photography

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.