photography

5 of the Best iPhone Lens Kits (2016 Edition)

iPhone lens kits may seem like an usual topic, but there are some great reasons to pay attention to these accessories.

At the New York Film Academy, our photography programs offer an in-depth investigation and exploration of the artistic and technical skills required to take your photography work to a professional level. Our programs focus on the practical elements of photography and train our students in the proficient use of the most state-of-the-art cameras and techniques in their field.

Yet, it’s very practical to acknowledge that many amateur and professional photographers these days are also using their personal mobile devices to snap pics, whether for personal or experimental use. So why not find creative ways to apply what you’re learning in photography school to every picture you take with the same passionate level of thought and care, even if you’re simply using your iPhone?

While an iPhone camera is no match for a Canon, Nikon HDSLR, or SONY mirrorless camera, we realize that personal iPhone photography is a large part of many of our lives. After all your hard work in photography school, you’re probably longing for ways to bring some of what you’ve learned into every aspect of your life. So we’ve compiled a list of some lens kit ideas to help you bring your photography school mindset to your iPhone photography.

The results of this low-fi solution are consistently surprising, so if you want to experiment with your iPhone photos, scroll on to discover seven iPhone lens kits that represent the best value for money.

1. Camera Lens Kits for iPhone 6 – The Best of the Best

All iPhone lens kits featured below are compatible with the iPhone 6/6s and Plus models, and usually fit on any model of phone. We listed Amazon prices for guide only – NYFA is neither compensated or endorsed by Amazon or any manufacturer featured.

Photojojo Iris Three Lens Set

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RRP: $69.99

Contains: Mount plus wide, fisheye and macro

A sturdy piece of kit with billeted aluminium casing, the Photojojo 3-in-1 lens package is very well thought-out. Simply affix the mount onto the phone (it’ll work with any phone, even with a case) and switch out the lenses as needed – the mount itself converts into a small carry case.

Mpow 3 in 1 Clip-On Kit

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RRP: $13.99
Contains: 180 degree fisheye, 0.67X wide angle, 10x macro

A 3-in-1 lens kit for under $15? You read that right. And not only is it easy on the wallet, it’s also ridiculously good in the quality department too, fitting beautifully close to the iPhone’s camera (and presumably Android models also, though we’ve not tested that).

The image quality is superb thanks to the high-clarity glass and that perfect fit, though the clamp system — while efficient in terms of easy removal — can get in the way a little bit.

If you’re looking for a more discrete solution, it’s time to check out:

Photojojo Magnetic Lens Kit

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RRP: $49
Contains: Fisheye, telephoto, wide/macro

Another excellent product from Photojojo, and it’s a shade cheaper than the Iris set listed above. The difference between the two is that this Cell Lens pack attaches to your phone magnetically (with or without case), and are cleverly designed to not cover your phone’s in-built flash. We’ve not seen a difference in image quality between the two sets during testing — all three lenses offer a remarkable level of fidelity and sharpness.

Downside: while the magnets are strong and won’t damage casing, they will slip or fall off completely if knocked and therefore may not be suitable for rigorous shoots. We also cannot guarantee that the magnets won’t damage other models of phones outside of iPhone/Android (some phones have their own magnets around the camera lens for image stabilization).

Olloclip 4-in-1

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RRP: $79.99
Contains: Clip plus fisheye, wide-angle, 10x and 15x macro

It’s one of the more expensive iPhone lens kits on this page, but it’s also the only one that has won awards. And rightly so.

With each lens weighing in less than an ounce, this is unparalleled image quality combined with a quick on-off action thanks to the clip (and it also covers the front lens, too). Additionally, it comes with three wearable pendants to keep the whole kit easily accessible.

A very elegant, secure design that features some really impressive optics. The only con is that this one is iPhone 6 only.

CamKix Ultimate Kit

RRP: $42.99
Contains: 8x telephoto, fisheye, macro/wide angle, tripod, phone holder, hard case, velvet soft case, cleaning cloth

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more all-encompassing lens kit at a cheaper price. Given the amount of equipment that’s thrown in, the CamKix package offers outrageous value for money (we love that telephoto lens!) but it’s not quickly deployable – you need to affix the hard case before you can add a lens, and you’ll probably want to use the tripod for telephoto stabilization. On the plus side, that does mean it’s compatible with all phone models.

There is no replacing the quality and artistry of images you can create with your Canons, Nikons, or SONYs, but we hope this has given you some ideas for your mobile pics.

Have you found creative ways to apply what you’ve learned in photography school to mobile devices or your personal image making? Let us know in the comments below!

The Value of a Photography Degree

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Interested in enrolling in a photography degree but still not sure if it’s right for you? Allow us to help by explaining several ways that a photography degree help you cross the space between pursuing a successful photography career and having a dream that never comes to fruition.

A Photography Degree Helps You Find Your Specialty

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Just because you’re amazing at shooting fashion models walking down the catwalk doesn’t mean you also have what it takes to capture wildlife out in the world. From stock photographs and wedding pics to focusing on sports or real estate, each photography career path comes with its own skills requirements for success.

At a good photography school you’ll get a taste many types of photography work to help you discover which direction is the best fit. NYFA’s photography programs offer a wide variety of courses, each designed to make you a better photographer and become effective in various areas of the profession. We also have a prestigious faculty of instructors with experience working in multiple photographic genres. Learning from working members of the industry is a powerful way to gain insight as to which specialties and types of work most appeal to you.

A Photography Degree Lets You Immerse Yourself

The average human being has a lot going on in their lives — hobbies, responsibilities, relationships, you name it. It can be difficult focusing on one or more subjects of learning at a time, especially when life is in full swing. We all know someone (maybe yourself) who said they’d master an instrument or software only to drop it after a few days. But when you’re working toward a photography degree, you take the time to immerse. You wrap your head around the craft to the point where you’re living and breathing photography every day. You’re also surrounded by fellow peers with the same passion, along with teachers who want to help you succeed by passing on their tricks and knowledge to you.

Pursuing a photography degree allows you to take the time to specialize, to grow, and to nurture your new skills in a way that is difficult to accomplish without that dedicated study. By graduation, most students can say that photography is a big part of their life … and they plan to keep it that way.

A Photography Degree Shows You Are Committed

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Is it possible to become a great photographer without a degree? Of course. But if there’s one thing companies and clients like seeing from their potential hires, it’s dedication to the craft. In other words, completing a photography degree signals to the world that you’ve spent plenty of time refining your skills and learning the latest technology in order to produce the best work possible. It also shows that you have the discipline, drive, and commitment to finish what you start.

A photography degree demonstrates all this and more. By applying to a job with an MFA or BFA in hand, you are showing that you’ve spent time studying everything there is to know about photography. More importantly, with photography more accessible and popular than ever and with every iPhone owner snapping (often great) pictures left and right, your photography degree sets you apart from the crowd.

A Photography Degree Leaves You With A Portfolio To Showcase

When on the hunt for your next gig, there’s nothing potential hirers like to see more than samples of your previous work. In fact, we’d say it’s very difficult these days to land a photography job without proof that you’ve done it before. It’s one thing to say you can capture the couple’s timeless moment and another to actually demonstrate your skills via past work.

A good photography degree program sees graduates leave with everything they’ll need to get started, including a prepared portfolio with samples of work from various student projects. Many of NYFA’s photography programs even have a Portfolio Development course to help students create and design a portfolio that best showcases their skills and experience.

A Photography Degree Gives You Access To Trained Professionals

100520-N-0775Y-012 SAN DIEGO (May 20, 2010) Chief Mass Communication Specialist Joe Kane, assigned to Fleet Combat Camera Group Pacific, helps a Montgomery High School student adjust a body armor vest during a tour at the facility. More than 20 photography students visited Combat Camera to learn about photojournalism in the Navy. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 1st Class Carmichael Yepez/Released)

What better way to learn than by studying with experts, receiving instruction from someone who is both experienced and active in the field that you’d like to enter? Whether your dream is to take the most breathtaking fantasy photos on the planet orto become a renowned fashion photographer, there’s somebody out there already doing it who can teach you a thing or two.

At NYFA, our photography courses are taught by instructors with experience in a wide range of photographic disciplines. This allows our students to become familiar with different genres while under the care of people who have actually worked in that area professionally. Thanks to our great faculty, our photography programs prepare students for a number of careers, including: freelance, commercial, fine art, fashion, wedding, sports, photojournalist, nature, and event photography. Along with learning by doing, a photography degree gives you the opportunity to learn from the best.

How has your photography degree shaped your work and expanded your horizons? Let us know in the comments below!

How to Incorporate Flash Photography Into Your Photography Style

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Flash photography doesn’t seem to get the love it deserves. Most photographers, nothing compares to the soft, beautiful glow of natural light — and they’re probably right. Then again, many photographers fail to make an impact with their work because they don’t learn when to determine if flash is necessary, even if it doesn’t suit their photography style.

A professional photographer knows how to deliver captivating shots even when faced with the unexpected. This can include anything from low light environments to places where your subject has too much backlight. When you’re prepared to work with any challenge that comes your way, you’ll have confidence no matter what you’re asked to shoot.

To have that peace of mind, below are several situations where flash can prove the difference between poor shots and something great. Once you understand the advantages of flash photography, perhaps you’ll be able to start incorporating flash photography into your own style.

Use Flash In Dimly Lit Places

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Today’s photographer has everything they need to deal with locations that have poor lighting. However, using a cutting-edge DSLR in a poorly lit environment comes with a few drawbacks. Very low light levels mean you’ll probably end up with blurry images, thanks to motion blur and camera shake. But increasing the ISO level (your camera’s sensitivity to light) also means you run the risk of poor dynamic range, bad colors, and more noise. Once again, flash photography may be your solution.

To avoid ending up with a small number of decent shots to work with in post-processing, why not use flash instead? Whether you use a simple mount on your camera or work with an off-camera setup to add more balance, flash can help you create a primary source of light when all you have is dim ambient light.

Remember that weddings are easily the most photographed events, and sometimes the most challenging. This is because you can guarantee that the church, reception area, and ballroom you’re shooting in has terrible light. Along with flash, you can also other artificial lighting such as strobes and light modifiers to create the perfect shots.

Use Flash Photography When Photographing Details

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The best photographers know the importance of capturing more than just people. This is why event photographers also take the time to capture details that completely preserve the special moment being shot. At weddings, this includes taking shots of the wedding cake, decorations, food, flower arrangements, and more.

But like we mentioned before, sometimes the subject you want to photograph isn’t in a well-lit area. The good news is that stationary items can usually be moved or rotated so that they’re facing a light source. But when this isn’t possible, flash photography can help you get the shot you need even when the location is only semi-lit.

In this case, we recommend using a tripod along with a camera set to a slower shutter speed. This will allow the camera to use enough light and produce photos that are balanced yet vibrant. Of course, this process requires more time, which is why we only recommend it if you’re unable to set up your own light.

When Shooting Outdoors

Guadeloupe winter carnival, Pointe-à-Pitre parade. A young woman, performer wearing traditional carnival head-dress(close up outdoor portrait).

The idea of using flash outside might sound blasphemous to most photographers. We all know how amazing natural light can be, especially when using a gorgeous backdrop and some shade. However, experienced photographers know that having too much sun can be just as big a problem as having too little light.

If you’re only utilizing natural light and your shot includes a lot of the sky or water, it’s easy to overexpose and lose detail in your subjects. The opposite can happen when your subjects are heavily backlit, which sometimes you want so your shots have more depth.

But without flash, the sides of your subject opposite from where you’re standing might get underexposed. Then there’s trying to shoot the perfect picture in the middle of the day when the sun is directly above you. This usually causes weird shadows to show up on people’s faces, including the ugly ones under the eyes. With a well-placed flash and umbrella, you can make sure your subjects are exposed can come out looking fantastic.

Have you had success using flash photography in surprising ways or in your photography class work with NYFA? Let us know your flash tips in the comments below!

Sports Photography: Lessons We Learned From the Rio Olympics (That Can Apply Anywhere)

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Sports photography is a skill and an art form that is never out of season. As we move into the awesome spectacle that is the NFL’s 97th annual season, it’s time to seize the good opportunity to assess and apply some fantastic sports photography lessons that were highlighted this year by the 2016 Rio Olympic games. These are universal sports photography tidbits that can be applied towards our wider photographic efforts — whether you plan on snapping some of your favorite NFL players, or simply want to learn to approach your craft with the heart of a champion.

Today’s tips and tricks apply mainly to sports photography, but many can be used across the board. Ready?

On your marks, get set…

… Go!

Prepare Like an Athlete

Rio de Janeiro - Simone Biles, ginasta dos Estados Unidos, durante final em que levou medalha de ouro na disputa por equipes feminina nos Jogos Olímpicos Rio 2016. (Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil)

Because you’re going to be doing your own fair share of running around!

Whether you’re shooting at a race track, high school athletics meet or the Olympics themselves, you’re going to want to shoot at a number of different locations, all with different lighting, angles and crowds to deal with. That’s sports photography 101.

Ergo, extensive pre-planning — as with any photoshoot — is key.

Make sure you can physically get between locations in the time allotted, as well as exactly where to be for the best shots. Many of these will require dramatically different gear, too, so factor this into your planning.

It’s also essential to make sure your equipment is within event regulations. For instance, the 2012 London Olympics prohibited lenses longer than 30cm or tripods — you don’t want to turn up and find half of your equipment is banned! 

Crowd In, or Out?

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The Olympics rarely suffers from a dull and unengaged crowd, but for smaller sports events (or music festivals), you probably don’t want a bunch of empty seats or people not watching the thing you’re shooting in the background.

As a sports photographer, you’ll want to find the angle that best captures the drama and suspense of your sport. If you want to exclude the crowd from the shot and focus solely on the action, you’ve got a few options open to you: get as high as possible and shoot downwards, get as close and tight to the athlete as possible with a telephoto lens, or lower the f-stop to to bring the focus forward and exclude the background.

If all else fails, move yourself to a different position and shoot from an angle that removes the problem altogether. After all, we do call it sports photography for a reason: don’t be afraid to focus on the sport!

Know Your Sport

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Obviously you’ll want to know who’s who in whatever event you’re shooting in your sports photography adventures, but getting to know the athletes themselves and their behavior can pay dividends.

The more research you do ahead of the game, the greater the chances of nabbing that perfect sports photography shot.

The sports photography guru David Black recalls the preparation he took to get a “wow” photo of Michael Phelps during the 2004 Athens games: “I had memorized Michael’s freestyle stroke pattern and knew that he would take a breath two strokes after the 50-meter mark. Knowing this, I picked an appropriate upper-level camera position so that I could shoot slightly above the splashing water and capture a single image of Michael’s face. It was his last breath before sprinting to win a gold medal.”

Convert to Black and White

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Black and white is common in a wide variety of photographic disciplines, but it’s criminally underused in sports.

Part of the reason for this is that most sports are a highly colorful affair, from the vivid greens of a pitch to the blues of a pool and the detailed uniforms of the athletes. Sometimes however this can be overwhelming, especially if there are a lot of other visual elements such as crowds and seating in the background.

If you’re about to discard a shot that suffers from this, try converting it to black and white first – you might just find that it transforms from something that’s way too busy to a sports photography photo worthy of framing.

Panning

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Working with high-speed movement? Panning with the subject is a superb technique that can really deliver the goods with a beautifully crisp subject against a blurred background (capturing that sense of motion), but it also requires a lot of practice and determination.

Your choice of shutter speed is crucial to a good pan shot, and largely depends on how fast your subject is moving, but a good starting point is around 1/20 second and adjusting from there. Move with your subject and keep them in the frame, and only then press the shutter once you’ve got a fluid and consistent motion (remembering to follow through after the shutter closes, as if you’re swinging a baseball bat).

A tripod will help massively with this, but only if the subject’s movement is going to be predictable — otherwise, handheld with a light lens is the way forward (and is good to practice regardless).

Distance from your subject is another consideration to watch out for in sports photography; it’ll be more difficult to center the shot when close up (since the subject will appear to move faster), so try to get back from the track or up in the grandstand to make life a little easier.

Lastly, unlike most other static shots, you don’t want a clean background for a pan. The entire purpose it to have a lot of things blurring in the background, and for that you’ll need a lot of things in the background!

Don’t be disheartened if everything turns out blurry nine times out of ten — it’s a technique even the pros don’t nail with any consistency. Which leads us onto our final sports photography tip (and one that works for any field of photography).

Need 10 Good Photos? Take 10,000.

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Okay, maybe the ratio isn’t quite that extreme, but more is definitely better than less.

After all, digital film is very cheap these days…

… get snapping!

The Power of Nostalgia: Why Shooting with Analog Cameras is Awesome

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There’s no denying the many benefits that come from digital photography. You don’t have to worry about film. You save cash on printing costs. You can immediately see your picture to decide if you like it or if you want to reshoot. Not only that, but digital images are also easier to share with friends and on social media pages — and digital photography is more environmentally friendly!

But just like many music lovers prefer the sound of vinyl over CD, so too do many photographers still find value in using analog cameras. In fact, it is widely recommended that all aspiring professional photographers work with an analog camera at least once in their lifetime.

Below are a few of the numerous reasons why we still love our analog cameras:

Great Colors and Dynamic Range

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Experienced photographers will admit that most digital shooters are merely trying to imitate the vibrant look that only an analog camera can produce. This is because film has an amazing color palette coupled with a dynamic range of detail in both shadows and highlights. Digital cameras also boast a strong dynamic range, but only black-and-white film theoretically has an infinite number of shades of grey.

This means that it’s very difficult to mess up your highlights; even when you over-expose you won’t get that bleach-white effect, and instead still have some shade of grey. If you do get your hands on an analog camera, take a picture with it and then do the same with a digital camera. After comparing the two you’ll see how much smoother and more natural the film image looks compared to the digital image.

With film, your images look amazing right out of the camera and rarely need photo editing tools like Photoshop. But if you do want to spice up your shot, all it takes is a trip to the darkroom. The most common practices are dodging, which decreases the exposure for areas you want to be lighter, and burning, which instead involves increasing the exposure by darkening the image.

They Can Make You a Better Photographer

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When shooting with a digital camera, there’s no consequence for snapping a ton of photos. All you have to do with the bad photos is tap the delete button to never see them again. There aren’t any costs or limits you have to worry about besides digital storage space, which means you can take several shots and hope someone in the family doesn’t have their eyes closed in one of them.

But when you using an analog camera you only have so much film to use, which means you’re forced to be much more selective when taking a shot. Every time you hit the shutter button, you’ve made sure the picture is framed to your liking and that objects and people are in place. You also do your best to get exposure just right to avoid a loss of highlight detail or muddy look.

After using an analog camera or even your average Polaroid camera, you may find yourself taking your digital pictures more carefully. This will also save you time during the editing process since you’ll have far less images to work with. And since your pictures were more planned and carefully taken, all the images you have to work with will be of higher quality.

Film Cameras are Inexpensive and Last Forever

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One of the biggest drawbacks of digital photography is the fact that your camera essentially becomes outdated every year or two. This is because a newer, better camera with more megapixels is always around the corner, ready to produce images with more detail. While it’s great that technology allows us to shoot better digital images, even with our smartphones, it’s not fun having to worry about finding the best deals just to keep up.

Analog cameras are different. Images taken on film are always full-frame and have the same image quality as other cameras, eliminating the need to upgrade. Knowing this, one would expect an analog camera to be very expensive. While this was true 20 or 30 years ago, now it’s pretty easy to find a decent 35mm camera affordably, just to get a taste of the film camera experience.

That being said, using an analog camera does require you to buy and develop film, which costs money. But when you do the math, spending cash on film ends up being less costly than upgrading a digital camera every few years.

Which analog cameras do you absolutely love to use? Let us know in the comments below!

7 Killer Tips for Gorgeous iPhone Photography

Gorgeous iPhone photography is attainable. In the past, we’ve demonstrated that it’s entirely possible to shoot an entire feature film using nothing more than an iPhone, so it’s of little surprise that straight photography with an iPhone can yield very impressive results — if you know how to use the device to its greatest advantage.

Artistic, high-quality photography can be achieved with an iPhone. It’s enough to make you wonder when we’ll stop calling the super computers in our pockets “phones” and think of something more appropriate. Everything machine? Infinity box?

While we work on our new iPhone nickname, read on to discover seven game-changing iPhone photography tips that’ll help you compete against the DSLR pros…

1. Always Use Two Hands

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Each iteration of the iPhone is lighter than the last — and while that’s great for general practicality, it’s somewhat detrimental to stability when trying to take a steady shot. Always use two hands to keep the phone as still as possible. This simple trick can really make or break a shot.

2. The Gorilla Grip Tripod is Worth Its Weight in Gold

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If using two hands isn’t enough to get the steadiness you need for a shot, an iPhone-specific tripod is the perfect solution. These tools are affordable, portable, and can help you achieve angles and framing that you might not otherwise have a chance to try.

3. Put the Headphones to Good Use

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Let’s face it: the iPhone’s headphones aren’t the most impressive audio devices on the market — but they do come with a little-known feature: the “volume up” button doubles as a camera remote! This is a very handy alternative to a selfie stick if you’re using a tripod or want to be in the shot.

4. Understand the Shutter Button

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It’s simple, right? You press the big button, and it takes a photo.

Not quite. It’s worth noting that the shutter only activates when you remove your finger from the button, not when you press it. If you’ve ever noticed slight motion blur on a shot even though you’re convinced you were perfectly still, it’s probably because you began moving just after pressing the button and assumed the shot was done.

5. Forget the iPhone’s Zoom Feature

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Because it’s a weak feature, on the whole — this is one of the areas in which a smartphone will never compete with a tooled-up DSLR.

If you must zoom in on a subject and can’t simply move closer to it, consider taking the shot as standard and applying zoom in post instead. It’ll look marginally better than the in-built zoom feature, which maximizes every tiny movement and loses a lot of sharpness. That said, there’s an even better solution…

6. Invest in a Lens Kit

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As smartphone photography has increased in popularity, so has the market for lens kits that can attach effortlessly over your phone’s camera. If you’re serious about getting the very best from your iPhone shots, a lens kit is vital.

In this day and age, you’re spoiled for choice and can easily blow $500-$1000 on iPhone lenses, but even a $30 three-in-one kit with a fisheye, wide angle, and macro lens will dramatically improve your results.

Just remember: if you’re going in for an iPhone lens kit, you’ll likely have to replace it every few years as the dimensions of the phone evolve.

7. Everything You Learn at Photography School Still Applies

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All the ”rules” and best practices you’ve spent so much time studying still work on an iPhone. You’re still taking photos with a camera, after all!

Everything you know about composition, finding unique angles and perspectives, identifying interesting subjects, working with lighting and exposure, and exercising great technique are all still ingredients to a good photo — no matter what you’re shooting with. Think of the iPhone as simply another industry-standard tool to master and add to your repertoire as a photographer.

So, get out there and put your photography skills to good use! Remember the golden rule of great photography: the more you shoot, the more likely you are to produce great photos. One of the key benefits of taking photos with your smartphone is that you generally always have it on you. So shoot often and have fun!

Any great iPhone photography tips we forgot to mention? Let us know in the comments below!

Trends In Photography Over The Last 15 Years

Author: Brian Dilg, Chair, Photography Department, New York Film Academy

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The last fifteen years have been giddy ones for photographic hardware and software manufacturers. The acceleration of affordable, high equality digital cameras has popularized photography and SLRs far beyond the interests of professionals. Our obsession with technology created rapid growth in sales (at least until the combination of the financial crisis and the overwhelming popularity of camera phones), as each new generation of cameras with even more megapixels has been an easy way to persuade people to throw away their “old” camera and buy a new one, regardless of whether they needed it. Although I still have my grandfather’s fully functional Nikon F2 from nearly 50 years ago, these days we are living in a largely disposal culture.

Does your average amateur need more megapixels to take snapshots of friends and family? Considering the fact that the popularity of actually making prints has declined so precipitously among hobbyists (replaced by the internet), in practice most people don’t need to capture more than three megapixels. That’s the highest resolution of JPEG images you’re likely to find online, even in these days of ultra-dense “retina” displays. The primary reason to use a camera with more resolution than that is to be able to make prints, which require far greater pixel density. In effect, most people are paying for resolution they simply do not need, although higher resolution is usually accompanied by better lenses, sensors, and other aids to better looking images.

So can this technological change continue ad infinitum? Manufacturers have indicated that they have reached the limits of how many pixels can be squeezed onto a 35mm “full frame” digital sensor; studies show diminishing returns when more than 25-35 megapixels are crammed onto a 24x36mm sensor. Undoubtedly, Canon is mulling over how to provide a higher resolution camera than their current 22 megapixel flagship to challenge Nikon’s popular 36 megapixel D800, and pros as well as those who are simply enamored by technology will have fun choosing between them.

While there are far better ways to serve the vast majority of non-professionals using cameras than adding megapixels (a topic I’ll address in a moment), for professionals there are certainly plenty of reasons to improve basic imaging technology. First of all, a physically larger sensor provides significant advantages. Obviously, more megapixels can fit onto a larger CCD or CMOS sensor, but even more importantly, technical issues raised by confronting the density limits of a sensor are eased.

Light (photons) are gathered into buckets called photosites, and the larger those can be, the more photons can be gathered. This becomes especially critical in capturing shadow detail, which is challenged by several factors: 1) the number of photons is at its lowest in the darkest shadows, 2) spurious (ambient) electronic noise (showing up as random bright, saturated pixels) is most obvious the closer we get to black, 3) the human eye is far less responsive and less able to perceive subtle tonality in shadows than in highlights, and 4) when it comes to printing, shadow detail is one of the greatest challenges.

All of that simply means that larger sensors allows for bigger photosites and subsequently better images, especially in the shadows. Bigger photosites also mean being less troubled by the negative effects of a phenomenon called diffraction, which refers to how an image gets softened when light passes through a hole (i.e., an aperture).

Larger sensors also mean less depth of field, which is not appropriate for most photojournalism and street photography, but is one of the uniquely beautiful characteristics that still makes medium and large format film cameras preferable when you want to isolate a subject from the background. Sharpness and resolution can also be a tremendous asset for images with important detail, like landscapes, although it can be too much information in a portrait if you are noticing someone’s pores more than their face as a whole.

Since the proliferation of digital cameras, medium and large format digital sensors have been astronomically expensive. A state of the art 50 megapixel CMOS medium format camera from the industry leaders, Phase One and Hasselblad, will set you back about $30,000-40,000 for the camera body, digital back, and just one lens. That is overdue for change, as witnessed by Pentax’s recent announcement of their 50 megapixel CMOS medium format system that also shoots HD video, the 645Z, for only $8,500. This puts enormous pressure on Phase One and Hasselblad in a way that is good for the consumer, and very likely heralds a return to an updated version of the kind of medium format systems that were used overwhelmingly by professionals prior to the invention of digital cameras.

So what about the more casual photographer, the hobbyists or people who simply want to take snapshots of their lives? What kind of technical innovations are really needed for them? Camera manufacturers face a bit of quandary: your average non-technical camera user would simply like to get their hands on a camera that will make it easy to take great pictures. However, no matter how sophisticated the technology gets – autofocus, face detection, canned situational shooting modes, showy filters, etc. – you cannot put creativity in a can with a “make great picture” button on it. No technology will ever have an iota of understanding of what makes an image great. Just to take one example, exposure, the challenging lighting conditions that lead to frustration (under or over exposure, etc.) in the hands of someone is counting 100% on the camera to do the thinking are exactly the same conditions that can produce fantastic, dramatic images in the hands of someone who has taken control away from the camera’s technology and made a creative interpretation.

In the last analysis, it is precisely the illusion that better technology will lead to better pictures that keeps people buying new cameras – instead of accepting that there are no shortcuts. It simply takes study and practice!

Happy shooting.

Q&A With Brian Dilg, Chair, Photography Dept., New York Film Academy

Brian DilgQ: What is the first lesson to learn in becoming a successful photographer?

BD: Photography is a highly technical medium, but every aspect of your technique has to become second nature before your ideas can be freely and precisely expressed. There is no shortcut to this, no tricks, no special software, and no particular equipment. Like anything else, it simply takes thousands of hours of deliberate, structured practice. The good news is that if you love what you are doing, no one will need to compel you to practice; it will be a joy, and you will achieve mastery as long as you don’t give up.

Q: What do you wish you knew when you started your education in your field?

BD: Style is secondary to concept; it must evolve from a well-conceived idea. Style without substance is pointless. Your use of the photographic medium – lighting, depth of field, color palette, gesture, etc. – is only there to underscore your content. If they are not of the same thought, they are hurting each other rather than helping. We all get seduced by the beautiful surfaces of the medium at some point, but unless it is in quiet support of a rich idea that rewards close viewing, it is only skin-deep. Ansel Adams said it well: “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”

Q: How do I get the most out of my program at NYFA?

BD: 1) Devote yourself 100%. Work now; rest later.

2) Set realistic expectations. You will not master this medium during school. You will probably not shoot everything you want to have in your portfolio. School is a time to experiment, learn new techniques, and most of all, to take risks that you probably wouldn’t dare take when shooting for a client. You’ll build on that when school is over.

3) Growth only happens by deliberate practice of skills you do not yet have. Stagnation and frustration are guaranteed if you simply repeat what you already know how to do reasonably well.

4) Have the courage to be yourself, to dig deep and find out what puts butterflies in your stomach, what scares and thrills you. Shoot that, and bring it in for critique. Many people hide their best ideas simply because they are afraid of criticism or apathy. The #1 most important asset every creative needs is not to be overly affected by criticism or by praise.

5) Give every assignment your best effort, and remember to acknowledge your hard work afterwards. The end product is the best you were able to do given the constraints. Do not criticize your efforts with the hindsight you could only have gained by shooting that project. That is unfair to yourself, and self-destructive!

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your professional career?

BD: You do not get hired because you are highly competent; competency is a given. You get hired because you have demonstrated a unique style and approach that suits the client’s needs for that specific project. You get hired to be yourself. The only way that van happen is if you specialize and do not try to show that you are good at everything, but instead show highly focused, even eccentric work that is recognizably, unmistakably, iconically yours.

Q: Which pieces of equipment do you find most effective in your field?

BD: Fast, sharp prime lenses with real depth of field marks and precise focus rings. Digital bodies do not differ much near the top of the DSLR market except as a matter of personal preferences, and resolution continues to rise, but great glass is a lifetime investment. Cheap new lenses are a waste of money, as are cheap tripods – unless you’re buying a funky, old lens because you find its flaws beautiful.

Q: What are the essential first steps to breaking into this field after completing a program at NYFA?

BD: 1) You are the product. Present a tightly focused, consistent brand across all of your communications: web site, logo, business card, comp card, mailers, portfolio. All of your marketing materials must represent your personality, style, and the kind of work you want to be hired to shoot. Identify a handful of keywords that characterize your work: playful, somber, provocative, humorous, etc., and build your brand on those.

2) Virtually everyone is unable to effectively edit their own work. Consult and build your network of trusted colleagues who will be honest about the image you are presenting and which images belong in your portfolio. This does probably not include your parents.

3) If you want to work commercially, assist several of the most prominent and successful commercial photographers you can. You will learn more about what it means to run a business in a week at work than you ever can in a classroom.

4) Get seen. Never stop shooting, and submit your best work for publication and exhibition constantly. Never, ever lose touch with what made you fall in love with photography in the first place. Never stop shooting personal work.

5) Start with the network you have. As graduation approaches, put the word out to everyone you know using your social networks, ask them for ideas about people and companies they know for whom your work would be useful, and ask for a personal introduction. All business runs on personal referrals. Be professional, but do not be shy.

6) Make an “A” list of dream clients, but don’t expect to get hired by them right out of school. You are competing with the best photographers in the world for their business. Be realistic. Make a B and C list of realistic clients who commission similar work, and pursue them to build the portfolio and reputation that will eventually land the A clients.

7) Your reputation is everything. Say what you’ll do, and do what you say. Show up early and be the last to leave. Be a great, fun, inspiring person to work with. Be ready to come up with new ideas on the spot. Do not demonstrate annoyance when a client is not in love with every idea you have. Being a professional is serving a client’s needs, not looking for personal affirmation.

8) Don’t do desperate. Don’t be afraid to say no to projects that are not a good fit for you. Saying no means you can refer the job to someone who is right for it, who will be grateful and speak well of you and refer work back to you. It also makes room in your schedule for something more appropriate.

9) Success comes from finding a match between your approach and what a client needs. Do not publish your web site, sit back, and expect clients to find you. Do your homework, identify potential clients who seem to be using the kind of work you do best, and pitch them. Even if they don’t have work for you immediately (and they probably won’t), your goal should be to form a friendly and ongoing relationship with them that you can nurture and grow. No matter how big, they are just human beings. Find out what their passions are, ask them about their kids, compliment their work. Be a great person to know, not just another hire-me voice.

10) Don’t measure your self-worth on how often you’re getting hired and what you’re getting paid. Photography is in a huge transition phase, and has been enormously devalued by a combination of the Internet and digital technology. The market is glutted with photographers, and rates are at an all-time low. Be persistent, work hard, be yourself, and be creative about ways to repurpose your work and apply your skills. The rest will follow.

Q: Who do you consider to be the most influential artists in your field?

BD: There are too many to count, and commercial, fine art, and documentary photography doesn’t always overlap. That said, an arbitrary handful of names everyone should know and study would have to include Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, William Eggelston, Robert Frank, Nan Goldin, Andreas Gursky, Andre Kertesz, Annie Leibovitz, Mary Ellen Mark, Helmut Newton, Irving Penn, Sebastião Salgado, Cindy Sherman, Eugene Smith, Edward Steichen, and Edward Weston; but any list is inadequate. Discovering great photographers should be a lifelong process and pleasure.