Category "Working"

National Geographic Photo Seminar 2013

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I attended National Geographic’s annual Photo Seminar last week. What started in 1967 as a way for photographers to informally gather and talk about their work (one attendee described it as an after the holidays palate cleanser), has become an annual rite for the exclusive group of photographers in the “Nat Geo” club and various hangers-on. From what I could gather the more recent seminars have taken the shape of canonizing the old guard, highlighting young new talent and pushing the boundaries of what might be acceptable for photography among the members and staff. A perfect mix in my opinion.

For me it was an awesome treat to watch photographers talk about their work. I look at work on my computer, in books and magazines and even sometimes on the wall, but it’s rare that I get to hear a photographer talking about their work. And wow, what a difference that makes. I need to do it more often as it renewed my spirit for the craft.

If there’s one word that describes what I witnessed at the event it would be emotion. From photographers who want to change the world, to those whose deep emotions manifest in the work to a deep love of subject, my nerves were raw after each speaker finished their outpouring of emotion. As I watched I discovered an excellent way to keep notes was to simply tweet out the great quotes I heard. Now, going back and remembering it all here are my highlights.

Master of ceremonies Vincent J. Musi in response to the unprecedented flood of photographers and imagery we’re experiencing quipped in his opening remarks “Have photographers become the endangered species?”. The answer came minutes later as he introduced street artist JR to the group. I say that because I believe what has changed is simply the definition of “professional photographer.” Go see JR’s Ted Prize talk from 2011 to understand what a special person he is. The mind bending part of his work is when he crowd sources and does not directly participate in the creation of  it. This is an important concept for photographers who don’t want to become endangered to consider.

The next photographer continued that thought as Michael Ravine who works with NASA and others discussed putting cameras on space ships and sending them to orbit the moon and rove around mars taking pictures. Many of us have fallen in love with the photography NASA and JPL are doing today, but nothing raises the hackles on traditional photographers like not standing in the field with your camera to make the picture. But, making pictures remotely is another concept that needs to be explored further.

Other highlights for me were an on stage interview of David Alan Harvey by Vincent that had so many memorable moments including David’s first rejection letter from National Geographic where he was told “You are young and strong and this is good because what I’m about to tell you will make you old and sick.” His own emotional journey into each subject he covers: “When I read about method action, I do the same thing with my photography” and “I go native every time. There’s a little piece of me in every assignment.” Then Aaron Huey gave a showstopper with his Pine Ridge Reservation talk that I’ve highlighted here before (Ted version) where he said, “Pine Ridge broke something inside me, but also opened something in my heart.”

Finally, Sebastião Salgado whose passion and devotion to photography and planet surely cannot be matched delivered the perfect summation of what I just witnessed: “Photography is the most powerful language ever created in the modern world”

I believe and have preached this thought over and over throughout my career. Photography is still powerful, but photographers must evolve and incorporate new ways to make and deliver the emotional impact available to them.

The New York Times Magazine: Photographs edited by Kathy Ryan

It’s just past the time of the year when everyone has posted their favorite photography books from 2012 and I thought I’d get in on the action, but because I’m very edgy I’m picking a book from 2011. Ok, actually I bought it last year intending to write about it, but my motivation left me somewhere along the way (almost didn’t do it again). My pick for for a timeless book everyone should own is The New York Times Magazine: Photographs edited by Kathy Ryan.

If you’re a fan of editorial photography, you know that The New York Times Magazine is the gold standard. This is not because they have their pick of photographers or because they publish weekly and have lots of assignments to hand out or because they’re not sold on newsstands so they don’t have to do many of the stupid things other magazines do to hit promised circulation numbers. All good reasons but no that’s not it. It’s because Kathy and crew swing for the fences with their pairings. They pair ambitious projects with ambitious photographers. They pair subject with a photographers particular experience and interest. Like a sommelier in the editorial department, they know it’s the chemistry between subject and photographer that makes incredible, memorable, home run photography.

This would be a great book if they simply picked the best photography from the last 33 years of the magazine and shipped it off to the printer. What makes it incredible and a valuable resource for anyone in the photography business is the commentary that accompanies nearly every image. The photographer, the subject, or one of the photo editors gives anecdotes about the subject, the shoot and even the circumstances surrounding the assignment. For me, it was like being in the photo department at The New York Times Magazine. An incredible treat for someone who loves magazine photography. If you’ve spent your career looking at photography like this, you will pick up the subtle difference when a great pairing is made.

Here’s a sample:

RICHARD BURBRIDGE
Author Tom Wolfe. Frome “Wolfe’s World,” published October 31, 2004.

For me, Tom Wolfe’s eccentricity is wonderfully expressed in this picture, by that crazy smile. He was charming. I thing that, above else, Tom Wolfe wis absolutely charming. And when I was equally charming, he was more charming. I like a portrait session to last ten minutes. When it goes past ten minutes, I’m in trouble, of something strange is happening. Because my photo-shoots are uncomfortable for most people. — RICARD BURBRIDGE

DAN WINTERS
Filmmaker Spike Jonze. From “Spike Jonze’s Wild Ride,” published September 2, 2009 (cover image)
I have to say, Dan was pretty patient with my back-seat driving. I definitely had opinions on what the photos should be. I think he has an ego as a photographer, in that he wants to make something he is connected to, but not so much so that he doesn’t also want the photo to represent the person. —SPIKE JONZE

NAN GOLDIN
Artist Kiki Smith. From t”The intuitionist,” published November 5, 2006.

Sometimes the slightly out-of-focus image is the one to go with. To me, this image is absolutely alive. It just breathes. And that celestial blue light brings to mind the hues and spirituality of Giotto. Goldin is a defining photographer of our time, who skips back a couple of centuries for her inspiration. — K.R.

GUEORGUI PINKHASSOV
Petlyura’s artists’s squat in Moscow. From “Young Russia’s Defiant Decadence,” published July 18, 1993

Gueorgui Pinkhassov says that he doesn’t have a particular intention when he is photographing; he is interested in something he doesn’t know. When he is shooting, he ignores the action and concentrates on the movement and intersection of purely visual elements–line, form, light. “Don’t be afraid to take bad pictures,” he says, “because good pictures are the mistakes of the bad pictures.” In this photograph, there are four separate actions that all weave together: one person lifts a cigarette, one tosses a ball, the dog looks on, and the Lenin-like figure drops the flag to the ground. For Pinkhassov, life is really like a tapestry—he’s never shooting just one thing, there are often several things happening simultaneously. –K.R.

A Short Lesson in Perspective

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1. The creative industry operates largely by holding ‘creative’ people ransom to their own self-image, precarious sense of self-worth, and fragile – if occasionally out of control ego. We tend to set ourselves impossibly high standards, and are invariably our own toughest critics. Satisfying our own lofty demands is usually a lot harder than appeasing any client, who in my experience tend to have disappointingly low expectations. Most artists and designers I know would rather work all night than turn in a sub-standard job. It is a universal truth that all artists think they a frauds and charlatans, and live in constant fear of being exposed. We believe by working harder than anyone else we can evaded detection. The bean-counters rumbled this centuries ago and have been profitably exploiting this weakness ever since. You don’t have to drive creative folk like most workers. They drive themselves. Just wind ‘em up and let ‘em go.

2. Truly creative people tend not to be motivated by money. That’s why so few of us have any. The riches we crave are acknowledgment and appreciation of the ideas that we have and the things that we make. A simple but sincere “That’s quite good.” from someone who’s opinion we respect (usually a fellow artisan) is worth infinitely more than any pay-rise or bonus. Again, our industry masters cleverly exploit this insecurity and vanity by offering glamorous but worthless trinkets and elaborately staged award schemes to keep the artists focused and motivated. Like so many demented magpies we flock around the shiny things and would peck each others eyes out to have more than anyone else. Handing out the odd gold statuette is a whole lot cheaper than dishing out stock certificates or board seats.

3. The compulsion to create is unstoppable. It’s a need that has to be filled. I’ve barely ‘worked’ in any meaningful way for half a year, but every day I find myself driven to ‘make’ something. Take photographs. Draw. Write. Make bad music. It’s just an itch than needs to be scratched. Apart from the occasional severed ear or descent into fecal-eating dementia the creative impulse is mostly little more than a quaint eccentricity. But introduce this mostly benign neurosis into a commercial context.. well that way, my friends lies misery and madness.

This hybridisation of the arts and business is nothing new of course – it’s been going on for centuries – but they have always been uncomfortable bed-fellows. But even artists have to eat, and the fuel of commerce and industry is innovation and novelty. Hey! Let’s trade. “Will work for food!” as the street-beggars sign says.

This Faustian pact has been the undoing of many great artists, many more journeymen and more than a few of my good friends. Add to this volatile mixture the powerful accelerant of emerging digital technology and all hell breaks loose. What I have witnessed happening in the last twenty years is the aesthetic equivalent of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. The wholesale industrialization and mechanistation of the creative process. Our ad agencies, design groups, film and music studios have gone from being cottage industries and guilds of craftsmen and women, essentially unchanged from the middle-ages, to dark sattanic mills of mass production. Ideas themselves have become just another disposable commodity to be supplied to order by the lowest bidder. As soon as they figure out a way of outsourcing thinking to China they won’t think twice. Believe me.

So where does that leave the artists and artisans? Well, up a watercolour of shit creek without a painbrush. That one thing that we prize and value above all else – the idea -  turns out to be just another plastic gizmo or widget to be touted and traded. And to add insult to injury we now have to create them not in our own tine, but according to the quota and the production schedule. “We need six concepts to show the client first thing in the morning, he’s going on holiday. Don’t waste too much time on them though, it’s only meeting-fodder. He’s only paying for one so they don’t all have to be good, just knock something up. You know the drill. Oh, and one more thing. His favourite color is green. Rightho! See you in the morning then… I’m off to the Groucho Club.”

–Linds Redding, a former Saatchi and BBDO art director, died of Cancer in October age 52.

“Power down. Lock up and go home and kiss your wife and kids.”

Read more of: “A Short Lesson in Perspective”.

After Sandy The Photo Industry Still Needs Your Help

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A reader sent this to me:

An OpenLetter to the Publishing and Advertising Community:

In the wake of Sandy, if you want to help out, hire people from New York and New Jersey. If you shoot your job here, that provides work for photographers, photo-assistants, producers, hair and makeup artists, stylists, rental studios, equipment houses, printers and caterers.

Most people lost at least 2-3 weeks of work and are still losing because of Sandy. We have the best in the business right here in NYC. Almost all of us are freelancers. We are not getting sick days or vacation days.

Every time you assign one shoot or award an advertising campaign, that helps New Yorkers get back on our feet. As photographers and producers, we can then hire other local people to work with us. We don’t want hand-outs. We want to work. Some of us have lost power, had our houses flooded, lost belongings but we persevere with our desire to work and rebuild.

If it can be shot in New York, shoot it here! (Your community is depending on you.)

Facebook Shuts Down Business Fan Page For Repeated Copyright Infringement

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The Cool Hunter is an influential website that’s been aggregating/curating on the web for a very long time. It’s one of the precursors to Pinterest where the author goes out and collects things found online and reposts them for their audience. And, Cool Hunting is an actual job in marketing where people go out and spot trends that businesses can use. So, for any businesses selling “cool” products, landing on a website like this is something you want to happen. This of course runs counter to copyright laws, because the website reposts images without permission and even sells advertising next to the found images. They rely on their influence over brands and their ability to simply remove images if contacted about a violation to avoid getting in trouble over this. That’s what makes Facebook’s decision to permanently disable their fan page and its 788,000 fans so interesting. Cnet is reporting that Facebook closed the account due to “repeat copyright infringement” (story here). Any business that is not posting images they own on Facebook should be very worried about this development. It makes me wonder if Facebook is showing Pinterest that the proper way to curate is to upload something you own the rights to then enable the sharing.

The Story Behind The Cover Of Re-Magazine #7

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I don’t think many covers are thought out in this level of detail but the conversation is always very similar with some sort of reference art, preferences of lighting and mood for newsstand sales and a description of an image you see in your head. I think the key to the cover discussions is to hire talented photographers and leave the description more amorphous so they can use their creative talent and on-set adjustments to make it great. This is obviously a great collaboration between a talented creative director and photographer.

 

A quick reminder of why Jop van Bennekom is (and always has been) one of the most interesting magazine makers    Dear Anuschka and Niels, We would like to brief you on how we envisage the cover of Re-Magazine #7. As you both know, the theme of this issue will be ‘Re-View’; all the articles will, in some way or other, question their own place and function. Magazine formats such as fashion features, letters and interviews will be ‘reviewed’. It remains to be seen however, if the published images and texts will amount to a significant media contribution . They may verywell cause the same kind of pollution caused by the daily flood of undesired information. In nearly every issue of Re-Magazine, we are inspired by the notion that people yearn for media silence because they’re continually subjected to information overkill. Texts Meant To Be Written, Not To Be Read. Pictures Meant To Be Taken, Not To Be Seen. In a way, ReMagazine is a magazine that refuses to be a magazine. The cover should communicate this ambiguous refusal – the cover as a review of itself. How do you feel about a girl on the cover? In our opinion, it would be better to work with a non-professional model. Someone from your own scene, someone you already know. Maybe someone you know really well. For example, someone you shared the third story of a house with for four years when you were a student. Perhaps someone with mixed blood, an Albanian father or something? That her grandmother still lives in Albania and she visits her during the holidays. Someone with long brown hair, copper highlights, a sort of autumn feeling. A girl’s face that has something classical, but also with a modern aura. A face in which the features are all very small; the eyes, the mouth, the nose. There are so many people who seem quite ordinary, but if you look at them closely, have really striking faces. We have a strong preference for a cover with a Vermeer connotation. The Girl with the Pearl, for example, is in fact already a cover avant la lettre. The glance the girl casts over her shoulder at the very moment the viewer catches her eye, is the central motif of this painting. That specific glance can be linked effectively to the concept ‘Re-View’. The painting is layered in gray tones and has a dark – nearly black – background. Regarding the cover, it’s probably better if the image is brighter and lighter because dark covers don’t sell at the newsstand. Ideally the facial expression of the girl will be less subtle and sensual than in Vermeer’s painting. Possibly a bit startled, a combination of curiosity and fear. Maybe even a bit scary. You could achieve this effect by getting the model to pose in an uncomfortable position. Having her avert her gaze from the camera as far as possible, but still just able to look into the lens. A difficult pose to keep. Possibly this will result in that slightly uneasy, startled and anxious look. The image together with the word ‘Re-View’, no longer has the meaning ‘critique’ but more a sense of reawakening in a visual world, seeing your surroundings afresh. Maybe the image expresses ‘Don’t buy me!’, ‘Go away!’ A message that alienates people but also intrigues when displayed among all the other magazines at the newsstand. We advise you not to take too long with the shoot. Have it take place, preferably, during the day. Towards the end of a Sunday morning, for example, so that the sleep wrinkles have just disappeared and the day’s weariness is not yet evident on the model’s face. Between eleven and two is probably the best time. When the model arrives you could make her feel at home by kissing her cheeks three times and offering her a cup of Earl Gray tea. While Niels is reminiscing about his student days, Anuschka can get the rolls of film out of the fridge and put on some music. Music the model also likes. Nomi for example, that opera singer from the Eighties who has overdosed on heroin since then. The singer who sings extremely high and then very low, a bit of opera and then an Elvis cover. When the model feels at ease, you can begin with the styling. A pearl earring or a headscarf à la Vermeer isn’t necessary. In actual fact you don’t need any styling at all. Professional models have self-thinking hair that springs into form at the mention of the words ‘photo shoot’ and we don’t want that now, do we? Possibly, the model is a little disappointed that there are no hair and make-up artists running around on the set, but she’s sure to understand when you explain that you’d rather portray her naturally, with uncombed hair, to stress her simplicity. During the shoot Anuschka might possibly tuck the model’s hair behind her left ear, as a reference to the line of the headscarf in The Girl with the Pearl by Vermeer. It might also be wise to ask the model to wear something neutral. In case her clothing isn’t right, it’s best to keep a gray or black T-shirt in reserve. For the lighting you could for example use a RedWing softbox measuring 90 by 120 centimeters. It would be best to place the softbox about one-and-a-half meters from the model. Set the RedWing softbox to medium to ensure the lighting isn’t too harsh. A light gray background seems to us a very suitable choice. Scenery would only distract. Maybe it‘s a good idea to direct a small, subtle red spotlight on the model’s face? Not an obvious effect in first instance, but once you’ve discovered it, an essential part of the photo – like a stain. Niels could make a hole with his finger in a polystyrene partition. Behind the partition you could aim the red spotlight on the model. In this way you can conjure up an improvised, painterly red spot on her face. In the end you could flip the image horizontally. So the reader could see her as she sees herself when she looks in the mirror. For this shoot you could use the Mamiya RZ67II instead of the Sinar technical camera. With the Mamiya RZ67II you can just keep snapping away, leaving you with 47 pictures to choose from in the end. With the Sinar you always have to change cassettes and ultimately you end up with only 5 pictures. With the versatile Mamiya RZ67II it’s easier to capture that specific look we’ve described. And don’t you agree that with the technical camera something of the picture’s inner focus might be lost because the model’s eyes, due to the slowness of the technique, assume a much dreamier expression? Good luck! Jop, Julia, Lernert, Arnoud (via REFERENCE LIBRARY: Re-Magazine #7, Autumn 2001)

 


Dear Anuschka and Niels,

We would like to brief you on how we envisage the cover of Re-Magazine #7. As you both know, the theme of this issue will be ‘Re-View’; all the articles will, in some way or other, question their own place and function. Magazine formats such as fashion features, letters and interviews will be ‘reviewed’. It remains to be seen however, if the published images and texts will amount to a significant media contribution . They may verywell cause the same kind of pollution caused by the daily flood of undesired information.

In nearly every issue of Re-Magazine, we are inspired by the notion that people yearn for media silence because they’re continually subjected to information overkill. Texts Meant To Be Written, Not To Be Read. Pictures Meant To Be Taken, Not To Be Seen. In a way, ReMagazine is a magazine that refuses to be a magazine. The cover should communicate this ambiguous refusal – the cover as a review of itself.

How do you feel about a girl on the cover? In our opinion, it would be better to work with a non-professional model. Someone from your own scene, someone you already know. Maybe someone you know really well. For example, someone you shared the third story of a house with for four years when you were a student. Perhaps someone with mixed blood, an Albanian father or something? That her grandmother still lives in Albania and she visits her during the holidays. Someone with long brown hair, copper highlights, a sort of autumn feeling. A girl’s face that has something classical, but also with a modern aura. A face in which the features are all very small; the eyes, the mouth, the nose. There are so many people who seem quite ordinary, but if you look at them closely, have really striking faces.

We have a strong preference for a cover with a Vermeer connotation. The Girl with the Pearl, for example, is in fact already a cover avant la lettre. The glance the girl casts over her shoulder at the very moment the viewer catches her eye, is the central motif of this painting. That specific glance can be linked effectively to the concept ‘Re-View’. The painting is layered in gray tones and has a dark – nearly black – background. Regarding the cover, it’s probably better if the image is brighter and lighter because dark covers don’t sell at the newsstand.

Ideally the facial expression of the girl will be less subtle and sensual than in Vermeer’s painting. Possibly a bit startled, a combination of curiosity and fear. Maybe even a bit scary. You could achieve this effect by getting the model to pose in an uncomfortable position. Having her avert her gaze from the camera as far as possible, but still just able to look into the lens. A difficult pose to keep. Possibly this will result in that slightly uneasy, startled and anxious look. The image together with the word ‘Re-View’, no longer has the meaning ‘critique’ but more a sense of reawakening in a visual world, seeing your surroundings afresh. Maybe the image expresses ‘Don’t buy me!’, ‘Go away!’ A message that alienates people but also intrigues when displayed among all the other magazines at the newsstand.

We advise you not to take too long with the shoot. Have it take place, preferably, during the day. Towards the end of a Sunday morning, for example, so that the sleep wrinkles have just disappeared and the day’s weariness is not yet evident on the model’s face. Between eleven and two is probably the best time. When the model arrives you could make her feel at home by kissing her cheeks three times and offering her a cup of Earl Gray tea.

While Niels is reminiscing about his student days, Anuschka can get the rolls of film out of the fridge and put on some music. Music the model also likes. Nomi for example, that opera singer from the Eighties who has overdosed on heroin since then. The singer who sings extremely high and then very low, a bit of opera and then an Elvis cover.

When the model feels at ease, you can begin with the styling. A pearl earring or a headscarf à la Vermeer isn’t necessary. In actual fact you don’t need any styling at all.

Professional models have self-thinking hair that springs into form at the mention of the words ‘photo shoot’ and we don’t want that now, do we? Possibly, the model is a little disappointed that there are no hair and make-up artists running around on the set, but she’s sure to understand when you explain that you’d rather portray her naturally, with uncombed hair, to stress her simplicity. During the shoot Anuschka might possibly tuck the model’s hair behind her left ear, as a reference to the line of the headscarf in The Girl with the Pearl by Vermeer. It might also be wise to ask the model to wear something neutral. In case her clothing isn’t right, it’s best to keep a gray or black T-shirt in reserve.

For the lighting you could for example use a RedWing softbox measuring 90 by 120 centimeters. It would be best to place the softbox about one-and-a-half meters from the model. Set the RedWing softbox to medium to ensure the lighting isn’t too harsh. A light gray background seems to us a very suitable choice. Scenery would only distract.

Maybe it‘s a good idea to direct a small, subtle red spotlight on the model’s face? Not an obvious effect in first instance, but once you’ve discovered it, an essential part of the photo – like a stain. Niels could make a hole with his finger in a polystyrene partition.

Behind the partition you could aim the red spotlight on the model. In this way you can conjure up an improvised, painterly red spot on her face.

In the end you could flip the image horizontally. So the reader could see her as she sees herself when she looks in the mirror.

For this shoot you could use the Mamiya RZ67II instead of the Sinar technical camera. With the Mamiya RZ67II you can just keep snapping away, leaving you with 47 pictures to choose from in the end. With the Sinar you always have to change cassettes and ultimately you end up with only 5 pictures. With the versatile Mamiya RZ67II it’s easier to capture that specific look we’ve described. And don’t you agree that with the technical camera something of the picture’s inner focus might be lost because the model’s eyes, due to the slowness of the technique, assume a much dreamier expression?

Good luck!

Jop, Julia, Lernert, Arnoud

(via REFERENCE LIBRARY: Re-Magazine #7, Autumn 2001)

(via Richard Turley)

 

Olympic Photography Goes Amateur

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The internet is buzzing about these Olympic portraits taken by Joe Klamar for AFP and Getty. Most of the talk is about how unprofessional they look with ripped seamless, rumpled flags and sinister lighting (Reddit thread here). I have to agree, but rather than throw Joe under the bus I think AFP and Getty are to blame for not doing an edit or even tossing the shoot (actually don’t know if that’s even possible). Obviously Joe had his 5 minute sessions with exhausted athletes and failed. So, why not edit them?

There’s some interesting conspiracy theories surrounding the shoot as well. BAG has a post abut how it could have been intentional and meant to poke holes in the idealized portraits we normally see of team USA (here): “I think this subset of photos also take a silent sledgehammer to the jingoistic adulation of the American team, to the extent these athletes serve as a fantasy extension of the dying dream of American worldwide superiority.” Unfortunately, I think the answer is more pedestrian: editors asleep at the switch treating an olympic portrait session like a flickr feed.

You can see the whole take (here). Note: other photographers images are mix in with Joe’s.

Review Santa Fe: Photographers Listing

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Hot on the heels of Jonathan’s post yesterday about the Fotofest portfolio review I discovered that Review Santa Fe has their listing of Photographers whose portfolios made the cut up on their website. I’m pointing it out, because it’s a great resource for anyone who hires photographers for a living. When that was my job I would take time out each week to troll the internet for new talent and running across anyone’s curated list was a great find and could easily suck up an hour of your workday, but would result in a couple new bookmarks.

Any of you who made the list, congratulations and good luck next week. I’ll be around (not reviewing) so come say hi. The website is quite easy to navigate, because you can quickly click to the next photographer (bottom left) and each one is only represented by a couple images. Plus, it lists where they live which is incredibly helpful.

http://www.visitcenter.org/reviews/photographers_listing/review_santa_fe_2012

Is It Time To Eliminate Stills From Your Shoot?

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Last summer I was having dinner with an Art Director who was fielding emails from a client who wanted to pull stills from the commercial video shoot to drop into the background of the commercial stills shoot he was on. He bemoaned the fact that he would probably have to show them how horrible that would look to convince them it could not be done.

Several weeks ago I was at Shoot LA talking to a ski photographer who was on a ski movie shoot in Alaska where the crews all shot with the Red camera. I asked him if he felt his job was in jeopardy since they could probably pull stills straight from the footage. He said they shot at too low of a shutter speed to pull stills for the action shots but he was surprised at how easy it was to scrub though all the footage and find images you liked. The editing process, that I had surmised might keep photographers busy, was simple and fast.

When photographer Kevin Arnold showed me his blog post about his own testing with the RED camera and pulling stills I asked him if I could reprint it in full here. It’s a topic we should all be watching closely. Here’s Kevin’s full blog post reprinted with permission from (here):

Stills, Meet Motion

Ever since the advent of HD video, we’ve all been hearing how the need for pure still photography will disappear since we’ll be able to just pull stills from video. I’ve never felt threatened by this line of thinking; I believe that there will always be a place for still photography because it has its own aesthetic. I also like embracing new technology.

This winter, I decided it was time find out for myself how close we are to that reality. I’d read about fashion photographers shooting magazine covers with the RED camera, so I called up the company to see if I could test their latest high-resolution camera, the RED EPIC in the kind of environment where I shoot. They sent me a lightweight $65,000 rig set up for handheld shooting. I was excited to get my hands on this cutting-edge gear, but I also had a commercial interest in this experiment; most of my advertising clients are asking for motion and still assets. Combining the two mediums on the same set has always been cumbersome. If I could capture both simultaneously, it could be a great solution.

The Gear

Even if this kind of shooting isn’t mainstream yet, a recent convergence of technologies has certainly made the idea more attainable. For starters, the resolution of the cameras continues to increase. The EPIC, for example, can output 5K raw video and 14-megapixel stills. It can also shoot 120 frames-a-second at full resolution – key for achieving the high enough shutter speeds for sharp stills. And because it’s a modular system, it can be set up for fast moving handheld shooting. Being chained to a tripod just isn’t my style.

Of course, the drawback of handheld shooting is shaky footage. There’s a reason why most serious cinematographers use heavy tripods, shoulder mounts, and steadycam rigs. But recent advances in post-processing stabilization software have changed the game. With new plug-ins that allow for correcting shake in post without much loss in quality, a whole realm of possibilities for fast-and-light shooting has opened up.

The timing seemed perfect for my little experiment.

The Plan

Besides shooting handheld, I also wanted to shoot with a small crew: two assistants and myself.  No focus pullers, grips, or lighting specialists that would be on a typical video shoot. I wanted the production level to match a typical still action or lifestyle shoot.

Power and storage are definitely an issue with shooting with the EPIC and we had to develop systems for both. We would be using RED’s small batteries to keep the camera light. Each battery last 20 minutes and takes 2 hours to recharge. We packed 8 batteries each day, and worked out ways to recharge on the go. We also packed hundreds of GBs of memory cards, and made sure we had the resources to upload and back up files each night.

Since we were shooting in the mountains, we had to consider how to keep the camera intact. I had no intentions of calling up my insurance company to tell them I’d just toasted a camera worth more than my car that didn’t even belong to me. While not weather sealed like my Nikons, the EPIC is built tougher than most video cameras. We got away with using a light rain cover when it was snowing heavily. Admittedly, the camera got a pretty wet a few times, but it kept working without missing a beat.

The Shoot

After testing the system for a couple of days and figuring out the best settings to attain smooth video and sharp stills, we started shooting on Whistler Mountain. I had originally budgeted for five days of shooting, but the weather didn’t agree. As seemingly endless cycle of snowstorms pounded the region that week quickly shrunk to one and a half days.

The advantage of being a fast and light crew was that we were able to adapt quickly and take advantage of the weather window without losing a lot of time or money. In the end, we easily came out with enough footage for what we needed. Working with incredible talent didn’t hurt. Matt Elliott and Austin Ross are great skiers who knew the mountain and were able to nail most shots in one take.

With the footage in the bag, we would now find out how things looked.

The Results

The video files were amazing; a no-brainer. This is what the EPIC does best, and it didn’t disappoint. Stunning resolution, accurate color, and smooth slow motion. Watching the clips at full resolution is actually a bit mesmerizing.

When it came to pulling stills, things weren’t quite as perfect.

First the good. What I thought would be the most daunting task – editing through 120 frames per second– turned out to be relatively painless. Scrubbing through the footage using RED’s REDCINE X Pro software is pretty snappy on a decent Mac, and honing in on the right frame is actually easier than scrolling through a pile of still images in Lightroom or Aperture.

Adjusting saturation, color, and exposure was also pretty easy, and can be done at the raw stage, which is key because video files by nature are pretty flat. We still had to do a quite a bit of color-correction and retouching in Photoshop to bring the stills up to speed. A lot more than we normally would on still files from a DSLR.

What I hadn’t anticipated going into this was the advantages this style of shooting would offer in terms of capturing natural expressions and key moments. Obviously, when you’re shooting 120 frames-per-second, it’s almost impossible to miss a moment. But there’s more to it. Shooting video is comparably silent and, without the constant clicking of the shutter reminding them that their every movement was being recorded, the athletes were able to forget I was there. This is huge when you’re striving for authentic, candid images, a hallmark of my work.

The Challenges

Like I said, it wasn’t all rosy. The EPIC’s sensor, while amazing for video, just isn’t on par with top end DSLRs and certainly not even close to medium format digital cameras when it comes to still images.

The bigger challenge – especially when shooting fast moving lifestyle or sports action – is achieving fast shutter speeds. The great majority of the frames we shot were soft due to either camera movement, or subject motion blur. This is the single biggest issue with pulling stills from video. The fact is that video looks best when shot with a shutter angle of 180 degrees, or double the frame rate. Shooting at 120 frames per second, means you’re really limited to about 1/250 of a second– not nearly fast enough to achieve 100 percent sharpness on every frame. In theory, you can crank up the shutter speed on the EPIC to freeze motion, but the video will suffer as a result. Moreover, motion blur is actually what  makes video look smooth and pleasing to watch.

You could crank up the frame rate on the EPIC to 300 fps, which we considered, but to do so, you have to sacrifice even more resolution. Ultimately, until RED or someone else creates a handheld camera that can shoot full resolution on a 35mm-size sensor at 300 frames-per-second, this will be a major limitation to taking the leap.

Were there other issues? Yes, but they are mostly easily overcome. The massive amounts of power and storage, for example, were manageable in this situation, but would become a major obstacle on a more remote shoot. Achieve critical focus is also another major challenge. The EPIC’s autofocus doesn’t hold a candle to modern DLSRs. Manual focus gets easier with practice.

In the end, the dream of simultaneously grabbing stills and video for what I shoot is not quite there. It’s certainly close, and I’m convinced that it won’t be long until the dream is a reality.

In the meantime, this shoot was not a total failure. I created a few great stills that I really like. And on the video front, shooting with the EPIC was an eye opener that will change how I shoot for clients. Using a small crew, we were able to produce cinematic-quality motion in a challenging location on a very small budget. This creates whole new possibilities for my lifestyle and sports clients.

Here are some final stills from the test:

ACLU Says: Know Your Rights Photographers

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Silly video about an important topic:

They also have a page dedicated to photographer rights: http://www.aclu.org/free-speech/know-your-rights-photographers

When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view. That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police. Such photography is a form of public oversight over the government and is important in a free society.

When you are on private property, the property owner may set rules about the taking of photographs. If you disobey the property owner’s rules, they can order you off their property (and have you arrested for trespassing if you do not comply).

Police officers may not generally confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant. If you are arrested, the contents of your phone may be scrutinized by the police, although their constitutional power to do so remains unsettled. In addition, it is possible that courts may approve the seizure of a camera in some circumstances if police have a reasonable, good-faith belief that it contains evidence of a crime by someone other than the police themselves (it is unsettled whether they still need a warrant to view them).

Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances.

Police officers may legitimately order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations. Professional officers, however, realize that such operations are subject to public scrutiny, including by citizens photographing them.

Note that the right to photograph does not give you a right to break any other laws. For example, if you are trespassing to take photographs, you may still be charged with trespass.

Health Care For Photographers

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I got a question from a reader about health care:

I’m shopping around for health care and it would be real interesting and helpful to see what people say and recommend in the comments section.

If you have any tips leave them in the comments. I’m sure many readers will find this helpful.