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Why Camera Sensors Matter and How They Keep Improving

Why Camera Sensors Matter and How They Keep Improving

What is the most important aspect of a camera to consider when looking to buy a new one? In this video, Engadget put camera sensors in the spotlight and reviewed how they have improved and what role they play in today’s photographic equipment.

Camera brands regularly release new cameras, with each model improving on its past versions. However, video producer Chris Schodt from Engadget points out in the company’s latest YouTube video that it may appear camera sensors haven’t progressed as rapidly in the recent past, although resolution has increased. This is because modern-day cameras — such as the Canon EOS 5D released in 2005 — were already able to produce high-quality images over a decade ago and still continue to do so.

Camera sensors, in technical terms, can be described as a grid of photodiodes which act as a one-way valve for electrons. In CMOS sensors — which are widely used in digital cameras that photographers use today — each pixel has additional circuitry built into it aside from the photodiode.

Why Camera Sensors Matter and How They Keep Improving 1

These on-pixel electronics help CMOS sensors quick speed because they can read and reset quickly, although, in the past, this characteristic could also contribute to bringing up fixed-pattern noise. However, with the improvement of manufacturing processes, this side-effect has been largely eliminated in modern cameras.

Schodt explains that noise control is crucial to a camera’s low light performance and dynamic range, which is a measure of the range of light captured in the image between the maximum and minimum values. In a photograph, those are between white — such as when pixel clips or is overexposed — and black, respectively.

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Clipped or overexposed pixels in an image

In an ideal scenario, camera sensors would capture light, which is emitted as photons, in a uniform way to reconstruct a perfectly clear image. However, that isn’t the case because they hit the sensor randomly.

One way to deal with this is to produce larger sensors and larger pixels, however, that comes with a large production cost and an equally large camera body, such as the Hasselblad H6D-100c digital back which has a 100MP CMOS sensor and a $26,500 price.

Other solutions include the development of Backside Illuminated sensors (BSI), such as the one announced by Nikon in 2017 and Sony first in 2015. This type of sensor leads to improved low-light performance and speed. Similarly, so does a stacked CMOS sensor that provides even faster speeds, such as the Sony Micro Four Thirds sensor published earlier in 2021.

Smartphones, on the other hand, use multiple images and average them together to improve noise and dynamic range, like the Google HDR+ with Bracketing Technology, which is also a direction that several modern video cameras have taken, too.

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Looking towards the future of sensor development, Schodt explains that silicon, which is the material currently used to make sensors, is likely to stay, although some alternative materials have been used like gallium arsenide and graphene. Another possible direction is curved sensors, although they would make it difficult for users as curved sensors would need to be paired with precisely manufactured lenses. In practical terms, photographers would have to buy into a particular system with no option of using a third-party lens.

It’s likely that in the future focus will be on computational photography. Faster sensors and more on-camera processing to make use of smartphone-style image stacking might make its way to dedicated cameras, for example, in addition to AI-advanced image processing.

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In the video above, Schodt explains more in detail the technical build of sensors and how their characteristics correlate to the resulting images. More Engadget educational videos can be found on the company’s YouTube page.


Image credits: Photos of camera sensors licensed via Depositphotos.

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dudler’s latest blog : not a very good lens ? but does it matter?

dudler's latest blog : art, snap or reportage

Not a very good lens – but does it matter?

10 Jul 2021 10:02AM  
Views : 54
Unique : 45

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So… A couple of years back, Amateur Photographer’s list of possible presents for Christmas (I think it was) included a Fujian CCTV lens, all the way from China for under £20. I bought one, and it gives rather charming results. I can envisage a few glamour photographers buying them for a Sliver-like ‘don’t you like to watch’ set of pictures. (I remain a Sharon Stone fan.)

But you can have too much of a good thing, as I proved to myself when I bought a 50mm f/1.4 Fujian in the hope of even better things. And while the 35mm has faults that add charm to the Bokeh and dark corners on full frame cameras, the 50mm has FAR more of them.

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Neither lens has click stops, and a diaphragm with plenty of blades changes from near-circular at full aperture to a long and thin rectangle when stopped well down before closing completely. There aren’t any index marks for either aperture or focus, so they might as well not be marked: though at least the 35mm lens has the f-stop sequence the right way round – the 50mm markings, if you can see them, mislead you as to which way to turn the ring…

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It doesn’t stop there (pardon the pun…) While the 35mm optic focusses to infinity more or less at the end of the focus movement, the 50mm goes way past infinity, and goes no closer than around four and a half feet: most 50mm lenses go down to one and a half feet, not one and a half meters! The package I received included a couple of extension tubes as well as the Sony mount adaptor, but these bring the furthest focus down to a few feet. It doesn’t feel well thought-through.

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Both lenses appear to be available still, at vastly varying prices, and I believe that there’s another branding with the same optics in a more user-friendly lens body. AP reckoned that this was worth the extra money, at nearly double the price. I’m less sure!

If weird appeals, for the price of a cheap meal out, you may want to give one of these lenses a go – though unless you have gone mirrorless, you will never achieve infinity focus!

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Let’s Not Lie: Camera Gear Does Matter

Let's Not Lie: Camera Gear Does Matter

We hear all the time about how camera gear does not matter, and while there is a useful sentiment in that, the truth is far more nuanced than that. This excellent video essay details a lesser-discussed reason why camera gear matters and why you should consider it more often. 

Coming to you from Jamie Windsor, this great video essay discusses the importance of being comfortable and feeling inspired by your camera gear. A lot of us spend a fair amount of time obsessing over camera specs, MTF charts, and the like, and no doubt, those things make a difference in your final images, but at the end of the day, if your camera does not feel comfortable in your hand and you do not enjoy your experience with it, it simply is not going to inspire you to go out and shoot. This is the same reason that I loved shooting with the Fujifilm X100V so much, even though I really do not care for the 35mm focal length. A well-designed camera with good ergonomics will make you want to pick it up and shoot with it instead of it just feeling like a box that takes pictures. Check out the video above for Windsor’s full thoughts. 

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What is Brand Storytelling and Why Does It Matter?

What is Brand Storytelling and Why Does It Matter?

What is Brand Storytelling and Why Does It Matter? 5

In today’s world, it is easier than ever to start a business. Explore Instagram on any given day and you will inevitably see an ad for some new online retailer. It begs the question: How, in such a saturated online marketplace, can a fledgling brand separate itself from the pack and survive?

There is no one answer to such a complex question, but for many consumer brands, the key is brand storytelling.

In short, brand storytelling is a marketing strategy that references a product’s functional benefits and establishes a context for when, where, and by whom that product is to be used. Oftentimes the goal is for a consumer to see her/himself in that scenario; for example, a casual menswear brand might produce a shoot involving a group of men on a weekend trip to the outdoors.

In other cases, the audience or customer profile is more aspirational in nature; an example of this might be a company that makes luxury handbags producing a shoot with beautiful talent up and down the Amalfi Coast. The average consumer will not be traipsing about the Mediterranean coast all that often, but with the right handbag, they feel like someone who would. Here emerges the two primary ingredients behind the secret sauce that is brand storytelling: Functional benefits and emotional connection.

Functional Benefits

Integral to any sensible advertising is a display of the product’s functional benefits. If you are a photographer shooting a campaign for a pair of boardshorts, it’s fairly obvious in what context that shoot will take place. You wouldn’t showcase a pair of sunglasses lying in bed, and you certainly wouldn’t photograph a pair of boardshorts at the opera. There is a natural association between a product’s benefits — in this case, probably lightweight and fast-drying material — and the expected scenario in which you would find that product. Once you identify a few key benefits, then you can begin to segment your market by other metrics like price: Yes these shoes are comfortable, but are they lounge-in-a-hammock comfortable or sip-martinis-on-a-yacht comfortable? Think of it like a mind map; identify your core benefits then branch out from there.

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The primary benefit of Kuju Coffee is convenience, but here’s the thing: K-Cups are convenient and easy to use too, just not while hiking. So when I decided to produce a spec shoot for Kuju, I had to go beyond the logical appeal of convenience and portability and tap into something deeper.

Emotional Connection

Think back to my examples in the opening paragraphs. In either scenario, the advertiser’s goal is to strike an emotional chord with their audience. One plays on a sense of belonging and friendship, while the other taps into a bit of envy and longing for a future perfect self. The narrative being told tells us who is expected to buy certain products and for what context.

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With Kuju, the emotional association I wanted to make was a sense of adventure and wanderlust. Shooting in a location like the mountains of West Virginia is generic enough to have a universal appeal while still evoking this feeling of envy and a yearning to go somewhere beautiful. If your coffee can go wherever you go, then why not go anywhere? Suddenly your mind is flooded with possibilities far beyond the coffee itself.

What is Brand Storytelling and Why Does It Matter? 8

By driving home this connection between product benefits and emotion, you effectively marry the two in a consumer’s mind:

“Man, I need to get out and see the world and with this coffee I don’t even have to give it a second thought.”

Or:

“You know, I’m going hiking with some friends next weekend, this coffee would be perfect!”

Whatever direction the consumer’s mind takes them, at the end of the day they want to buy your coffee.

Good Versus Great

What is Brand Storytelling and Why Does It Matter? 9

Brand storytelling is the key to leveling up your company’s marketing strategy and zeroing in on your target market. In fact, you could argue that for many companies these days, it is the only thing separating one brand from the next. Good content is well lit, properly exposed, and captures the mind; truly great content goes a step further and captures the head and the heart, showing you not only what’s being sold, but why you need it in your life.


About the author: Brad Vassallo is a commercial and outdoor lifestyle photographer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A creator since his earliest days, he once had the dream of being a National Geographic photographer. In spite of those aspirations, he spent the better part of his life chasing other people’s dreams of what he was supposed to do and who he was supposed to be. At a certain point though, the voice inside got to be too loud, too persistent, and told him that the path he was on was not his own. He began to listen to that voice, affirming his own creative aspirations and returning to his creative roots. You can see more of his work on his website and Instagram.

This story was also published here.

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dudler’s latest blog : a matter of degree kelvin

dudler's latest blog : art, snap or reportage

A matter of degree Kelvin

20 May 2021 8:25AM  
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Unique : 49

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There’s a reason that colour in pictures is measured in degrees, but I wonder if you know what it is? Or who Kelvin was that anything’s named after him… This is by way of a lead-in to a routine sort of blog about colour temperature: and the lead image is from my session with AshleyAshton222 yesterday: green curtains, and a lot of trees outside the window mean that AWB might actually have worked well, for once.

Anyway, Kelvin. William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin was born in 1824, and was a physicist, particularly interested in thermodynamics, the Third Law of which states that you can never reach absolute zero, the lowest temperature which is possible in the Universe. It’s around 273 degrees Centigrade, and a temperature scale starting from absolute zero seemed like a good idea: the degrees are the same as the Celsius scale, but start from the bottom. And they’re named after Kelvin.

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The missing step is that colour can be defined in terms of the temperature that a perfectly black body needs to be to glow that colour – in practice a piece of iron will do nicely. So red hot, the sort of colour old-fashioned tungsten lamps give, is around 2,000ᵒ Kelvin, and daylight is 6,500ᵒ. This doesn’t take account of the green-magenta dimension that wrecked my portrait of Ashley, but you’ll see it in every editing suite you come across.

What’s this got to do with AWB, you may be asking… Well, it’s the background against which AWB exists, and the idea of AWB is to get accurate colour in any light, although in practice it usually falls short. It seems like a reasonable idea when, for instance, you’re shooting a white plate and want it to look the same in sunlight, lamplight, or shade.

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In reality, you don’t necessarily want that sort of fidelity, I’d suggest. For instance, take that sunset view over the lake, with the rosy red tint to the white clapperboard of the boathouse… Do you want that boathouse to be white in your picture, or a delicate pink? Similarly, on a chilly winter’s day, a slight blue tinge conveys the mood of the moment. My solution is to use Daylight balance all the time, unless I see a good and colourful reason to do otherwise…

I know AWB serves many people well – but if subtlety of colouring matters to you, you probably aren’t one of them… And of course you can always adjust things in editing, especially if you shoot RAW files.

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dark_lord’s latest blog : sharpness, does it matter?

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Sharpness, Does It Matter?

7 May 2021 9:14PM  
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Unique : 50

Sharp images are what most of us strive for and indeed are encouraged by a variety sources from advertisements of the latest lenses to picture library editors.

On the whole I like to see something sharp in an image as the focal point to draw me in as I explore the image. Not all of an image necessarily needs to be sharp (think differential focusing for example). Unsharp images produced by poor equipment or bad technique are no substitute for carefully considered and crafted soft images (something produced by a Lensbaby for example). Light and composition are still the important elements.

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There are times of course when sharpness is a prerequisite. Scientific and technical photography rely on detail and clarity. NASA took the hit on weight by taking medium format cameras to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. Faultless technique and competency with good equipment is necessary. Advertising photography makes use of top quality gear, such as Phase One and Hasselblad cameras. With most advertising being viewed on small screens such as phones ultimate sharpness isn’t of any benefit or great concern except for high end products. A soft and dreamy result may be what a client is looking for and that can be added later (it’s easy to make a soft image from a sharp original than the other way round). For those of a certain age the Cadbury Flake adverts of the 1970s epitomise that look (though for some the chocolate was a secondary attraction!).

Before the internet, photographic magazines would regularly publish lens test results. I guess they still do but I don’t buy them. Amateur Photographer would use the view from their offices in south London, placing one particular building at the centre and edge of the frame and showing enlarged sections of the frames for comparison. There were some truly awful lenses. With many enthusiasts shooting on colour print film and having nothing larger than small prints made I doubt edge softness wasn’t a huge concern. Stopped down somewhat and with solid technique acceptable results were possible with most lenses.

Old lenses (or ‘legacy’ lenses) are enjoying a revival for some of their optical qualities and imperfections as photographers look for something less clinical and more individualistic than the cold and clinical rendition of modern lenses. Landscapes and portraits are ideal subjects for them.

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In the days of film you could choose to develop your monochrome film with ‘Acutance’ developers. What they did was increase the edge contrast between dark and light tones which gives the impression of greater sharpness. Useful with technical and architectural photography for example. There was no equivalent for colour film.

For any image that’s digitised (so that includes scans from film and print originals) there are various methods of sharpening an image. They all have their merits. The ‘Unsharp Mask’ which seems inappropriately named does in fact have its origins in the darkroom. An unsharp copy of a negative would be sandwiched with the original negative when producing a print. The result would be an apparent increase in sharpness. All to do with edge contrast. And the ‘Unsharp Mask’ tool does just that, increasing edge sharpness. Details stand out more clearly.

With this increased control over sharpness there is the spectre of over-sharpening. I think spectre is a good description as the result of over-sharpening is the stuff of nightmares and something you don’t want to see. Images take on a wiry look with halos around the edges of subjects. It’s often seen in poorly taken (or heavily cropped) images that someone has tried to rescue. Even a soft image looks better than on over-sharpened one.

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So in most cases sharpness is an important consideration. What about those situations where nothing is sharp? Or at least critically sharp? There are some very successful images that fit this description and I don’t profess to be able to do such things well though I keep trying.

ICM (in-camera movement) where the camera is deliberately moved during the exposure produces impressionistic images. I do find it works better if you are sharply focussed on the subject to start with so there is some structure to the streaks and patterns.

Lensbaby lenses produce dreamy and blurry images and even the ‘sweet spot’ maybe isn’t crisp. But that’s to miss the point, it’s not about the ultimate detail.

Panning with moving subjects is used to obtain a sharp subject against a blurred background to give the impression of speed. If you take the shutter speed even slower you’ll come to a point where even the subject isn’t sharp but you can still end up with something that embodies the atmosphere.

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It may seem counter intuitive, or even perverse, that a sharply focused, or at least as accurately focused as you can, will result in a better soft image than an image that’s unsharp to start with.

All text and images © Keith Rowley 2021

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Canon Is Resurgent and Sony Is Declining in Japan, But Does It Matter?

Canon Is Resurgent and Sony Is Declining in Japan, But Does It Matter?

Photo Rumors recently covered the latest BCN report on the state of the mirrorless market in Japan, which showed a resurgent Canon growing at the expense of Sony, with Nikon trailing a distant third. However, the report only outlines what is happening in the Japanese camera market and only for current sales. How important is the Japanese market?

BCN sales data is a staple of market reporting, as it is one of the few long-term reports with which we can have a stab at understanding the camera industry. I’ve commented on some of the trends that the annual BCN Sales Awards show, and one of the big benefits is that BCN reports on actual sales, allowing subscribers to drill down and see the volumes of individual cameras that customers are actually buying. This highlights one of the key points of the latest report: it is highly time-sensitive, and the releases of Canon’s R5 and R6 are undoubtedly causing a bump in numbers. Meanwhile, Sony has only released the lone a7C and Nikon the Z5, while Sigma’s brief flirtation with third place is over. Perhaps then, the interim reports go hand in hand with the annual awards allowing people to see how individual brands are performing in the long-term, while also evaluating the short-term trends of individual models. In short, we can see the ebb and flow of product releases and the impact they have on long-term sales. For example, it’s clear that Sony still dominates sales even without bringing out new models in the way Nikon and Canon have.

Japanese Shipments

At this point, it’s pertinent to reiterate that the data only represents Japanese sales and then only for retailers that report back to BCN; this represents about 50% of domestic sales. The key question is this: how important is the Japanese market?

In one sense, the answer is that it is a critical marker because Japan represents — at least for the volume of Japanese camera manufacturers — their domestic market. Businesses are usually strongest in their home territory, and so, there are kudos and prestige in selling well here. Being seen to be top at home carries significant weight, along with the general mantra that you need to do well at home if you are to do well abroad.

However, a quantitative approach to assessing market importance is to understand how much it contributes to total sales and so, ultimately, income. We know that the BCN data represents about 50% of Japanese sales, but how much of global sales do these represent? At this point, we can turn to the CIPA shipment data, which records product shipments and include all the main Japanese manufacturers. CIPA records global shipments by month, then reports year-end results; however, they also record the total number of Japanese shipments, which allows a much better understanding of the importance of this territory to manufacturers.

Canon Is Resurgent and Sony Is Declining in Japan, But Does It Matter? 10

The graph above shows the proportion of global shipments that go to Japan, broken down by DSLR, integrated camera, and MILC product categories. There are some key trends that are worth highlighting. Firstly, the above chart shows a steady decline in DSLR shipments from ~20% down to 6.5%, with MILCs peaking at around 25% just after records started in 2014 before dropping to about 15% currently. Integrated cameras started at a middling 20%, dropping to 8% by 2011 before rising to nearly 25% currently.

In order to better understand these figures, they need to be viewed within the context of total global shipments; remember that camera shipments peaked in 2010 at 120M units, where 108M of those were made up of integrated cameras. The reason for the drop in the Japanese proportion is that there was a massive increase in global shipments, which watered down the share that went to Japan; however, it is a significant product category for the country. Meanwhile, the whole camera market imploded, and by 2019, only 15M units shipped; it’s important to remember that integrated cameras still made up the single biggest share at 6.5M units. Meanwhile, MILCs started from a low base in 2012 and by 2019, were shipping nearly 4M units. In stark comparison, DSLRs dropped from a high of 16M in 2012, down to just 4.5M units last year.

Interestingly then, Japanese consumers make up a significant proportion of the integrated camera market, and it is clearly the sector that is of most significance. That said, of the three markets, integrated cameras are the smallest by value, and that is before you factor in lens sales. Without seeing a breakdown by the model, it is difficult to know which cameras are selling well, but it is possible that high-end models such as Sony’s RX100 are increasingly making up these sales. Canon dominates integrated cameras in Japan, which is clearly good for the bottom line. It’s also equally clear that DSLRs are a dying segment in Japan, which is not good news for Pentax, as it fixates on a DSLR-only strategy. That said, there are clearly plenty of DSLRs still selling, albeit in a declining market, so these must be selling much better in other territories. This is critical for the likes of Pentax and Nikon (and still important for Canon) and may see them develop stronger marketing and support strategies in North America and Europe. MILCs appear to be holding ground and possibly expanding at the expense of DSLRs, so what happens in Japan is perhaps a litmus test for global performance. However, that still leaves some 85% of shipments going to foreign territories; Europe, North America, and Asia are critical sales areas each with their own idiosyncrasies. It seems likely that MILCs will outship DSLRs in 2020 and quite possibly outship integrated cameras in 2021.

In short, BCN’s interim report on MILC sales is interesting and gives a little insight into how well individual models are selling in Japan; however, it will be the end-of-year results from Nikon, Canon, and Sony that will give a better picture as to how well they have fared in what is a very difficult market. What is certain is that the transition to MILC is now happening rapidly with consumers delivering their verdict via the cash register.

Lead image courtesy of Mediamodifier via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons.

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What was it like to cover the Black Lives Matter protests in NYC?

What was it like to cover the Black Lives Matter protests in NYC?

A new video has been created by five employees of used camera and lens specialist MPB in the US – who are all keen and experienced photographers in their own right – which gives a fresh perspective on this summer’s Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in New York City. The protests, which took place in May and June, followed the death of George Floyd during his arrest in Minneapolis, and sparked similar events all over the world.

In the video, called ‘Capturing the movement’, the New York-based photographers discuss their inspirations, approaches and preferences for creating powerful images that capture protesters’ emotions at a crucial moment in history. The photographers are Tahiti Abdul, Roger S. Echedgoyen-Araujo, Andy Jeronimo, Aaron Agyapong and Duane Garay, and we caught up with Tahiti Abdul (below) to find out more.

What was it like to cover the Black Lives Matter protests in NYC? 11

Had you covered a big protest before?
I had a bit of experience in past, mainly covering the protests in NYC over the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Everyone was enraged about the new president, so that was intense as well! But the BLM protests were the biggest protests I’d covered since then.

What gear did you use and why?
As I was covering the protest as a personal project, rather than for a publication, I chose to use a Leica M6 film camera, along with a 35mm Voigtlander lens. The camera was loaded with Kodak TriX 400 (for the Trump demos in 2016, I’d used a Canon DSLR). I decided to shoot the BLM protests with black and white film as I wanted to take my time, and I wanted a bit more control over the exposure and contrast – which I felt I could achieve with black and white film.

What was it like to cover the Black Lives Matter protests in NYC? 12

But you do shoot colour too, right?
I feel colour photography can be a bit distracting with a large group of people in front of you, and things might not work well together in the frame. I wanted people to see the scene for what it was, without getting distracted by colours. But yes, I do shoot colour if I want to convey a sense of vibrancy, as I did when shooting the Puerto Rican Day parade.

Whether you shoot digital or film, the decision-making process should still be the same. I would have taken the same approach editing digital images in Lightroom as I did developing my film from the BLM protests. The decision making that goes into handling the images after they have been taken, that is where it all lies…

Another of the photographers in your video talks about his feelings about having relatives in law enforcement, and there being a real ‘them and us’ vibe between the protesters and the police at the BLM demos. Did you feel this and did you ever feel in danger?
I never personally felt in danger… I know there was also some looting and rioting going on but I didn’t get to experience that. I also have a family member in law enforcement. I’ve never sat down with them to really dive into the different aspects of it all, but I feel regardless of how great a civil servant you think you are, you are representative of the whole institution.

What was it like to cover the Black Lives Matter protests in NYC? 13

You might feel you do the right thing but there are too many instances of other police NOT doing the right thing. I don’t think my relative is a terrible person. but the uniform they put on is representative of who you are. At the end of the day as a person of colour I cant take this off, it’s not a suit, not a choice I have… but when you get that badge and gun, that is something you are willingly participate in

Returning to photography, who were your biggest influences?
Definitely Gordon Parks but also Joseph Rodriguez. His approach to documentary is just so raw, extremely bare bones, and I love all aspects of it – he leaves it up to the viewer to make their analysis and digest the work as they see fit. He’s done a great job of documenting NYC culture dating back to the 80s, and also covered the LA riots.

After working at MPB all day, is picking up a camera sometimes the last thing you want to do?
Sometimes! But photography is so embedded in who I am that I will always have something on me, even if it’s just a point and shoot camera or my phone. Sometimes I just want to take random photos, and don’t want to waste film or carry around a DLSR. My advice is to always have something with you to take pictures.

What were the biggest lessons you learned from documenting the BLM protests?
The biggest takeaway for me was this. It seems every generation is going to have to encounter something of this magnitude until things start to change. Being out there, it makes you feel like, where is this going, how much longer do we have to fight? It also allowed me to appreciate that documentary photography is not always rapid fire. I really took my time to decide what images to take, is this the right moment, do I do it this way, is this person is safe before I photograph them… Whether I shoot documentary, portrait or street, I try to make mindful and conscious decisions about what I am shooting, and to think every single image through.

Further reading
Major documentary photography award winner named
The documentary impulse

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Gear Doesn’t Matter? Actually, It Does

Gear Doesn't Matter? Actually, It Does

Gear Doesn't Matter? Actually, It Does 14

There is a phrase that I see regularly pop up on photography forums that I think is horrible advice for emerging photographers or anyone getting started in the image-making business. It is repeated over and over again and while the intent might be good, I think it does a disservice to beginners who don’t know any better.

That phrase of course is “gear doesn’t matter.”

I think the intent of this phrase is to point out that without a solid understanding of composition and lighting, it doesn’t matter what you shoot with, and I agree with that to a point. I see photographers who shoot with insanely expensive gear who’s work I consider mediocre because of the lighting and composition. But I believe that telling a beginner that gear doesn’t matter is not setting them up for success.

Gear absolutely matters. To create great work in any industry, you need the right tools for the job. Photography is no different. If someone is trying to shoot fast action with a slow focusing lens, or headshots with a fisheye, they are going to quickly discover exactly how much the right gear matters.

I have a friend who dabbles in photography. We were at a wheelchair basketball tournament and he turned to me and said, “Man, can you set up my camera so I can get some good shots? Everything I shoot is blurry.”

I took his camera and dug into the menus and got everything optimized for the environment we were in and then tried to take some shots. As the lens hunted to try and find focus and never locked on to anyone, I gave it a closer look and saw that while it was a 70-200mm, it was an f/5.6 lens that had a super slow time to focus. I shoot a lot of athletes and fast action with my 70-200 f/2.8, but that is because it focuses incredibly fast. I gave him the best tips I could provide under the circumstances, but also told him that if he wanted to shoot sports he needed a faster lens. Because gear matters.

And speaking of shooting action, if you are trying to shoot an athlete with strobes and have lights that don’t cut themselves off quickly on the back end, you are not ever going to effectively freeze the action. That requires either a power pack that can cut power at the exact right time or something like the Paul C Buff Einstein lights which accomplish the same thing without an expensive pack. But the Einsteins come with a trade-off because they can’t do high-speed sync. If you can just nail your perfect moment, that doesn’t matter, but if you want to capture a super-fast burst of images all consistently lit with strobes, you need one of those power packs or a light with that quick shutoff that can also handle high-speed sync.

I know I went a little into the weeds with that last example, but that’s the point. There is a reason there is so much gear out there for this industry. Gear absolutely matters when you are setting out to achieve a specific objective, and using the wrong gear can result in missing shots or mediocre results that clients will not accept and the photographer most likely won’t be happy with either.

Another issue with telling beginners that gear doesn’t matter is that it encourages them to waste money on a bunch of junk that they will quickly outgrow instead of investing in a lens that they will continue to use for the next 10+ years. I have 4 lenses for my photography kit. That’s it. And I have never once been in a situation where I couldn’t accomplish a client or personal objective with exactly those lenses. But I knew my style and what I wanted to shoot and got gear that specifically catered to that.

The last photography lens I bought was in 2013, and as I said, there has never been a moment where I have felt like I needed something other than what I currently have in my kit.

Now, these lenses are on the higher end of the spectrum, but I also only have 4 of them, whereas I know a lot of photographers who have a million lenses, but most of them are garbage they outgrew and have no resale value, so they sit on a shelf collecting dust. Probably because at some point early on someone told that photographer that gear doesn’t matter.

So please stop telling beginners that gear doesn’t matter. Tell them that the right gear matters and to not waste their money on gear that doesn’t cater to their niche. That will give them a much better foundation for building their career and working towards achieving the images they aspire to create.


About the author: Rob Gregory is a photographer and advertising director. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Gregory’s work on his website and Instagram.


Image credits: Header illustration based on photo by Azlan DuPree and licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Why Lighting Modifiers Matter | Fstoppers

Why Lighting Modifiers Matter | Fstoppers

If you are someone who has worked only with natural light, one of the most foreign parts of artificial lighting might be the vast array of modifiers available. How much of a difference do they really make? This great video demonstrates why your choice of modifier matters and the difference they can make in your work. 

Coming to you from Mark Wallace with Adorama TV, this excellent video shows how different lighting modifiers create different looks, as Wallace demonstrates through the use of a shoot-through umbrella, silver umbrella, octabox, and an octabox with a 50-degree grid. The beauty of lighting modifiers is that they give you so much more control over the look of your images and the way your subject is rendered, giving you real practical advantages and a ton of creative flexibility. And while Wallace shows the range of looks from some of the most common lighting modifiers here, you can get into some neat and creative equipment as you move into more esoteric and specialized modifiers, such as beauty dishes or parabolic umbrellas. Beyond the creative looks, specialized modifiers and accessories also give you much more control over where the light falls and where it does not, which is crucial to controlling the overall look of a scene. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Wallace. 

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