25 May 2013

Why We Like Black and White Photography

“Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.”
- Robert Frank

Art Model, Alethea ©2013 Terrell Neasley
Black and White, aka... MONOCHROME. This is the way things started out. Of course, you already knew that. Actually, monochrome refers to more than just Black and White. Sepia is also monochromatic, as is Cyanotype, Abrotype, Selenium, and Copper. All it really means is one color tonality combined with white. An image is said to be duo-toned when white is replaced with another color

But when we usually refer to making photos artistic, we are mostly referring to turning them black and white. This is a style. And why do we do this? There are several reasons. Mainly its the aesthetic appeal of vintage artwork, which is once again the trendiest way to shoot. Case in point, Instagram. Half the images we see now-a-days are posted with Instagram retro or lomo(graphy) filters overlaid on top of the image to give it an old feel. Old has become new again.

Art Model, Alethea
©2013 Terrell Neasley
Another reason we like B&W is for the simple fact that it is traditional. We used to not have the ability to capture in color. Traditional photography was more comfortable and familiar. There are reasons we like a certain image and that's because of the unconscious mind's eye which has a tendency to be drawn to certain things and will overlook others. Light, shadow, shape (especially geometric), patterns, balance...these are all elements that the eye sees and notices more quickly. These things tend to appeal to you or will at least get your attention whether you like them or not. Color will tend to distract the eye away from these elements. Bright colors and primary colors may lead the eyes away by cluttering and confusing your unconscious mind thereby making you miss the aforementioned elements the eyes naturally look for.

Remove color information and what remains are the truisms that make up the photograph. Don't get me wrong. There are times color information is paramount. Try shooting a playground in Black and White. Information is missing and which leaves the story incomplete. Shooting a redhead in B&W might even be considered a crime. However street photography is big on black and white. Distractions are reduced. You see the raw mood of the scene and are able to interpret the composition without internalizing it. Sometimes what you see can be painful, but you are able to disassociate it from yourself. Ever look at portraits of homeless people? This was a big trend of artistic work at one point. The natural tendency was to convert automatically to B&W. The pain on the faces...the grittiness of the subject...the desolation, all this was captured much the same way we tend to like shots of abandoned buildings and other facets of decay. The addition of color for human subjects might make you feel guilty for admiring the work or for not doing something to help.

"Life is like a good black and white photograph, there's black, there's white, and lots of shades in between." 
- Karl Heiner

"Who-Panda", Art Model Panda ©2013 Terrell Neasley
What makes good B&W images? For me, I'll take mine moody and contrasty. Sort of like the women I tend to date which oft bodes ill in the end, but that's another subject. Its going to be different for everyone. I like rich blacks that contrast well against the whites (Don't read any other analogies into that!). At the same time, I can go high key on the opposite end of the scale to where the weight of white far outweighs the amount of black in the image. Too many people will let photo-editing software make the decision for them that turn out looking flat. You can even shoot B&W straight out of camera, so the camera makes the decision. The problem here is that these are global adjustments over the entire image and these machines do not have the artistic savvy to render correctly. They may come close. They may give a good starting point, but that control should reside solely with the artist.

I used to develop my own film and prints in a darkroom. There was NEVER a shot that was perfect from capture. Some burning (darkening) and dodging (brightening) was always necessary. It was a craft and a true art. The same holds true in digital. I use Nik Silver Efex because it is the closest software to a darkroom that I have ever used. I've tried several. Nik does it best for me.

Art Model, Panda
©2013 Terrell Neasley
And this is a secret I will divulge of photogs. Sometimes, a shot may be messed up and in dire need of saving. One trick... Turn it B&W! Oftentimes, this can be a quick save for a shot that is possibly out of focus, exposed incorrectly, or otherwise just not right. The easy fix...make it artistic, which means go monochrome. If it works, great. If not... bite the bullet and move on.

And then there are the film-purist photogs who do not shoot digital. These guys will stick to film as long as they can still buy paper, film, and  the chemicals to process them. In more cases than not, they are shooting pro-grade B&W film, usually a Tri-X or a TMAX brand. I have no clue what will happen to these guys once film is no more. I am one of those who actually loved the darkroom. It was a sort of sanctuary to me. I'd usually have silence in the near darkness. I'd actually develop my film with my eyes closed most of the time. Doing the prints usually required a light, called a safe light that would not destroy prints during development.

Why do we still like monochrome? In a nutshell, it tells the story oftentimes much better. It maintains a timelessness that is unique to us. And the versatility of it is useful in just about any important situation. Black and White is simple. Its beautiful and unencumbered. And remember, Black and White is not just black and white, but also every shade of gray in between.

22 May 2013

Looking for Something Different to Shoot?

“I shutter to think how many people are underexposed and lacking depth in this field.” 
– Rick Steves

Art Model, doll ©2013 Terrell Neasley

Including myself, I've got at least 4 other photographer friends who are looking at that next big thing or trying to find something else to work on with a camera. Coming up with new ideas can be tricky, especially when you are used to shooting one specific genre of photography. Its even harder when you are trying to find a new and interesting angle in that same genre. I put myself in both categories. I want to do new and I also want to give a little punch to my nude work.

Art Model, doll ©2013 Terrell Neasley
So here are a few things to consider, even if you are looking to dust off that old camera and remove the lens cover for the first time in ages. First, look at photos! You can review online sites such as Flickr or 500px, pick up your favorite paperback magazine, or check out the latest "how-to" books, find great work and study them. Spend time catching up with other artists in your field and see what they are doing. Look at the images you like and ask yourself what elements or concepts about the image got your attention. I'm not saying you have to copy or jump on the latest bandwagon, but often submerging your mind in imagery can act like a primer to get the creative flow to pumping.

Art Model Faerie, demonstrating
long-exposure, light-painting, and stoboscopic flash,
©2012 Terrell Neasley
Second, in addition to different genres of photo, you can try your hand at new concepts in photo. Its one thing to go from fashion photography to sports, but what about doing long- exposures or light painting? This is one of my areas of concentration lately. What about branching out even further and trying some time-lapse work? Ever work with flash? ...possibly so. But have you used REAR-CURTAIN SYNC? Ever clicked over to the STROBOSCOPIC feature? If these ideas aren't as forthcoming, then try this: Whatever it is that you normally do, MOVE IN CLOSER! Try a prime (fixed focal length) lens, like a 35mm or a 50mm and come in closer to your subject for a different perspective.

“If your photos aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough” 
– Robert Capa

Art Model, doll ©2013 Terrell Neasley
Fellowship with other photographers. Join a club, meetup group, or just find a gaggle of photogs to hang with and go shooting. Chances are, you are not in this alone. You MUST know at least ONE other friend who is an aspiring pixel-punisher. Team up and go someplace to shoot, whether it be local or a day-trip. Find some place neither of you have yet visited and explore. B&C Camera is an excellent place to learn. Several photo regulars who are experts in their fields come to "shoot the breeze" over coffee, bagels and cream cheese on just about every Saturday afternoon. Hanging out at the camera store and talking with other like-minded individuals is bound to trigger an idea or two. At the very least, you'll develop friendships that can help build your foundation in photography. I say this because this was an excellent source for me when I moved to Vegas and transitioned from film into digital photography for the first time. So I'm passing this nugget of a resource on to you.

Art Model, doll ©2013 Terrell Neasley
An often overlooked idea is to RENT SOMETHING! You can rent a new lens like a wide-angle or even a fish-eye lens to give you a different perspective on your work. You can rent a completely new system or brand if you think you might want to eventually buy or just rent on the occasions you need it. I'm considering the Sony RX-1 to purchase later this summer. So I plan on renting it for $150 for a week's use to see how I like the performance of the camera as well as judging how well I can get used to having a fixed 35mm lens and no viewfinder. This is a full-frame camera for a quarter of the cost of a Leica equivalent. I can even try both and compare the systems. BorrowLens.com or LensRentals.com are excellent sources for this. If you are local to Las Vegas or visiting, be sure to check out B&C Camera rental gear, ready for immediate pick-up.

15 May 2013

Its Not the Camera, Its the Photographer...RIGHT?

“Pictures, regardless of how they are created and recreated, are intended to be looked at. This brings to the forefront not the technology of imaging, which of course is important, but rather what we might call the eyenology (seeing).”  
~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

Art Model, Viki Vegas, © 2011 Terrell Neasley
How many times have I heard that statement? Countless. And you'll usually hear it from someone who doesn't have good gear, or its someone who HAS great gear, but who also gets tired of listening to those that don't have the gear complain that their shots would be better if they DID have good gear. What's my take? I honestly hate getting into it, but if you ask me...I'm a gear-head.

To be fair, there is truth to the statement depending on how you look at it as well as falsehoods for the same reason. So for me, it depends on the context in which the statement is made as well as who's saying it.

I'll make my point. YES...IT IS THE CAMERA.

Any true craftsman in his trade is likely to credit his advanced skill to training and great gear. I don't care what profession you are in, in more cases than not, if you are good at what you do, proud of it, and successful at it, chances are you've invested in the good stuff and leave the cheap stuff to the amateurs. You're getting high quality and durable supplies and equipment to meet the standards of excellence you have set for yourself. You may even plan to hand those tools down to the next generation in the family. Or, YOU may now possess the same tools handed down to you from a parent. High quality older gear is still good gear.

Art Model, Viki Vegas,
© 2011 Terrell Neasley
In photography, this is no different. Especially in the more durable components like lenses. No one will argue that glass isn't important. You may be of the school of thought that fast glass isn't all that necessary, but you'll still find yourself agreeing with me that quality glass is. And despite some that have stated the client doesn't care what you shoot, but rather the image is all that matters, I still disagree here. A journalist may be able to get away with a cell phone shot. However, I will not let a client see me rocking a Rebel. I learned that early on when I watched a guy walk up to his photographer and make a very simple statement, "My son has this same camera." He didn't say a word after that but just looked at the photog inquisitively. I knew the unspoken words that yet teetered on his lips..."So why am I paying you so much to do this?"

If you're doing DSLR video, you're going to appreciate that headphone jack to monitor audio in your Pro-level camera. When you need that bad-ass HDR, you're going appreciate being able to automatically bracket your exposures up to 5 or more stops. Ever want to do timed-intervals for some ever popular time-elapse images. Dang...can't hook up an intervalometer to that Rebel. Whoops, no Autofocus drive motor on the D3200...hope you don't have any D-series lenses. Aww... can't get that nice bokeh with your 18-55 kit lens...now you see the difference in having a 50 or 85mm f/1.2. So yes...the camera does matter. I get paid to produce those results.

"Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography."
– George Eastman

Art Model, Viki Vegas, © 2011 Terrell Neasley


On the other hand, there is one saying amongst light-shapers I do agree with. "The most important camera is the one in your hand." If all you have on you is a point and shoot compact camera, then that's it. I'd much rather get the shot with SOMETHING, than miss the shot because I had nothing. I read just the other day that 21% of all images taken last year have been with a cell phone, up from 11% just a few years ago. I've actually done pro work with my Canon S100 compact camera. It shoots RAW and when I can't pull out the big guns, I'm still ready.

But also know that I've seen images taken with a Canon Rebel that far outpaced some of the flagship cameras. That's because when it comes down to it, its all about manipulating the relationship between Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. All cameras depend on this same relationship to create an exposure. All of them. And in most cases you can still get a good shot with a disposable camera. This argument falls apart when there are specific circumstances that require pro-level features. A sports photog needing 9 frames a second isn't gonna get that in a entry level Nikon. And a non-weather sealed Rebel isn't going to stand up to the harsh environments when extreme temperatures and humidity are present. But all things being equal, in 80% of the situations encountered, I'm going to be able to get that shot in the dark with your very own Canon 40D when you are complaining its impossible without a better camera with high ISO capabilities. Why? Probably because I've put in the time to better understand the aforementioned camera interactive relationships and the nature of light. I've done it. I'm not bragging. I'm making a point.

Art Model, Viki Vegas,
© 2011 Terrell Neasley
All that to say this. Gear is important too. It's the CAMERA...AND...it's the PHOTOGRAPHER. The better solution, however is to be skilled and successful enough to acquire the better gear, while being creative and knowledgeable enough to find alternative when you don't have it.

For further reading on the matter, you can check out postings by Steve Huff and Luminous Landscape.

14 May 2013

Canon or Nikon?...Let me Help with That

"There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are."
~ Ernst Haas 
Art Model, Emma ©2013 Terrell Neasley

 I often get asked variants of this question or hear statements pertaining to Canon vs Nikon.

"Should I buy Canon or should I go Nikon?"
"Canon is the bigger company so is it the best?"
"Everybody I know owns Nikon so Nikon is better, right?"
"I had a Canon once and it broke after 3 months. Canon can't be a good company."

I am pretty sure it will be a perpetual inquiry until one company ultimately fails. I've touched on this before over the last Christmas holiday discussing both, "How to Shop for YOUR Photographer" as well as, "Getting into Photo, Part I...The Camera". But hey...this is a blog. So I'll touch on it again.

Art Model, Emma
©2013 Terrell Neasley
Canon is the bigger company. Nikon is next depending on whether or not we're talking compact cameras or the bigger DSLRs. With respect to compacts, Sony is actually No.2, just ahead of Nikon, but Nikon holds the No.2 spot with DSLRs. You also have to throw in the new mirrorless systems, (Sony NEX cameras or the Nikon 1 systems) as well as the mirrorless micro 4/3rds systems  that are increasing in popularity like the Olympus OM-D system.

But lets keep this simple. With respect to the main question, its should you go Nikon or Canon. First make your decision off of two parameters. One, how does it feel in your hands with respect to weight and the natural feel of where the shutter release button is. You might even consider aesthetics, or how the camera looks. Two, find out what your friends have, especially where DSLRs are concerned. You may be able to borrow or interchange gear between the each other. Your buddy may want to check out your wide-angle lens. Your lens could fail and you can borrow your buddy's nifty-50. The point being, you can help each other.

Aside from that, both camera companies are just about even. You won't go wrong with either manufacturer. With regard to DSLRs, you're buying into a system. Later you'll need better lenses or lenses for different purposes. You might need a flash, or a cable release, or any other numerous dedicated equipment pieces for your camera. Any particular year, either company may take the edge in megapixels or some other feature. I used to shoot Canon for quite some time. I changed because my needs changed. I wanted to be closer to medium-format for better depth in my images. Nikon gave that to me in the 36mp D800e system. I switched because Nikon accommodated my need better than Canon, but for the average user, Canon STILL makes great cameras. Tomorrow, they can produce a 46 megapixel camera. Will I switch back to Canon? No. Not as long as my needs are being fulfilled adequately enough by Nikon.

"Giving a camera to Diane Arbus is like putting a live grenade in the hands of a child."
~ Norman Mailer 

Art Model, Panda ©2013 Terrell Neasley
Now...if it were me and I was buying my first camera today, I'd honestly probably still go Nikon, just because of timing. Two years ago, I'd still say the Canon Rebel was better than Nikon entry level systems. Today, Nikon has the D3200 and the D5200 that are both REALLY good systems with 24mp, more Autofocus points, and also cheaper than the newest Canon Rebel T5i. Next year, I may not be able to say this, so I'm talking for today and right now. As a comparison, you can easily check out Snapsort.com where you can compare specific cameras and see how well they fair. This is one I did with the T5i and the D5200.

Just because you bought a camera from one manufacture which broke, remember that was ONE camera. Its not indicative of the entire company or even all cameras of that model, unless there is a actual identified defect in all of them. Working in the camera shop the 2 days a week I do, I see customers come in often with a complaint about a camera model and swear to only buy from the "other guys" from now on. That's not a very tenable solution, because I can tell you for fact, that both manufacturers have products that fail, sometimes right out of the box. I can also tell you that when products DO fail, Canon is "Johnny on the Spot" with getting things fixed.

Art Model, Panda ©2013 Terrell Neasley
Buy a camera that has the features you like with benefits that are important to you. Maybe you like Wi-fi, touchscreen, megapixels, or the ability to shoot 60 images a second. Let that be your main guide in camera selections. You can easily visit Las Vegas-based  B&C Camera and talk it over with the guys working there to help explain some of these features. Ugy manages the main West location (4500 W. Sahara) and Tony handles the new East location (1550 E. Tropicana). Both have the best TEAMS working there which is why they are now the only camera shop in town and thriving...just just surviving. Check 'em out.