Each art or craft we engage in, as participants or observers, does something for our sense of being alive, our presence in and awareness of the world. Art feeds the head and the soul and it’s an important part of what makes us human. That’s why people should be rightly upset when art is removed from the curriculum in our schools. But for photographers, one major key to that awareness is a sense and sensibility about light. That appreciation starts to build in once you start considering what to photograph and when to make an image. In many cases, if you think about it, the quality of light is often the guiding hand. The bonus is that the love of light and shadow and its levels and color stays with you even when not walking around with a camera.
While every image we make with a digital camera starts out as a color (RGB) image, it doesn’t preclude creating dynamic black-and-white photos from those image files. In fact, the ability to “convert” to color lends itself to producing more tonally rich images than we ever could have imagined when working with black-and-white silver materials.
These days you could consider any image as a special effect, what with the massive amount of processing that goes on inside the camera prior to it being written on the memory card. But that’s pretty much assumed and not even considered “special” anymore.
Not long ago when you wanted even a modicum of quality with the ability to interchange lenses and control over cameras and functions worthy of the craft you’d mainly have to choose among a variety of D-SLR-type cameras. While they all followed the 35mm SLR form and even modes of operation, the digital differentiator was generally the size and megapixel count on the sensor. While there certainly were variations and competitive technologies within different brands, the major split was between APS-C and so-called “full frame” (larger sensors equaling the 35mm format). Improvements tended to drift “down” from full-framers to APS-C, but there were also a number of concessions, if you will, that moved up from APS-C to the more pro-oriented models, which for some muddied the waters although body construction, shutter cycles, and other matters of concern to pros were retained in the higher-priced cameras.
This month’s issue delves into the art and craft of outdoor and nature photography, as well as covers some of the kit that could help you on your way. And given that we are heading into the colder seasons, we thought it would be apt to include a sled full of articles on dealing with working and traveling in the cooler regions. We also have some gear reviews and roundups that are apt, including Jack Neubart’s look at custom straps and harnesses that allow for hands-free and freely accessible carrying solutions. And to top it off, we are very happy to offer an excerpt from Art Wolfe’s latest book, The New Art of Photographing Nature. It always pleases us to have a master on board.
While we cover our fair share of gear we always keep in mind what all that gear is for—producing images that speak to your vision and your desire to express your view of the world. In this issue we do just that by introducing you to a number of photographers who have taken those tools and techniques and created a group of images that focus on an important aspect of their view of the world. Tied in with those projects is a dedication to the craft and its practice, which is what often makes their images unique and noteworthy.
In this issue we dive deep into auxiliary lighting waters with reviews, roundups, and tips on everything from studio to location strobes to on-camera flash to flash modifiers, those items that shape and add subtlety to what might otherwise be nothing more than a large blast of light. As you’ll see, lighting solutions are quite varied, and our task is to provide an overview of some of the latest available products as well as tips on setups and using them, something our tests always emphasize.
Put editors from 28 photo magazines in one room to pick the Top Products of the Year and you’re bound to have some lively discussions. That’s exactly what happened at the TIPA (Technical Image Press Association) meetings in late April this year, the results of which are in this issue. The selection process begins with numerous candidates in 40 different categories, ranging from all sorts of cameras to lighting, bags, software, accessories, and more. Then editors from Europe, Africa, Australia, Canada, Asia, and the US go through the list and finally vote, with the winners chosen by a democratic (majority) process. We’re proud to say that Shutterbug is the sole US magazine in the group and we congratulate those companies, and the people behind the products chosen, on their achievements.
In this issue we take a look at and through lenses and discover some of the work by photographers who use optics in unique and clever ways. It gives us a chance to appreciate how far lens tech has advanced, and some of the wondrous ways they allow us to see the world.
While what work is produced is more interesting than how a lens is produced, there’s no question that the latest developments in lens building have opened up many exciting photo opportunities that had not been available to us in the past. One of the most exciting advances has been in Image Stabilization (IS) technology, now more common than not in new lens offerings. While putting IS (which goes under various and sundry brand names) into a fairly slow lens, like kit lenses that might start at f/3.5 or f/4 maximum aperture, and then quickly drop to perhaps f/5.6 at the tele end of the zoom, is certainly helpful, it gets much more interesting when IS goes into a fast lens, like an f/2 or f/2.8 prime or zoom.
There’s no question that camera makers have been busy of late. They’ve brought out many new models, some basically upgrades from previous models, but also those that blaze new trails in digital photography and camera design. Updates these days are often built around new tech developments or, more likely, the inclusion of some sort of sharing or Wi-Fi functionality.
When images are composed of codes and “addresses” they are open to all sorts of interpretations. Unlike film, where the image characteristics were, if you will, boiled into the emulsion, digital images are ultimately malleable and occasional capricious things. Major capture indiscretions aside, you can do what you please with an image. Want red balloons rather than blue? A few deft touches can change the entire party mood. Want your grass greener? Just slide that slider and you’ll have a lawn to make any suburbanite proud. Want to have zebras on the moon gamboling with unicorns in an idyllic wood? Gather the elements and composite them accordingly.
I must admit to mixed feelings about the ongoing “connectedness” craze. On the one hand you have to admire technology that allows you to link the images in your camera with various mobile devices, convenient I am sure for some, and that now even lets you shoot and share at one touch of a button. On the other hand I am uncertain how this has anything to do with seeing and making quality images that speak to your instincts and feelings about the world around you. I note that some companies make this connected ability the headline of their new products, while others take it more in stride and list it as just another feature.
While we might not realize it we have all been making portraits since the day we were born. We recognized the shapes and proportions of the face as being of our own kind, and grew to recognize the features of those who were near to us and were dependent upon. We also began to understand that as we went out in the world how the rearrangement of those features boded ill or well, and began to understand the looks of love, empathy, anger, fear, and even indifference. The ability to read those signs was what enabled us to cope with the world and the people who inhabit it.
When we all started out in photography we had something that lit the spark, some picture we took or some special interest that we knew would be part of our guiding light in the craft. Or we saw the work of another photographer, a mentor if you will, that we immediately connected to and saw in their work a path into our own inner vision. Our aim here at the magazine, along with how-tos and reviews, is to present the work of a wide diversity of photographers who have gotten involved on an intense level with one topic, one locale, or one point of view and created a body of work that speaks to their own inner vision. It can be a project or a life’s work, but in each case we understand and appreciate the tremendous amount of focus and energy it involves.
Long banished for being retro, unconnected, and perhaps even unhip, this year’s worldwide photo show, photokina, marked the return of what might be called RLCs, or “Real Live Cameras,” at least in their appearance and build and in all instances in digital manifestations. Most have new features, new capabilities, and even have sprouted “antennae” for connectivity, yet at the same time have the look and feel of photographic instruments with world-class lenses and handling to match. We begin our photokina reports in this issue, and will follow through with other reports on new products in subsequent issues of Shutterbug.