Barry Steven Greff’s photography is showcased in an elegantly designed website from FolioLink (www.foliolink.com). The site appears one way on my desktop computer and another, better I think, incarnation on my iPad, where captions and other information appear as well. Images are arranged in four portfolios and Atmosphere displays images representing the majesty of nature, especially his monochrome image of Niagara Falls photographed like you’ve never seen it before. It’s a quiet allegory of the power of nature vs. the insignificance of humankind. It’s one of his few images that have people and here they are infinitesimal in size compared to the roar—you can almost hear it while looking at the photograph—of the falls.
One of the most interesting promotional items created for my long out-of-print book The Photographer’s Digital Studio was a cartoon drawn by the brilliant artist John Grimes (www.grimescartoons.com) which showed trays of developer, stop, fix, and wash with floppy disks being dipped in and out of each one. The caption: “A common mistake in digital photography.” Years ago I labored many hours in a wet darkroom to produce a composite image showing what an historic statue would look like when moved to a different location. Digital imaging software would have let me do a better job in less than an hour and I wouldn’t have had to spend time working in the dark with smelly chemicals. Part of the reason some people even ask “why digital?” is that many believe that digital imaging is somehow different than traditional photography. That’s not really true. I think there is no more difference between the two methodologies than you would find when comparing photographers working with large format view cameras to those grabbing snapshots with point-and-shoot cameras. It’s just that the tools are different and this month I’ll introduce you to some new image-processing tools.
Dick Stolley, who many consider Time-Life’s best managing editor, once told People magazine photographers that a successful image elicited a “Gasp Factor” from the viewer. Stolley believed that if the image stopped the reader, forced them to take a second look, read the headline, and perhaps the rest of the story, the photograph passed his test. Often the best photographs—those “Gasp Factor” ones—are made under less than ideal lighting conditions. These images are made on stormy days, at the crack of dawn, sunset, or in the dark of night when getting the proper exposure can be a distinct challenge. It is those precious fleeting minutes when the quality of light provides photographers with images that separate photographs from snapshots.
Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 is a major upgrade to an already great product and introduces many new features that offer you even more control over an image’s detail, contrast, and tonality, making it easy to transform color files into stunning black-and-white photographs. Silver Efex Pro 2 now includes controls for Dynamic Brightness, Amplify Blacks, Amplify Whites, Soft Contrast, Fine Structure, Image Borders, Selective Colorization, as well as a History Browser and many speed and quality improvements. All of Silver Efex Pro 2’s new features also play nice with Nik’s U Point technology, giving you selective control over an image instead of globally applying an effect, although that option is available, too.
If Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate were graduating from photo school this year, the advice he would be getting instead of “plastics” would be “speedlights,” and why not? When compared to a monolight, the biggest advantage of using a shoe-mount flash is that they’re small and portable, which means you can take them anywhere. Today’s shoe-mount flashes—or speedlights as camera manufacturers like to call them—are sophisticated, seamlessly blending natural light and flash as well as having the ability to group several flashes together, trip them wirelessly, all the while calculating the correct exposure.
Steichen was always one of my photo heroes. A true Renaissance man, along with Alfred Stieglitz he opened the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession in 1905, won an Academy Award for his World War II film The Fighting Lady, and became director of the Department of Photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art where he curated the legendary “Family of Man” exhibit that traveled to 69 countries and was seen by 9 million people. A companion book sold 2.5 million copies. Yet, many photographers today don’t even know his name. One of this column’s goals is to bring future “Steichens” to the attention of Shutterbug’s readers and I’m especially proud of the group of photographers that I’ve assembled for this month.
Canon offers five different 70-300mm zoom lenses in its product lineup. Why so many? They obviously think this is a popular and practical focal length range and I happen to agree. I even own one of them myself—the EF 70-300mm
f/4-5.6 IS USM—but the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM tested is the mac daddy of ’em all. Part of the reason for its high price tag ($1599) is that it’s the only one of the five lenses that is resplendent in white paint (the better for TV cameras to see), making it part of the “L” series. (See “Just For The ‘L’ Of It.”) Canon’s L lenses typically have wide apertures fixed throughout the zoom range but in this case all five lenses in this focal length range have identical f/4-5.6 apertures. The new Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM telephoto zoom lens features two Ultra Low Dispersion (UD) elements for improved image quality and reduced chromatic aberration. It incorporates a floating focusing mechanism for sharpness from close-up (3.9 feet) to infinity plus an Image Stabilization (IS) system that Canon claims increases usability by approximately four stops. The IS system includes a function that allows it to continue to operate even when the camera or the lens, the latter being a better idea, is mounted on a tripod. There’s an optional ($189.95) Canon Tripod Mount C for mounting on a tripod or monopod but I was unable to get one for testing. The lens is dust- and water-resistant and features a Fluorine coating that resists smears and fingerprints and significantly eases lens cleaning, but that doesn’t make me suggest less vigorous lens protection. More later.
Edward de Bono is a physician, author, and inventor who originally came up with the concept of “lateral thinking.” He wrote Six Thinking Hats and is a proponent of the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools. I’ve often said that the most useful photographic accessory is the one that’s between a shooter’s ears, and while lenses are important to accomplishing your goals as an image-maker, it’s your brain that will ultimately help realize that vision. This month’s featured websites are a perfect example of that kind of thinking, including a blog by a Shutterbug reader who has taken the concept of a photo a day (http://farace.smugmug.com) into an entirely new direction.
You don’t always need a lens to make photographs. When I was a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, our instructor Jack Wilgus had all his students make their own pinhole cameras and shoot images with them. I took the easy way out and used a Quaker Oats box and used photographic paper cut into a circle to fit the box as my capture media. My homemade camera produced round, negative images that I kidded myself into believing echoed the style of early photographs but now, as with many things photographic and not, I know better. Yet one thing remains: you don’t need a lens to make photographs. Sure, many new SLRs, such as the Olympus E-30 that I tested (April, 2009, issue of Shutterbug), have a “pinhole” filter but the camera itself uses a lens and internal software to create the look of the real thing. But shooting film in a real pinhole camera brings back that very “ah-ha” that Ernst Haas was talking about.
As a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, I attended a class on color and my very first assignment was landscape photography. I wasn’t then or am I now a serious landscape photographer, but as a serious student I developed a set of personal guiding principles on the “what” and “how” of photographing landscapes that I still follow today. These four principles are not cast in concrete and are presented here only as guidelines for your own explorations in landscape photography.