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How to use light for close-up photography

How to use light for close-up photography

October 19, 2021

Quality, direction and temperature of light have a profound effect on how a subject appears, says Tracy Calder. Knowing how to analyse light and use it to your advantage will take your close-up photography on to the next level


Your guide: Tracy Calder

How to use light for close-up photography 1

Tracy Calder co-founded Close-up Photographer of the Year – a competition celebrating close-up, macro and micro photography – with her husband in 2018. She has written numerous photography books and her work has appeared on the walls of The Photographers’ Gallery and The National Portrait Gallery in London. To find out more visit www.cupoty.com, Instagram: @cupoty and @tracy_calder_photo.

Understanding how light behaves and how to use it to your advantage is as crucial for close-up and macro photography as it is for landscape, portraiture or any other genre. You may well have found a rare beetle performing an elaborate mating ritual in a rainforest, but if the event takes place in dull, flat light, and you fail to address this, it can lead to pictures with no emotional impact or atmosphere.

The quality, direction and temperature of light all have a profound effect on how a subject appears and, ultimately, how we feel about it. Part of our job as photographers is to analyse the light in a scene and then respond to it accordingly.

Natural light

The richness and variability of natural light make this an excellent choice for close-up photography, but before you can use it effectively, you need to assess its quality. Light is often described as hard or soft: hard light tends to come from a single source and direction and creates dense, hard-edged shadows and high contrast.

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© Getty – Fauzan Maududdin / EyeEm. A burst of flash will allow you to freeze moving subjects and use smaller apertures without whacking up the ISO

This type of light is great for providing a sense of three-dimensionality. Soft light, on the other hand, often comes from multiple sources or directions and produces soft-edged shadows and low contrast. This light is ideal for revealing fine detail.

Once you have assessed the quality of the light it’s important to note the direction it’s coming from. Generally speaking, the direction of light can be divided into four categories: top, front, back or side. When an object is lit from above (top light) it can appear flat and two-dimensional unless the light is modified in some way.

As a result, top light is often best avoided. (Obviously there will be exceptions to this.) When light hits the subject head-on (front light), details become much more noticeable. On the flipside, shadows produced by front light tend to be weak and can make the subject appear flat.

When a light source is positioned behind the subject (back light) it can result in a bold silhouette or, when combined with translucent subjects such as insect wings or leaves, show venation.

When light is allowed to spill over the edges of a backlit subject (rim light) it can be used to highlight fine details such as the hairs on a plant or the serrated edges of a leaf. Finally, when a subject is lit from the side (side light), it emphasises texture and form and gives the image a distinctly three-dimensional feel.

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© Getty – Duncan Mcnaught / EyeEm. Continuous lighting is perfect for highlighting details, like mushroom gills, which are normally in deep shadow

It can create visual separation between the subject and the background, which is handy when depth of field is limited. The quality and direction of natural light changes throughout the day, as does colour temperature. At sunrise and sunset, the temperature of light is cooler (which actually gives it a warm look) and the opposite is true as the colour temperature rises.

The white balance presets on your camera will take care of most of the calculations, but there will be times – when you’re shooting fungi in a mix of light and shade, or focus stacking, for example – when you’re better off setting your own custom white balance.

(If you’re shooting raw, obviously you can change the white balance later if you’ve used one of the camera’s presets, but you still won’t get the same level of precision and control you’ll get from creating custom presets.)

Artificial light

When you’re working at high magnifications even the slightest movement of the camera or subject can cause significant blur, which is when flash comes into its own. A burst of flash will also allow you to use small apertures without whacking up the ISO, which is perfect for close-up work where depth of field is seriously shallow.

However, popping up the in-built flash on your camera (if it still has one) is rarely a good solution. The light produced by this flash is hard and can create unflattering shadows. The unit is also fixed into position, which means that the beam cannot be directed easily.

The best solution is to buy an external flash or a system designed specifically for close-up and macro photography. (If you buy an external flash, then effective diffusion is key.)

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© Tracy Calder. Translucent subjects, such as leaves, can benefit from backlighting as it highlights details and venation

There are two types of dedicated macro flash system: ring flash and twin flash. Popular with medical photographers, ring flash is also useful for close-up photography because it provides even, shadowless lighting. These circular units are designed for short working distances and are mounted on the lens rim with the control unit slipping into the camera hot shoe.

The light produced by a ring flash can be rather flat, so it’s best to look for a model that allows you to adjust the output in some way. Perhaps the most popular lighting set-up for close-up work is twin flash. Here, two flash heads are mounted on a ring around the lens, with the control unit slipping into the hot shoe.

The heads can be fired together or separately, moved around the ring, tilted or, on some high-end models, removed and positioned off-camera. This flexibility comes at a price, but many would argue it’s one worth paying.

Many subjects and situations that appeal to close-up and macro photographers occur in challenging light, but knowing how this light behaves and how it can be diffused, reflected or directed, means you never have to walk away empty-handed.


Top tips for using light in close-up photography

Whether you’re using artificial light or natural light in your close-up photography, the strength and direction of this source can be altered or modified to suit your needs

Look to the sky

Light cloud cover can act as a wonderful natural diffuser, lowering the contrast in a scene and reducing glare on foliage. Check the weather forecast before you head out.

Think big

When you’re purchasing a diffuser for close-up work it’s tempting to buy the smallest you can find – you’re photographing tiny subjects, after all – but the background needs to be diffused too so make sure that your diffuser is big enough to cover both.

Ask for a hand

Holding a diffuser or reflector in place can be tricky – especially if you’re handholding the camera – so consider using an articulated arm, such as the Wimberley Plamp.

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© Tracy Calder. Side lighting helps to emphasise texture and form and gives the image a three-dimensional feel

Be aware of colour

If you decide to diffuse light through clothing, or reflect it with a piece of card, be sure that you’re not introducing a colour cast to the scene.

Try some DIY

You can buy flash diffusers online, but there’s a big trend for making them yourself. I’ve seen modifiers made out of crisp tubes, craft foam and paper, for example. (Be sure to research your idea thoroughly before getting out the craft supplies.)

Take time to reflect

The role of a reflector is to reduce or eliminate shadows by reflecting light into dimly lit areas – perfect for flower or fungi photography. Reflectors are usually white, silver or gold. Silver will bring coolness and gold adds a touch of warmth. (You can also experiment with reflecting light using a small hand mirror.)

Hold the roast dinner

You can make a pocketable reflector out of a piece of card and a sheet of aluminium foil. Crumple up the foil, roughly flatten it out and fold the edges over the card. You can use the dull or shiny side depending on the intensity you require.


Lighting kit list for close-up photography

Continuous light

With continuous lighting what you see is what you get – as the light remains on all of the time, you can observe its effect on the subject and make adjustments accordingly.

Customisable set-up

Adaptalux makes customisable and adaptable lighting products that are specifically designed for macro photography. You can build your own lighting environment, selecting from multiple arms, filters and diffusers. The company also recently launched a flash lighting arm.

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© Tracy Calder. Side lighting helps to emphasise texture and form and gives the image a three-dimensional feel

Extra illumination

The travel-friendly LED light series from JOBY is intended for vloggers, but neat cubes like the Beamo are ideal for illuminating the inside of flowers or dark patches under mushrooms. The light can even be fitted with a diffuser.

Best of both worlds

If you want the predictability of continuous lighting, but the flexibility of flash, the Rotolight range (in particular the NEO 2) is worth a look – especially if most of your work is studio-based. The NEO 2 can be used on or off camera and has no recycle time.

Powerful pocket tool

Using a daylight-balanced torch (or even the torch on your smartphone) to lift shadows under plants or assist with manual focusing can be useful, but be careful not to distress living subjects.


Further reading

Get amazing images with simple lighting

Best cheap lighting accessories

Focus stacking: How to achieve pin sharp macro shots

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The Best Gear for Real Estate Photography: 5 Favorites

Photo of real estate photography

Real estate photographers looking for the best photo gear know they need their equipment to be three things: portable, adaptable, and affordable. The reason why is shooting real estate photos can present unique challenges for you as a photographer and for your gear, including cramped locations, bad lighting, and meager client budgets.

You need to be able to get in, get out, and get paid so you can move on to the next real estate photography assignment. So, what’s the best gear for real estate photography? That, of course, depends on a lot of factors. But to help you make informed buying decisions for your real estate photography equipment, we’ve chosen five of our favorite pieces of gear for capturing houses, apartments, and buildings in their best light.

If you’re looking for the ideal camera, lens, tripod, lighting gear or a drone for real estate photography, chances are you’ll find something you need on our list. If you’re looking for more photo gear recommendations, check out our story on the best equipment for event photography here.

Camera: Sony Alpha a7 III

Photo of Sony A7 III

The Sony a7 III has been available for a few years and is likely due to be replaced very soon but all that means is you can get this high-quality camera for a great price right now. Indeed, this 24-megapixel, mirrorless model is currently selling for around $1800 at both B&H and Amazon, which is a bit of a steal. For real estate photography, we like how compact and portable the a7 III is while still providing crisp photos even in low light. And since it’s a full-frame camera, you’ll be able to enjoy the true, wide focal range of your zoom lenses to capture rooms and exteriors in their full glory. Sony’s tried-and-true five-axis image stabilization is also available on the a7 III for when you want to keep things steady and might not have a tripod handy. If you need to shoot some video for a real estate client, the A7 III can capture 4K at 30p, which is more than enough for a web listing. Other real estate-friendly features we like include the a7 III’s 3-inch folding rear screen, which will help you capture low or high angles, and the camera’s dual SD cards slots for backing up your real estate photos instantly, or for shooting images to one card and videos to another.

Check the price on the Sony Alpha a7 III at B&H and at Amazon.

Also Good: Two other cameras we recommend for real estate photography are the 20MP Canon EOS R6 ($2499) and the 24.5MP Nikon Z6 II ($1996), two relatively lightweight full frame models that perform well in challenging lighting.

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Popular Photography Event Ends Soon! Your Chance to Save 96% on Photo Resources Will Vanish.

Popular Photography Event Ends Soon! Your Chance to Save 96% on Photo Resources Will Vanish.

Popular Photography Event Ends Soon! Your Chance to Save 96% on Photo Resources Will Vanish. 7

Over the past 4 days, tens of thousands of photographers have come together to access thousands of dollars in amazing resources and have raised $75,000 for charity. You only have 24 hours left to join them and save as much as 96% on photography tools and training created by renowned industry pros.

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With just 24 hours left for photographers to capture this incredible deal, the 5DayDeal team is expecting trends to follow in the pattern of previous sales, meaning a huge spike in traffic to the site. While they have taken every possible measure to optimize the site for handling such traffic rushes without lags, we recommend you don’t wait until the last minute to obtain your bundle because once the sale ends at noon tomorrow, this exclusive bundle will be gone forever.

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Photographers seeking professional and/or artistic growth mark their calendars for these sales each year to ensure they don’t miss them. The collection of materials is only offered for 5 days, and once they are gone, this unique combination of resources is never offered again. Past purchasers note the extreme value they obtained due to the high quality of resources and bargain pricing. This year’s bundle event ends at noon Pacific time tomorrow, October 19th.

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Don’t miss your chance to experience creative and professional growth in your craft while joining hundreds of thousands of photographers in this philanthropic effort! Get the unique set of resources found in The 2021 Photography Bundle before it disappears forever on October 19th at noon PST.

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Full disclosure: This article was brought to you by 5DayDeal.

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Art Wolfe on his approach to night photography

Art Wolfe African lion is shown in the muted light of evening in Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya

October 18, 2021

Art Wolfe has been photographing after dark for decades. He exclusively reveals to David Clark what attracts him to the nocturnal world and why is he enjoying shooting it more than ever


‘I’m battling raccoons right now,’ says Art Wolfe over a Zoom call from his home in Seattle, USA. ‘I’ve got koi carp in a pond in my garden and the raccoons come up out of the ravine below my house to get them. I was up until about 1am last night, chasing raccoons away. They’re a pain in the ass. They’re cute, but they love to eat fish. I’m at war with nature,’ he laughs.

It’s not the expected start to an interview with one of the world’s most famous nature photographers. Art may have just passed his 70th birthday, but he’s as energetic, unpredictable and candid as ever. Art has been photographing wildlife, landscapes and people for over 45 years and during a highly successful career has shot over two million images.

He has maintained a packed travel schedule throughout his working life, barely arriving home from one far-flung trip before setting off on another. Before coronavirus arrived, he regularly travelled for more than nine months every year.

Milky Way over a row of moai on Easter Island (Rapa Nui), in the south-eastern Pacific Ocean

A dramatic shot of the Milky Way over a row of moai on Easter Island (Rapa Nui), in the south-eastern Pacific Ocean

Even the Covid-19 situation hasn’t stemmed the flow of restless energy that drives him. ‘The pandemic has not slowed me down,’ he says. ‘All last year I created 27 lectures (each lecture 90-minutes long) on Pathways to Creativity that we put on Vimeo.

As long as my life is busy and my brain is active, I’m a happy camper whether I’m in Africa or North America. I’m still finding great things to do and great new subjects to shoot.’

Earlier this year Art went on safari to Kenya and for the past two months has taught back-to-back workshops in North America. He’s just come back from snorkelling with whale sharks and giant manta rays off the coast of Mexico.

He’s currently trying to run tours to Africa, Mongolia and Madagascar, but keeps having to delay them because of the pandemic’s travel restrictions, although he’s fully vaccinated and requires the same from his participants.

leopard in an ancient thorn tree in Chobe National Park, Botswana, Africa by Art Wolfe

This shot of a leopard in an ancient thorn tree in Chobe National Park, Botswana, Africa is one of Art’s favourites in Night on Earth. ‘I love shots where the animal is just part of the overall landscape,’ he says

Art’s keen to resume these tours. ‘My entire life has been about managing risk,’ he continues. ‘I started off as a kid that was always rummaging around in the forest and jumping off trees and crossing rivers. I was formally trained in mountaineering, went on an Everest expedition, went up to K2 and went into Pakistan even after the first Gulf War.

‘I always have been empowered to travel the world, to go into any city on Earth and walk the back streets and not feel like a victim or fearful of other humans. My parents always taught me to be self-reliant and confident, and that was the best thing they ever instilled in me.’

Over the years, Art has maintained a steady flow of books and has so far produced more than 120, including Migrations: Wildlife in Motion (1994), Vanishing Act (2006), which explored camouflage in nature, and his epic ‘mid-career retrospective’ Earth is My Witness (2014). He currently has seven more books at different stages of completion.

northern saw-whet owl

This northern saw-whet owl was photographed while preparing to leave its nesting cavity in a tree in Washington, USA

Night on Earth

His latest book, Night on Earth, is a wide-ranging collection of travel images made in the hours between dusk and dawn. Taken in a variety of locations worldwide including Alaska, Namibia, Malaysia, India and the Galapagos Islands, it features landscapes, starscapes, wildlife, natural phenomena such as volcanoes and waterfalls, indigenous peoples, cities and more.

So why has Art chosen to focus on night photography for this book? What is it that intrigues him about it and what special photographic opportunities does it offer? ‘Whenever I shoot, first and foremost, I’m trying to affect the emotions of the audience,’ Art explains.

‘In the past, when giving a talk, I could wow my audience with amazing shots of things like the Patagonian Massifs, but today people start to yawn because they’ve already seen 10,000 of those images. It’s getting harder to wow anybody with a more traditional landscape. So, part of the motivation was to include the element of darkness and to capture the landscape in a slightly different way.’

Art Wolfe African lion is shown in the muted light of evening in Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya

Shooting between dusk and dawn gives images a unique atmosphere. Here, an African lion is shown in the muted light of evening in Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya

Part of the attraction for Art was the sense of mystery that the night brings. ‘If you can capture, for instance, a mountain lion at dusk, starting to stalk an animal, that already implies some people’s worst fears,’ he says. ‘It’s already affecting people’s emotions. The subject has this inherent interest already ingrained.

I love that sense of going into the dark and coming away with an image that isn’t just silhouetted darkness. That, for me, was the challenge.’ For most of his books, Art usually goes through the same process when compiling them. After initially coming up with the concept, he and his staff search through his vast archive to see if there are enough core images to draw from.

All the travel that’s involved in covering a wide range of subjects and locations means it’s not financially viable to shoot all new images for books. ‘Then, once a base is established, I work like hell for the next three or four years and usually end up replacing most of the images that we initially thought would be good,’ he reveals.

Milky Way over Mount Baker in Mount Baker Wilderness, Washington, USA by Art Wolfe

A spectacular shot of the Milky Way over Mount Baker in Mount Baker Wilderness, Washington, USA

‘I don’t want a book to come out that looks like a lot of old photos. For the most part I’m shooting new work and using the abilities of the latest cameras to take in what we could never have shot before.’

Although a small number of the images in the book were shot on film SLR cameras and have stood the test of time, many of them were taken on the latest digital kit including the Canon EOS R5, which is currently his main camera. ‘I love it,’ he enthuses. ‘The whole technology of the mirrorless camera permits much smaller lenses.

‘For instance, when I was in Kenya earlier this year, I was handholding an RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 lens and very easily capturing animals. Then I could add a 1.4x extender and suddenly I have a 700mm lens that’s very easy to hold. I’m not a gym queen, so handholding and shooting animals without a tripod really makes capturing the ephemeral moment so much easier.’

One way he has taken advantage of the greatly improved high ISO performance of today’s cameras has been to shoot starscapes in a way that was not previously possible. ‘Historically, if I’d wanted to shoot a night-time shot that includes the stars, they would all be star trails,’ confirms Art.

Art Wolfe Dolomites, South Tyrol, Italy

Dawn breaks over a landscape dotted with hay barns in the Dolomites, South Tyrol, Italy

‘With film, you could never take a fast enough shutter speed to show the stars were just pinpoints of light. Those star trail images can be spectacular but can get a little shallow in terms of the depth of the image. ‘Today, with high ISOs, I have been able to shoot amazingly detailed images of the Milky Way as part of night-time landscapes.

Higher-ISO cameras are enabling us to photograph landscapes and the heavens like never before. I think that’s a great advancement and I only see it getting more and more that way.’ Almost all Art’s dusk-to-dawn images have been shot using only ambient light, including those of traditional ceremonies in countries including India, Botswana and Ethiopia.

He prefers to increase his ISO and use traditional oil lamps, candle light and fire light to illuminate these scenes. ‘The ones I’m really proud of are the cultural shots lit with candle light or fire light. They’re so much more intimate and romantic, and in keeping with nature and the landscape, than they would be if shot using flash. Most of the time in these situations flash is too harsh and invasive.’

Light pollution

Part of Night on Earth’s purpose, as is made clear in the text, is to highlight the issue of light pollution and how it’s affecting both wildlife and people as well as wasting resources.

As Ruskin Hartley of the International Dark-Sky Association writes in the foreword, ‘Light pollution is destroying natural darkness with severe consequences: It is linked to a global insect decline, the death of millions of migrating birds, increased carbon emissions and increased disease in humans.’

eruption of Bárðarbunga, a subglacial stratovolcano in Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland. by Art Wolfe

A lava flow glows vividly in this night-time shot of an eruption of Bárðarbunga, a subglacial stratovolcano in Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

The last photographs Art made for the book show the spectacular, star-filled night sky at the Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah, USA, which, in 2007, became the first of the country’s International Dark Sky Parks, which are specifically protected from light pollution.

At a time of climate emergency, Art says he’s often asked why his photographs focus on the beauty of nature and don’t show degraded environments, decimated species, or evidence of pollution. ‘The answer is I want to make a beautiful book to lure people in to where the organisations with which we align can tell their story,’ he explains.

‘It’s my honour to produce books in a way that brings people in and then we deliver the message, as opposed to books that show nothing but carnage. Very few people really are going to buy books on something that’s depressing, because we have enough issues that stress people out already.’

As for his future work, there’s no chance that entering his eighth decade is going to slow Art down. ‘My friends recently brought up the fact that I’m turning 70,’ he says. ‘We’re all within a year of each other. People say, “Oh my god, it’s a big birthday, it really makes you think”. But I live in denial and I’m not going to give it a thought. Birthdays are almost irrelevant to me.

fishermen cast their nets on the Irrawaddy River in Mandalay, Myanmar

In the warm evening light, fishermen cast their nets on the Irrawaddy River in Mandalay, Myanmar

‘My belief is, don’t look in the mirror, just look outward, think about the next project. Life is moving fast for all of us, but I don’t want to start thinking about how much time I have left and all that. People ask me when I’m going to slow down and retire, but artists don’t retire. I just want to drop wherever I am.’


Art Wolfe’s low-light tips

Based on his experience, Art shares the advice he would give others for shooting in low light

1. Think out of the box

‘Most people, whether taking low-light shots or otherwise, are literally putting their tripods in the holes made by the previous person to shoot that place. Look for new ways and new angles to approach the subject.’

2. Invest in the latest equipment

‘If it’s within your price range, the high ISO capability of the latest camera bodies, such as the Canon EOS R5, makes a big difference when shooting in low light, allowing you to capture subjects that were not previously possible.’

3. Understand animal behaviour

‘When photographing wildlife on the margins at dusk, it’s essential that you familiarise yourself with the behaviour of the subject that you want to go after. For example, you locate some predators by listening to the calls of their prey.’

4. Don’t be afraid to include motion blur

‘As long as there’s an element in the frame that’s sharp for the eye to depart from, shots that include motion blur can often be the most effective and creative.’

5. Noise isn’t a big issue

‘For me, a little noise in low-light shots is not a bad thing, so long as you’ve got the image. Noise can be akin to grain, which often creates something artistic.’

6. But for noise-free images…

‘If I’m trying to get the clearest, sharpest image without noise, I will use the latest cameras and typically will shoot starscapes, for example, somewhere around ISO 1600 with an aperture of f/1.4 or sometimes f/2.8 for around 10-20 seconds. Then I use Topaz noise-reduction software in post.’

Night on Earth: Photographs by Art Wolfe is published by Earth Aware Editions, price £35. See www.artwolfe.com. Amateur Photographer readers can also enjoy a 25% discount off ‘Pathways to Creativity’. See events.artwolfe.com/pathways and use the code AP25.


Further reading

Night landscape photography

Nature and nurture: Art Wolfe on his approach to photography

Art Wolfe 1951-present – Iconic Photographer

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fenfotos’s latest blog : another grey day

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Another Grey Day

17 Oct 2021 6:43PM  
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Unique : 255

Today was yet another grey day. Not quite so bad as last week, when the rain set in almost as soon as we set off on the walk, and I got no usable photographs at all. I did do a little better this week.

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I am still without my Olympus. I am told that it may take a month to repair. So, once again, I am using my Panasonic TZ70, which has made today a real getting to know my equipment day.

I am often quite curious as to why designers make the decisions they do, when the logic of the decision is not at all obvious. For instance, the TZ70 has a ‘Dynamic Monochrome’ mode, which I use for this project. If I use this mode, I have no control over when the flash will fire. I fancied trying daylight flash in the gloom, so tried to set the camera so the flash always fired. This would potentially have made some interesting shots with a highly illuminated foreground against a dark background. I would have thought such a shot was dynamic. But I am denied any such control. Why? The same mode also seems to accentuate the contrast. To get a decent monochrome from a lot of the images I took today, I would definitely need to go back to the raw file and do the conversion myself.

On the plus side, the TZ70 has a tiny sensor ( I believe the crop factor is over 5), which gives great depth of field, which is ideal for macro work. My lead image of a teasel head is a fine example of this.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, given the prevailing lighting conditions, all my successful shots today were made keeping the camera very close to the subject.

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This next shot is of some late flowering dandelions. It is the kind of situation that interests me – the different shapes and textures in the undergrowth. Here, the nettles contrast nicely with the grass, while the dandelions themselves provide focus. For someone like me, who is interested in natural history, this is a picture of ecology in action, as the three plants fight it out, each having its own strategy for hogging the light, inhibiting other competing plants, and dealing with marauding herbivores. I have thought of making a false colour image, such as NASA images of a distant planet. I haven’t yet tried though.

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This image is also all about differing textures. This field was just a mass of hawkweed (I think). Now late in the season, there are just a few flowers left among the grey feathery seed heads.

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When I first set out, I intended to photograph fungi. But it wasn’t until nearly the end of the walk that I found any. I liked this one with a strong contrast in both lightness and texture to the surrounding ivy.

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My final image if of an inkcap toadstool. Taking this picture made me really miss the fully articulated screen of my Olympus. Not being able (or willing) to lie down on the boggy ground, this image was made with quite a lot of guess work. This is also a nice illustration of the depth of field with the TZ70, sharpness extends for inches beyond the fungus.

Overall, I feel this has been my most successful foray yet.

Tags:
Monochrome
Inkcap
Dof depth of field
Teasel Head
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Great Reads in Photography: October 17, 2021

Great Reads in Photography: October 17, 2021

Great Reads in Photography: October 17, 2021 17

Every Sunday, we bring together a collection of easy-reading articles from analytical to how-to to photo features in no particular order that did not make our regular daily coverage. Enjoy!


The Singular Work of a California Photographer, Unearthed – The New Yorker

Joan Archibald, a Long Island, New York wife and mother of two, was tired of her life as a suburban homemaker in the early 60s. So, she moved to California and, in the era of increasing curiosity of Eastern culture, she changed her name to Kali, the Hindu goddess of death and time.

By the mid-to-late sixties, she began to perfect her photography and even took classes at a junior college. Kali worked by herself and did not share her work publicly. The considerable photography oeuvre that she produced was only rediscovered by her daughter, Susan, in 2016, three years before she died, at the age of eighty-seven.

Flooded with swirling, multilayered psychedelic hues, Kali’s portraits, often of wide-eyed young women, can feel like the ultimate distillation of an expansive, naïve and chaotic place and time. — Len Prince, T: The New York Times Style Magazine


More on Consent — Conscientious

“A little while ago, there was a discussion on Twitter that centered on a photograph someone had taken of a young woman on the New York subway,” writes Jörg M. Colberg. “The woman, a mother of two young children, was wearing a short dress, and she was clearly struggling to deal with her two very active children.”


The Pioneering Scots Photographer Who Captured China — BBC

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Two Manchu soldiers with John Thomson, Amoy, Fukien province, China. Photograph by John Thomson, 1871. This file comes from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pioneering Scottish photographer John Thomson (b.1837) took some of the earliest pictures of China and the now world-famous Angkor Wat religious monument in Cambodia.

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A Pekingese chiropodist. John Thomson. China, c. 1869. The picture is housed in the Wellcome Collection and is on display. The original B&W picture is © Wellcome Trust. Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasgow). CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

He traveled to the Far East in 1862 and captured photographs for a decade which form one of the most extensive records of any region taken in the 19th century.


What’s Happening in the Fine Art Photography Market – ArtNet

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what is one worth in dollars?

Although the market for fine art photography has never reached the soaring heights of other contemporary genres, it remains an exciting niche with a consistent crew of all-star artists at the top.


The Magical Bond Between People and Animals – in Pictures – The Guardian

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Jaden on a trampoline with Chrissy, Animal Tracks, Agua Dulce, CA, 2019 © Sage Sohier

Awesome alpacas, frolicking flamingos, and recuperating ravens … these rescue animals – in Sage Sohier’s photographs – have a zest for life and a remarkable willingness to forgive people.

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Janice with alpacas, Attleboro, MA, 2016 © Sage Sohier
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Nancy on the beach with rescued cockatoos and “Baby Blue,” Key West, FL, 2014 © Sage Sohier

Peaceable Kingdom The Special Bond between Animals and their Humans is available from Kehrer Verlag.


How Good Is the Canon R3? A Review From a Pro – DigitalPhotoPro

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© Jeff Cable

In an interview with Dan Havlik Jeff Cable, gives us the full scoop on the Canon EOS R3, including his early review of its autofocus system, resolving power, and the things he liked and didn’t like about the camera. Along with discussing shooting sports with the R3 at the Olympics, Cable addresses how the camera might (or might not) be suitable for wildlife and event photography.

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© Jeff Cable

Quotes from the interview:
While I brought two Canon R5s with me to the Olympics as well, I ended up using the R3 98% of the time. I shot with it for almost everything, and even though it was a pre-production model, I had no issues with it.

On the other hand, on a photography trip to Africa after the Olympics, I shot everything on a Canon R5, and it was great to capture wildlife with 45MP and crop where necessary. I shot photos of African fish eagles and did a lot of cropping on them… I also didn’t really need the R3’s 30fps in Africa.

I appreciated that the R3 has a CFexpress card slot. CFexpress cards are just faster. Faster to download, faster for everything compared to SD. I actually wish the R3 had two CFexpress card slots rather than one CFexpress and one SD.

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© Jeff Cable

Greek Photographer, Not a Nurse, Took the Pigeon Photo During a Chance Encounter in HospitalAFP Fact Check

Untitled

Facebook posts published here and here in October 2021 include the image of an elderly patient sleeping in a hospital bed with a pigeon perched on top of him.

“It’s been 3 days since this patient arrived in hospital for treatment,” the captions read. “And in those 3 days, no one in his family came to ask about his well-being (maybe also living alone). But a pigeon comes every day and sits in his bed.”

The posts allege that the man used to feed pigeons daily in a park.


World’s Most Dangerous Photography Jobs – ShotKit

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Depositphotos
  • Storm Chasers
  • Conflict photojournalism
  • Surf Photography
  • Deep-Sea & Shark Photography
  • Conservation Photography
  • Sports & Adventure Photography

Get the details and tips at the link above.


How To Preserve the Rubber Parts of Cameras & Lenses – Beyond Photo Tips

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Depositphotos

When you’ve had a camera for a while, wear-and-tear comes into play. One of the many things that happen when cameras are stored away for a long time is that the rubber starts to degrade.

While there aren’t many ways to recover rubber that is starting to degrade, there are ways to keep the rubber from spoiling too quickly in the first place.

“If the rubber is only just starting to become sticky, you can give it a light dusting of talcum powder to reduce the tackiness,” advises Susheel Chandradhas. “Prevention is better than cure, so ensure that you don’t let hand lotions, DEET, or sunscreen get on the rubber parts of the camera.”


This Bride Didn’t Have a Gown or Photographer on her Wedding Day. A Hospice Caregiver Helped her Redo it, 77 Years Later – CBS News

Frankie King did not have an extravagant wedding day. It was 1944 — at the height of World War II — when her high school sweetheart, Royce, became her fiancé. But like many young men at the time, Royce joined the military and was moved to a base in another state. Royce returned to Oelwein, Iowa, to marry his bride.

“It’s a small town,” Sue Bilodeau, their daughter, told CBS. “They only had a couple of days’ notice.”

So, no time to buy a wedding gown and no photographer either. But all that changed at age 97, thanks to a caring nurse!


Nikon FM3A: Nikon’s Last Manual-Focus SLR at 20 – Amateur Photographer

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Nikon’s last manual-focus film SLR, Valwit, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

From Amateur Photographer
The traditional form-factor of the 35mm single lens reflex (SLR) evolved in the 1950s and was subsequently refined over the next half-century…In the semi-professional range, it seemed likely that the FM2n would be the end of the line for the all-metal, all-manual FM series of SLRs when it appeared in 1983.

It was a surprise to many when Nikon launched the FM3A in the summer of 2001, two years after the D1 digital SLR. With manual focus, all-metal construction, no built-in winder, and a marked absence of liquid crystal displays, it seemed to encompass everything that the SLR manufacturers were trying to leave behind at the time. It looked retro, even old-fashioned, and not a few photographers at the time scratched their heads and wondered who and what the enigmatic FM3A was for.


Ansel Adams, Brassaï and Bill Brandt Sitting on a Bench: Paul Joyce’s Best Photograph – The Guardian

Ansel [Adams] asked me if I used his zone system. It’s a way of regulating exposure based on the conditions and the film you’re using. Ansel had written five volumes on this, and you had to be a scientist trained at Oxford to actually understand it. So, slightly embarrassed, I told him: “Well, I kind of have my own system.” “Oh,” he said. “You probably use mine unconsciously anyway.” — Photographer Paul Joyce in The Guardian


The Godfather of Rock ‘n’ Roll Photography Isn’t Ready to Talk About His Legacy – InsideHook

Mick Rock still has the rock ‘n’ roll look, even though he’s now well into his seventies. But that’s entirely appropriate. The British-born, New York-based photographer, helped define the city’s music scene in its one true golden age, shooting iconic images of Iggy Pop, Bryan Ferry, Syd Barret and Lou Reed — for whom he shot the album cover of Transformer. He shot the same for Queen II and David Bowie’s Pin-ups.

It’s funny how photography then just wasn’t considered an art form. But it is now. — Mick Rock to InsideHook.


Photo of the Week

Embed from Getty Images


Quiz of the Week

1.) Who took the world’s first selfie and when?

2.) Is it possible to make a zoom lens for any format with a fixed f/1.2 aperture in the near future?

3.) The AP Leafax 35 was a portable device used by photojournalists that transmitted photos over analog phone lines starting in 1988. How long did it take to transmit a single color photo?

Answers

1.) American photographer Robert Cornelius took a self-portrait (the word selfie did not exist then) in 1839 (Oct. or Nov.) And this was without a cable release! He simply ran in front of the camera after taking the cover off the lens and, in the hurry, couldn’t possibly accurately position himself in the center.

2.) We do not know, but this week a Nikon patent for two Z-mount camera lenses, a 35-50mm f/1.2 and a 50-70mm f/1.2, has been issued (filed in Jan 2019).

3.) Around 30 mins.


Why I Like This Photo – Rachel Owen

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Liturgy 2020 © Rachel Owen

At the height of the covid pandemic, my son entered his first year of high school. I felt his age group was significantly underrepresented in the COVID-19 conversation, and I wanted to create an image portraying what he and his friends were going through.

I told my son I needed him for a photo, and he being a teenage boy growing up with two photographers for parents, looked at me and said flatly, “You’ve got ten minutes, Mom.”

Knowing the portrait categories at WPPI only allow single capture images, I planned to create a triple exposure with my Canon 5D Mark IV. Also, knowing my son would make good on his ten-minute cooperation limit, I spent a couple of hours in preparation with video tutorials on best multiple exposure practices and setting the lighting with my husband as a test subject.

We started with a 50mm lens and switched to 100mm for more compression allowing his shoulders to overlap. I knew the virtual reality goggles would stick out, so I wanted a small aperture (we used f/10) to keep everything in focus from front to back. We used butterfly lighting because I wanted the ominous look of shadows cutting in the cheekbones; then, it was just a matter of getting the right amount of kicker to separate him from the background but not distract.

Ultimately the shoot took 22 minutes. My husband and son had a great time laughing at me as I frantically tried to get every detail right within my time limit. The goggles and headphones kept messing up his hair, and I wouldn’t let him move a muscle until all three exposures had been taken.

I titled this image Liturgy 2020 and wrote a poem with the same name, which pretty much sums up everything I intended to say. My hope for my son and this generation is that he would learn to pay attention to what is around him, genuinely listen to the opinions of others, and have sound arguments for what he believes with the courage to speak it out.

Liturgy 2020
He will not see for his vision is regulated⁠⠀
Let us not see evil⁠⠀
He will not hear for his ears ring with a technological hum⁠⠀
Let us not hear evil⁠⠀
He will not speak for institution has vanquished his voice⁠⠀
Let us not speak of evil⁠⠀
We mirror his stare and turn a blind eye⁠

Rachel Owen, and her husband Jeff, are a wedding photography team based in Chicago that have dipped their toes into nearly every genre of photography. With over 3,000 weddings and 3,000 portraits sessions of personal experience, Jeff and Rachel’s greatest joy is using their cameras to preserve the love in a relationship or a family bond, knowing those moments will live on in print forever.


Quote of the Week – Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi, “Bester V”, Mayotte, 2015 © Zanele Muholi, Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg/Amsterdam and Yancey Richardson, New York.
Zanele Muholi, “Bester V,” Mayotte, 2015 © Zanele Muholi, Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Amsterdam, Yancey Richardson, New York, and Gropius Bau.

Fine artists deal with finery, but I deal with painful material. — Zanele Muholi

Gropius Bau opens the first major survey in Germany of South African visual activist Zanele Muholi from 26 Nov 2021–13 Mar 2022.

Zanele Muholi  FRPS (b. 1972) is a South African artist and visual activist working in photography, video, and installation. Muholi’s work focuses on race, gender, and sexuality with a body of work that dates back to the early 2000s, documenting and celebrating the lives of South Africa’s Black lesbian, gay, transgender, and intersex communities. In 2012, Muholi began the acclaimed series of dramatic self-portraits entitled Somnyama Ngonyama (“Hail the Dark Lioness” in isiZulu), where the artist adopts different poses, characters, and archetypes to address issues of race and representation.


To see an archive of past issues of Great Reads in Photography, click here.


We welcome comments as well as suggestions. As we cannot possibly cover each and every source, if you see something interesting in your reading or local newspaper anywhere in the world, kindly forward the link to us here. ALL messages will be personally acknowledged.


About the author: Phil Mistry is a photographer and teacher based in Atlanta, GA. He started one of the first digital camera classes in New York City at The International Center of Photography in the 90s. He was the director and teacher for Sony/Popular Photography magazine’s Digital Days Workshops. You can reach him via email here.


Image credits: All photographs as credited and used with permission from the photographers or agencies. Portions of header photo via Depositphotos.

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How Do You Price Destination Wedding Photography?

How Do You Price Destination Wedding Photography?

Learning how to price your wedding photography business can be tricky enough, but if you are asked to start taking on destination work, it approaches an entirely new level of complexity. If you are looking to add that to your services list but are unsure of how to go about pricing it, this helpful video will give you some good advice to set you on your way. 

Coming to you from Katelyn James, this great video discusses how to price destination wedding photography services. No doubt, traveling to a destination adds several layers of complexity to the issue of pricing, and while there are some obvious expenses (like your plane fare and hotel) that you will need to factor in, there are some sneakier ones as well. For example, a destination wedding likely requires you to be away from your home and office more than a normal ceremony would, and as such, you are losing out on time that might otherwise be spent working with other clients or on other parts of your business, and that needs to be compensated for as well. Check out the video above for the full rundown from James. 

If you would like to learn more about building a wedding photography business, be sure to check out “How To Become A Professional Commercial Wedding Photographer With Lee Morris and Patrick Hall!”

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topsyrm’s latest blog : 52 for 2021 week 41 ugborough and western beacons

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52 for 2021 Week 41 Ugborough and Western Beacons

17 Oct 2021 9:40AM  
Views : 57
Unique : 49

This week joined by Mrs T I went in search of Dartmoor’s southernmost Tor which some say is Ugborough Beacon but Western Beacon is almost as high and is further south. A quick Google finds both “Wikipedia” and “Tors of Dartmoor” listing Western Beacon as the southernmost hill (Wiki) Tor (Tors of Dartmoor). Furthering the confusion is that in the Dartmoor 365 Book by John Hayward he states that Ugborough Beacon is the southernmost Tor and that Western Beacon isn’t formally a Tor (but he does say that it is the southernmost hill) also in the Dartmoor Tors pocket guide by Janet and Ossie Palmer the Gazetteer of Dartmoor Tors only lists Ugborough Beacon. ??

Ugborough Beacon.

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Western Beacon.

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Our walk started below Western Beacon but I had seen a disused Quarry marked on the map so we went to have a look at that before setting off up Western Beacon. It turned out to be a lot less of a Quarry than I had expected.

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On the way to the “Quarry” we passed what appeared to be an old bridge long since disused/derelicted. Had we not got a long hike ahead of us I would have liked to go down to explore it but it will have to wait for another visit.

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We had more pressing matters (the beacons) so we went back to the Moor Gate and headed up Western Beacon.

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On the way up the first slopes we could see the rather quaint looking Mooraven Village.

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Western Beacon itself has been quarried but that isn’t evident from the map.

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It also has a rather odd group of rock piles on the Cairn.

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Once over Western Beacon we headed for Butterdon Hill which is also further south than Ugborough Beacon and is also known as Black Tor by some.

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The Stone Row points the way which takes you past the “Longstone” beside Black Pool (not the seaside town). This view looking back towards Western Beacon.

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On Butterdon Hill there is a Trig Point and from that point we could see across to Ugborough Beacon.

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But sadly looking to the West we could also see the scar of the Clayworks at Lee Mill.

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From here we could see Hangershell Rock, this was not on the original route plan but we decided to go over and have a look.

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Once at the Hangershell Rocks we took time out to have lunch in the lee of the rocks.

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From our lunch spot we could see across to Tristis Rock which is on my list of sites to visit but not for this trip, it sits on the opposite bank of the River Erme and needs to be approached from that side. Another day.

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As we moved away towards Ugborough Beacon looking back we could see all the way to Plymouth Sound.

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We made our way towards Ugborough Beacon.

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Passing Main Head which is the start of the spring/stream.

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Ugborough Beacon isn’t the biggest Tor I have visited but it does have some interesting rock formations.

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And some nice views.

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I spotted a Kestrel out looking for lunch, I managed to get a shot but I really don’t have the right kit for these kinds of shots (I’m a landscaper not a wildlifer).

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Anyway, it was now time to head off back to the car.

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On the way back we saw some curious things, this water hole seemed to be a natural drain for the rainwater into the stream below.

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We also passed this derelict building, not sure what it used to be though.

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Finally we got back to the Moor Gate and the car.

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We did see some Ponies on this trip though.

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That’s all for this week folks. As always, comments welcome.

Tags:
Dartmoor
Ponies
Landscape and travel
Photowalk
Ugborough Devon

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What You Believe Can Be Bad for Your Photography

What You Believe Can Be Bad for Your Photography

It’s maybe time to let go of everything you know, take on board new beliefs, and change the course of your photography.

Does what is reported by the media, whether mainstream or otherwise, reflect your worldview? Are the facts that present themselves the same as you believe? Or do you find that when you watch the TV news, or read a paper, or browse websites, that the articles don’t cohere with what you regard as the truth?

Polarization of Our Societies

Of course, the political motivations of all media outlets are biased to one point of view or another. Similarly, their target audiences are at different academic levels. Therefore, if you watch Fox News or read the Daily Mail website, you are unlikely to find The Guardian or The New York Times appealing and vice versa.

Very few people like having their opinions challenged. Consequently, we live in bubbles, surrounding ourselves with those with similar viewpoints, and exposing ourselves to information that only corresponds with our point of view. This is, of course, dangerous. Not accepting that others can have different beliefs and detesting opposing points of view are the cause of every act of hatred and conflict in history.

What has this got to do with photography? Like any art form, it has a huge element of subjectivity. Whether it is to do with composition, lighting, genre, or even what equipment we buy, you probably believe one thing, and someone will think the opposite. Consequently, if you state an opinion, someone will argue against you. They may be outraged by your assertions, and even make threats to defend their viewpoint.

That, of course, is madness. It’s only photography.

How Do You React to Things Your Disagree With

  • Do you like landscape photography? That’s the least academically challenging of all genres. It’s just about making pretty pictures that are easy to like.
     
  • Boudoir photography is seedy. It’s nothing more than soft pornography, aimed at titillating men. It has no artistic merits beyond sexual gratification. Furthermore, it’s demeaning to the models who pose for it. It also encourages the sexualization and abuse of young women.
     
  • As soon as you use the clone tool in Photoshop, you are no longer working on a photograph, it’s now digital art.
     
  • What kind of camera do you use? Well, I think that brand is appalling. They are badly made, and the company is solely interested in making money for their shareholders. They deliberately under-engineer their basic models, so people soon outgrow them. Furthermore, they ensure there is built-in obsolescence, which is so bad for the planet.
     
  • Wildlife photography is twee.

I am sure you vehemently disagree with at least one of those statements. Yet, they are beliefs that are held by reasonable people, just as those who disagree with them are most reasonable too. However, whether in favor or against, such beliefs over trivialities like those can be so strongly held that opposing them will be viewed as if they were blasphemy. If people hold such strong feelings about photography, it is little wonder that countries go to war over more serious and weighty matters, such as politics, land ownership, oil, race, and religion.

And that’s where a problem lies, both within photography and in the wider world. Acceptance of opposing views has been lost to polarization. With that polarization has come the assimilation of extremist beliefs into the mainstream. People are convinced that theirs is the only true way. They think that instead of having a reasoned debate and agreeing to disagree, discussion must deteriorate into insult and attacks on the person. Read the comments sections of some articles here, and you will see that is just as much the case in photography as it is with politics and religion.

Being Offensive Is Damaging to Both You and Your Photography

What photographers fail to comprehend is that when they make offensive remarks about others, as opposed to respecting an opinion even if disagreeing with it, then they are damaging their reputation. You can be sure that your employers will see comments you make, as well potential customers, and so too will your friends and relatives.

When I’ve browsed through people’s galleries, sometimes, a style or approach to photography catches my eye. I recently considered approaching one photographer to offer to interview them for an article to help boost their profile. But then, I’ve read the comments they’ve left on some articles and walked away.

I feel I should point out that many offensive or insulting comments that appear both here and on other photography sites are made by people hiding behind false personas. They are internet trolls. They rarely have picture galleries or biographies associated with their account. However, this attempt at anonymity is no real protection as one troll, hiding behind a false Twitter identity, found out to their enormous financial cost. Nevertheless, one should ignore such bile.

A Good Reason to Celebrate Differences

Putting the often rude and offensive comments aside, not accepting others’ points of view is the very strangest attitude for a photographer. It is counter to what we are trying to achieve in our work. How so?

If we want to make our images compelling, and there cannot be many photographers who don’t want to do that, then we want to demonstrate that we observe the world in ways that most people don’t. We see the strange, unusual, and exotic. We find people different to us, doing things that, to our eyes, seem extraordinary. Not only that, but we even take the mundane and find new and exciting ways of showing it to our viewers.

Furthermore, we sometimes highlight those differences by including in our photos a contrasting element that emphasizes the unusual. With our pictures, we celebrate the differences in the world.

Photography works best when it is showing us points of view very different from our own. So, how can we do that effectively if we cannot accept others’ views as valid?

Of course, there are exceptions. When photographing war, violence, cruelty, bigotry, disasters, and destruction, photographers are making an unequivocal statement that what we observed is unacceptable. But that outrage should be reserved for the abhorrent, while differences and diversity should be celebrated.

Negativity Rubs Away Our Creativity

It is widely recognized that our behaviors gravitate towards our dominant thoughts. If we think negatively, then this will invariably be reflected in our personalities and, ultimately, all we create. Yet, if we respect and applaud diversity, broaden our horizons to embrace the different, then not only will that be echoed in others’ attitudes towards us, but will also positively affect our state of mind and, ultimately, in our art.

So, furiously rejecting alternative views does not cohere with the ethos of photography. Furthermore, when you read negativity that is disrespectful of alternative views, you can be sure that they are made by people who will never become great photographers.

History Shows That Diversifying Works

There are plenty of examples of great artists from all fields whose work benefited from diversification: da Vinci, Picasso, Dali, Miro, Mozart, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Linda McCartney, and Don McCullin. Even Ansel Adams didn’t glue himself to solely shooting photos of Yosemite, and Dorothea Lange’s best work happened after she digressed from shooting studio portraits.

A Challenge

So, here’s a challenge. Set out to create images of things, places, and people utterly different from what you normally photograph. This could either be within the genre you usually shoot or some completely different topic altogether. Do your research first. Put in as much interest in the new subject as you do with your regular ones. But also try different approaches, such as different lighting, or using a different format of camera. It will be great to see your experimentation in the comments.

Oh, and if you disagree with what I have written here, I will gladly listen to your reasons why.

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The Best Smartphones for Photography in 2021

The Best Smartphones for Photography in 2021

The Best Smartphones for Photography in 2021 30

Almost everyone wields a camera these days because they already have one by default on their smartphones. But not just any phone will capture the best results, and that’s why some stand out for particular reasons.

Updated 10/14/2021 by Ted Kristsonis: New recommendations across the board to conform with the latest smartphones from a variety of manufacturers.

Mobile photography is now one of the major battlegrounds for vendors trying to one-up each other. Thankfully, it’s not entirely about numbers, despite megapixel counts hitting new highs, it’s a lot about how effective software can be to do more with the available pixels. That can also depend on how you look at what the software gives you, especially relative to the varying modes phones now regularly offer.

We’re talking about an ever-evolving situation, where new phones may supplant old ones, while others trade places based on how new updates affected performance and output. Whether it’s pro mode features, software that does amazing things, or getting more for every dollar you spend, this roundup is a good place to start. We at PetaPixel will be updating it regularly to reflect a changing and shifting market to give you the insight you need to shoot what you want.

What We’re Looking For

There are plenty of smartphones with what you could consider to be “good” cameras, but the “great” ones are fewer in number, and it often shows. When we look at what would put a smartphone camera on this list, we always look for the best results, particularly when talking about a specific type of photo. That may not necessarily mean the phone is the best in every other facet, but if it’s noted here, there are reasons for it.

That’s why we also broke things down into categories that differentiate between the strengths of certain devices. One phone may be better at shooting portraits, whereas the other has a Pro mode cutting above the rest. Computational software is so integral, and yet, not everyone does it well.

We break it all down into six distinct categories:

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Main sensor: 108MP or 12MP (with pixel binning) 26mm equivalent

Other rear cameras: 10MP 3x zoom telephoto lens (70mm equivalent), 10MP 10x zoom telephoto (240mm equivalent), 12MP ultra wide-angle (13mm equivalent)

Front-facing camera: 40MP 

Video recording resolution: Up to 8K

Price: Starting at $1,200

A year ago, Samsung would’ve struggled just to make this list with the disjointed effort that was the Galaxy S20 Ultra. That’s not the case with its successor, which rectified some key missteps and put together one of the most well-rounded cameras available. It’s not perfect, mind you, and does need work in some areas, but it’s easy to like the variance and output you get.

Samsung used its newest ISOCELL HM3 image sensor to push further on the hardware side, and to some degree, is also pushing smarter use of newer lenses and smarter software. We’re certainly not referring to gimmicky nonsense like the 100x Space Zoom, but more the restrained color output and improved HDR that gives photos so much better composition.

Read PetaPixel’s Samsung S21 Ultra Review here.

The two zoom lenses complement each other well, especially the 10x zoom that emulates a 240mm telephoto. They may be the best images a zoom lens currently takes on a phone, and while the 30x hybrid has its up and downs, it can turn out a decent shot at the right time. Samsung would be better suited to making its Pro mode more accessible to the myriad of rear lenses, but alas, it’s only for the main and ultra-wide lenses, and only at 12MP. Great for low-light, not so much for taking a photo you want to make bigger, unless you try features like Adobe’s Super Resolution.

All that said, if not for the U.S. ban on Huawei, that brand’s P50 Pro would likely have been in this position. One of the most versatile and superb cameras of any smartphone to date, its retail and software limitations, as far as the full gamut of Android goes, preclude us from placing it here. But if you are so inclined, its output won’t disappoint. The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra was gunning for the top crown this year, though its availability and efficacy are in question on this side of the world. However, since the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the only true Samsung flagship this year, it will continue to be the company’s standard until a possible Galaxy S22 Ultra comes out.

Samsung’s spot isn’t all that secure, either, given that Apple scored key points with the iPhone 13 Pro and Google looks to make a big splash with the Pixel 6. Vivo is also in the hunt, and makes this list with good reason.

Best Pro Mode for Smartphone Photography: Vivo X70 Pro+

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Main sensor: 50MP or 100MP or 12MP (with pixel binning) 23mm equivalent

Other rear cameras: 32MP 2x zoom telephoto (50mm equivalent), 8MP 5x zoom telephoto lens

Front-facing camera: 32MP

Video recording resolution: Up to 8K

Price: Starting at $1,200

The X70 Pro+ has one of the best phone cameras, as a whole, and what makes its Pro mode compelling is that it tries to qualify the user. Onscreen explainers note what a feature or setting does, opening the door to a learning experience — something lacking in getting more mobile shooters to try a mode like this.

Vivo didn’t dramatically change how it all works over this phone’s predecessor, focusing on the software side of things to make it better. That includes making the interface a little smoother and cutting down the time it takes from pressing the shutter to capturing the photo.

Read PetaPixel Vivo X70 Pro+ Review here.

The other advantage is that you can use all of the rear lenses in this mode, something that isn’t always available in rival handsets. Vivo could’ve moved the lens icons in the interface further away from the composition settings, but once you avoid false positives, you can really start to benefit from shooting in RAW at multiple focal lengths. Even its built-in Macro mode kicks in when going close up, though it would’ve been nice if the mode made it clearer about how close you can get to a subject.

Since Vivo’s Night mode can sometimes over-process shots, Pro ends up being an ideal alternative. The slow shutter mode can handle unique long exposure captures, but Pro often fills in well for low-light shots, especially when using a tripod or flat surface to prop up the phone for a slower shutter. This may have been another one Huawei could win, or at least vie for, but since Vivo has no quarrel, it’s a solid alternative.

Best Smartphone for Computational Photography: Google Pixel 5

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Main sensor: 12.2MP (27mm equivalent)

Other rear cameras: 12MP ultra wide-angle (16.5mm equivalent)

Front-facing camera: 8MP 

Video recording resolution: Up to 4K

Price: Starting at $699

If not for its software, Google’s Pixel 5 would look barebones on a spec sheet. But as the old adage always says, “never judge a book by its cover.” It’s the sort of understated design that has served Google well in wowing people with its cameras can do. Or, more specifically, what its software can do.

Truth be told, the main sensor is long in the tooth, considering it’s essentially the same one Google used in the Pixel 3. It is time for an upgrade there, but in the Pixel 5, you get a phone camera with the best computational software. The HDR interpolation is outstanding in a variety of conditions, and we’ve yet to see another phone match the shadow and brightness sliders in the interface.

It’s a big reason why Night Sight continues to compete as well as it does for low-light shots, despite an aging sensor. Adding the feature to portraits, while also making just about every feature or setting — including RAW capture — available to both lenses makes this phone easier to get a good shot.

Best Bang-for-the-Buck Smarphone for Photography: Google Pixel 5a

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Main sensor: 12.2MP (27mm equivalent)

Other rear cameras: 16MP ultra wide-angle (16mm equivalent)

Front-facing camera: 8MP

Video recording resolution: Up to 4K

Price:
Starting at $499

It would be hard to find a phone that shoots as well as the Pixel 5a does for the price. It’s also not an easy phone to find outside of the U.S., since Google limited its availability. It is a 5G-enabled device that borrows so much from its flagship sibling when it comes to capturing the same photos under most of the same conditions. You also get an ultra-wide lens with a 107-degree field of view, albeit without optical or electronic image stabilization.

Still, the sensors and computational software are otherwise capable of producing images on par with the Pixel 5. That means Night Sight and Portrait mode are going to still look really good, and with RAW capture always available, there’s room to do more in post. For those on a budget, it’s going to be one of the best phone cameras less money can buy.

Best Small Smartphone for Photography: iPhone 13 mini

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Main sensor: 12MP (26mm equivalent)

Other rear cameras: 12MP ultra-wide (13mm equivalent)

Front-facing camera: 12MP 

Video recording resolution:
Up to 4K

Price: Starting at $699

Sometimes, a smaller phone just fits better, and it’s hard to find one better than the iPhone 13 mini right now. What makes this phone work so well is that you don’t compromise much for the lack of size. The mini sports the same features and output its larger iPhone 13 sibling does. If not for the 5.4-inch Super Retina XDR display and 2458mAh battery, the two phones are otherwise running on the same specs.

Read PetaPixel’s iPhone 13 mini Review here.

And those are different from previous iPhones. Apple says the 13 mini can take in more light and produce better images than its predecessor, the 12 mini. The better comparison is probably with iPhones that came before them, including the most recent iPhone SE, which can’t match the 13 mini’s ability to snap good images. It’s hard to also find an Android phone that can do it in the same diminutive size, though the Pixel 4a is a tough competitor.

That you get a good ultra-wide lens to supplement the primary camera is great, but so is the fact shooting video is effective. Apple included its newest Cinematic mode, though you can only use it with the primary lens.

Best Smartphone for Video: iPhone 13 Pro

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Main sensor: 12MP (26mm equivalent)

Other rear cameras: 12MP 3x zoom telephoto (78mm equivalent), 12MP ultra wide-angle (13mm equivalent)

Front-facing camera: 12MP
Video recording resolution: Up to 4K

Price: Starting at $999

The iPhone is still among kings when it comes to video recording, and it has a lot to do with how well it captures color, tone, and texture. The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max are essentially the same device, save for the difference in size. They have the same camera system, which means you’re going to get the same results, either way.

Read PetaPixel’s iPhone 13 Pro Review here.

The biggest addition is Cinematic mode, and how it allows you to change focus on a subject, as well as adjust the aperture when editing clips afterward. Eventually, you’ll be able to do the same on iMovie and Final Cut on a Mac, too. The one drawback is that you’re limited to shooting in 1080p at 30fps, but regular video recording offers more options, particularly with resolution and framerate, along with Dolby Vision HDR. Once Apple releases an iOS 15 update to enable ProRes, it may be easier to shoot more while taking up less storage.

If we were talking a truly “pro” level here, the Sony Xperia Pro or Xperia 1 III might take this spot, but those aren’t necessarily made for every type of user. The iPhone 13 Pro is a little more accessible and its video features are at least easy enough to learn.

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