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January 17, 2014

January 2014 Issue

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January 2014 Issue

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January 20, 2014

Creativity and Inspiration, an Excerpt from "Inspiration in Photography" by Brooke Shaden

Inspiration-in-Photo_500px.jpgThe following is an excerpt from Brooke Shaden's "Inspiration in Photography" (Focal Press, $34.95). 

Creativity Can Be Learned 

What is it speci­fically about creativity that so many people shy away from? Why is it normal to think that creativity is something reserved for the obviously artistic? The reason lies in our perception of creativity and how we interact with that notion. Creativity is often nothing more than problem-solving. To come up against a problem during a project—be it an obstacle or a desire—and then ­figure out a way to resolve the issue: that is being creative.

So often creativity and inspiration are treated as being the same or very similar things, when actually they have separate meanings. Creativity is the application of a thought, while inspiration is the force that originates that thought. Not everyone is always inspired, but everyone can be creative. We all have our own ways of bringing forth our creativity; the key is learning how to embrace our own personal style.

How then does one learn creativity? If everyone is creative, there must be little learning involved to actually be so. The real work is in ­figuring out how we personally are creative and how we can apply that energy to our work. Think about your life as it currently stands. I am willing to bet that you do something creative every day, whether you see it as such or not. Take your job, for example, or school. Every single day, in order to be productive, you need to make decisions that keep progress moving. So you are being creative, because you are problem-solving to move your desires to completion.

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RUNNING FROM WIND (2010)

This picture was taken in the very early morning in a foggy field. I was out shooting with my friend, the amazing photographer Miss Aniela, and we ran through cold, wet grass so that I could get this picture. The inspiration behind this image is the recurring theme in my dreams that something or someone is chasing me. This picture creates an atmosphere of pursuit, giving the feeling that something or someone is chasing the subjects through the field.

What about more obvious creative endeavors? Here I’m talking about what we do with our spare time. It doesn’t matter if the answer is watching television or mountain biking. Anything can be fuel for inspiration. For example: I watch television and movies as a way of relaxing after working hard. Specifically, I watch Game of Thrones, not only because I ­find it wonderfully exciting, but because it shows me a different world. I take inspiration from it visually, as well as narratively. That inspiration then feeds into building my photographs, because it informs the way I see the world and the way I de­ne beauty and intrigue.

Now take my other favorite hobby: hiking. I love going hiking because it clears my mind, but I also try to see it as a creative endeavor. Hiking shows me settings that I can use for my photographs, and frees my mind from the daily grind. It allows me to fi­nd inspiration in every step, because I am not only doing what I enjoy, but also applying it to my photography on a daily basis.

So it is worth thinking about what we love and how we can turn that into something creative.

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TALLY (2009)

Skin photographs beautifully with window light on it, so I decided to challenge myself for this series and use natural window light and a plain white wall as a background as often and interestingly as possible. By using chocolate sauce to add an unsettling element, I was able to distract from the dull surroundings and focus the eye on the subject, who is posed displaying unease and tension. Never underestimate the power of giving yourself projects to work to.

Inspiration is Everywhere

Thus far I have been presenting inspiration as an abstract feeling that appears on a whim. This certainly does happen—no matter what we do for a living or for fun, we all know the power of a great idea hitting us from nowhere or a beautiful daydream sucking us in whole. This is the type of inspiration that is wonderful to experience, but is often fleeting, and impossible to control. What happens when a client needs a photograph in a hurry and no ideas come to mind? What happens when life takes over and things do not work out as planned? What happens when our usual method of brainstorming fails and there is no time left to sit and wonder?

The answer to these questions is the answer to how we de­fine inspiration. I believe that there is no clear de­finition for what inspiration is, and even less of a concrete method of how to ­find it. I believe that inspiration is everywhere. We just have to look for it. In life, if we look for something hard enough, chances are we will ­find it. I might never have another amazing idea completely off the cuff again, but if I can train myself to ­find inspiration in everything, then I will be constantly inspired.

The commonly held view is that inspiration is reserved for an elite few artists who are so in touch with their inner workings that they fi­nd themselves inspired constantly, as if by some kind of magic. While this might be how some people function, I have never met an artist who has not been frustrated at some point by a lack of inspiration. We all need help sometimes ­finding it, and luckily there are some techniques that help a lot.

I’ll talk about these techniques in greater depth in the next section, but in general, they involve changing our personal perspective. From fi­nding meaning in every little part of our routine, to looking back on memories to ­find stories we can use, there is potential inspiration in our whole life if we choose to open our eyes to it. I believe that most people turn a blind eye to inspiration, not because they do not seek it, but because they have been conditioned not to see it. How often do you take the same route to work each morning? How often do you eat the same breakfast, visit the same restaurants, or travel to the same vacation spots? Human beings are creatures of habit, and breaking some of those habits might well be the key to opening up our minds to ­find inspiration.

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FETUS (2009)

The subject of rebirth is prevalent throughout my images, particularly in Fetus. I found myself in Walmart trying various containers on my head to find one big enough to use in this shoot. Shooting, I had a remote in my hand and I did a back bend over a couch to dip my head into the container. I had two people on standby should something go wrong, but luckily I got the shot in three tries. It was intensely claustrophobic, and remains the most terrifying photo shoot I’ve ever done. If you’re stuck for inspiration, think about what scares you—is it something you could incorporate into a shot or series?

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AN UNHEARD CRY (2009)

Underwater photography was something that I had never tried before creating this image. I learned a lot about what works underwater and what doesn’t when creating this picture, and that in itself can be motivating and inspirational. I took a lot of bad pictures that day, and realized that sometimes complete failure is the best form of inspiration because it pushes us to try harder and learn more. Oddly enough, this final picture from that day remains a favorite of mine across my whole portfolio. Maybe I like it so much because I know how hard-won it was.

 

 

January 21, 2014

Olympus MFT Earns Flagship Status: OM-D E-M1 Review

By Theano Nikitas

Olympus has a new flagship camera, and it’s not a DSLR. In fact, the introduction of the 16-megapixel, Micro Four Thirds (MFT) OM-D E-M1 effectively signals the end of the company’s DSLR line. But even photographers with a stash of Olympus standard Four Thirds lenses will be able to take advantage of the E-M1’s feature set and new on-chip Dual Fast AF autofocus system.

The E-M1 joins the E-M5 as the second model in Olympus’ OM-D line, although it stands a notch above its sibling. Improvements include faster performance (including more responsive focusing with Four Thirds lenses), more sophisticated handling, integrated Wi-Fi, focus peaking, and a larger hand grip.

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Although the appeal of mirrorless cameras and their lenses often revolves around smaller-than-DSLR size and weight, the E-M1 is a little hefty for its class. Its 5.1 x 3.7 x 2.5-inch measurements and body weight of 17.5 ounces is due, in part, to its larger handgrip; but overall, it’s one of the more substantial mirrorless bodies on the market. Add the first model in Olympus’ new PRO line of MFT lenses, the constant aperture, weatherproof M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm, f/2.8 (a second, 40-150mm, f/2.8 PRO lens is in development) and you’ve got some weight in your hands. While the lens is larger and heavier than Olympus’ other MFT lenses, it’s solidly built and delivers excellent results, especially in combination with the E-M1’s five-axis image stabilization. (A quick note to anyone who plans to use the E-M1 with non-MFT lenses: the MMF-1 and MMF-2 lens adapters will work with the new camera but only the MMF-3 is weatherproofed.)

The E-M1’s grip provides a well-balanced handhold, although it’s likely that the longer legacy lenses may offset that balance. Its weather-sealed, magnesium alloy body is splashproof, dustproof and freezeproof, and so the E-M1 can handle outdoor and adventure photography in all kinds of conditions.

Like many mirrorless cameras, the E-M1 doesn’t have a built-in flash. However, it comes with Olympus’ tiny shoe-mount flash, which works fine for fill flash in smaller areas; just be on the lookout for redeye. The hotshoe/accessory shoe accepts larger flashguns as well.

A beautiful, 3-inch, high-resolution, tilt and touch-control LCD monitor occupies much of the camera’s rear real estate. The 2.36 million dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) has an automatic eye sensor as well as manual switching between the tilting touchscreen monitor and the EVF. The LCD’s touchscreen feature is limited to certain functions but includes focus point selection, triggering the shutter, and selection of parameters from the on-screen control panel.

External controls are plentiful and arranged within easy reach across the top and rear surfaces. The on/off switch is on the camera’s left shoulder, a position that’s more convenient than one might imagine (even for right-handed shooters). A design feature that’s especially useful is the center lock button on the mode dial. Unlike those on other cameras, however, you do not have to depress and hold the button to release the dial. Instead, one press-and-release locks the setting in place; another press-and-release leaves it unlocked so you can move quickly from one mode to another.

Dual control dials, function (Fn) buttons, and a wealth of custom options translate into more advanced—albeit complex—operation than the E-M5. The ability to customize controls is welcome, of course, but it can take a little while to assign—and then remember—the function of each custom setup. Once you do, operating the camera is fluid and a real pleasure. 

In addition to an another Diorama II Art Filter, dual HDR options, a Photo Story mode for collages, and an improved time lapse feature, the E-M1 now has built-in Wi-Fi. Setting up the E-M1’s Wi-Fi is quick and easy with a quick QR code scan. Once connected, you can use the Olympus Image Share app (available for iOS and Android) to transfer images, add GPS data to photos and even share images with others. Remote shooting is also possible with the OI Share app and Wi-Fi connection.

Live Time is an interesting and useful feature for long exposures. It’s essentially a bulb mode that allows you to see the progress of the exposure in real time on the LCD. I find it especially useful for light painting since you can watch the exposure increase in real time during the process and then close the shutter when you achieve the look you want.

Naturally, the E-M1 offers HD video capture. And while the camera offers manual exposure controls for video and AF (only with MFT lenses during shooting), the move mode is limited to 30p for all resolutions (1,920 x 1,080, 1,280 x 720 and 640 x 480). That’s too bad since it would be nice to have 60p and 24p options as well.

Olympus has also made some under-the-hood improvements boosting the maximum mechanical shutter speed to 1/8,000 second (the E-M5 maxes out at 1/4,000 second) and a sync speed of up to 1/320 second. Thanks to the E-M1’s TruePic VII engine, continuous shooting can be clocked as fast as 10.5 frames per second (fps) with a maximum of up to 41 raw files (in single AF) at 6.5fps. The camera can capture up to 50 raw files in continuous autofocus. I found that the maximum speed didn’t quite measure up to those numbers, and the camera started to slow down toward the latter part of the sequence. But the camera and continuous autofocus was fast enough to keep up with some rodeo-style action with a 40-150mm MFT lens. When it comes to telephoto work, Olympus’ 2X crop factor really comes in handy.

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Exposed for 1/400 second at f/7.1,
ISO 200, at 40mm with the Olympus
M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO
lens, which provides a 35mm-equivalent
field of view of 24-80mm.

Olympus has improved the performance of their legacy standard Four Thirds lenses on the E-M1 with its Dual Fast AF system, which uses On-Chip Phase Detection AF and Contrast Detection AF. While other Olympus MFT cameras can accommodate Four Thirds lenses via an adapter, achieving speedy autofocus has been an issue since Four Thirds lenses are designed to work with phase detection. With the E-M1, the camera can access phase detection AF for better performance when standard Four Thirds lenses are attached and AF tracking is engaged. MFT lenses still use contrast detection AF, and the camera automatically switches the type of AF used depending on the lens. Though my selection of Four Thirds lenses was limited, from what I can tell there is some improvement in AF; the speed increase isn’t astonishing but it’s detectable. It’s certainly not as fast as, say, my Nikon D3s, but it’s good to know that if you have Four Thirds lenses, you have an option to use them with respectable results on an MFT camera.

Just as on-chip, hybrid autofocus is working its way into more cameras, so is the elimination of the optical low pass filter. The latter is designed to deliver better resolution but with the increased risk of moiré. However, there was very little evidence of moiré with the E-M1, and I presume that the TruPic VII processor was largely responsible.

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This exposure for 1/60 second at f/5.8,
ISO 800, picked up all the fine detail
of the lace in the hat with no moiré
evident. ©Theano Nikitas

I was pleased with most of my test images. They were sharply focused, adn exhibited good detail and accurate colors. Image noise was kept well under control up to about ISO 3200, but even past that, the E-M1 maintained better detail than I expected, though image noise was visible. When necessary, I might push the ISO, but I would prefer to have more in-camera control over noise reduction. As always, however, shooting raw and post-processing for noise delivers the best results.

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At PhotoPlus Expo, Sigma set up a test booth with models, so I checked out the Sigma 60mm F2.8 DN Art lens, which delivered excellent results. ©Theano Nikitas

Under bright and/or high contrast conditions, the E-M1 (set on Natural) had a tendency to blow out some highlights that even the well-implemented highlight and shadow control feature couldn’t manage to fix. Otherwise, exposures were generally well balanced. Colors were accurate and rich, although not overly saturated. If the colors aren’t to your liking, the Color Creator provides a useful tool for adjusting hue and saturation.

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But even with the funky lights on the deck of the USS Intrepid during a press event, the E-M1—and its auto white balance—did a great job of reproducing the neon-like colors.

Despite its somewhat larger-than-average size and increased competition (especially from Sony’s full-frame a7/a7R), the Olympus OM-D EM-1 is one of my favorite mirrorless cameras on the market today. It’s an excellent addition to Olympus’ camera line and delivers superlative image quality and above-average performance.

 

Olympus OM-D E-M1

Price: E-M1 (body only)  $1,400
Kit with Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens: $2,200

January 22, 2014

Epiphanie Bags Keep Function in Style

By Pete Wright, M.Photog.Cr.

It wasn't long ago that the photography industry started seeing a growing influx of products designed for female photographers, and Epiphanie bags was one of the first to come out with quality camera bags designed for the needs and tastes of women in the industry. I spoke with Epiphanie owner Maile Wilson about how she got started and what’s new in the Epiphanie line.

Wilson wanted to create a bag that went beyond basic black poly-vinyl construction and showed some style. She didn't just stop with her original Lola bag, a hybrid shoulder bag style suited for photography or personal-bag needs. The company now offers 12 styles in a range of sizes, each in multiple colors, including styles that also appeal to men. 

The Epiphanie selection ranges from small purse like bags to messenger style bags that quickly convert backpacks. All are made with moveable Velcro pads to allow for customizing the arrangement of gear.  Never sacrificing functionality for fashion, Epiphanie bags have multiple pockets to hold personal items and accessories, and some models can accommodate laptops and tablets. Maile’s bags are available at epiphaniebags.com, ranging in price from $154 to $225.

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The new Sydney bag transfers into backpack just by pulling the straps at the sides. You can wear it on your shoulder or cross body. Versatile.

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The Madison bag is large enough to accomodate a laptop, two bodies, an iPad, and a long lens. It easily converts to a backpack.

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The London bag is one of Epiphanie's designs that appeal to both men and women.

About January 2014

This page contains all entries posted to Professional Photographer Magazine Web Exclusives in January 2014. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2013 is the previous archive.

February 2014 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.


 
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