26 October 2013

The Right Tool... The Gear Loyalty Debate

Art Model, Kristi C. ©2013 Terrell Neasley
"A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera."
~ Dorothea Lange

Yesterday, I was at B&C Camera listening to my buddy Rob, talk to a customer about cameras when presented with an inquiry about Canon cameras and Nikon gear. BTW, Rob spends more time at the camera shop than I do, so if you're lucky enough to catch him, he'll steer you right. Anyhoo... What was Rob's reply? "I don't concern myself with those questions. The cameras are tools. I primarily shoot Nikon, but my brother shoots Canon. But I will also shoot Canon, or Sony, or whatever I think I need to get the shot I want. I don't have an loyalties like that." Part of that is paraphrased, but that's the gist of his point as I can recall.

There are die-hard Chevy and Ford owners here in America. I'm sure you've been driving down the road at some point and see a Chevy truck with a sticker of a "Calvin"-looking figure urinating on a Ford logo (Right, Taylor!)...or vis versa. Ninety-Five percent of photographers are the same exact way. BUT MUCH WORSE! And to an extent, I understand there's a bona fide reason for it. Unlike auto owners, there's a significant investment in their gear that makes it difficult to switch brands. Yes, a car is a significant purchase. However, if you got tired of your Hyundai and wanted to switch to a Toyota, its a matter of choice for the next time you are ready to buy a car. Photographers have an additional consideration when the thought crosses their mind to switch camera manufacturers... Compatibility.

Anonymous model,
©2013 Terrell Neasley
Buying a camera is not the most significant purchase you will make. Its where it all begins, sure. But lenses are where the magic happens. On average, I would bet that a photog will spend about 3 times as much in lenses as they do a camera, especially if you are full-frame. On the flip side, you will spend more upgrading cameras then you probably will spend upgrading lenses. While I was Canon, my 5D MkII and my 7D bodies were maybe $3500 combined and that represented about a quarter of the value of my lenses. And this is where the hard part comes in. I made the decision to switch brands because my needs changed and the Nikon D800E served my purposes better than the upgrade to the MkII, the new 5D MkIII. Canon makes excellent products, so don't get me wrong. I was Canon for about 10 years. Love 'em. But what did that mean for me? I had to dump my significant investment in Canon lenses because they were not compatible with the Nikon body. I couldn't take my Canon lenses and use them on my new Nikon D800E. Not only that, my peripheral gear didn't work either. I had 5 Canon flashes. I had a Canon Intervalometer. I had radio triggers that only fit Canon gear. That gave me a new challenge. I had to find a way to sell my Canon gear for Nikon equivalents which aren't always doable. My Canon 85mm f/1.2L was the love of my life. Nikon doesn't make a 85 f/1.2! And then I found out AFTER I bought it that I didn't need the Nikon intervalometer, because the D800E has one BUILT-IN! So now I have an over-priced cable release. 

Art Models, Alethea and Emma
©2013 Terrell Neasley
“People, there's no such thing as, THE BEST CAMERA BRAND, but yes there will always be THE BEST CAMERA AT ANY GIVEN TIME. Technology will change, but not art.” 
― Ashraf Saharudin

So what's my point in all this? Well, its simple. The camera is a TOOL! Lenses and other camera accessories are tools as well. Unless you own stock in your camera brand, or they are paying you to use their gear, or you are dating/married to the daughter/son of a brand executive, why limit yourself? The right tool for the right job. Most guys have heard that said before who have grown up with their dads working the family car or adding the fixing a hole in the roof. And that's the same belief I carry with my gear. Yes, I own and work primarily with a Nikon camera and system. Last year, I was a 10-year Canon veteran. But as I mentioned in my last post about Sony, the A7R might be better suited for my travel work. And if I have a job tomorrow that requires low-light work, I might rent a Canon 5D Mark III because of its superior abilities in shooting at night. THAT's an option. Yes, the Nikon D4 is likely the best possible option out there for that, but its also a larger system and maybe I don't wanna be concerned with the extra weight. Regardless, its an option. I like options. 

Art Model, Panda ©2013 Terrell Neasley
So here's the deal. Pick the right tool out of your tool box for the job, based on the results you are trying to achieve. I've talked before on picking your system of choice. Well, let me add this, if I didn't speak on it already. Make your selection based on the features that will best deliver the results you wish to achieve. That's how you choose a camera. There is no such thing as a "starter camera". Get what you need that will accomplish the job and fit your budget and make the system with will accommodate 60% of your work your primary system. Then rent the rest. I've even known some who refuse to commit either way. They don't own anything. When they get a gig, they rent what they need for that assignment. Now granted, this individual shoots primarily medium format high resolution images. So rather than invest $50 grand into a system, he just rents what he needs, adds the rental cost into the invoice, and pockets the profits. I'm not that extreme. I have to have something on hand at all times. Even if its just a point and shoot. I've done a pro gig for a client with a Canon Powershot S100, which shoots RAW. It was the right piece of gear for the job. And that's what's key. 

22 October 2013

Game Changer...The Newest Sony Line

Gorgeous Art Model, Jessica ©2013 Terrell Neasley

In my last post, I discussed some concepts in the evolution of photography and the transitions to come. This is another aspect of that change. Anyone who's paid attention to camera gear has, by now heard of the new Sony A7 & the A7R. These are the latest Mirrorless Cameras to be introduced and the first ones outside of Leica to incorporate Full Frame sensors. What's the significance of all this, you might ask? Well, its like this...

Gorgeous Art Model, Jessica ©2013 Terrell Neasley
To date, camera manufacturers have integrated large and heavy camera bodies into their lines every since the first Single Lens Reflex or SLR was introduced in 1948. All this means is that your eye in the viewfinder was seeing exactly what the lens is seeing. Prior to this, it was impossible as the viewfinder was located either just above the lens (Twin Lens Reflex) or to the side of the lens (rangefinders). So there was no way to view the subject the same way it was being captured on the film. While there have been medium format SLRs, the SLR has been primarily the purview of the 35mm format systems. To be an SLR, there has to be only one optical view for both the lens and the viewfinder, which is accomplished with two revolutionary features built into cameras...a mirror that pops up and down, and a penta-prism (penta-mirror in some cases). However there was a trade-off. Incorporating those two engineered components required an increase in the size of the camera. This increase also added to the weight. Weight was considered a viable trade-off because of the added stability when the camera is hand-held as well as the camera becoming more durable with stronger housings and shells.

And this has been the case for years. If you want the best of images, the SLR was your answer. As of the last 15 years, the Digital SLR, or DSLR has been king. At of the turn of the century, as more digital cameras were becoming lighter, we saw more and more female photographers entering the industry. The best cameras used to be suited for the large hands of men who also had the stamina to handle the weight. Aluminum alloys became the norm for frames. Polycarbonate shells (thermoplastic polymers) added reasonable strength without the weight for many of the consumer model cameras. Weight became less problematic to a degree, but you still had to contend with the large mirror box housing which has a tendency to be noisy, cause vibrations (requiring the mirror lock-up feature), as well as putting restrictions on frame rate. Sony was first to come up with the SLT, Single Lens Translucent mirror design, but it never really became the game-changer.

Gorgeous Art Model, Jessica
©2013 Terrell Neasley
There have been several new technologies that have come on the market in the last few years, which is another sign that the industry is ready for a new paradigm. Canon's Dual-Pixel Auto Focus system introduced in the EOS 70D was called a game-changer. Sony has introduced a lens to take pics without the camera with their QX system! But even Sony hasn't been the leader in mirrorless tech. That would instead be Olympus and Panasonic who have opted to combine technologies with their Mico Four-Thirds system sensors. And good Lord, they have caught on. The Olympus OMD-EM-5 hit the market to great fanfare just last year. A few months ago the introduced the OMD-EM-1. Nikon entered the market about 18 months ago with the Nikon 1 system. They havn't been as successful as Olympus who has chosen to forego their large DSLR line and put all their bank on the 4/3rds system. Canon was the industry lagger in this field and basically chose to BS with the EOS-M, which has really tanked. Rumor as it that they will try to make a comeback with a new version. Fujifilm is the other favorite contender with the X-series and the fixed lens X100s model.

Gorgeous Art Model, Jessica ©2013 Terrell Neasley
Sony has come out blazing with 3 additional lines not including its DSLRs. The NEX-system has been absolutely killer. With several models, they all include DX-size sensors like what you have in the Nikon D7000 DSLR. Then they came out with a fixed lens Cybershot R-Line which introduced their first full frame sensor in a compact camera. And now they have announced the A7 and the A7R which comes out this December. The A7 is 24MP and the A7R is 36MP...just like my Nikon D800E, and it has the Antialias filter removed... just like my Nikon D800E, but at HALF the weight. And guess who made the sensor for my 36MP Nikon D800E... Yes, Sony.

Gorgeous Art Model, Jessica
©2013 Terrell Neasley
Game changer? Yeah, I'd say so. I don't see Olympus abandoning their Micro 4/3rds systems in the near future, but I'm of the impression that Canon and Nikon are giving some serious looks to their R&D department heads. Is the Sony A7/A7R a DSLR-killer? Not quite yet. There are still necessities the mirrorless systems can't quite accommodate just yet. If you're a sports guy and need the frames per second, the DSLR is for you. If you're an avid outdoorsman needing the zoom beyond 300mm...DSLR. Or if you work much in extreme temperatures and harsh environmental conditions...DSLR. Wanna shoot WIDE open, like f/1.4...DSLR. But I would imagine those lenses are coming for the mirrorless systems. I'm sure speed will pick up. And the A7R is already weather sealed. Outside of those things, you can stay traditional, or give mirrorless a look, because it can pretty much hold its own in anything else. I know getting the Leica gear I want isn't as practical for my travel purposes at the moment. The A7R, however just might meet that need for now, however. Do I leave my D800E at home? I'm still thinking on that one.

20 October 2013

Embrace the Pain... State of the Industry 2013

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley
"It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory."
~ W. Edwards Deming

One of the benefits of subscribing to Rangefinder Magazine is the end of year report they do on the State of the Industry, (sourced by  IBISWorld), usually in the October or November issues. One thing that remains consistent with trends from last year is the steady decline of customer's need for pro photogs for various reasons. One is the re-prioritizing of disposable income where photo services may not be as important as other things on people's financial agendas. Wedding, Portrait, and Commercial genres still hold the vast majority of need for new clients and are the largest sectors of the photo industry as a whole. However, even in those sectors of the industry, customers are still scaling back. And commercial budgets have been cut as managers are seeking more ways to slash expenses. People will still need memories and documentation of their events. Companies will still need images to entice us with their new product lines; just less of it. The digital prints that stay on e-magazines, websites, Facebook, Flickr, or the hard drive has become more important than physical prints that go in paper magazines, hang on the walls or sit on the mantle.

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley
So what's this mean for the pro photog? Demand is declining much like the water levels in Lake Mead. If you drive out to Hoover Dam in Boulder City, you'll notice a broad ring around the canyon walls where the water level has significantly dropped. Those rings are about 100 feet high.Touring the northern end and you can now drive out on larges sections of land that used to be underwater. The nature of photography is definitely evolving, changing, and morphing into something slightly different. Picture production at its core has remained fundamentally the same. We need it. We actually need more of it! But how its done and what we do with the results are entirely different than even when I was a kid. I'm living in a good time. My generation gets to see and recognize the transition. The generation after ours was born into this and don't know anything different. To me, it's actually exciting to witness history!

I call this the Commoditization of Photography (Or maybe its already been called that before.) And like any other commodity, a market has to exist for it. And if a market exists for any given commodity, equilibrium is an essential requirement. And by equilibrium, I mean supply and demand which is governed by that "invisible hand". Think about it. At one point in the life of photography, Supply was limited with a high demand. Photographers were paid well for their services because barriers to entry were relatively high. Cameras were expensive and the skill required to manipulate the camera to achieve a proper exposure and focus was a slow and arduous task made achievable with years of training in both the field AND in the darkroom.

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley
"If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger."
~ Frank Lloyd Wright 

And then technology happened. Significant advancements started to chip away at those barriers to entry. Leica introduced the first Auto Focus system in a camera. 1959 saw the first production of Varifocal or "Zoom" Lenses. Advancements in film chemistry also contributed to less complexity and skill needed for photography. Smaller sizes, Polaroid film, disposable cameras all inflamed the interest in consumer models. But as we all know, it was the advent of digital technology that ushered in the exponential changes in photography. Highter ISO's. More Megapixels. Dual Pixel Autofocus and CMOS sensors! Those barriers began to break open like the Berlin Wall. "EVERBODY'S GETTIN' INTO THE ACT!!", so to speak. But as I said, all markets require equilibrium. Supply has outpaced demand at a time when demand was beginning to dwindle anyway from other economic pressures. I'm sure you recall your ECON 101. What happens when supply outpaces demand? Prices fall. Things even out again.

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley
Thank technology for all this. We love it, but its got a mean streak too that we have to also embrace. The trick is being one of the survivors during the photographic market correction and learning to utilize all this new tech to your advantage. And trust me, skill and complexity is on the rise again. More time spent in training is becoming essential. Differentiation is absolutely necessary. You have to stand out from the pack. Photographers are having to learn video, Photoshop, Digital Asset Management, etc, to be better. Clients have higher and higher expectations and when we don't OVER-deliver, we fail them. Its making it so that if you don't love this thing, you're gonna hate it and get out. Then everybody that got into photo for a quick buck starts to look elsewhere because photo has become "too hard".

Embrace pain. The world is so much easier when you do.

Dang! Somebody else used the term, "Commoditization of Photography" just earlier this year!!

15 October 2013

On Black and Minority Photographers

Anonymous Art Model, © 2012 Terrell Neasley
“Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without. ” 

To my knowledge, this is the first time I've come to address this topic on this blog. I've attempted to keep this blog mainly about photo-related issues, concerns, happenings and personal stories on my escapades. Conversely, I've avoided controversial topics and leave it to the others to debate those issues. There are certainly enough who do this. I've spent a good chunk of my life being an advocate of bringing to light the plight of African-Americans and the challenges we face on having an equal footing on this planet. I've always tried to be an ambassador for people of color and minorities in general, regardless of color. I have frequently found myself in positions where I have been the sole minority on a team, department, platoon, class, or group. In those situations I've wanted to not only represent myself in a way as to demonstrate that my Mama taught me manners, but also to fulfill that ambassador role for minorities to people that might not otherwise be able to relate. It was even one of my secondary duties in the military as I was trained and certified to teach and be the Equal Opportunity Representative for soldiers in my company or battalion and adviser for my commanders.

Photography is another area that I find myself in a similar light. In my undergrad years, I was the only black male student in the Finance department. My graduate time was much the same. Today in photography, I certainly notice the difference in the minority representation in the field that I so love. I've talked about it amongst peers on a few occasions. I've discussed it more often with black peers and we might often joke at the predicament we find ourselves in.

Art Model, VikiVegas ©2011 Terrell Neasley
In the military, I had a battalion commander who asked me why there was such a shortage of black Army Rangers, not only in the battalion, but also in the division. I brought this fact to his attention when he helped me get past my own company commander's attempts to place challenges in my way to stall my admittance into Ranger School. Everybody else who wanted to attend Ranger school got automatic blessings to attend simply based on their courage to subject themselves to such a strenuous tasking. Me? I had to prove I was worthy, through a series of tests and evaluations. When my Battalion commander, who I had once worked for, caught wind of this, he made an immediate phone call and I was put in the very next class for the Division Pre-Ranger course. I was one of the 14 who passed that two-week course out of the 64 who started. I was subsequently slotted into the next Army Ranger School class from my division. I graduated as one of two black Rangers in a class of 94. It was the most physically challenging thing I've done in my life. I reported back to my battalion commander as to what I found out regarding why there were so few black Rangers.

So why are there so few black photographers? Its definitely a challenge to try to ascertain exactly why this is. Ranger school and being an Army Ranger was still a finite universe in which I was able to interview people and pull the statistics that allowed me to extrapolate interesting points to draw conclusions based on empirical data. Photography is way too broad a field to use the same methodology. So how do you find out why this is?

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley

I've been involved with many photographers in Las Vegas since I've been here. I had my own group, the Las Vegas Art Model's Group that helped photographers work with models and advance the art nude genre. Concurrently, I helped run the Las Vegas Photographic Society with my buddy Garret Winslow. Every one of our monthly meetings I spoke in front of the group and made myself available for advice and consult to photographers who took advantage of that fact often, both during and between meet-ups. During this time, I've met few black photogs and even FEWER who were on the professional level.

Allen Murabayashi, just did a blog post on the Photoshelter Blog site, "Photography’s Old White Guy Problem". In it, he gives thumbnail images of the major photographers who train us from Canon's Explorers of Light, Nikon's Ambassadors, and X-Rite's Colorati. The same goes for some of the major photo conventions such as WPPI speakers and Photoshop World instructors, which I attend on a regular basis. I see two black guys on a regular basis, Terry White and Matthew Jordan Smith. I invite you to take a look at that blog post.

Art Model, SuzN ©2013 Terrell Neasley
And let me also add another point that Murabayashi may have missed. "Old White Guy" has given way to "Young White Lady" over the years. The percentage of professional photographers who are women has greatly increased, along with couple-based photography. Laura Matthews also discussed this on Photofocus as a guest contributor earlier this year. So this is at least one step in the right direction. In many fields, such as maybe journalism, this trend was reversed for a long time. The field of journalism began to embrace more diversity, but the female representation was still yet to come. And this is just speculation on my part, but in photography more young and attractive female photographers have been selected to hit the circuit for training conventions. First selection or choice consideration for gigs, promotion, advancement and recognition doesn't seem to be as equally distributed among the black and minority photographers. I can't pull up any stats since gov't sites are currently shut down, but Lee Morris at FStoppers has stated this very well in his blog post, "Photography: Is It Still A Man’s World?:

"...However, the actual numbers state that 42.8% of all professional photographers are female. Not so bad, right? But the report goes on to clarify something I’d already suspected: While almost 60% of professional photographers are men, 60% of photographers under 35 are women. The majority of veteran, successful photographers are, in fact, men."

Art Model, Dominique ©2011 Terrell Neasley
So why do we care? Why should anyone give a dam? Its been like this for years. Its the status quo. Who gives a shit. I'll give you two reasons why this oversight is significant and should be more closely monitored. First, show me one program, business, project, or concept that hasn't benefited from diversity. I'll shut the hell up right now, if you can point to something that was irreparably damaged because it embraced diversity. Second. If you're a photog of any nationality, YOU WANT me to have more opportunities in photo. The short-sighted and stupid will look at me as taking a job that you could have otherwise acquired if I had not been given the opportunity. That's just asinine and ignorant. But instead, take a look at Tiger Woods and golf. The presence of a Tiger Woods on a course greatly increased the purses of everybody who participated. Why? Because the value of the sport increased. Minorities represent a huge percentage of the population in the US. Money that would otherwise not be streaming into something else began to flow into golf because minorities began to participate with viewership and interest on the course. There was a demand increase in Golf and such can be the case for photography.

I'm not saying I'm on the Tiger Woods scale of photo, but hear me out. Bringing in a different perspective will only enhance the quality of photo. And placing more people of color in the visible forefront encourages more minority kids, amateurs, and pro to step up their game. I can assure you...it might not make a difference to some people, but when you see somebody esteemed who looks like you, who can relate to you, and who has a sincere empathy on where you come from, its way more encouraging than listening to another white guy tell me, "Hey! You can do it". Think of it as inspiring black youths by giving them people they can inspire to be like. And by no means do I imply blacks and minorities should be "given" anything. But as I look at the faces of these Nikon Ambassadors and Canon Explorers of Light, am I supposed to infer that these photographers and trainers were the obvious choices because there were no minorities good enough to speak, train, or inspire fellow photographers as well as them?