It seems like these "what's in photographer X's bag?" posts are everywhere. While it's interesting to see what other photographers use, it's become much more than that. We have fetishized the tools we use, to the point where the "kit" has developed it's own persona, as well as becoming a reflection of it's owner. It seems like Hipsters use old Leica film cameras (or iPhones), sports and wildlife photographers use Nikon (and iPhones) and wedding shooters use Canon 5D MkIIIs (and iPhones). I tend to travel pretty light, carrying just one camera and one lens, the Fuji X-Pro1 and the 35mm f/1.4, along with pens, pencils and notebooks. Though since we are starting a couple new projects for Faded + Blurred, I will be adding a few things to my kit, namely a Tascam DR-40 digital recorder and a couple LED light panels for recording interviews in the field. I've been asked several times why I chose the X-Pro1 over one of the latest DSLR offerings from Canon or Nikon and, honestly, it has everything to do with how the camera feels in my hands, rather than what the RAW files look like zoomed up to 200%. Ultimately the camera is just a tool, like a pencil or a brush; it should just be an extension of your creativity that you shouldn't have to think to much about to use it effectively.
The One Year Anniversary Show! Once you realize that everything you do leads to the next thing, and that the journey is the reward, you’ll be fine. Do clients want your work or your juice? Plus, controversial photographer and art world darling, Cindy Sherman is our Photographer of the Week.
Sanford and Son Theme (The Streetbeater) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Circuitous Conversations #41 – Monitors
On Taking Pictures
Jeffery's Interview with Bill | Faded + Blurred
Eisenstaedt’s ‘Kiss in Times Square’ Leica camera goes to auction | The Verge
Tissot – Ball On Shipboard
BBC Two – The Impressionists: Painting and Revolution, Gang of Four
The Metropolitan Museum of Art – Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity
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When I was an Art Director at Universal Studios, my friend and then-colleague, Jeff Holmes and I used to send each other links to artists, designers, and coders that really inspired us. Eventually, this list would come to be known as The Nuts Wall. One of the first people to land a spot on The Nuts Wall was Bradley G Munkowitz, better known as GMUNK. GMUNK was doing some absolutely mind-blowing graphic design, particularly his After Effects work. It seemed like each new piece he posted was more fluid, more complicated and just better than the last. Crazy good work. GMUNK is a master of grid-based design, particularly his impeccable UI work, seen most recently in the Joseph Kosinski-directed sci-fi epic, Oblivion. GMUNK did some superb UI work on Kosinski's previous (and first) film, TRON Legacy, so, it seemed like a natural fit to get him on board Oblivion. Though his work is ridiculously complicated to produce, the results are interfaces that look intuitive and not at all out of place, and isn't that exactly the way it should be? See more on GMUNK's site.
Does it really take a village to succeed as a photographer today, and should technology dictate where your career-compass guides you? Despite the changes to photography as a business, clients and art buyers are still looking for talent; but are they looking where you are? Plus, get out your shot glasses, iconic New York lensman, Jay Maisel, is our Photographer of the Week.
What is On Taking Pictures?
Every week, I join portrait photographer Bill Wadman to take on the art, science, and philosophy of photography and explore how they play out behind the camera in the process of making images. The show offers insider insights for the novice, shop talk for the professional, and opinionated discussion for the interested observer of the field's trends and legacy.
“I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera.” – Gordon Parks
While working as a porter on a passenger train, Gordon Parks happened to pick up a magazine left behind by a fellow porter. In it were images taken by Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Walker Evans, and others from the Farm Security Administration. It was a series of photographs showing men, women, and children, all suffering from poverty; the migrant workers of the Dust Bowl. Parks could not stop staring; he was mesmerized. He went back to the magazine over and over again, memorizing the subjects’ faces and the names of the photographers. Not long after, he found himself in a movie theater watching a newsreel of a photographer who had been shooting the bombing and sinking of a US gunship by Japanese war planes. The photographer came out on stage afterwards to answer questions and Parks was hooked. He immediately saw the power a photograph could have and made up his mind then and there to become a photographer.
"The mechanism: stamped black tin, leatherette over cardboard, bits of boxwood, a lens. The shutter falls. Forever dividing that from this." - William Gibson
As you know if you listen to On Taking Pictures (and if you don't, now is a perfect time to start), I had been looking for a new camera since I sold my Nikon D300 several months ago. What I've realized, is that it wasn't just a new camera that I was looking for, but rather a renewed connection to and excitement for making pictures. I started with photography in high school at a time when the only way to learn photography was with film. Actually, we had to work up to film, starting instead with photograms, which, looking back, were a wonderful introduction to the medium. A blank sheet of paper, a few leaves or twigs and light; then it was into the darkroom to see the magic. Bathed in the amber glow of the safelights that would become my second home for years to come, I will never forget seeing the image appear before me in the tray of developer. Alchemy. For me, beginning in the darkroom bound me to photography as a process, rather than merely an outcome, something that I think has been lost to a large degree with the advent of digital.
Going back to move forward.
I had looked at all of the DSLR offerings in my price range, but nothing really impressed me. Originally, I had sold my D300 in anticipation of getting the D600. Unfortunately, once I actually got a chance to play with one, it just felt like a full-frame D7000, not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you (Nikki does gorgeous work with hers), it just didn't feel like what I was after. A friend suggested the Fuji X-E1, which, on paper, looked very interesting. The Fuji X-series cameras have fantastic sensors, tack sharp lenses and vintage-inspired styling that really appealed to me. After reading far too many reviews and pixel-peeping far too many photographs (not to mention multiple "should I?" or "shouldn't I?" conversations with Bill and Nikki), I ordered an X-E1 with the 35mm f/1.4 and the 18-55mm f/2.8 from B+H. A few days later, I opened the package like a four-year-old on Christmas. Thankfully, there was a little charge on the battery, so I popped on the 18-55mm and started snapping away around my apartment. I liked the styling of the camera straight away, though, if I'm being honest, it did feel a little plasticky; not flimsy, but just not as solid as I was expecting, based on the look of it. The body also felt a little small to me; small enough that my pinky dragged across the baseplate, which I didn't like. Weight and ergonomics aside, the image quality is gorgeous. The JPGs straight out of camera are clean, sharp and, depending on what Film Simulation mode you use, vibrant, smooth, punchy or dramatic. Unfortunately, the unit that I received was defective, only locking focus about 30-40% of the time. At first I thought it was just me or one of the focusing quirks that I had read about that affected both the X-E1 and it's big brother, the X-Pro1 (XP1). But, apparently, this was not the case. Repeated tests on a tripod under constant light with stationary subjects yielded wildly inconsistent results, both in focus and in metering. So, back it went. I was hesitant to simply get another X-E1 for several reasons, so I decided to have a look at the XP1. I think I knew the moment I looked through the viewfinder (and heard the shutter sound) that it would be my next camera.
The mechanism itself.
Picking up the XP1 was like slipping into an old pair of jeans, or my favorite pair of Converse sneakers. The cold metal against my fingers and the subtle click, click, click of the aperture ring made it feel like an object that was to be taken seriously. The vintage design of the camera is an homage to rangefinders past and present, though it is definitely not a rangefinder. The minimal top-panel controls consist of a single programmable function button and simple analog dials for shutter speed and EV compensation. The threaded shutter release button will even accept an old-school cable release, though mine has been fitted with a lovely Satin Red Beep from Match Technical.
Beyond the brilliant design, one of the main features that sold me on the XP1 over the X-E1 is what Fuji calls their Hybrid Multi Viewfinder. First seen in the X100, the Hybrid Viewfinder allows you to toggle between an optical (OVF) and an electronic (EVF) viewfinder on the fly. The OVF displays relevant exposure information, including bright lines to approximate the current FOV, as a HUD style overlay. The EVF is nice (though not as nice as the one on the X-E1), but I find that I’ve been using the OVF about 90% of the time. I shoot with my left eye to the viewfinder, which, on a DSLR, isn’t a problem since the prism sits above the body, leaving my right eye free to help gauge my surroundings. On the XP1 (or any similar type of camera), my right eye is up against the back of the body, so using the OVF allows me to see what’s entering and exiting the frame, which is a very valuable feature when shooting something like street photography, where both photographer and subject are often in motion. The only potential downside to the OVF, which I’ve read a number people complain about, is that the OVF exhibits parallax errors and isn’t 100% accurate to the FOV, particularly when your subject is less than 1m away. While that’s true, enabling ‘Corrected AF Frame’ and updating to the latest firmware gets you pretty close. Personally, this has yet to be a problem for me, since, in those instances, you can easily toggle to the EVF, which is 100% accurate. I have to say, if OVF parallax (which, by the way, occurs on virtually all cameras where the viewing window is separate from the main lens) is that much of a problem, the XP1 may not be the camera for you.
Shooting with the XP1 over the past couple of weeks has been an absolute joy, which is a little surprising, considering the vintage (read:boxy) form factor of the body, especially compared to the curvy, grippy goodness of modern DSLRs. In fact, one of the only issues I encountered while shooting was that my thumb kept hitting either the AFL/AEL or the Q button. While researching the camera in the many XP1 forums, I noticed that several people had experienced the same thing and suggested the Thumbs Up EP-7S from Match Technical. Basically, it's a machined brass thumb rest (the model for the XP1 also features silicone bumpers to protect the body) that slides into the hotshoe. According to Match Technical, the thumb rest "incorporates the well proven 22 degree beveled EP grip" which, frankly, sounded like a lot of marketing speak to me, until I actually used it. Night and day. Not only does the EP-7S prevent my thumb from hitting the AFL/AEL buttons, the slight change in the position of my hand allows the camera to rest against my palm between my thumb and index finger, making the camera feel not only more comfortable, but also more stable. Plus, it looks really cool.
It does take pictures, right?
So, by now some of you are thinking, "Yeah, yeah, enough about viewfinders and thumb rests, what do the photographs look like?" Well, in a word, they are superb. I'm just going to say it. The XP1, coupled with the 35mm f/1.4 lens, produces the best looking SOOC JPGs I've ever seen from a digital camera. Period. Noise is virtually non-existent up to about 2500 ISO and even then looks more like film grain than what we've come to expect from digital noise, which makes perfect sense, given the nature of Fuji's X-Trans CMOS sensor. The X-Trans ditches the traditional Bayer sensor model of a repeating 2X2 pixel array in favor of a 6x6 array that offers a higher degree of randomness. Fuji also eliminated the low-pass (anti-aliasing) filter, which dramatically increases apparent sharpness.
The entire X-series line features what Fuji calls Film Simulation modes (don't call them presets) which, according to Fuji, can "simulate the color and tonal qualities of acclaimed film brands." I have very limited experience with films like Velvia, Provia or Astia, but the XP1 versions of them look absolutely fantastic. The Velvia has a dramatic, punchy feel, while the Astia and ProNegH are much more subtle and render beautiful skin tones. The black & white modes are also great and even allow you to simulate the inclusion of yellow, red or green filters to achieve different tonal effects. Beyond the gorgeous color reproduction, the files produced by the XP1 are extraordinarily clean. Dynamic range is wide, with highlights that roll off naturally and shadows that retain details as they smoothly drop to black.
Let's wrap this up.
Look, I could go on and on about how incredible this camera is on paper, and while things like pixel density, dynamic range and the ISO vs noise graph are important to digital photography, they aren't very important to photography, which is what this was all about for me in the first place; to find a tool that would help me to reconnect to the process of seeing and making pictures. The XPro1 is definitely not the camera for everyone. It doesn't look, feel or behave like the DSLR you are probably used to, but, for me, that's exactly what I was looking for. I applaud those photographers who need (and can actually use) a camera that shoots 12fps at 36MP, that's just not me. I wanted a camera that feels somehow more deliberate to shoot with, a camera that rewards intent and purpose. I'm only a couple weeks into this experiment, but, so far, that's exactly what I've got.
Bill Finger is a photographer who creates his own drama, literally. Each of his wonderful photographs is the end product in a meticulous process that begins with planning, designing and creating miniature dioramas which are photographed, then destroyed. A former assistant cameraman, Finger borrows from the world of cinema to create, saying that all of the composition, staging and lighting is done through the camera lens. As for his subject matter, Finger has this to say, "By using the genre of crime drama, I emphasize a certain degree of theatricality within my images. It is this very theatricality that lends the photograph a certain sense of falseness. By opening the image to questioning by the viewer, they are left to wonder 'how much truth does this photograph hold?'"
It seems like over the past year or so, the number of people making timelapse films has grown exponentially. While I love watching them, very few rise above the now obligatory night skies, star trails or dramatic clouds. So, when something different comes along, it really stands out, which it exactly the case with the wonderful new timelapse film by Benjamin Trancart (Trak). The film employs a variety of dramatic perspectives and split-screen camera work, as well as a soundtrack by the legendary Amon Tobin, to take the viewer on a chill night time stroll through Paris, with stops along a number of the more famous landmarks in the City of Light.
As you can see, this is a brand new website for 2013 and, rather than coding it by hand or using one of the blogging platforms I've used for years, I'm building it with Squarespace. If you listen to On Taking Pictures, you've heard Bill and I sing the praises of Squarespace, but do they really offer "everything you need to create an exceptional website"? Find out in this video, where I take you through the main features that impressed me enough to switch. If you like what you see, head over to Squarespace to start a two week free trial.