Saturday, September 24, 2016

What's A Photographer Worth?

Shadow Catcher - Stallion Springs, California
Anyone with a camera can be a photographer, right?
I had a conversation with someone the other day. They were complaining about how much photographers cost. With an upcoming wedding, this person was frustrated with the price of hiring a professional photographer for their big day. This person said that photographers should deliver more to the client and charge less money.

After all, this person told me, a professional photographer doesn't take pictures that are all that much better than what other people take. This person told me of a time that they used a cheap point-and-shoot and a fabric backdrop to create professional-style portraits, and "they turned out good." How can photographers possible justify the amount that they charge?

I explained what goes into photographing a wedding. The preparation. The time. The photographer has the busiest job on a wedding day, putting in well above a full day's work. I explained that often photographers spend two or three times the hours post-processing the pictures as they did capturing the pictures. Then there's printing and such. One wedding can become a full 40 hour work week for a photographer.
GQ Groom - Tehachapi, California
This is from the most recent wedding I photographed.
Then there is the cost of (expensive) gear and the training to become a pro at said gear. The photographer might have employees (second photographer, lighting assistant, etc.). The cost of delivering the finished images (printing, matting, framing, etc.). There is way more to it all than just snapping pictures.

Besides all of that, no matter how confident this person may be in their snapshot abilities, they cannot create the photographs that a good professional can. It's not possible. Yes, a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in awhile, but there will be a significantly noticeable difference in image quality between the pro and the non-pro. Simply put, a good photographer can read the light and a novice cannot, and photography is about light.

If you want my style of photographs, then you have to pay me the price that my work demands. I've spent many years learning the art of photography. I've developed my eye and my style through college classes and tons of experience--lots of trial-and-error and also lots of success. One cannot simply pick up a camera and hope to capture what I create. Until you've gone down that long road of learning you cannot do it.
Airport Lobby - McKinney, Texas
A print from my days in college, when I was first began to learn the art of photography.
And even then, one person's style will be different from the next. Everybody sees the world a little different. Everybody's perspective is different. People have unique experiences. It all impacts how one creates photographs. If you are hiring a photographer, it should be because you appreciate the photographs that they create--you like their style, their eye.

I told the person that you get what you pay for. That didn't go over too well. But it's the truth (sometimes the truth is not what people want to hear). There is a big difference between someone who is inexperienced and discounted and someone who is experienced and can justify a steep price tag. This is not to say that one should always go for the most expensive option, but that one should consider there's a reason why the cheap photographer is cheap. You get what you pay for.

I've photographed a few weddings, but that's not my passion. I found that they were interesting photographic exercises. I think you really have to love weddings to love being a wedding photographer. You have to love being around lots of people (usually strangers). You have to enjoy the process. I'm glad to have experienced that, but I'd much rather be out at a mountain lake at night photographing the stars, or trying to make a unique image of an iconic landmark.
Sunset At Morro Rock - Morro Bay, California
As many times as this rock has been photographed, I've never seen one quite like this.
Those who aren't around photographers don't really understand what goes into making a great photograph. There seems to be a misconception that as long as you have the right gear anyone can capture good pictures. But photography is about seeing, not clicking.

Perhaps novices don't even understand what a good picture is. Yes, it's all subjective, but I think the more one studies the art of photography the more one can discern a good image from a bad one. How can one who has never studied photography even begin to comprehend the value of a photograph?

I think a photographer's worth--the cost of their work--comes down to how much someone is willing to pay for it. The quality of the images have to transcend the novice's ignorance of art and compel the person to part with their hard-earned cash. It has to be easily recognized as great photography.
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Is there artistic value here?
This might explain why some of the very best photographers are starving artists. Their work is beyond the comprehension of those who don't understand photographic art. Even though their images are greater, they're worth isn't. It's kind of sad, but it is reality.

So the price that a photographer's work is worth depends on the buyer just as much as the photographer. The photographs have to be great in order to demand big bucks, but they have to be easily recognized as great by those who may not know what a great photograph is.

As convoluted as that all sounds, it's actually more complicated than that. Branding and marketing are just as important as a photographer's abilities with a camera. The better you are at selling yourself the more you can charge for your work. That's why some photographers can be successful with mediocre photography and some are dirt poor with great photography.
Red Chairs - Cambria, California
I contacted the hotel that these chairs sit in front of, hoping that they'd buy this image.
This is an area that I've always struggled with. I'm not great at the business side of art. I don't pass out business cards to everyone I meet. I rarely go to potential clients and try to convince them that they should give me business. But because of this I sell myself short. I don't achieve my potential worth.

To bring this all back to the beginning, the reason those wedding photographers cost "so much" and deliver "so little" is because the photographer and the clients have valued the work at that price point. Both parties have justified the cost. The photographer has decided that their work is worth that amount, and the clients have agreed.

But if one disagrees, then by all means find the photographer who's work justifies the price that's been set. You can find those photographers out there. Uncle Jim might even do it for free. Just remember, you get what you pay for.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Autumn Is Here!

Utah Highway Junction - Ogden Canyon, Utah
It's official! Autumn has arrived. Today is the first day of fall!

I love autumn. The leaves turn different colors. The weather becomes cooler. It's a great time to be out in nature photographing.

I also love all things pumpkin. Yes, I'm one of those people who buy pumpkin cereal and pumpkin coffee and pumpkin ice cream.
Autumn Hill - Uinta Mountains, Utah
Utah has been dressed in fall colors for a couple of weeks now. This is my first autumn in Utah, and it's been impressive. It's not like a fall in New England or anything like that, but it's better than what I've seen in California.

My advice is, wherever you are, get outdoors and enjoy this quickly changing season. Soon enough it will end. Soon winter will be here. If you don't take advantage of it soon it will be gone and your opportunity will be lost. Don't let that happen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Why You Need To Know Your Camera

Clouds At Night - Bear Lake, Idaho
I set out last weekend to capture the stars above Bear Lake, which sits on the border of Utah and Idaho. It's a two hour (mostly) scenic drive from my house to the lake.

Bear Lake is quite clear. From higher elevation vistas, the lake has a turquoise-blue color thanks to limestone deposits. From the lake shore you can't see the turquoise, but you can see through the water to the lake bed.

My hope was to set my camera (a Fujifilm X-E1) on a tripod at night and photograph the stars above the lake. I arrived during daylight, but after exploring for a good spot (and after dinner), by the time I found where I wanted to shoot from, it was already dark.

I placed the camera on the tripod and adjusted the camera settings. This wasn't my first time doing this type of photography with this camera, so I knew already how to set it all up. Or so I thought.

I soon discovered that I was having an issue with focus. I was trying to manually focus to infinity, but something wasn't working right. I tried all sorts of things to get it to work, but kept getting out-of-focus images.

Grabbing my cell phone out of my pocket I did a Google search for what might be causing my issues. Nothing. No one else apparently ever had this issue. I was beginning to think that the camera somehow broke and I was going to have to send it in for (expensive) repairs.
Full Moon Over Bear Lake - Bear Lake, Idaho
The full moon was going to rise soon, and so I didn't have much time to figure out the problem. I gave auto-focus a try, and to my surprise (it was dark and the camera uses contrast detection) it locked focus on the distant mountains and I was able to capture Clouds At Night. One exposure out of about two dozen attempts was in focus.

It wasn't until the next day that I figured out what the problem was. A switch got bumped and was set to auto-focus continuously, and I didn't realize it. It was a simple mistake that I should have been able to diagnose in the field.

I've only owned this camera for a couple of months. Nonetheless, I thought I was pretty familiar with it, but  obviously I wasn't familiar enough. It didn't help that I was trying to figure out the problem in the dark and under time constraints. I almost wasn't able to create the photograph that I set out to capture. I was lucky to get it.

There's a clear lesson to learn here: be very familiar with your gear. Know your camera inside and out. Don't allow simple mistakes (like accidentally bumping a switch) to mess up your photographic opportunities.

I need to spend just a little more time understanding what every switch, button and menu option does. It's good to know exactly what does what, even if I don't think I'll ever use certain options, because one day I might have some weird little issue and perhaps that one switch, button or menu option is what I need to adjust to fix it. In fact, that's what happened to me at Bear Lake, only I didn't know how to fix it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

News: Yi M1 - Cheap Compact Mirrorless

Yi M1
Looking to get a compact mirrorless digital camera, but don't want to break the bank? The Chinese company Yi just announced a new camera coming out in a couple of days: the M1.

What's interesting is that this camera has a 20-megapixel micro-four-thirds sensor, and I'm guessing it's the same sensor found inside the Olympus PEN-F. The camera has a touch screen, WiFi and Bluetooth. It can save in DNG RAW and can capture 4K video. In other words, on paper, it looks like a decent camera.

You will be able to buy the M1 bundled with a 12-40mm f/3.5-5.6 lens for $330 or with a 42.5mm f/1.8 lens for $450. And, being a micro-four-thirds camera, there are tons of other lenses available by different manufacturers.

Sounds pretty intriguing to me. If you are on a tight budget (and who isn't these days?), this is one to consider.

Fujifilm Announces the Medium-Format GFX 50S

Fujifilm GFX 50S
Just like I said would happen, Fuji just announced a 50-megapixel (51.4-megapixel, to be exact) medium-format camera. The camera will be called the GFX 50S. I'm not sure what the "GF" stands for ("Giant Format" maybe?), "X" is a letter Fuji loves to use, "50" maybe has to do with the megapixel count, and "S" might stand for "Small" since the camera is small for the size sensor contained within. Those are just guesses. It's all marketing, so it doesn't matter.

What does matter is that the GFX 50S will have a Sony-made Bayer-type sensor (not X-Trans). This will be a big deal for some, but it shouldn't be. The advantages of the X-Trans are less so as the format size increases, so there's a diminishing return, and it's not logical to complicate things for marginal gains.

The only things Fuji really announced is that they're indeed making this camera, it will eventually have six lenses available for purchase (three initially, and three shortly thereafter), and it will arrive in stores in early spring of 2017. Also, it won't have a built-in viewfinder (for some odd reason).

Fuji didn't announce the expected price. Rumor is that it will cost a little less than the Hasselblad X1D-50C (the camera that the GFX 50S will be competing directly with), which runs $9,000 for the body only. The Pentax 645Z (which shares the same sensor as the other two) would also be competition for the Fuji, and it runs $7,000 for the body. I suspect that the MSRP will be no less than $7,000 and no more than $8,000 for the Fuji body. We will have to wait and see.

Whatever the price is, it's way out of my range. Unless Fuji "gifted" me one (which won't happen), I will not be giving the camera a test drive.

And besides, 50+ megapixels are way too many for me. You can make poster sized prints from a good clean 16-megapixel file (such as those that I routinely get from my X-E1). Fuji's latest X-Trans cameras have 24-megapixels, which is plenty of resolution for murals. Very few photographers actually need the resolution that these mega-megapixel cameras produce. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Review: Hoya Intensifier Filter For Fall Foliage Photography

Hoya Intensifier Filter
I recently purchased a Hoya Intensifier Filter, which is sometimes called a Red Intensifier or a Didymium Filter. It was actually difficult to find in the 58mm size that I needed for my lens. It cost me $40, which is moderately expensive for a filter.

Hoya makes quality filters, and the Intensifier is not my first of theirs. When it comes to filters, there are better ones than others. Whenever you are placing glass in front of your lens you want it to be good quality or else you are risking a negative impact on image quality.

The main purpose of the Intensifier Filter is to enhance red, orange and brown colors (without effecting other colors). An obvious application, and the one this filter is most commonly used for, is fall foliage photography. But does it work? Is it worth the price? Should you use the filter this autumn as you photograph the changing leaves?

Let's examine a couple of real world examples. They were captured using a Fujifilm X-E1. I made sure the settings were identical, with the filter being the only difference.

No intensifier filter:
Autumn On The Wasatch Range - South Weber, Utah
With intensifier filter:
Autumn On The Wasatch Range - South Weber, Utah
No intensifier filter:
Autumn Forest - Huntsville, Utah
With intensifier filter:
Autumn Forest - Huntsville, Utah
The differences between the images with and without the filter are subtle but noticeable. The reds, oranges and browns do look "deeper" or enhanced or intensified (or however you want to put it) with the filter. The overall color cast of the photographs looks different, too.

The filter makes the images look a little more cool. It throws off the white balance just a little. And I wonder if this is why the reds, oranges and browns look different. Is it a simple color cast trick?

I don't know exactly how the filter does what it does. Maybe the "how" doesn't matter. But either you think the photographs are made slightly better by this filter or slightly worse. My opinion is that the filter's positive effects are nullified by the negative effects, but neither the positive nor negative are significant.

One thing I will say is that the filter is unnecessary. You can accomplish the same thing (or something even better) with careful post-processing. I would only buy this filter for fall foliage photography if you like the way it makes the photographs look. Otherwise, don't bother.

There is another common use for the Intensifier Filter: photographing stars. In night photography, the filter reduces the effects of noise pollution. Stay tuned for my review of the Hoya Intensifier Filter for astrophotography!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Photoessay: Taking My Camera Shopping - Park Station Mall - Farmington, Utah

Crony Capitalism - Farmington, Utah
There's a mall not too far from where I live called Park Station that I sometimes go shopping at. A few times when I've shopped there I've also brought along a camera.

Park Station is one of those outdoor-type malls that's designed to look like a downtown. It almost has an urban feel, yet it is clearly suburban. There are restaurants, tons of different stores, a movie theater, and even a park (with an animated water fountain) and a hotel. I would call it upscale, although that definition is subjective.

There are plenty of photographic opportunities at this mall. There's interesting architecture, reflections, designs, and landscape. I like spending time at Park Station and generally my feelings are positive towards the place. However, there is also an unauthentic sense about it--almost too "Disneyland" or choreographed or fake. And it's in this in-between that I find myself photographically when I visit.

All of these photographs were captured with a Fujifilm X-E1 with the exception of one image, which was captured using an LG G4 (yes, my cell phone). I won't say which is the cell phone image because it really doesn't matter. The Fuji images are camera-made JPEGs while the LG image was a RAW capture post-processed using Snapseed.
Park Station Reflection - Farmington, Utah
Line Forms Here - Farmington, Utah
Curves In Monochrome - Farmington, Utah
Matching Pillars - Farmington, Utah
Water Fountain - Farmington, Utah
Coffee - Farmington, Utah
Plant Leaves In Monochrome - Farmington, Utah
Station Park Sky - Farmington, Utah
Workshop Reflection - Farmington, Utah
Mall Parking - Farmington, Utah
Fountain Square - Farmington, Utah
Park Station Fountains - Farmington, Utah

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Stormy Sky? There's Potential For Photographic Magic

Early Autumn On Wasatch Peaks - Ogden Canyon, Utah
I like to be photographically ready whenever there are storm clouds in the sky. Why? Because the potential exists for some really dramatic photographs.

Clouds themselves can add drama and interest in what might otherwise by an empty (boring) blue sky. A building cumulonimbus cloud can set an image apart. Or the underside of a turbulent storm. It could even be a singular small white puffy cloud. Something that breaks up the monotony of a "blank" sky makes a photograph more interesting.
Turbulent Sky Over The Ridge - Ogden Canyon, Utah
But clouds have an additional benefit to photography: making light turn magical. Sometimes--not all the time, but sometimes--a storm can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary just because of what it does to the light. Sunrises and sunsets, in particular, can be much more brilliant during a storm.

The photographs in this post were captured one day a couple of weeks ago. A storm rolled through and I had my Fujifilm X-E1 with me. The clouds were interesting, and the light was just fantastic. When there are storm clouds, be sure to have your camera nearby.
Mouth of Ogden Canyon - Ogden Canyon, Utah
Wasatch Ridge Evening - Ogden Canyon, Utah
An Evening In Ogden Canyon - Ogden Canyon, Utah
Utah Highway Junction - Ogden Canyon, Utah
Sunset At Pineview Reservoir - Ogden Valley, Utah
Pineview Reservoir Evening - Ogden Valley, Utah
Pineview Reservoir Sunset - Ogden Valley, Utah

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Photoessay: A Night Stroll Through Downtown Ogden, Utah

Behind An Elegant Restaurant - Ogden, Utah
Ogden has a really cool little downtown. It's not big, but there are a lot of unique stores, restaurants, museums and such. There's plenty to see and do. Many of the structures are over 100 years old (some well over).

The place takes on a whole different look at night. The shadows grow deeper. The neon signs come on. Those walking the streets are dressed different. In some ways it's more interesting. And I find it fascinating enough to photographically return.

Sometimes I like to return to the same place I've already photographed to try a better--or at least different--approach. I'm the man who came back, as legendary photographer Chuck Abbott would say.

These photographs were all captured using a Fujifilm X-E1 camera with the "kit" 18-55mm lens attached (which is a better lens than a typical "kit" lens you get bundled with your camera). These were all hand-held and at ISO 6400 (Ghostly Interior was a 1.1 second exposure!). They're all camera-made JPEGs. Enjoy!
Ghostly Interior - Ogden, Utah
Beauty Salon Night - Ogden, Utah
Empty Historic 24th Street Buildings - Ogden, Utah
FRI SAT 8PM - Ogden, Utah
Night Hotel - Ogden, Utah
1967 Ford - Ogden, Utah

Monday, September 12, 2016

Making The Case For Shooting JPEGs

Ever since I purchased a Fujifilm X-E1 camera, I've been shooting JPEGs. And I've received some criticism for that. Apparently, only amateurs shoot JPEGs. Anyone who is remotely serious shoots in RAW format.

Except for the last few months, over the last two years I've shot almost exclusively in RAW (with an occasional JPEG here and there). Even before that I used RAW format frequently. So why have I made the change?

The Fuji X-Trans cameras can produce excellent out-of-camera JPEGs. They look more like post-processed RAW files than typical camera-made JPEGs. I save so much time letting the camera do the conversion work for me, and the results are no worse for it.

When I have post-processed RAW files from my X-E1 they've never turned out much different than the JPEGs. Afterwards I thought to myself that I should've just used the JPEGs. I just have to ensure that the settings are correct in the field.

Even if I don't get the settings quite right in the field, because I shoot RAW+JPEG, Fuji gives me an opportunity to reprocess the RAW file with the settings adjusted. It's very quick to do this, and I get the camera-made JPEG that I was trying for.

There are two main reasons why people will argue that you should use RAW. One reason is if you don't get the settings right (such as white balance) you can easily fix it later. This is a lazy excuse, but, as I mentioned in the paragraph above, is no issue with the Fuji X-Trans cameras since this can also be fixed (just as long as you shoot RAW+JPEG).

The other reason is to extensively manipulate the image (since RAW is a lossless format and JPEG isn't). RAW allows you to manipulate an image to a maximum extent. Because JPEGs throw away some data that could potentially be useful, you can only manipulate it so much before it begins degrading significantly.

However, you might be able to manipulate the JPEG much more than you ever realized.

I captured an image in a harsh back-lit situation. The sun is just out-of-frame. The shadows were deep. It was about as contrasty as a scene can get with very bright highlights and very dark shadows. I adjusted the camera settings to give my JPEG a maximum dynamic range. Here's the straight-out-of-camera JPEG:
Uinta Evening (unedited out-of-camera JPEG) - Uinta Mountains, Utah
I used Nik Color Efex and a little Alien Skin Exposure X to manipulate the out-of-camera JPEG to pull out some of the shadow details (and otherwise adjust the image to my liking). I was surprised just how much was hiding there. Take a look:
Uinta Evening - Uinta Mountains, Utah
Some might ask that, since I was already post-processing the photograph with software, why not just edit the RAW exposure instead of the out-of-camera JPEG? Because it was quicker to make some simple adjustments (and, yes, they were simple adjustments) than to rebuild the photograph from scratch.

Would the results have been better if I had post-processed the RAW file instead of the JPEG? I think it would have been insignificantly better. You might see a small improvement in noise and perhaps slightly more shadow details, but to even notice you'd have to compare 100% crops side-by-side. I don't think the small gain would have justified the extra time and effort it would have taken to achieve it.

If I can get very similar results as RAW with out-of-camera JPEGs, why would I shoot RAW? It only makes sense to shoot JPEG. Or, in my case, RAW+JPEG, with the RAW file as a safety net backup. JPEGs are better than many photographers realize, and this is especially true with Fuji's X-Trans cameras. In return for shooting JPEGs I save a whole bunch of time, and time is a valuable and fleeting commodity.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Thoughts On High ISO Photography

Early Autumn - Ogden Canyon, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 @ ISO 6400.
There was a time when I considered ISO 400 to be high ISO photography.

I typically used films in the ISO 50-100 range (sometimes even ISO 25). But if I needed to photograph in darker places I'd grab some Ilford Delta 400 film. Sometimes I would push-process that ISO 400 film a stop or two in development. I tried Ilford Delta 3200, and that was really high ISO (and really grainy, too).

For color photographs I didn't like going above ISO 100, but would on a rare occasion go higher. A couple of times I used Fuji Pro 800Z--I never used a color film that was faster than that. Color photographs typically don't hold up as well to high ISO as monochrome does.
First Fall Colors - Ogden Canyon, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 @ ISO 6400.
Digital has changed that, although not at first. High ISO and digital photography didn't exactly get along until the last decade or so. My first DSLR (a Pentax K-x) didn't look all that great above ISO 800 (especially for color photographs). I didn't really know that those weren't great results because that's what I was used to with film.

The "rule" was to always shoot at the lowest ISO that you could get away with. The lower the ISO the better. You would only use a higher ISO if you absolutely had to.

Times sure have changed! With my Fuji X-E1 camera I now set the minimum ISO to 800. For out-of-camera JPEGs (with the settings a certain way) that's where the maximum dynamic range is achieved. There isn't any noticeable difference in image quality between the camera's base ISO and ISO 800. I set the camera to auto-ISO with the upper limit set to ISO 6400. Even color out-of-camera JPEGs look good at ISO 6400, so I don't think twice about using it.
Sunset At Pineview Reservoir - Huntsville, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 @ ISO 6400.
Take the first two photographs in this article, Early Autumn and First Fall Colors, for example. I didn't plan to make these photographs, but I spotted the scene while driving around and had my camera with me (but no tripod). The sun had already set and it was beginning to get dark. Even at ISO 6400 I actually underexposed the images by about a half stop. I then manipulated the out-of-camera JPEGs a moderate amount (using Nik's Color Efex).

After editing, the equivalent ISO is around 9600. Yet these color images would look just fine as 8" x 12" prints (and maybe even larger than that). To me that's unbelievable! Many modern full-frame DSLRs can do this, and even a few digital cameras with smaller sensors. This was impossible not very long ago.

The last image, Sunset At Pineview Reservoir, is a strait-out-of-camera JPEG shot at ISO 6400. A good looking color ISO 6400 camera-made JPEG with lots of dynamic range? 10 years ago the suggestion would be laughable. Now it's commonplace. Camera technology sure has come a long ways.