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Are Photographers Losing a Battle of Attrition?

This is an image made on my Smartphone in 2016, and then re-worked in Painter Essentials
Copyright 2018 Andy Richards

There is a war out there. It is being fought in the trenches by professional photographers.  Most people are probably not even aware of it, but I think most pros are.

“Short messages,” emoticons, and on-line abbreviations, have “dumbed down” our world

Perhaps more than anything, it is a war about technology. They are not fighting technology itself.  Indeed, technology has by and large, been a great friend to photographers. The war exists in a new world order, in which photographic imagery is judged not so much by its technical and aesthetic merit, but things like “likes,” “reblogs,” and “tweets.”

Having been a lifelong early-adopter of all things digital, I spend a fair amount of time online, and on social media. So I see a lot of photographs out there on a daily basis. Over time, this has become more and more, an image-centric phenomena. Instagram, for example was created specifically as an image-sharing media. Twitter, a service designed pretty much specifically for “short-messages,” also has image-posting capability.  Perhaps the most well-known is Facebook, which not only allows posting in messages, but archives and makes available thousands of user-posted images.

Original Image made with Blackberry Priv Smartphone
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

In the past, I have lamented the negative effect of this “digital” phenomena. “Short messages,” emoticons, and on-line abbreviations (and I am as guilty as the next person of over using them), have “dumbed down” our world. I daily observe online presences that demonstrate a basic ignorance of grammar, spelling, and history. The assault on our language, history and culture stormed the beachhead a long time ago and has made major inroads, “inland,” so to speak.

But there is a photographic component now, to this, and that is what I am referring to when I suggest that there is a war out there.

That is not to say that it has made us better photographers. Indeed, it just may be that it has made it easier for the vast majority of us to just get lucky, with our images

At the same time, technologically, the equipment available to make photographs has moved light-years in the past 50 years. It used to be the case that in order to make a nice image (usually a large(r) print), the photographer would have to have a reasonably high quality camera, and use and understand film, exposure and focus (as well as have an understanding of some of the more refined technical and aesthetic qualities of a good photograph). Digital technology, with auto-focus, face-recognition, sophisiticated “automatic” metering capability, and higher and higher quality image-sensors and lenses, has simply made it easier to make a technically sound image.  That is not to say that it has made us better photographers. Indeed, it just may be that it has made it easier for the vast majority of us to just get lucky, with our images. Today’s leading “smart-phone” cell phones have some pretty impressive digital camera capability, both in terms of hardware, and of software (and since the vast majority of photographs today are presented as internet-based digital images, they can look pretty good.

This image was made with a Nikon SLR camera and color transparency film, and later scanned.
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

I have the privilege and pleasure of knowing some shooters who make their living as professional photographers. I don’t envy them.  Most of the ones I know have established their careers, and while they have had to adapt to these technological changes, continue to make a good living at their craft. But there are many who do not fare so well.  Particularly those who are what I might call generalists. When I moved into my small community, there were probably a dozen small, professional photography studios. They shot Seniors in the spring, weddings, family photos, and contract jobs. That number has dwindled. A day or so ago, I happened to notice a (digital) sign in front of a studio that I had never paid much attention to, but pass by nearly daily.  In large, bright letters, it advertised “50% off Senior Photos,” “no sitting charge,” etc. This was a studio that has been in business for over 50 years and was notably successful. 20 years back 50% off would not have been common and most certainly would not have been advertised.

Unfortunately, I do not see this as a war that will be won by “the good guys”

Personally, I don’t think this is because of competition from other professional photographers. Instead, I think it is based on partly perception, partly reality, that we no longer need professional photographers to shoot our portraits. I don’t have any empirical information, but I suspect that business for studio photographers is way below what it was a few years back.

This image was made with the “professional” Nikon D800 and a “pro” Nikkor Zoom lens. I was experimenting with depth of field.
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

This is rather short-sighted, and demonstrates a continuing erosion of our standards as a society. There are things a trained, professional photographer knows how to do that make photographic images. It is not about fancy equipment or secret formulas.  It is about study, hard work, and experience. Unfortunately, I do not see this as a war that will be won by “the good guys.”

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Life and the Learning Curve

Beginning with the Ephesian Philosopher, Heraclitus, it has often been famously said that “change is the only constant.”  I recently purchased yet another version of my preferred textbook on Photoshop by Martin Evening: “Adobe Photoshop CC for photographers” (formerly “Adobe Photoshop for Photographers”); now “version 2018”.  My last version was purchased only 4 years ago, and yes, there has been that much change in this program!  I had been refreshing my memory on a couple of the tool settings and realized that there are options on my screen that weren’t covered by my bookThat got me thinking about change and the learning curve.

it has been my thesis over the years that although we now have some pretty amazing digital cameras at reasonable prices, it was consumer “point & shoot” digital cameras that drove the revolution

Thomas and John Knoll first created their “Photoshop” software, to display grayscale images on computers, in 1987.  Not yet “ready for prime time” or for retail consumption, the early “Knoll Software” company’s program was first known simply as “Display.”  It was shortly changed to “Image-Pro.”  But when they finally found a buyer and it went to the commercial/retail market in 1988, having been licensed to the Adobe Software Company, it became “Photoshop,” and continues to this day, to be the benchmark everyone is trying to meet or beat.

Nikon DCS 100

While the very first useable digital camera was probably created by Kodak in 1975, the real “revolution” began in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  During that time period some DSLR cameras were produced but were too expensive for general consumption.  Smaller “digicams” began to appear, however, and it has been my thesis over the years that although we now have some pretty amazing digital cameras at reasonable prices, it was these consumer “point & shoot” digital cameras that drove the revolution.  The 1991 Nikon D1 was probably the first semi-affordable enthusiast/pro camera and still cost a healthy $5,000 (while weighing in at nearly 3 pounds and delivering a whopping 2.7 megapixels).  Canon and Fujifilm followed shortly.  Then the Canon 3 megapixel, D30 debuted in 2000 as the first real “prosumer” DLSR.  In 2002, they followed with a 6 megapixel D60 and Nikon matched with their own 6 megapixel D100, both coming in just under $2,000, and the “prosumer” DSLR revolution was in full swing.

Sony RX100

For the next nearly 20 years, we saw a continuous lineup of new digital cameras, beginning with “APS” sized sensors, to so-called “full-frame” 35mm-equivalent sensors, and from traditional SLR-styled bodies, to the newer mirrorless models.  Of course, there were also larger format digital bodies, but because of a mix of expense and size and limitations on ISO, they have never caught on with the masses.

Along with the evolution of digital cameras, there was a need/demand for pixel-editing software.  And while there have certainly been numerous participants in the mix, Photoshop has been the benchmark to meet or beat.  From 1990 on, there were new editions released approximately every two years.  When first released, Photoshop was written for MAC computers and only available on Apple’s platform until version 2.5, released in 1992.  Clearly this was in response to demand.  Since version 2.5, new releases have essentially been parallel for Window and Mac.  And over time, some pretty impressive new features were added every few years.  Originally having notable features like levels, curves, the clone tool, color balance, hue and saturation adjustments, in 1994, layers were added to version 3.0.

with the evolution of digital cameras, there was a need/demand for pixel-editing software

In 2003, for reasons really known only to Adobe, Photoshop dropped the version numbers in the title (with version 7.0 being the last) and became “Photoshop CS” (versions are still retained, however).  CS introduced ACR (Adobe Camera Raw decoding engine) 2x.  CS2, in 2007, added a new user interface and some additional bells and whistles.  CS3 continued the “new and improved” feature set.  In 2008, CS4 was released with lots of “refinements,” but nothing new and exciting. Though we are up to, I believe, “version 7 or 8 of ACR, there is little or no change from version number to version number.  The real changes occurred in what Adobe refers to as their “process version.”  In 2003, we were working with process version 1.  Process version 2 was rolled out in 2010.  It may have been the most dramatic change.  Process version 3 came in 2012, and we are now working with process version 4, since 2017.

My LightCentric Logo Image in the current Photoshop CC version of Camera Raw

At the same time, Adobe released Lightroom 1.0 in 2007, following with version 2.0 in 2008.  This program was aimed squarely at photographers. Photoshop is a very robust graphics editing and creating program, which was Adobe’s only in depth pixel editing offering for serious photographers (Elements and other versions of “Photoshop – Lite” type software were available, but were in my experience, woefully inadequate to the task).  In the meantime, many of us photographers found that the continuing stream of new versions often did not justify the cost of the upgrade.  We often skipped a version (or two or three).  Then, when the CS series came along, Adobe began to essentially require sequential upgrading.  Shortly after that, Adobe announced the discontinuation of the stand-alone version of Photoshop,with the roll-out of cloud-based Photoshop CC (in lieu of CS7).  Unlike the former Photoshop model, “owners” of the full program installed on their computer (well, at least owners of the right to use it 🙂 ) have now become “subscribers,” paying a monthly fee and working in “the cloud” (on the internet).  This, in all probability, has motivated some new, competing “complete photo-editing” programs, which tout the fact that they are still stand-alone.  And some of them are pretty darn good.

Screenshot from my Lightroom catalog

Lightroom has continued to develop (pun intended) as a stand-alone photographers’ alternative to Photoshop.  Apple’s now-discontinued Aperture was also a parallel Lightroom alternative for Apple owners (I am not an Apple user, but I understand that part of the decision involved Apple’s roll-out of a new program called “Photos” which will integrate with its iCloud – it appears that iPhotos and Aperture will not, including the legacy software, which should still work stand-alone).  Meanwhile, it seems that everyone is jumping on the raw editor “bandwagon.”  A quick online search reveals at least 10 (and I am sure there are more) names that have some familiarity out there.  Some of them started out as Photoshop “plugins.”  I have played around with a couple of them, including ON1, Capture 1, and Topaz Labs.  They are all up-and-coming Photoshop competitors.  There are those who say one or the other of them does some things better than Photoshop.  Sounds a bit like the “camera wars” we have all come to know.  Every “flavor” is going to have do some things better than the others, and some things not so well.  I will continue to look at these alternative (or in some cases supplemental) programs.  But for now, Photoshop still does the overall combination of things that works best for me (and at this time, I believe, the majority of others doing digital post-processing).

owners of Photoshop have now become subscribers

All of these software programs (though they have many similarities) have a new and different “learning curve.”  Photoshop is — perhaps — the most daunting of all of them, and once a person has put as much time as many of us have into learning its “ins and outs,” it is hard to shift to a different program.  As for Photoshop, I have owned many “how too” texts for Photoshop (as well as Lightroom and some of the plug-ins for Photoshop and Lightroom).  I feel like I have contributed my part to the publishing industry’s well-being 🙂 (though it looks more and more like they are going to be eclipsed by digital media).  The Martin Evening Book is over 700 pages and only attempts to cover the photographer-aspect of this very complex and very robust program.  It is a $50.00 book and that is an expensive addition to the already healthy cost of acquiring and maintaining Photoshop.  But is the only comprehensive “textbook” guide available of its kind (that is not intended to be a lukewarm endorsement – it really is a very good book).  There is a lot of material available free on the internet.  But there is no real organized source to have as a desktop companion when working with the program.  The Adobe site’s so-called “help” program is not really very good, in my opinion.  It is too general, and there is as much of a chance of not finding the item you need explained or expounded as not.  Unfortunately, most of this text are 80% repetition from past versions.  It would really be nice if the writers and publishers would offer a smaller (and cheaper) version that is kind of a “What’s New In Version x.0” (which is done now, only on a website).  But here it is.  And again, change is going to continue, and therefore apparently so is cost – if you want to move with the change. 🙂

for now, Photoshop still does the overall combination of things that works best for me

What’s In The Bag (Today)

Tokyo Dawn Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Tokyo Dawn
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

There should be little doubt to the reader here that I have hit a bit of a dry spell when it comes to both topics and photography.  🙂  We have had a very mild winter here (so far) and the part of Michigan I live in is pretty flat, and pretty brown this time of year.  It is also cold.   That creates an atmosphere in which it is difficult to get motivated to go out and shoot.

Sunrise; Ft. Myers Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sunrise; Ft. Myers Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Usually when this happens, I start going through old images, and come up with something.  I think I have kind of beaten that to death, so I started going through old blog topics, from the early day forward.  A couple of patterns come up.  I have addressed the IP issues of photography a fair amount.  I have talked about digital processing.  I have talked about my travels, and I have talked about “gear.” 🙂

New York, New York Casino at night Copyright Andy Richards 2016

New York, New York Casino at night
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Gear is a funny thing.  It is a part of every photographer’s evolution from a beginning shooter forward.  At some point we fall in love with gear and begin to think it is going to make us a better photographer.  Eventually we learn that it doesn’t really do that at all.  We buy cheap gear because we cannot afford the real high quality stuff in many instances.  Then we look back and realize that we spent at least as much on the different iterations of cheap gear as we would have spent on the quality gear in the first place (this is especially true of lenses and tripods).

Wooden Boats Awaiting Restoration Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Wooden Boats Awaiting Restoration
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

And then there is the evolution of gear.  My starting point was a 35mm SLR film camera with a turn-hand winder, and without a built in light meter.  Today I carry the physical equivalent of a P&S for 90% of my shooting.  But in between ……. 🙂 wow.  Reviewing a couple old posts, I had to laugh.  In 2011, I waxed philosophical about “less is more” [“In the Bag” (getting ready for Spring)].  At the end of that blog, I listed the gear in my “bag” in 2011.  LOL.  All in, that was about 15 lbs of gear (not to mention the bulk of schlepping that stuff around).

Flag Detail The Acropolis Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Flag Detail
The Acropolis
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Today I travel mostly with my Sony RX100iv weighing about 1/2 lb and pocketable.  When I do need a tripod, my Sirui T-025X carbon fiber tripod weighs about 1/5 lbs, and its (just under) 12 inch folded length fits in my carry on bag.  It is plenty rigid enough for a light P&S camera.  But I have used it with my bigger cameras, too.  You may need to brace it, but it will still be better than no tripod in those instances when you are simply unable to pack one.  I would say “less is more” fits my today’s mode better than it did in 2011. 🙂

Temple Rokuon-Ji Kyoto Japan Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Temple Rokuon-Ji
Kyoto Japan
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

My point, though, is that photograpers and technology both evolve.  The RX100iv was not in existence in 2011 and there was simply no equivalent (the RX100 debutted in June 2012, but it was not even close to the camera the later iterations — especially the III, IV and V — were).  At the same time, the more I traveled the less pleasure I found in lugging all that gear around.  It is a lot of trouble in most cases.  I have to confess that I still keep my Sony a7 DSLR-like body, a couple of lenses, and a larger carbon fiber tripod, which I use for “dedicated” photography outings.  I am still able to fit the body and lenses in a carryon bag, and the Sirui 3204x tripod, with a folded length of 20 inches, fits rather easily in a checked bag (I have also carried it on in a carry-on size suiter suitcase).  Even that gear weighs about 1/2 of the 2011 bag.

Clontarf, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Clontarf, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Every image except the last one (a7) here was taken with the small cam.  For purposes of my photography and vision, I do not think it has suffered by shedding weight and numbers of equipment 🙂

Truth in Photography (Here I go again)

Birch Clump Hiawatha NF; Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Birch Clump
Hiawatha NF; Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

[Recently, I seem to have run out of fresh, new material, which partially explains my more infrequent posts here (my goal has been one a week and over the years, I have largely met it).  When I get into these times, I will sometimes look back at prior posts to see if there is anything worth re-visiting, and through my Lightroom archives to see if anything stimulates me.  I have done that for the last 2 weeks.  Nothing.]  🙂

“truth isn’t absolute”

So, this morning, I spent some time with my friend, “GOOGLE,” and found this article, Why Facts Aren’t Always Truth In PhotographyMany will remember the Afgan Girl magazine cover that (perhaps) launched photographer Steve McCurry into international recognition.  He has recently made news (at least in the photographic world) again.  Without getting into the specific circumstances of the article (written by a colleague and fellow professional photographer, Peter van Agtmael) it’s “10,000 foot view” is, in my view, focused more on some principles of “truth” in photography that can be generalized.  And boy, did it resonate with me.  In fact, it can — I believe — be applied to much of what has gone on in the past several months over media, social media and even the coffee table.

Starting with one of my earliest posts, “Get Real,”  and for example, “Has The Digital Medium Changed Everything?,” and “Photoshop Is Not Evil,” over the years I have been writing here, I have made frequent reference to my thoughts on the use of “digital darkroom techniques” to “enhance” my own images.  I think I have made position clear when it comes to the art of photography.  But Mr. van Agtmael ventures into photography that is not made, per se, as “art.”  Rather, he addresses what I refer to as “reportage” photography.  Presumably, the image depicts things exactly as they appeared.

“We shouldn’t mistake something factual for something truthful, and we should always question which facts are employed, and how.” (Peter van Agtmael)

 

Humanity is not scientific.  Biology is.  The human brain is a scientific wonder.  The workings of human brain?  Well that is only “scientific” to the extent that it is thinking about science.  The rest?  It’s an art form for certain.  How else can both the consistency and inconsistency of human thought be explained?  And so, Mr. van Agtmael posits something we have all heard back in our own ancient histories, at some point.  In my words, “truth isn’t absolute.”  But that is a bit cliche‘.  In his much more eloquently stated words: ” ... there were a lot of loaded words like ‘truth’ and ‘objectivity’ being thrown around. I don’t really believe in these words. I’ve never met two people with the same truth, nor seen true objectivity ever demonstrably applied to anything. They are nice words, but remain aspirational and cloud a more nuanced interpretation of reality and history. We shouldn’t mistake something factual for something truthful, and we should always question which facts are employed, and how.”  I like that.  Our world is filled with millions and millions of “facts.”  We also hear a lot of opinion which is cited as fact.  But even with incontrovertible, empirically provable facts, it is still important to understand context and relevance.

Goat Island Light Newport, Rhode Island Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Goat Island Light
Newport, Rhode Island
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

The opening image here is (OMG!) altered.  I know viewers will say I “saturated” it, I “enhanced” it, etc. (maybe; maybe not 🙂 ).   But that isn’t really what I mean.  This image was physically “altered” before it was even made!  I had an image I wanted to depict, and in the crotch formed by the 3 trunks there was I small pile of dead branches which were (in my view) unsightly and distracting.  Is it relevant that I removed them and spread the leaves around a bit?  Could the image have been found the way I have presented it?  Perhaps if I were trying to depict the “pristine” quality of nature, or deny that it can sometimes be messy, the answer would be different.  I appreciate that this is not reporting on the refugee crisis and is trivial in relation to that.  But this is a photography blog, and I don’t do reportage photography.  I just thought Mr. van Agtmael’s point would resonate even in the perhaps less significant milieu of nature photography.

How else can both the consistency and inconsistency of human thought be explained?

Those who have read here previously know the story of the Goat Island Light Image.  I placed those chairs there.  “Hand of man and all that good stuff.”  Again, I don’t mean to trivialize the serious piece.  But I do think the larger point has application to all of our photography.

Fayette State Park Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Fayette State Park
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

If the viewer looks carefully at the bottom center of this image, there is a snarl of yellow polyethlyene rope in the foreground.  A better photographer than I would probably have seen that detail and excluded it (or perhaps purposely included it, again depending on the goal of the image).  I would not perhaps shock anyone here that before I made a print of this image I (GASP!) “Photoshopped” the rope out.

Small things.  But then, from small minds ……..  🙂

But seriously, I would commend the reader to read the Peter van Agtmael piece on Steve McCurry debacle.  While you may or may not agree with me, or with its premise, I hope you will agree that it it thought – provoking.

 

 

 

Florida Gulf Sunset

Crystal Beach Pier Crystal Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Crystal Beach Pier
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

My friends and some readers here know that I have two homes now; one here in Michigan and one in Florida.  The Florida home is in western Florida on what is known as “the Gulf side.”  We are in the Tampa Bay region and between the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa Bay, and Clearwater Harbor, water is everywhere.

Water is often conducive to sunrise and sunset photography

Water is often conducive to sunrise and sunset photography.  And the Florida Gulf is renowned for its spectacular, colorful sunsets.  So it is interesting; almost surprising to me that though I live no more than 10 minutes from the gulf, I have made very few sunset images.

Part of the reason is that I haven’t made the opportunity.  My trips to Florida are usually short, and often centered around the holidays, and spending time with family and friends.  Unless one of them is as enthusiastic about photography for its own sake, it is more difficult to fit a dedicated photography outing in (even a short one).  I have noted here before, that the best light conditions for late day photography often fall at the same time people make plans for dinner, or other evening activities.

Crystal Beach Crystal Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Crystal Beach
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

The other reason is more personal, and perhaps, esoteric.  Back in “the day” (in context, when we shot with film and mechanical cameras), getting a successful sunset (or sunrise) shot required some knowledge of the science of exposure, a decent camera, and a tripod.  It really took a more or less “dedicated” outing to do.  So there were fewer of them out there (in print and later, on the internet).  Consequently, almost any well exposed sunset shot with some color in the sky was new, different, and to many, interesting.

The other reason is more personal, and perhaps, esoteric

Technology has changed that.  Particularly in the last 10 years, digital cameras, and especially the cameras built into cellular phones, have become increasingly impressive at rendering all kinds of scenes in all kinds of light conditions.  Today, we get 100’s of posted sunsets each day on Facebook, Google, Instagram, and the like.  And they are often technically pretty well exposed, even in instances where the shooter really doesn’t know anything about the science of photography.  This doesn’t necessarily mean they are “good” images though. (although I will concede that at some level, “good” is very subjective).  Part of human nature (mine at least) means that this glut of “sunset” photos make them less interesting, and it takes something more to not only capture my interest, but make the image worth making.

Crystal Beach Pier Crystal Beach, FL Copyright 2017 Andy Richards

Crystal Beach Pier
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright 2017 Andy Richards

During the “Christmas” holidays (roughly late December through early January), I was in Florida for a more extended period and I did make some time to do some scouting and then eventually, shooting.  I try to get in a 15-20 mile bike ride every other day or so, and the Pinellas County Rail Trail is very close to our home and basically skirts the gulf from Clearwater to Tarpon Springs.  I ride it most of the time, and have taken a few detours down to the water, in exploration of possible photo ops.  One of the really nice places I found was a very small community sandwiched between Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs, called Crystal Beach.  There is a nice little park, a small beach, and a community pier.  So Crystal Beach became a destination for some sunset shooting.crystal_beach_pier_4_2017

My own criteria for sunset shots is different from many of the shots I commonly see (mostly on Facebook).  To me, for interest, there needs to be something more than water, sky and sun (or light) in the shot most of the time.  I emphasize “most” of the time, because I think there are occasions when the sky alone (or the water reflection) may be the true subject and any other objects in the photo may detract from this.  But not most of the time.  This really isn’t different from general “photography 101.”  A good photograph needs a good subject, and good placement (or exclusion) of other elements in the photo to enhance the view of the subject.  A couple of basic things I like to remember as I set up and compose are to be sure the horizon is level (probably the number one “cell-phone” shot issue I observe), and that the horizon (most of the time 🙂 ), is not dead center in the image.  Aside from that, I look for something that will give the image perspective (and, to me “interest”).  Sometimes you just feel the urge to do a “gimmicky” shot, too.  While in Key West a couple weeks ago, we celebrated my 60th birthday at a nice restaurant with a deck overlooking the ocean, noted for sunsets.  I didn’t have my camera at the time so a cell phone shot would have to do, as I saw this image developing.  There was no other place I could get to to shoot the orange ball as it dropped, so I framed it in the pier next to us.

Louie's Backyard Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Louie’s Backyard
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

My one other dedicated sunset photo outing was in early 2016, to Honeymoon Island, again, close to home and a “favorite” spot for viewing the sunset over the gulf.  The silhouetted couple was a stroke of luck, but it definitely make the image unique and in my view, certainly more interesting than that spectacular colored sky alone.

Honeymoon State Park Dunedin, FL Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

Honeymoon State Park
Dunedin, FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

The opening shot of the Crystal Beach Pier is an example of my thought process.  The golden sunset has a “wow” factor all of its own.  The sunset shot of Newport, Rhode Island is similar in that I don’t know that I could have duplicated that beautiful orange color ever again.  But without the sailboat, it would just be a ho-hum (colorful, perhaps, but still ho-hum) image.  AT Crystal Beach there were 20-30 people who arrived shortly before sunset, just to observe this phenomena, which is a frequent occurrence (thought always somewhat unique).  To the observer, the sunset is the rai·son d’ê·tre.  So we come for that and we watch it and often, we capture it with camera or phone.  But our subconscious puts that sunset into perspective; something the photograph often does not.  Our peripheral vision sees the pier, the ground, the plants, and that the horizon is “out there” (and level).

Narragansett Bay Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Narragansett Bay
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

There are many spots I have scouted and many I haven’t even discovered yet.  So there will be more Florida sunset shooting in my future.

“Gear Stuff” – a comparison between Large and Small Cameras.

Castle Hill Lighthouse Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Castle Hill Lighthouse
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

I have “categories” on my blog, like “gear” and “musings.” I am not sure if this blog is more “gear” or “musings.” So let’s just call it “musings about gear.” 🙂

The age old gear discussion often involves whether one is better than the other

All craftsmen use tools. Some are generic, but often there are special tools for a particular job. I think photographic “gear” is really better characterized, generally, as “tools.” The age old gear discussion involves whether one is “better” than the other. So let’s just start this out by stating that, when it comes to photography, “better” is always subjective. And perhaps when we apply the adjective, “better” we need to think in terms of “better for what,” and “better for whom?

Castle Hill Lighthouse Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Castle Hill Lighthouse
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Equipment that is better for me is not necessarily better for another photographer. One of my good friends, Phil Dolinger, is a sports photographer. He wouldn’t use my gear. It just wouldn’t work for him. It is the wrong tool. I could use his gear (Phil, if you give it to me, I will use it 🙂 ). But I don’t need his gear. I travel and I most often shoot cooperative (“still”) subjects. Usually, I can get closer using my feet. So I can work with smaller lenses and smaller cameras.

Sailboat Rhode Island Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Sailboat
Rhode Island
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Before I go further, I guess I need to consider what I mean by “large” and small.”  For many of the years I have been shooting, in my thinking, really large cameras were view cameras.  They use sheets of film, often as large as 8 x 10 inches.  Large cameras were the various iterations of the so-called, “Medium Format” (MF) camera, which shot film rectangle sizes of generally between 6 x 4.5 and 6 x 8 inches.  While these cameras certainly were capable of capturing tremendous detail, the were often fiddly, expensive to operate, heavy, and required accessories.  There is a reason you never see a view camera on the sidelines on NFL Sunday.  View cameras and often, larger MF cameras required the use of a large and sturdy tripod.

Probably the most ubiquitous camera over the last 40 years has been the 35mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera.  The vast majority of shooters, pro and serious amateur alike, used these cameras.  Though their film square was a mere 35mm diagonal, they were a very acceptable compromise of film, a wide variety of interchangeable lenses, adjustability of shutter speed and aperture.  Their main advantage was their diversity and portability.  A variation the SLR is the so-called viewfinder camera.  Most of them used 35mm film and they were, more often than not, used by pro’s who needed portability and sometimes anonymity.  Or, often because they just preferred them.  Since my acquisition of the Sony RX100 small camera, I now understand why.

I have always thought the term “full frame” was kind of self-serving.  It refers to 35mm.  All those shooters shooting various medium format and larger format cameras have to be saying “really?  Full Frame?  You are gonna go with that?

And then there are “small” cameras.  Those are essentially anything smaller than an SLR, in my thinking (obviously, it’s all relative).  We have, over the years, come to calling them “point and shoot” (P&S) cameras.  This perhaps pejorative name is less based on their capability than their intended market.  These were everyday, snapshooter, often inexpensive, and generally, limited systems.  They didn’t have to be.  I once carried an Olympus “pocket” camera that made some very high quality images.  Some used 35mm film, some even smaller film.  Generally, a “serious” photographer did not carry one of these “small” cameras as their primary gear.  In the past 5 years, that has (at least for me and perhaps a couple others I know) has all changed.

What has been a real eye-opener for me is just how capable current small cameras are. In “the day,” nobody argued that a larger piece of film yielded finer, more detailed results; especially where large prints were involved. So the View Camera generally yielded best results. Medium Format cameras generally yielded better results than 35mm. For its first 20 years, it has been assumed (and probably proven), that the same held true with digital capture. There was no question in the nascent days of digital capture, that the medium format digital backs rendered finer, more detailed, and just overall more pleasing images.  But they were completely out of the economic reach of the typical enthusiast and of many pros.  The first consumer affordable sensors in a “larger” camera format were the so-called APS-sized (smaller than 35mm) sensor.  Built on the 35mm SLR body concept, they have been tagged DSLRs.  They are are probably still the most popular enthusiast dedicated digital camera. The roadblocks to creating 35mm equivalent and larger sensors were technology and cost. As those two factors converged affordable 35mm (so-called “full frame”) sensors became reality. But for the 10-15 years before that, an entire, new phase of manufacturing came about in order to produce lenses that worked hand in hand with the smaller APS sensors. Again, gear. Lots of it. Good for manufactures and sales :-).  I have always thought the term “full frame” was kind of self-serving.  It refers to 35mm.  All those shooters shooting various medium format and larger format cameras have to be saying “really?  Full Frame?  You are gonna go with that?”

What has been an eye-opener is just how capable smaller cameras are

Again, the gear and tools analogy holds here. The reason 35mm SLR cameras were so popular was their versatility. You don’t see many view-cameras and black cloths setting up for sports or wildlife shooting.  And you never see one of those being hand held on a crowded city street.  Not only are the images upside-down on the viewing screen, but it is really difficult to move the camera and focus it.  Another reason, of course, is the ability to manufacture and offer SLR style bodies at a price that can be afforded by consumers.

Temple Rokuon-Ji Kyoto Japan Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Temple Rokuon-Ji
Kyoto Japan
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

But things have changed. And oh, how they have changed! Film and digital capture sensors are both, without doubt, physical science. But the technology surrounding the physical science just gets better and better, and put in the context of our own empirical experience, unbelievable. Things like Fuji’s “Foveon” sensors, and the newer “stacked sensor” technology championed by Sony, has given us the advancement to create high image quality digital capture with very physically small sensors. So much so, that it is becoming really difficult to differentiate an image captured by a small camera and one captured by a large camera.

I need to qualify this. On paper, there is still no comparison between the image quality rendered by a large digital sensor and a small one. The larger one will yield measurably better results. “Measurably” is the key. The practice of magnifying the images to 100% and looking at the individual pixels is often referred to as “pixel-peeping.” I won’t argue that difference is remarkable. But I don’t know that I really care. For me the objective has always been display of my images in a format that viewers can enjoy. And though more and more, digital display has become the benchmark, I still think in terms of the relatively large photographic print. So, when I am able to take a small sensor image and make a good quality print at 24″ x 36″, I have obtained the results I seek. I have a couple such prints that are indistinguishable to my eye from similar prints made from my “full-frame” (35mm equivalent) camera.

The practice of magnifying the images to 100% and looking at the individual pixels is often referred to as “pixel-peeping.” I won’t argue that difference is remarkable. But I don’t know that I really care.

On my recent trip to Newport, Rhode Island, I carried the small, Sony RX100iv in my pocket the entire time I was shooting. I have started to use it to frame up images and take test shots while setting up the full-frame a7 on the tripod. What has continued to amaze me is that I find it difficult to meaningfully distinguish images shot with it and the a7. And these days, my small camera images are mostly handheld. The first Castle Hill Lighthouse shot here was made with the a7 and a 70-200 lens. after making a few shots with the R100, I waited for the “golden” light to make the a7 shot.  The only real difference I can see is the light and color of the image. As far as the image quality, I really cannot see a difference. I am confident that I could print from either digital file as large as I would ever want a print to be for hanging. (NOTE:  when I wrote the first draft of this, I said “Sure, it is not going to make a billboard image, but I haven’t shot one of those yet 🙂 ” )Recently, I sold an image made with my full frame Nikon DSLR that was used as a billboard sized panoramic images in an Interstate Welcome Center.  Perhaps the RX100 would have shown its weakness there 🙂 .

Castel-Angel Rome, Italy Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Castel-Angel
Rome, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

I have used the RX100iv exclusively as my travel camera, to some pretty amazing places. I have surprised myself that I have foregone carrying the more “serious” equipment. As well, I have been surprised that I haven’t missed it and have brought home some pretty good images (IQ-wise, at least. I’ll let the viewer judge whether they are “good” images or not).

Rigging, Tall Ship Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Rigging, Tall Ship
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Every image here, except the first one, were made with the Sony RX100iv. I believe the quality of smaller sensors has gotten so good that I told my buddy, Rich on our trip that if I ever replace the a7, I will most likely move back the NEX (now badged “Alpha 0000”) series of cameras. While using an APS sensor in lieu of the 35mm equivalent, they — and their matching lenses — are smaller, lighter, and generally less expensive. But with pretty estimable image quality capability. I like all those things.

 

2005 (part II) – My Vermont “Homecoming”

Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Copyright Andy Richards 2005

For the past several posts, I diverted from my series of “old” images over the past couple weeks to write a couple Fall Foliage – specific posts, and to self-aggrandize with my two eBooks covering Vermont and the Michigan “U.P.,” the two best fall foliage locations in the U.S. (in my ever-so-humble opinion 🙂 ).  I will return to the foregoing series for a few more posts, though I am rapidly approaching the point where I began regular postings here and I don’t plan to “bore” you with “re-runs.”  It will have to come to a logical end, soon, and then I will actually have to think of something new and creative to post about :-).

Fittingly, the next couple posts have a substantial connection with Vermont and foliage, so the “theme” will continue into foliage season.  For some time I had been regaling Rich with stories about the utopian Vermont fall foliage.  I had many memories from the years I lived there.  With its high percentage of Maples, and its mountainous territory, when things turn in New England, they really turn and present some truly spectacular color shows.

With its high percentage of Maples, and its mountainous territory, when things turn in New England, they really turn

While we were on our brief spring trip to the Michigan UP, we agreed it was finally time for Rich to visit Vermont.  My last trip to Vermont had been some 20 years ago and I was pretty excited to show Rich the “stomping grounds” of my youth, and really the birthplace of my own photography obsession.  So we planned our trip.

H. T. Doane Farm Bakersfield, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2006

H. T. Doane Farm
Bakersfield, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2006

Traditionally, fall color “happens” in Vermont any time from the last 2 weeks in September to through the first 2 weeks in October.  It typically progresses from north to south and from the high mountains down to the valleys.  But that is a generalization, I have learned, from my own empirical experience.  There are pockets of the state where foliage happens out of sync.  I have always found good color in Peacham in the “Northeast Kingdom” of Vermont – sometimes getting there late and sometimes early.  The Village of Barton seems to share that character.  On the other hand, there are parts of Southern Vermont that seem to always peak in September.  Unfortunately, I have missed it every time I have visited those locations.

Big Falls Missisquoi River Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Big Falls
Missisquoi River
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

We used my aunt and uncle’s (H.T. Doane) farm in the northwestern part of the state as our home base for this trip.  My uncle’s advice was to come the last week of September.  In his lifetime of experience, that was our best percentage chance to see “the good stuff.”  My aunt and uncle were very generous people and I was always welcome (as were many other visitors over the years) to a bed, food and whatever other hospitality they could offer.  I had first lived on the farm in the 1980’s where I spent summers working.  I was anxious to go back and excited about the process of photographing the New England Color.  I spent a lot of time researching and one of the things I found was there was no really good resource for photographers.  During this (and every other) trip, I kept careful notes, and later recorded the information I gathered.  This eventually resulted in my eBook, “Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage.”  I digress, I know, but I cannot pass up an opportunity for yet another blatant plug for my own wonderful writing :-).

This trip was the beginning of a series of trips that would result in my Vermont eBook

Disappointingly, from a fall-foliage standpoint, this trip was close to a complete bust.  The magical color I remembered from earlier years just never happened in 2005.  As we drove through upstate New York and into Vermont, my heart sunk.  All I could see was green everywhere I looked.  During our week long stay, we drove all over the state to find color.   We started in Montgomery, seeking covered bridges and waterfalls, hopefully surrounded by brilliant fall foliage.  Not to be.  As you can see from the images, there was very little color and where there was, it tended to be Sumac bushes.  But we made the most of what we had.

Longley Bridge Montgomery, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Longley Bridge
Montgomery, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

My research had unearthed the Arnold John Kaplan pamphlet that is referenced in my eBook and often elsewhere on this site.  This pamphlet was to become my primary research tool and the basis for the later eBook (with foreword graciously written by the late Arnold John Kaplan himself).  There were a handful of “iconic” scenes that Arnold had famously photographed many years ago and I wanted to visit them.  So, we set off looking for Peacham, Waits River, East Orange, East Corinth, and others.  We didn’t make it to all, but we did see many.  And, pretty uniformly, there was really no color :-(.

Waits River, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Waits River, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

We did find a hint of color (which I have been able to “tease” out in post-processing) at Peacham, and you can see it was trying to start in Waits River.  The other thing we found was what I note in the beginning of the Photographing Vermont eBookOne constant about nature is that it is constantly changing.  We found the back road up the mountain that would give us the near aerial shot of East Orange.  But we didn’t see the iconic shot.  A passing local noted that over the 20 years since Arnold had photographed it, it had all grown up (meaning trees).  I didn’t bring anything home that I though was worthy of display from East Orange in 2005, but I did return in 2006 and found an opening (partly because the foliage was mostly gone by the time I arrived) which gave me a pretty nice photo.

Peacham, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Peacham, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

One constant about nature is that it is constantly changing

We also visited the famous ski resort/tennis resort/tourist-destination of Stowe, and spent a day in and around Burlington, Vermont’s major city and university town.  The Old Red Mill (now a shop) is in Jericho, on the way to Burlington from the north, and we made it a morning destination.  Basically giving up on the foliage images, we knew this would be photogenic with or without colored foliage.  This is a tough shot as you have to negotiate a very busy road (full of commuter traffic), and scramble over a bridge on around on a steep, rocky embankment to set up for the shot.  The light was pretty hot by the time it was high enough to light the scene, but we were generally pleased with the resulting images.

Old Red Mill Jericho, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Old Red Mill
Jericho, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Stowe is a short distance from the farm and is at the southern base of perhaps the most dramatic mountain (“notch”) roads in New England, passing over Mount Mansfield; Vermont’s tallest peak.  “Smuggler’s Notch” is, from Bakersfield, the shortest way South.  It unfortunately or fortunately – depending on your mission and point of view — also goes through Stowe, which can be a traffic nightmare in high tourist season.  Nonetheless, we found ourselves traveling through it almost daily.  We stopped for mid-day meals and occasionally dinner after the sun had set.  We learned a bit about the place, including that there was a “high view” shot of downtown Stowe.  Like so many of these, the shot we saw had been taken years back and new growth had all but blocked any view.  We found a trail that was very primitive and basically “bushwacked” our way down to a possible view late one night, guided by flashlight.  Believing it had potential, we arrived at dawn the next morning and schlepped our equipment down to the cleared plateau we had found.  Daylight came shrouded in a heavy fog that promised to be slow to lift.  We patiently waited for about an hour and a half as coffee got cold.  While waiting, an inspiration from a year ago (perhaps fueled by boredom) came to me and I started searching the ground for “leaf compositions.”  This leaf image and the covered bridge we photographed one morning while staying close to the farm, were combined later in Photoshop and became the official “logo” for LightCentric Photography (see the opening image).

Maple Leaf Stowe, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Maple Leaf
Stowe, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Eventually, we gave up and sought breakfast.  During breakfast, the sun finally broke through.  It was late enough in the year that we figured we still had some time before the light became untenable.  So with renewed energy, we decided to return to our spot and though it is difficult to find an area that is not blocked, the photo here is my best image of the Stowe Village (and yes, there has been some retouching 🙂 ).

Stowe, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Stowe, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

As we prepared for the long return drive to Michigan, we decided the last morning to stick close to the farm.  Waterville, only about 15 miles away (a very short distance in Vermont terms) has several covered bridges that are kind of hidden away.   We decided to start there on our last morning.  The lone tree with muted orange color in the resulting image is illustrative of our frustration.  But this image ultimately served as the primary image for my logo.

Montgomery Bridge Waterville, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Montgomery Bridge
Waterville, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

I would continue to return to Vermont every couple falls, and great foliage would continue to evade me.  But eventually, I found some and some years, spectacular results.