have also used (and owned) many other brands and formats of cameras.  So I am fairly well entrenched in that one brand - Nikon.  It is not a blind loyalty, but one based on empirical information.

I do recognise however, that the main competitor, Canon, does have some wonderful equipment, particularly in the lenses.  They make good gear.   End of story.  I would not be confident however, about a lot of other brands.

The past few years have seen the end of some famous brands and serious shakeups in others.

Minolta disappeared to be reborn as Sony.  Sony have done remarkable well.

Just recently the company that tried to save Rollei, (Franke & Heidecke) filed for insolvency. Thus ends one of the all time great cameras.

Goodness knows how long Pentax will be around.

Leica recently announced the end of production of its current R-series cameras.   Perhaps they will replace it with another, or perhaps concentrate on the M-series as well as the larger format S-series.

That alone raises a serious question concerning Olympus.  While all other companies are following the trend toward bigger sensors due to the painfully obvious better quality of a larger sensor, Olympus chose to throw all its efforts in producing a system based upon a smaller format sensor.

Yeah, it may have sounded like a good idea a few years ago, but come on - a sensor with quarter the area of a 35mm image? Expecting that it can hold its own in image quality against larger sensors? Sorry folks. Unless some radical new technology comes along that will dramatically improve the quality, you have to be looking at a dead end format. Argue it anyway you like Olympus, but you're starting the game with a handicap.

Still, their cameras do perform well for certain uses. It's just that for serious blow up work, and especially high ISO work, they are at a disadvantage.

If a company lags in adopting new technologies it will not be long before it starts to feel the adverse results of such tardiness. Furthermore, the economic climate these days is such that even the largest of companies needs to show caution. It is a serious juggling of fiscal responsibility and spending to develop new equipment.

Who will be the major players in a year, or in two years?  Though I hate to say it, I tend to think that there may be more who disappear.   It is not a large stretch of the imagination to think that in a couple of years there will be the 'big three'  -  Nikon, Canon and Sony.  Any others will more than likely be bit players if they have survived.  Of course, there are no guarantees that any of the 'big three' will survive either, but they have more of a chance than the others.

So, what is the best tool for the job? What actually is the best camera?

That's an easy one to answer.  The best camera is the one you have with you that does the job you need to get done.   Simple.

Aside from using Nikon I also use a compact point and shoot camera from another manufacturer, Panasonic.   I rarely leave my front door without a camera on me.  If I don't take one of the more serious tools I will be carrying said compact.

The images on the post today were taken with that compact while I was on my usual evening stroll/run. They are not great works of art. There are obvious limitations to the image quality.

However - plainly I could not have made the images without having a camera with me. Therefore, the best camera for me at that time was my little compact.

I heartily recommend getting a compact camera if you don't already possess one.   Take it everywhere.  Who knows when the opportunity to use it may occur.  Perhaps then you will agree with the above comments on it being the best camera - at that time, at that place.

Oh, one more thing - brand loyalty can be a fine thing. Just stay away from those whose loyalty is a blind loyalty and who are concerned more with equipment than actually using it for its intended purpose.  Get out and make images instead!

Stay safe.