If you’re reading this right now in the Northern hemisphere, odds are better than even that it’s flippin’ cold out; if you’re reading from the Southern hemisphere, bookmark this and save it for a rainy (or rather, freezing) day and come back when you need it. Today we’re going to talk about one of the most fundamental things for cold weather photography: keeping your hands toasty, since nice gear doesn’t count for much if your digits are frostbitten.
There are quite a few options when it comes to gloves for photographers; I’ll be listing a few and discussing the pros and cons of each.
Let’s start with Thinsulate gloves. These are great when it comes to keeping your hands warm in cold weather. When it comes to shooting? Well, now, that’s something else again. Thinsulate’s great when it comes to keeping the cold out, but it can also feel like your hands have turned to sausages. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to feel the controls under your fingers, and equally difficult to finesse things like function keys and touchscreens. Even gloves that are designed with fingertips that can work with touchscreens tend to be a bit too bulky to ensure getting it right the first time, and if you’re trying to catch a skittish deer or a bird in flight, you really don’t want to miss the shot because your gloves decided you’d rather adjust your white balance than, say, your exposure settings.
Another option are gloves or mittens that allow you to remove the top portion to leave your fingertips exposed. These work fine in principle, since it leaves your fingers free to manipulate dials and buttons. Problem is, you end up either having to yank them off every time you want to shoot or change a setting, or you just say the hell with it and leave that part off, in which case you’ve got cold, numb fingers. That won’t do either.
So you can try thin leather gloves. Some are insulated, so they’re warm. They’re also thinner than many cloth gloves (though they can be stiffer in some cases), but they can still be clunky and stiff unless you’re dealing with driving gloves, which aren’t particularly practical in the cold. So leather also may not be your best bet.
What to do? There are photographer’s gloves out there, but like everything else marketed to photographers, some can be a bit pricey. Luckily, unlike some things made for photography, you’ve got good — and inexpensive — alternatives. Case in point: a pair of Hatch Specialist all-weather shooting gloves that I recently received for Christmas. They’re designed for hunters and law enforcement. It’s a different kind of shooting, but the principle’s the same when you get right down to it; you need the gloves to keep you warm, but otherwise, you need them to stay the heck out of the way. The gloves I’ve got perform pretty well in both respects. They have a degree of touch sensitivity that allows me to be a lot more confident when I’m changing settings on the fly.
Three cautionary notes about these gloves: first of all, I don’t know where they get off calling these “all-weather.” Granted, they’re water repellent (not waterproof) and warm, but not quite as warm as my bulky Thinsulate gloves or my nice Isotoners (one or the other of which stays in my jacket pocket for the times when the camera’s not out). The Neoprene material feels like it’d likely be sweaty on a hot day, though at that point you’re not likely to need gloves for photography anyway. The palm and finger surfaces of the gloves also conduct cold. The other evening, shooting in what felt like low 30’s/upper 20’s (Farenheit), my hands and fingers stayed warm enough, at least until I had to actually use my camera, or open doors; in both instances, the rubberized parts of the glove reminded me in no uncertain terms that I was gripping something cold.
Second, regardless of the type of gloves you decide to use, make sure you wear them. Cold temperatures, especially if you factor in wind and/or precipitation, can do a number on your hands. No matter how good a day’s shooting you have, it probably won’t compensate for things like frostbite or nerve damage. Third, make sure the gloves fit. If you’re doing something — like shoveling snow — that doesn’t require much dexterity, a little extra bulk or tightness isn’t a terrible thing. But when the whole point of a particular pair of gloves is to make it easier to get your digits where you want ’em, even the right glove in the wrong size isn’t going to be your best option.
Any other suggestions or input? Sound off in the comments section!
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For years now, no camera discussion forum has been worth its salt if it hasn’t included a thread or two speculating about how neat it’d be if someone would stick a full-frame sensor into a crop-sensor body and slap an affordable price tag on it. Rumors have come and gone and come again, but now we’ve got the real deal with the Nikon D600, which was announced barely three weeks ago, and has actually been available in stores since its September 18 release date (if you’re even a casual Nikonian, you know this is nothing to take for granted). Read below for the results of real-world use (read: no test charts or silly photos of brick walls) from a real live photographer.
The D600’s $2,100.00 price tag isn’t exactly pocket change, but as full-frame cameras go, it’s enough to put this Nikon in the “affordable” category, relatively speaking. The price is held down by a few things; it doesn’t have the D800’s 36MP sensor or control surfaces, or a huge buffer, or the D4’s frame rate. Its body largely carries over from the D7000, from the remarkably similar design, measurements and weight to the use of titanium only for the back and sides. With all that being said, this isn’t a no-frills camera; there’s an awful lot of capability packed into a comparatively small package. Read on to find out more.
Sensor: If you’re the kind of person who obsesses over lab tests, the DXOMark score for the D600 is 94 (third only to the Nikon D800 and D800E, which came in at 95 and 96; more on that here). If, on the other hand, you’re concerned more with the resultant photos… Look, the thing’s got 24.3 megapixels. You can, in other words, crop like an overzealous barber and still get good shots out of this puppy. There are caveats, of course. Higher-megapixel sensors have a tendency to show the flaws of the lenses put in front of them (or of the photographer behind them), not to mention that the file sizes are much larger. Color depth is very good, and the dynamic range is… well, it’s a good reason to give this camera a close look if you hadn’t already.
Ergonomics and Controls: this is, naturally, highly subjective; one thing I’ve always liked about Nikon is that they feel right in your hands, and the D600 is no exception. There are plenty of knobs and buttons, which makes a huge difference when it comes to changing settings quickly (if it has, or can be assigned, a knob or button, that’s one less thing you’ve got to hunt for in a menu). Some of the buttons do double duty, controlling different functions depending on how you’re using the camera at the time; in other words, the buttons that control ISO and white balance will control your ability to zoom in and out on an image during playback. Some people see this as a major drawback… I’m not one of them. Like anything else, you adapt. The D600 is further helped by the inclusion of user-customizable menus, as well as two banks’ worth of user settings on the mode dial, which can be useful if you’re making lots of wholesale changes to your settings for certain situations. So if, for example, you’re doing product photography strictly for the web, you can dial in smaller file sizes, different color and ISO settings, et cetera, and recall them on the dial rather than having to set everything manually each time you want to shoot that way. As an added bonus, both halves of the mode dial now lock, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally changing from Aperture Priority to Manual when you take the camera out of your bag.
ISO: Native ISO spans 100-6400, with a “Low” setting of 50 and a “HI2” of 25,600 ISO. I was fully prepared to write off the HI modes altogether; on the D7000, 6400 was useable, but just barely, and by Hi2, it was as noisy as a bar band. Even without noise reduction, you can get useable prints up to 6400. Noise is very well handled in the upper ranges. The pleasant surprise here is in the reaches beyond 6400. It’s still noisy in the Hi modes, and there’s still loss of detail, but it’s held down much better on this camera than on the D7000. What’s more, even where there’s grain, it looks (up to 6400) like film grain. I’m not seeing the kind of luminance noise with the 600 that I’ve noticed with nearly every other camera I’ve tried – even in RAW, or in JPG with noise reduction turned off.
Metering: I’m finding the metering on this camera to be a tad more reliable than on the D7000. Left to its own devices (at least in matrix metering, which I tend to use most often), the 7000 had a tendency to slightly overexpose. The D600 blows fewer highlights in Matrix metering than the D7000, and also has visibly improved dynamic range (the inclusion of in-camera HDR is a nice touch, but I haven’t used it nearly enough – or used dedicated HDR programs like Photomatix at all – to be able to say exactly how well it does HDR).
Autofocus: 39 focus points with 11 cross-type sensors. While I don’t have the fancy gear of the folks at Popular Photography or DP Review, I will say that the AF is noticeably faster in low light, even with my finicky, screw-drive 105 f/2.8D mounted to the camera. The one thing that may pose an issue for you, depending on what you shoot and how, is the grouping of those AF sensors. It’s essentially the same grouping as on the 7000, and in the same amount of space. In other words, what gave you pretty generous coverage on a DX sensor instead gives you a relatively tight grouping toward the center of an FX sensor. If you’re used to shooting with a single sensor point (or coming from a camera like the D60, which has only three evenly-spaced focus points on a single horizontal plane), this doesn’t present a huge issue.
Battery: The D600 uses the same EN-EL15 that’s used in the D7000 and D800. It’s CIPA rated for 900-1050 shots. I haven’t shot quite that many frames (yet) with this camera, but my experience using the same battery in the D7000 bears this out. Other factors (overuse of the burst mode, lots of chimping, using the onboard flash, cold weather) can, of course, lead to your results varying.
Finder: 100% coverage, .71x magnification. It’s big and bright, with the option to overlay grid lines, plus a frame that shows the DX coverage area if you’re using a DX lens, or if you set the camera to shoot in crop mode using an FX lens. Unlike previous and other current Nikon FX cameras, the 600 carries over the square viewfinder found on the DX line (not that I mind; it means not having to buy another eye cup for the finder).
Lenses: You can use practically anything with a Nikon F mount on this camera, including DX lenses, from your old AI-S lenses, to the more recent 2.8D screw drive AF lenses (the drive’s built in, as it was on the 7000) to the newest VR G lenses. If you’re weighing the move from a dedicated DX camera to FF but have hesitated ‘til now because you needed the additional magnification provided by the crop sensor (and/or didn’t want to lose too much resolution), you’ll be happy to know that this shoots at a respectable 10 megapixels in crop mode, so you can still use that 70-300 like a 450mm at the long end if you need to.
Video: I’m a stills guy. I can count on my fingers and toes how many videos I’ve shot with any cameras I’ve used that had the capability, and would only need one hand for the number of those videos I’ve actually kept. I bring this up by way of suggesting you take this section with a grain of salt. Video quality was, to my eyes, pretty darned good in daylight, but not so much in lower light. The edge still goes to Canon (or Sony) on video performance, though Nikon’s improved significantly since they introduced SLR video with the D90. Audio’s spotty, but then again, I didn’t expect much from the audio to begin with; nearly any non-video camera that relies on a built-in condenser mic has poor sound quality, and picks up every whirr, click, and hum from the camera’s and lens’ guts. If you’re serious about DSLR video, get a shotgun mic. But then, if you’re serious about DSLR video, you already knew that.
Extras: A strap, which is the usual cheap, garish and and uncomfortable nylon Nikon strap; if you haven’t already, I’d suggest buying something more comfy (like the Crumpler Crumpler Industry Disgrace***), especially since your neck’s going to feel like hamburger if you’ve got anything larger than a 50mm on the camera for any length of time. There’s also a USB cable, the little thingy that protects your hot shoe, that other little doohickey*that you’re supposed to put over the viewfinder if you’re not going to be shooting at eye level, another slab o’ plastic that covers the rear LCD, instruction manuals in English and Spanish (which you probably won’t read, choosing instead to ask on the NikonRumors forum, you scallywag), one EN-EL15 battery (with charger) and a body cap.
Pros include excellent dynamic range, very good high ISO performance and color depth, good ergonomics, plenty of manual controls and buttons, quick buffering, and all the perks that go with shooting full-frame packed into a body with the form factor of the prosumer D7000. Cons** include a tightly-grouped 39-point AF system, slightly slower burst rate, and 1/200 flash sync.
Is this the camera you need? Well, that all depends. As with any other camera, a lot has to do with expectations. My last camera, traded in toward this one, was a D7000. That wasn’t an easy choice to make; the 7000 was an excellent camera, and if I had to do it over again, I’d buy another without hesitation. I heard gripes about the 7000 (notably, hot pixels, and sometimes gimpy AF, especially in low light). I didn’t have the same hot pixels that some early adopters had (one of the benefits of waiting), and given that I was coming to the 7000 from a point-and-shoot that could be poky in broad daylight, I found the 7000 a joy to use. If you’re stepping up to the 600 from an older generation of the D series (say, anything from a D40 to about a D80), this camera is a quantum leap.
Build quality is identical to the D7000, and the frame rate in burst is half-a-frame slower. If those things are deal breakers for you, plunk down the extra $900.00 for a D800 for the added build quality (and 36MP) and a more evenly-distributed 51 point AF. Or, for just (just?) an additional $3,800.00, you can get 10 frames per second, 51 point AF, and the build quality (not to mention concomitant weight) of a freakin’ tank with a D4.
I could easily sum up the D600 in two words: Holy shit. I’m a bit given to profanity as it is, but this camera had me cursing like a sailor on shore leave. Over and over again, it’s performed better than I expected: quick AF, jaw-dropping performance at high ISOs, the ability to crop with impunity, the lovely bokeh that’s the reason you buy fast lenses to begin with, and superb image quality.
If you’re on the fence because you’ve got a D90, D7000, or D300, all I can tell you is, put this puppy through its paces. Its controls are very close to those of the 7000 (with a couple of minor variations), and its dimensions and weight are so close that you won’t feel the difference in your hands. If you’re looking for the successor to the D700, this could well be that camera (keeping the caveats above in mind). If you’re looking for a backup body for your D800… well, that all depends. In terms of image quality, the D600 gives the D800 a run for its money, but the controls on both are very different, so unless your other camera’s a D7000, that could prove to be frustrating. With all that said, here’s the bottom line: if the compromises that come with this camera are the kind that you can live with (for me, they were) then this is a damn good camera for the price.
**Whether some of these things are “cons,” of course, depend on your needs and expectations.
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A note on the photos: The file sizes on the original photos, as you’d expect on a camera with a 24MP sensor, are enormous. The photos above have, therefore, been cropped and downsampled. The only one that’s had any processing applied beyond in-camera noise reduction (set at Normal) is the flower photo above.
The 2013 Photographer’s Market bills itself as “Everything You Need to Find Buyers for Your Photos.” By its nature, dust jacket copy tends toward the hyperbolic, but this is one instance in which they’ve got it about 98% right.
For years, I bought and used the Writer’s Market series of books, so I already had a fair idea of what to expect even before cracking open my copy of the Photographer’s Market. It’s thick — nearly the same size that phone books used to be back when people still used them — and packed to the rafters with information.* In addition to the listings of consumer and trade publications, submission requirements, and contact information that’ve been this series’ stock in trade since it started, there are also interviews with industry insiders, plus information on galleries, art fairs, contests, workshops, and agents/representatives.
The yearly updates ensure that what’s there is up to date. The other advantage is that, like the companion volumes put out every year for writers, illustrators, and others, a great deal of time and thought is put into where the industry is, and where it’s going. The upside — a pretty big one, as it turns out — is that you’re not stuck with a publication that assumes that photojournalism and editorial are thriving right now. The authors don’t just acknowledge that photography has changed significantly, but they’ve also laid out a number of tools, resources, and strategies to keep photographers up to speed on the current state of the market. There are segments dealing with everything from running and marketing your photo business to maintaining a healthy life-work balance. On top of all that, the print edition comes with a free 1-year subscription to ArtistMarketOnline.com (e-reader users are left out in the cold on that last bit).
There’s enough here that anyone — whether you’re looking to keep a professional photography business going, or just to make a few bucks on the side — should find something they can use. I’d especially recommend this book to people who’ve just bought an SLR and are now calling themselves “professionals” because they’ve gotten a few bucks here and there for head shots, or doing a wedding on the cheap. Even a cursory read of this book should be enough to let you know that there’s much more than that to being a professional photographer. For some people, no doubt, that’s going to be a discouraging prospect. For the rest of you, it’s a good thing, since if you’re willing to put in the work, there’s plenty here to get you off on the right foot.
Way back in the first ‘graf, I mentioned that the jacket copy got it about 98% right. So where’s that other couple of percentage points? Well, by its nature, a book like this can’t go into a great deal of depth on any one thing. If you’re new to making money at your photography, it’d be in your best interest to take one or more topics that this book only scratches the surface of, and doing further reading and research to build your skills and knowledge. That might mean picking up a good introduction to photography technique if you’re literally just starting with a camera, but if you’ve been shooting for a while, it’ll mean checking out other, more specialized books on the business (like David duChemin’s VisionMongers: Making a Life and a Living in Photography) or legal (like Edward Greenberg’s Photographer’s Survival Manual: A Legal Guide for Artists in the Digital Age) aspects of photography. But as a starting point — and as a comprehensive single-volume reference — I can’t think of another book that does what this one does, or that handles the job quite this well.
*Yes, I know books don’t have rafters. It’s a figure of speech, dammit.
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Since we’ve got a handful of new readers, and some of you giving our 365 Photo Project a whirl, I wanted to kill two birds with one stone today by reviewing The Photography Book, which is put out by Phaidon (the same folks whose other titles include The Art Book and The 20th Century Art Book).
Bird number one, as it were, is the book itself. Like the other two aforementioned titles, The Photography Book is arranged with its subjects in alphabetical order. This makes it easy to find a particular photographer (so it’s a cinch finding Philippe Halsman, provided you haven’t forgotten his last name), but it makes it something of a challenge to establish any kind of context. Nearly the entire history of photography is represented here, much of it by photographers whose work is on the obscure side, and that’s a good thing. Devoid of chronology, and with only bare-bones commentary, it’s up to the reader to go out and do his or her own research in order to find out more along those lines.
The book comes in two formats, one of which is… well, you know, book-sized (yes, I know, if it’s a book, it’s the size of a book by default… don’t get technical with me), and the other of which would fit neatly into a camera bag, purse, or large-ish pocket.
I’m still eyeing that other bird, by the way, which is this: whether you’re photographing just for fun, for the sake of a project (howdy, project people), for work, or just because all the cool kids are doing it, you’ll soon find (if you haven’t figured out already) that inspiration ebbs and flows… and when it ebbs, it’s often at an inopportune time. So The Photography Book is helpful not just from the standpoint of developing your visual “voice” and visual literacy, but also because it can be a shot of inspiration at the times yours is on the wane.
The copy of Freeman Patterson’s Photography for the Joy of It that’s sitting next to me is from 1977. As I write this, the book is out of print (though you can find used copies of the original edition and two subsequent reprints at the Amazon links below). It’s a shame, because even though it shows its age in places, this is one photography book I wish I’d picked up when I was first starting out.
The title isn’t just some marketing gimmick, a takeoff on the “Joy of…” (cooking, bicycle riding, chinchillas) titles that are so popular. Patterson clearly takes joy in his craft, and that joy is palpable both in his words and in his photos. Some of his photos stop you in their tracks for their creativity (be prepared for a lot of “What is that?” moments), but a lot of his advice does the same. Patterson lays out the rules clearly and concisely, but goes out of his way to affirm that they’re just rules, and that it’s okay to break them if it’ll make a better photo.
Too often, the books I’ve read on photography — especially when they’re targeted at novice photographers, as this one is — are weighted heavily, or entirely, toward gear and the minutiae of technique. You’ll find some of that — just enough of it, as it happens — but this book’s saving grace is that there’s plenty of philosophy and insight on design principles, the use of symbolism, and quite a bit else that you won’t find in a more typical introduction to photography… which is exactly why it’s such a good introduction, or even a good refresher on the off chance that you need one.
For as much experience as I’ve picked up along the way (which is by no means exhaustive, but still, it’s there), I was still able to learn quite a bit from this book; for instance, the section on Selective Focus would’ve been worth the price of the book by itself (it goes far beyond depth of field). And there’s plenty here to act as reminders or a call to mindfulness, which we all need from time to time as well, even in something as simple as Patterson’s injunction that “The most important thing you can do with your camera and lenses is to use them.”
Remember last week, when I said it’s all been done? Patterson’s work, for me, is a reminder that while it’s all been done, it’s still worth doing anyway. It’s good to have something to aspire to, a signpost or two on the road ahead that let us know we’re headed in the right direction. It’s also a reminder that we have a chance for us to “pay it forward,” giving a helping hand to those behind us on the road just as those ahead have done for us. If you are, or you know, a photographer who’s just embarking on their path, give this book some serious thought. Yes, photography takes dedication, discipline, and lots of practice, but Patterson reminds us time and again of all the joy it gives in return.
For all the talk (including quite a bit in The First 10,000) about mindful, even artistic, images, that’s not all there is to photography. Most photographers are snapshot shooters, and even the most diehard photo fanatic — the ones who obsess over every last setting and compositional detail, nearly every time — have times when they let their hair down, figuratively speaking, and shoot spontaneously. Just because.
There’s something vaguely voyeuristic about Taylor Jones’s Dear Photograph, which began life as a blog and now finds itself between covers. The idea works in part because it’s so simple; find an old snapshot, find the place where it was shot, and “reframe” the shot within a new photo.
The resulting photo is accompanied by a short blurb from the photographer, explaining the story behind the original photo, and the feelings that go with it now. In concept, it comes off a bit “meta,” as though someone’s sending postcards to postcards. In practice, there’s a poignance that you might not necessarily expect to come from looking over someone else’s shoulder.
As I’ve alluded to elsewhere, books derived from websites are a decidedly mixed lot, but this one works in a way that the book based on, say, Awkward Family Photos doesn’t. That’s not to say that I can’t kill an entire afternoon on Awkard Family Photos (I can, and very nearly have). It’s just that once you’ve seen the photo, the joke’s over. You won’t get quite the same effect the second time around. In the case of Dear Photograph, however, the photograph isn’t just a one-note joke or concept, and isn’t simply self-referential. We’re not just invited into someone else’s memories as if into their living rooms, in other words; we’re reminded first of the power of a photograph to preserve moments in time, then of the persistance of memory, then invited in some sense to think back on similar moments in our own lives.
This isn’t one of those photo books filled with gorgeously-exposed, perfectly composed shots calculated to give you goosebumps because of their sheer, improbable perfection. The goosebumps here come for another reason altogether. These photos are all too probable; they’re ordinary, and lived-in. And that’s fine, ’cause life’s full of “just because” moments, those times when someone does something silly, memorable, even poignant, and it’s up to the person on the other side of the camera to just put all the technicality to one side for a bit and get the darn photo. The power in a photo like that comes precisely from its spontaneity and imperfection. They’re moments captured one at a time from lives not as we wish them to be, but as we actually lived them, with all the complication and emotion and imperfection intact. There’s a palpable warmth to Dear Photograph, not despite those rough edges, but because of them.
This is, if we may be so immodest, the only buyer’s guide you will ever need for anything photographic, ever. Well, alright. We’re kidding. Maybe. In all seriousness, though, whatever you’re buying, the dozen questions below will help you to make a better decision.
1. What do I want to buy? If it’s something that fills a need, continue down the rest of the list. If, on the other hand, you’ve got a grand or three burning a hole in your pocket and just want a new gadget, wait on it.
2. Are there aftermarket versions of this item (hereinafter referred to as “thing”), and are they any good? Branded stuff is generally going to be of higher quality, but there are aftermarket versions that can be every bit as good. If it’s something you need (or just want) badly enough, you may decide that you’re willing to make some tradeoffs to save a few bucks. Bear in mind, however, that a savings isn’t much of a savings if you change your mind and need to upgrade later. Buying right the first time means a short-term hit to the wallet, but can also mean a savings (somewhat paradoxically) down the road. For just one example of what I’m talking about, check out this post by Thom Hogan. There’s also my own take on buying OEM versus aftermarket.
3. Is there a substitute for “thing”? From time to time, I get it in my head that I’d like a fisheye lens, and then I remind myself that I can get the same effect in Photoshop; the fact that I’ve never actually bothered to convert any of my images to look like they came from a fisheye probably reinforces the wisdom of passing up the lens in the first place. If, on the other hand, you find yourself spending countless hours of postproduction time doing that very thing, it might be worth your while to just get the right tool for the job. This is also true of other low-budget fixes (i.e. closeup filters in place of macro lenses).
4. Are there other things I need to buy to go with “thing”? Photography is a lot like shaving. Just the same as Gillette will sell you a razor for around ten bucks and then charge you $75 bucks a pop for blades (I know, I’m exaggerating… but not that much), many photography-related purchases rely on other “stuff” to put them to best use. If the filter size on that new lens isn’t the same as your others, you may need a new polarizing filter; if you’re buying a new tripod, you may want an extra quick release plate; if you’re buying an SLR, you’ll need memory, batteries, and other doodads. Buying a printer? You’ll need something to calibrate your monitor (and a new monitor if the one you’ve got can’t be calibrated). Make sure you take those costs into account.
5. Does “thing” have recurring costs associated with it? You’ve decided to spring for a new printer for your photos since you’re sick of taking them to the drugstore to be printed. Congratulations! You can now pony up for paper and toner cartridges for the life of the printer. Decided that digital is passe and you’ll shoot film now? Well, that film adds up, to say nothing of developing costs (and/or the cost of chemicals and paper if you’re going to roll develop your own).
6. What is the cost of “thing”, and is that money better spent elsewhere? Let’s be honest. This stuff doesn’t come cheap. Would I like a Leica M9 with one of those lovely Summicron lenses? You bet your ass I would. I’m also mindful of the fact that I could have about five more of everything in my current kit for that much money. The same logic applies to other, lower-priced gear as well. Comparing apples to apples, I know that there are tradeoffs between my 70-300mm and a fast 70-200mm, but I also know that if I’d bought the 70-200, it would’ve been the last of pretty much anything I’d bought for a very long time. Be practical, and understand that it doesn’t have to be the best (or most expensive) thing out there to be the best tool for right now.
7. What is the learning curve for “thing”, and is that time better spent elsewhere? Some equipment is pretty straightforward. A battery’s either charged or isn’t, and a memory card or camera bag’s either got space on/in it or hasn’t. But most of what you buy is going to require you to learn something about it if you want to get the most out of it. Lenses, software, camera bodies, hell, even tripods have a learning curve associated with them. The time spent mastering them can enrich your photography, but it can also frustrate the crap out of you if you decide you didn’t need the thing after all.
8. How often/for how long will I use “thing”? You’ve convinced yourself that you’ve missed one bird shot too many, and you now want a 500mm lens. After 625 trips to car shows and not a single one to an aviary, the last winged creature you saw was the hood ornament on a Thunderbird. How’s that lens looking now? Sometimes missing a certain kind of shot makes us want a certain kind of gear to remedy the problem, but if we don’t find ourselves in the kinds of situations that lead to those kinds of shots in the first place, it’s useful to reconsider.
9. Can I rent or borrow “thing”, and is that a good idea? Renting or borrowing (or, in the case of software, downloading a trial version) can be a great way to kick the tires before you buy, or to avoid buying altogether if you can’t foresee the next time you’ll need the thingy in question. Be careful, though; rentals don’t come cheap, and if you’re renting something often enough, the accumulated rental cost can rapidly add up to what it would’ve cost if you’d just purchased the darn thing, as Zack Arias points out in this post.
10. Might “thing” pay for itself (and if so, how soon)? Even if you’re not a professional photographer, there’s still a chance that the situations in which you use your camera might defray its cost (and if you’re a pro… well, duh). If the “thing” has the ability to earn its keep (here I’m thinking of product photography, real estate photography, and other circumstances in which someone who doesn’t consider themselves a photographer still needs to take pictures of something), that’s worth bearing in mind.
11. Do a lot of people use “thing”, and where can I find out what they have to say? Let’s say that you’ve considered all of the above, and darnit, you’ve just gotta have it. Narrow it down to two to three options; even if you’re dead set on one brand, make, and model, you don’t want buyer’s remorse later because you didn’t do your homework. Now, check out reviews from several sites, but don’t stop there. Get to your local camera shop and try out the different options. Sometimes the reviews (good or bad) are right, sometimes not. Your results may vary one way or the other, and you don’t want to find out the hard way.
12. Will “thing” make me a better photographer? The answer is a qualified “Of course not.” Good gear won’t save a bad photographer’s ass, and a good photographer will find ways to make even bad gear work for them; it’s your vision that drives the photo. With that said, having the right gear can sometimes make it much easier to translate your vision to a photo.* Just don’t mistake the gear for the vision, OK?
*Next time someone tells you gear absolutely doesn’t matter — and some people will, despite any evidence to the contrary — tell them to get a detailed shot of the surface of the moon with a disposable film camera.
“Tching prayed on the mountain and wrote MAKE IT NEW on his bath tub Day by day make it new” — Ezra Pound, Canto LIII, 1940
You could blame Robert Moses, which seems to be the fashion, or you could say it’s just the American way, that unique form of active amnesia we seem to have that means forgetting vast swaths of our history, and either painting over or demolishing the rest; either way, huge amounts of our urban landscape have been “made new” and made over, with much history — architectural and cultural — being lost along the way. We can see those faded fingerprints around us still, sometimes in lingering architectural details on the buildings that have survived one renewal or gentrification too many, and other times in the faded, hand-painted signs that cling stubbornly to those same buildings.
That brings us to Fading Ads of New York City, written by Frank Jump, the curator of the long-running Fading Ad website. I’ve lost track of how many websites have spawned books in the last few years, and how many of those books I’ve passed up because I couldn’t see myself reading them more than once, regardless of how many times the website in question made me laugh, made me think, or gave me goosebumps. With that said, I was very happy to come across this book, which takes some of Jump’s best shots and writing, and puts the lot of it between covers.
So what moves this book into the “buy” column? For starters, there are the photos. Yes, you’ll be able to see them on the website, but you won’t see them like this, in all their warm Kodachrome glory.* The signs, 70-odd of them, are captured in just the right light, and at just the right angles. These are not, in other words, half-assed snapshots from street level.
For another thing, there’s the writing, and lots of it, tying Jump’s own life story — including his struggle, and an uneasy truce of sorts, with HIV — to the project that’s become his life’s work. When he was diagnosed in 1986, he was told that he had perhaps four years left to live, but then he lived and kept right on living. That life, in all its ups and downs, informs not only the writing, but also the structure of the book, the sections of which are thematically grouped by parts of the body. There are also essays and reminiscences scattered throughout, some taking up bits of urban archaeology, some the long plague years of the AIDS crisis, and many of them exploring the intersection and similarities of the two, ’til the whole reads a bit like a cross between Luc Sante and Randy Shilts.
Fading Ads operates on several levels at once: personal history, urban exploration, archaeology, and reportage. And yet, it’s also much more than that, at once a witness to times and people long gone (some much too soon), as well as a testament to the longevity of a tenacious documentarian and his surprisingly tenacious subjects.
*I’ll spare you the whys and wherefores of this (for now). Suffice to say that photos reproduced on the printed page are of higher quality than those in your average e-book or on a website.
Photomontage, as Dawn Ades notes in her introduction to the book of the same title, is as old as photography itself. It’s evolved alongside the medium, sometimes engaging it in dialogue (as with William Henry Fox Talbot’s 1830’s work, which presaged Man Ray and others), sometimes confronting it (as with John Heartfield and Hanna Hoch’s cutting, politically charged work), and sometimes raising a funhouse mirror to the culture at large, as in Paul Citroen’s Metropolis.
Photomontage, simply stated, is the combination of two or more photographs to produce a third work. The composite that results can be something that’s very obviously cobbled together, or something that’s so seamlessly done that it looks like a single image that came straight off of a single frame of film, or a single image from your camera’s memory card. While that kind of compositing can be done with (relative) ease now in Photoshop, it was once an operation that was quite labor-intensive, involving literal cutting, pasting, and airbrushing… which makes some of these works that much more interesting and impressive (no clone stamps or healing tools here; try scissors, and rubber cement).
Ades’ work is heavily weighted to the first half of the Twentieth Century. This makes sense since this was the golden age of photomontage. It was also the first great boom both in affordable, easily portable cameras, which itself ushered in a golden age for photojournalism. Each of these things informed, and sometimes cannibalized, the others. However, Ades does not neglect the more recent history of the form, including its influence on Pop art and in such non-artistic forms as advertising. As if to reinforce this web of influences, the text occasionally circles back on itself, placing later works in the context of their earlier predecessors.
One reason this book makes for compelling reading is that it’s hard to imagine whole swaths of both high and low popular culture without photomontage as an influence or antecedent. There are plenty of obvious examples, from so much of advertising art and propaganda, to say nothing of Andy Warhol’s silk screens, Robert Rauschenberg’s “Combines,” or Terry Gilliam’s whimsical animation work with Monty Python. But there are less obvious examples, as well. Whole swaths of literature owe a huge debt to montage, including Barthelme, Pynchon, and Rushdie, while music — from the hallucinatory mashups of Ferdinand Kriwet or Byrne and Eno to the cut-and-paste esthetics of hip hop and techno — are practically unimaginable without it.
The great thing about this book, I think, is that unlike work that concerns itself primarily with “straight” photography, it encourages the reader to think of photography as something larger than itself. It becomes less a finished product than a jumping-off point, the initiation of something larger that treats the photograph as raw material to be manipulated, teased, or made to submit to some other artistic end. There’s something healthy in that, a reality check (or even, perhaps, a gut check) of sorts for photographers. Rather than viewing the print as an end in and of itself,an almost ritualistically charged object, we’re freed to view it from another angle. It becomes another piece of raw material, cut down to size (sometimes quite literally), but that also means it’s free to be something more than what it was originally. Even if you don’t practice montage, that’s a useful thought to keep in mind, because it can change and expand your sense of what your photography is capable of.
I purchased Graham Clarke’s The Photograph around the time that it first came out about fifteen years ago. At the time, I was more concerned with art theory, history, and criticism than I was with trying to make art of my own, and this book appealed to the side of me that, when I was a kid, would take things apart to see how they worked. I approached art in the same way; I wanted to take it apart, examine all those pieces, see how it all fit together, and what made the end result work (or not).
What drew me to art, and kept me circling back to photography ’til I finally gave in — and dove in — myself, is that it made sense to me in a way that, say, electronics or cars just don’t. I could take a radio apart, but I had no better idea of what made the thing tick by the time I’d finished than I had when I started. Art, on the other hand, made sense to me, even if I wasn’t ready or quite able at the time to use those same things to put those pieces — the theory, the medium, the history — together in a way that they’d work.
I’m not altogether sure whether this book was written for a layman or for more of a scholarly audience. It’s certainly not a light read, but neither is it so dense as to be obtuse; to my mind, at least, it should be accessible enough for a general audience, but thought-provoking enough that the academics shouldn’t get bored halfway through. Clarke explores history, genre, and theory, but also does something your average photography book doesn’t; he stops to consider the consequences of the still image, whether as fodder for art, commerce, documentary, manipulation or political purposes. Of course, these things don’t typically stay in their own fenced-in little areas, so Clarke gives the sometimes messy intersections of all these considerations their due as well.
If that sounds a bit different than your average coffee table book, that’s because it is. If you’re looking for a survey of photography that concerns itself mostly with the images themselves, and allows the images to speak for themselves, you’re likely to be disappointed in this book. But that would, I humbly suggest, be your fault rather than the author’s, simply because that’s not what this book is for. The author isn’t just uncritically presenting images; he is, instead, interrogating them, and inviting the reader to do the same. It’s an attempt to look at photography through a critical lens in much the same way that earlier works by Barthes and Sontag had done, but more accessibly (to this reader, at least).
The bottom line is, if you’re picking this up primarily for the photos, don’t; there are other, better, books for that. If, on the other hand, you’d like a deeper understanding of the history and theory of photography (without subjecting yourself to a degree program), this is an excellent place to start. And speaking of starting points, if you’re just starting with a camera, or haven’t even picked one up yet, I’d still urge you to give this book a shot. I can’t say this for everyone who’ll read this review, or the book to which it refers, but I know I can’t possibly be the only person for whom understanding the theory and/or history behind something — learning how to “read” the medium, however haltingly, before trying my hand at it — was a gateway, and permission, toward trying it myself.
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First, a disclaimer: I realize that I’m probably not the Shutter Sisters’ usual demographic, what with being a guy (albeit a married one) with no kids. Indeed, some have taken issue with the reception that the bloggers’ book, Expressive Photography: The Shutter Sisters’ Guide to Shooting from the Heart has received, with some people catching what they perceive as a whiff of sexism from the old guard (with the emphasis, presumably, on “old”) of male photographers. I’ve seen quite a few complaints, especially over the last year or so, from female writers, artists and photographers, about appending “mom” or “mommy” to something in order to dismiss it or write it off as lightweight. Mommy bloggers. Momtographers. The complaint is a valid one; you don’t just go writing something, or someone, off just ’cause there’s a mom attached to it somewhere.
With that part out of the way, let’s be equally clear on something else: I think that women, often as not, have a built-in advantage over men as photographers. They tend to focus on the image, rather than the gear, while if you’ve spent any amount of time on a photography forum, you’ve probably seen at least one discussion among the (mostly male) denizens degrade into a genital measuring contest, expressed via prime lenses. You won’t, thankfully, find any of that here. The photographers are highly competent, as are the lion’s share of the images here. Yes, you can nitpick over some of the choices, but that’s the case with any and every photography book I’ve ever read (and thanks to this blog, I’ve read far more of them than I ever planned to). The point is, I don’t think there’s anything to take issue with in the images.
I can’t say the same for the writing. And I hate to say that, because I genuinely like the Shutter Sisters blog. The problem is that what sustains a blog — brief flashes of insight, meant to be read and digested in one sitting — doesn’t always sustain a book. And often as not, this feels less like a book than a blog between covers, a sense of disorganization lurking underneath the structure, and a lot of fragments that hint at something promising but stop frustratingly short of ideas in full bloom.
I get the impression that this is a book with an identity crisis. On one hand, it reads as though it’s meant for a novice audience, or people who may have owned cameras for a while but have only recently given much thought to this whole photography thing. on the other hand, a lot of what a novice would look for* — the specifics on getting shots like these — either isn’t spelled out, or has to be pieced together over several chapters. To give just one example, bokeh is mentioned a few times throughout the book, but it’s not ’til page 132 that someone decides to explain how you go about getting good bokeh. Sure, settings are listed with a number of photos, but absent the reasoning behind them, a novice is often left adrift as to why you’d shoot at one setting versus another. The why of the settings is as important as the settings themselves, but getting to that balance of “how” and “why” can be an exercise in frustration.
Yes, vision matters. It matters quite a lot, especially if you’re trying to communicate yours to someone else. The thing is, it’s not just the vision. We’re photographers. We don’t draw about this stuff, or sing about it, or dance about it (though some of us are lucky enough to be able to do those things too). We photograph it. And because we’re relying on the help of one or more pieces of equipment to capture what we see, those experiences and visions are being mediated by a little black box with a chunk of glass at one end.
I wrestle with the same thing, both in these “pages” that I scrawl, and in the photos I make; sometimes I wrestle with the gear, trying to get not only the scene but also the possibilities I see into a single simple photo. It’s why I study this stuff, why I use the controls my cameras give me, and why my writing on this blog doesn’t just cover the ideas. Yes, emotion is vital in photography. I neither want to look at, nor (really importantly) do I want to create, images that evoke nothing. But that goes beyond composition, beyond the Rule of Thirds, beyond chasing the light. Yes, your photography might involve corralling everything from kids to kittens. But like it or not, we all also play the part of photon wrangler. Vision matters, but technique and gear also matter, even if it’s only to learn how to tell that gear how to stay the hell out of your way so you can get the shot you want, and to make the photo you envisioned when you pressed the shutter button.
So yes, by all means, speak to the importance of emotional connections and resonance in images. If you’ve read anything else I’ve written, you’ve figured out by now that in that respect, the Sisters are preaching to the choir. But please, don’t just stop at the joys of getting that perfect, resonant shot; don’t just stop at the why. The how is an important part of the equation, and in this book, the how is missing, or fragmented, or assumed to be understood. That’s not always a valid assumption. The authors have the skills, and inspiration, to spare, but they’ve done a better job at sharing the latter than the former. And that, to my mind at least, is a problem; because of it, what could’ve been a great book ends up feeling instead like a missed opportunity.
*At least, what I looked for when I was starting out
I know that I probably sound like a broken record about cultural literacy and the intersection of photography and other arts, but I happen to think it’s an important thing. No art exists in a vacuum; photography, especially in its earliest days, owed quite a debt to things that happened outside of photography, and really, that will likely always be the case. For as much as the arts have to say to us, they’ve generally had quite a bit to say to each other as well.
I have quite a few art books on my bookshelf, most of them dating from before I took up photography. I bring these two up because they’re good if you want, or need, a quick reference or a brushup. The Art Book is a sprawling affair that covers art from the Renaissance all the way to the present day, while The 20th Century Art Book confines its sprawl to the last century. You won’t find any photographers here (that territory is ably covered by The Photography Book, another Phaidon title of similar layout and breadth), but if you’re interested in seeing some of what influenced photography, existed contemporaneously with certain photographers, or just what else’s gone on in the art world in years past, that’s all here in abundance.
Both books are laid out from A to Z, encompassing artists from several countries and movements. While I can understand the appeal of ordering the artists alphabetically — it’s easy if you’re looking for Miro, Chagall, or Klimt, and it’s also a browser’s delight — it’s simultaneously a frustration. There’s no context to speak of, as there’d be if the artists, and their works, were arranged chronologically so you can see how styles progressed over time, how artists influenced one another, and even how individual artists found themselves equally at home in multiple media and styles. The cross-referencing system settled on by the editors represents only a half-assed solution, since you lose the visual clues and it’s harder to draw comparisons when you’re flipping among half a dozen different pages. This doesn’t represent a fatal flaw; it’s balanced quite well by the variety of artists on display, as well as a willingness on the part of the editors to occasionally use a lesser-known work to represent an artist.
The books are available in two sizes, one of which is very nearly pocket-sized, and the other of which wouldn’t look out of place on your coffee table. I picked up the pocket-sized works (they cost half their larger counterparts), but would caution that you’re losing quite a bit of detail when a piece is reproduced at something close to 4×6″. For all its flaws, the one thing this book does very well is to encourage you to delve deeper into art, and different artists, on your own… especially those you might not have heard of otherwise.
How about you? What non-photography books or art inform your art and craft?
Sometimes it just isn’t practical to carry a big bag o’ gear, or to change lenses in the middle of what you’re doing. Sometimes, too, there are the shots you miss because you have your short zoom on your camera, when you needed something with more reach (or vice-versa). I didn’t used to take the idea of an all-in-one lens seriously, but after missing several shots on vacation last fall because I had the wrong lens on the camera,* I started having second thoughts. Long story short (who am I kidding, it’s only the first paragraph), I ended up some time later with the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S lens. I won’t belabor the thought process that led to this lens and not some other; point is, after doing my homework, here’s what I bought, and here’s the review of it.
First, let’s get some specs out of the way: ED coated glass does a good job of holding down lens flare and chromatic aberration. The lens doesn’t distort badly at any point in the zoom range. The VR II image stabilization works well, though I’m skeptical of Nikon’s claim that you can shoot up to four stops slower than you’d be able to without it. AF is generally quick and accurate, except in low light; here, similar to the 70-300, it tends to hunt a little. The 28-300 comes with a zoom lock switch, which is handy to keep the lens barrel from poking out during transport. The lens has a rounded 9-blade diaphragm, and while the bokeh wasn’t as pleasing as it’d be on a prime, it’s nice nonetheless. At 820g (1 lb. 13 oz.), it weighs slightly more than the 70-300, but you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference without actually putting them on a scale. The Nikon 28-300mm takes 77mm filters.
Now the more subjective part. I won’t bother to compare this lens to the primes in my kit. There’s no point in making the comparison, as they’re not meant for the same things. If I’m going to slap a 28mm or 50mm on my camera, I’m immediately making a concession that I’m going to have to change the way I’m shooting. Sometimes that means zooming with your feet, and other times it means being able to shoot in lower light than usual thanks to a brighter aperture. The 28-300 would not be my go-to lens in low light, or for macro photography, for instance.
That doesn’t mean that I won’t compare it to the other zooms in my kit. I tested the 28-300, which is a full-frame lens, on the D7000, which is a crop sensor camera. Its zoom range, accounting for the crop factor, would be 42-450, at least on paper. In practice, well, that’s something else again. The 28mm on the wide end is, at least for me, acceptably wide most of the time. It’s nothing that can’t be remedied by a step or two back (though I was recently glad when someone asked me to hang onto their 18-55mm, because without it I’d have either missed one shot I wanted, or fallen into the river trying to get it). At the long end, that 300mm isn’t quite 300mm. The camera’s EXIF data says it is, but if I take the same shot with the 28-300 and with my 70-300 with both at 300mm, the 70-300 is zoomed noticeably closer. The 28-300 is longer than 200mm by a good amount, but isn’t quite 300mm.**
The 28-300 is also softer than the other lenses in my kit, not terribly, but noticeably so. It’s helpful to stop the lens down (as with many lenses, the sweet spot on this one’s in the f/8-f/11 range), but not always practical to do so; f/8 won’t give you nearly enough light in some situations, and f/11 not nearly enough depth of field. If sharpness is critical, pack a different lens. While it’s not as soft as a serving of mashed potatoes (and I wasn’t expecting the same sharpness or minimum focusing distance that I’d get from a macro), it ain’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.
I’m aware that up to this point, it probably sounds like I’m a bit “iffy” on this lens. I hasten to point out that I actually like it. It’s been useful in a number of settings, whether I just didn’t feel like packing the rest of my kit, or because I was in an area (a park, for instance) where it was useful to be able to snap landscapes and animals without having to pause and fiddle with lenses.***
The bottom line is that it’s silly to expect a lens to do something that it wasn’t designed to do, much less to do it well. And that brings us to the verdict: Whether or not you like this lens is going to depend on your expectations. Taken for what it is, this is a good lens. It does what it was designed to do — to give you versatility when you’d like to travel light, or are shooting in situations where the time taken to change lenses could lead to lost shots — and within the optical limitations that come with any all-in-one, it’s a good lens. Taken on its own terms, the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S is a competent performer that should be viewed as a supplement for, rather than replacement of, the other lenses in your kit. This isn’t pro glass, but it’s not meant to be; as always, choose the best tool for the job, whatever you’re shooting.
*Not counting the ones where I wasn’t paying attention to the right spot at the right time, or where my reflexes were just a bit too slow… can’t blame the camera or the lens for those.
**Absent the kind of fancy gear used to test lenses, I can’t give you precise numbers. However, I also use my lenses in real-life situations rather than using them to shoot brick walls and test charts, so…
***No small concern when you’re shooting someplace that’s damp, dusty, or buggy, by the way.
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No, you haven’t wandered onto the wrong blog, and no, I haven’t lost my mind (yet). There’s a reason that the battered short story collection on the left is on a photography blog, and a reason it’s one of my favorite books in my whole collection.
Sudden Fiction isn’t just a title, it’s also a genre unto itself. They’re sometimes called “Flash Fiction,” sometimes “Short Short Stories.” In any case, the aim is the same; tell your story quickly, minimally, generally in five pages or less. It sounds like a gimmick, at least ’til you start reading. The authors here, and in the other Sudden Fiction titles that followed, are a pretty varied lot (Bradbury, Cortazar, Borges, Oates, and Paley, alongside other, lesser-known authors), and the stories themselves read almost like punk tunes. They’re epigrammatic, lean, terse… taciturn, even. Nothing is wasted.
I learned a lot from this little book as I set out, somewhat clumsily, to become a writer. It’s one thing to stretch storytelling to its limits; some writers read as though they’re paid by the word. It’s good practice, though, to say only as much as you absolutely must to get your point across. These are as much sketches as stories, with an economy of line and shading that allows, or even encourages, the reader to imagine what’s going on outside the frame of the story.
So what’s this got to do with photography? If we accept that a photo’s worth a thousand words (let’s suppose for the sake of discussion that there’s some volume of verbiage behind the visuals), I realized that my photos sometimes have the same problem as my writing used to. There’s a lot going on in any scene we photograph. We sense, on some instinctive level, that there are any number of stories in each of the visuals we try to capture, and there’s an urge sometimes to want to tell all of them at once.
We end up cramming the frame with more information than it needs, more than it can hold, even. We forget that sometimes that our photos don’t all have to be shaggy dog stories. They’re allowed to say their piece, and then be quiet. Our photos don’t and can’t tell the whole story, and we need to free them from that expectation. Like the stories in this collection, they work best when we take them for what they are: snapshots of simple moments in time, taken one at a time.
Photo editing program Picnik has been discontinued and goes offline today, leaving a mix of flotsam (frustrated amateur photographers) and jetsam (advanced amateurs and pros who habitually looked down their nose at Picnik users) in its wake. I don’t plan on joining in that particular debate, but I did notice that several people were genuinely dismayed that Picnik would be no more. At about the same time, I first heard of PicMonkey, which touts itself as a replacement for Picnik, coded by some of the same people who’d made up the original Picnik team. Question is, is it any good?
I didn’t exactly get off to a great start with PicMonkey. The first photo that I tried to upload, a 3.96 MB JPG from my SLR, prompted the following message:
Oh, the humanity! This photo is Hindenburg-huge and PicMonkey might burst into flames. Try again with a smaller one, okay?
Leaving aside for a minute the fact that neither the content nor the tone of that error message brought joy to my heart, it’s not exactly encouraging when an editor isn’t suited to high-quality (read: larger) JPG files. I don’t expect an online editor to handle RAW files. They’re enormous, after all, and there’s the added complication that there’s no single RAW standard; each manufacturer has its own format. That’s fine if you’re coding a desktop app (it’s expected that the functionality would be built in), but I’m betting that the PicMonkey folks, like so many others who’ve posted web-based applications, are figuring that their average user isn’t going to be using their service to process RAW files. However, I do expect that they can handle JPGs of a reasonable size.
Okay, so let’s try that again with a smaller (2.48 MB) photo, an oldie taken from a Kodak compact.
Figure 1: Basic Edits
The Resize utility allows you to reproportion an image if it needs to be made smaller without cropping. You know, like a 3.96 MB JPEG that you can’t up– Oh, never mind. Bonus points for the Crop utility allowing crops not only for common print sizes (4×6, 8×10, etc.) but also for common web uses (avatars, Facebook timeline photos and the like). Rotate… well, you can’t really screw that up, can you?
AutoAdjust is a mixed bag. More often than not, leaving it to the program to automatically fix your levels, white balance, brightness, and other settings ends up with things being far out of whack. On another photo that I tried (not pictured here) the lighting fixes were reasonable, and — best of all — the saturation wasn’t too heavy-handed. On the image shown, auto adjust did acceptably well on lighting, but the saturation was overdone to a degree that our subject looked as though he’d been hitting the bottle.
Sharpness control works better than expected; here, you’re getting sharpness, clarity, and an unsharp mask, and if you use the controls judiciously, you don’t have the same degree of sharpening artifacts that you can get from many other programs. It’s not going to rescue a photo that’s terribly out of focus, but if you’re looking to punch up something that’s already reasonably in focus, it’s a good fix.
Exposure controls: Auto worked reasonably well here, probably because the photo was reasonably well-exposed to start with. Brightness, highlights, shadows and contrast are controlled with sliders.
Color auto adjust seems to have its own ideas about the kinds of lights you’re shooting under (in another image that I tested, the program appears to have decided that a handful of mozzarella balls were bleu cheese); the entire color cast of your image may bear no relation to reality. Luckily, you get slider controls over saturation and temperature, as well as a neutral color picker. I would’ve liked to see something with finer tonal control over color, but I didn’t expect to find that here.
Next we come to the Effects screen (Figure 2). This is one of the bits that gave PicMonkey’s predecessor a bad name in some circles, since most of this tab is made up of the kinds of presets people tend to use to rescue pictures that weren’t very imaginative to start with. Cross-processing, Holga, that sort of thing. You’ll have to scroll through a fair amount of crap to get to the good stuff, namely the Dodge and Burn, Curves, and Clone features. Each of these works as advertised; it just would’ve been nice to put the more advanced stuff where it can be easily seen, accessed, and used (i.e. not buried beneath a flea market’s worth of “art” filters).
Figure 3 shows the Touch Up screen. There are programs — some of them very pricey — that I’m sure do a much nicer job of touching up human subjects. Then again, if you were using one of those, you probably wouldn’t be using PicMonkey. For the most part, the features here work well.* I didn’t have the chance to try out the red eye fix (my solution to that has usually been to try avoiding red eye in the first place), but the rest of the features are fine, provided that A: you choose the right brush size, and B: you don’t use a heavy hand. Ignore either of those pieces of advice and you’ll end up with photos that look touched up, and rather inexpertly at that.
Figure 4 shows the Text screen, which is self-explanatory. I might have liked to see more options to contour or otherwise shape the text, but I underscore “might,” since if I’m going to be honest, this is an option I don’t use very often.
Figure 5 is Overlays. I think that the caption says about all that needs to be said here. Let’s get rid of all that froufrou and move on to the next screen, Frames, shown in Figure 6. While many of the features shown previously have their uses in touching up before you print a photo, this section really seems better suited to work on the web; applying a Polaroid look to a 4×6 seems a little silly unless you’re a Cultural Studies grad student trying to make some sort of comment on how “meta” your photography is. But again, if you’re doing something that’s related either to the web, or maybe a newsletter or page layout, I could see some of these being somewhat useful.
Finally, in Figure 7, we see the Textures screen, which allows you to apply different textile, metal, stone, and paint textures to your photo. I’ll confess that I have fun with these sometimes, especially with a photo that’s otherwise so awful that I couldn’t do much else with it, or when I’m trying for something more abstract. Some of this, however, reminds me of the brief time my wife and I spent looking for wedding photographers, and how both of us cringed at higher-priced packages that featured otherwise lovely photos ruined by someone deciding that they all needed an “artistic” effect. These work, strictly speaking, but they’re probably best used sparingly.
The verdict: I never quite understood the hostility directed at Picnik. Yes, there are a lot of “fauxtographers” out there who tended to rely a bit too much on the more gimmicky features that make your photos look like a third grader’s scrapbook gone wrong. But really, you could do the same overwrought and tasteless crap to your snaps with a higher-end program like Photoshop or the GIMP; that’s not a fault in the software, but in the photographer. PicMonkey is often pitched as a replacement for Picnik, and has many of the same features, a very similar layout, and offers much the same results.
My quibbles with the program are mostly minor; I’d love to see support for larger file sizes, or to be able to work with them without first having to use another program to resize them. But I also realize that this is a web-based application and that larger files take up a lot of bandwidth and memory, both of which are at a premium (ergo, don’t get your hopes up for batch processing/editing, either). If you’re looking for, or in the habit of using, one of the “lighter” desktop photo editors, like Google’s Picasa, PicMonkey is a viable alternative, with the added bonus that it won’t take up real estate on your hard drive that could be used for your photos instead.
The first review run on The First 10,000 was of a photographers’ handbook first published 70 years before. Like that book, Robert Leverant’s Zen in the Art of Photography is an oldie (first published in 1969), but this one doesn’t show its age in the least. It’s a short book that you could probably get through very quickly. I’m going to suggest that you don’t do that.
It’s not that this isn’t a good book. Quite the opposite, really; it’s very good. But it’s not a how-to in the conventional sense, where the author lets you in on his or her secrets to getting a particular shot. One of the cover blurbs on the book addresses a librarian’s exasperation as to how, exactly, he ought to file the thing. Is it photography? Philosophy? Religion? Poetry? The short answer would be “Yes, and…” It’s a book that’s all about the philosophy of photography, and it proposes, in its own low-key way, a more spiritual approach to photography.
Befitting a radically different approach to photography, even the book’s layout and writing are unconventional. It’s a poem in prose, a series of epigrammatic snippets that nonetheless hold together if you try to read them the way you would, say, Ansel Adams or Freeman Patterson. The advantage to this is that you could, if you wanted, read the book in sequence, cover to cover, the same as you would any other. But you could also, if you wanted, read the book’s, or poem’s, individual lines and pore over them the way you would a series of Zen koans.
Like koans, the cryptic phrases given by Zen monks to new practitioners to prod them toward enlightenment, Leverant’s phrases — either on their own, or read as a cohesive whole — don’t reveal themselves all at once, hence my earlier suggestion not to plow through the book in one sitting. You could, but it’s better — or at least, was more fulfilling for this particular reader — to approach each of the 168 segments on its own merits, and to give it full, mindful attention.
So is this even a book, or is it a series of snapshots in words? The advantage to the author’s approach is that it turns the cliche of a photo being worth a thousand words completely on its ear. This book isn’t as explicit as it could be, and to my mind, that’s a good thing, since it gives the words, as sparse and minimalist as they are, plenty of room to breathe. Your own experience, practice, and thought process ends up fleshing out what’s already on the page. In that sense, these aren’t fragments of poetry or prose as much as they’re seeds, meant to be watered by attention, meditation, and practice. Then it’s a matter of transferring that approach to your own life and craft. As the book hints at, this is both as simple as it seems, and as difficult as anything rewarding usually is.
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I’ve passed up dozens of photos over the years. Some of them were missed accidentally (the moment between collecting my jaw off the ground and getting the camera to my eye was one moment too many), but it’s safe to say that I’ve “missed” just as many on purpose. I’ve brought my camera to plenty of social events, for instance, only to fire off a few half-hearted shots and then put the camera away in favor of enjoying the time and the people. Or I’ve felt self-conscious, or would’ve felt heartless, invading someone’s private moment regardless of how good a photo it would’ve made.
In the preface to Photographs Not Taken: A Collection of Photographers’ Essays, editor Will Steacy notes that the collection is about “moments that never became a picture.” The contributors’ lives and work cover several points on the globe, from Johannesburg to New York, London to L.A., and elsewhere. The essays are similarly varied, from Massimo Vitali’s chance encounter between a Japanese businessman and a family of pickpockets, to Mark Power’s experiences in the Gdansk shipyard that was the birthplace of the Solidarity movement.
The lessons drawn by the photographers and passed along in essay form are often very short, and could be read in about the same amount of time it takes a Polaroid to develop, but they lose none of their impact for that. Some photos are passed up for the subjects’ reluctance, some for the photographers’; sometimes, as when Timothy Archibald “shot” for an entire day on a camera with no film, it’s a powerful reminder that we need to pass up our own hangups if we want to make better photos (and better photographers). If one sentence could sum up the collection as a whole, it’s probably this one from Nadav Kander: “[S]ometimes you just get an instinct when to put the camera down and be fully present.”
There are any number of images that you may never be able to show to your friends or put on the walls of your home, or hang in a gallery. This book is a reminder that you’re not unique or alone in that phenomenon. More to the point, it’s a reminder that that’s alright. While I think that a lot of photography is inherently social (whether in the documenting, or in the sharing later on), there’s a time — sometimes the split seconds taken to compose and make the shot, but other times much, much longer — that the most important part of photography comes down to putting down the camera. If we owe it to ourselves and our subjects to be fully present in the moment, the best way to do that sometimes is to put the camera down and be present without a viewfinder, sensor, and lens mediating the experience. It’s allowing those moments and all that inhabits them simply to be, without adding your own demands, expectations, or even the click of a shutter.
Like another book covered previously in this space (Unforgettable: Images That Have Changed Our Lives), Photographs Not Taken contains not a single printed photograph. It’s no less powerful, or even visual, for that fact. Indeed, it draws much of its power from the intersection between image and imagination, allowing the writing to bear witness to the power of visuals that experience burns first into our retinas, then into our minds’ eye. Those images — saints, sinners, soldiers, drunks, or kids, experiencing heartbreak or transcendent joy — end up being every bit as vivid to the photographer as if they’d been committed to film, but in a testimony to the power of the still image (even one evoked less by chemical processes than by words on paper), they end up being every bit as vivid to the reader. It’s appropriate, in a way, that a book about the absence of images should speak so clearly and eloquently to the photographer’s craft.
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Some time ago in this space in the course of reviewing one of Tom Ang’s many introductions to photography, I noted that Ang had covered the same ground, albeit with minor variations, several times before. Upon reading Miriam Leuchter’s Take Your Best Shot: Essential Tips & Tricks for Shooting Amazing Photos, I realized that the issue is by no means unique to Ang, Leuchter, or any other writer who’s already covered this territory (or has yet to do so). Put simply: the fundamentals are what they are, and there’s only so many ways to state the same fundamental principles.
Especially, might I add, when you’re covering them this briefly. The book’s 240-odd page length is a bit deceiving, since Leuchter covers some 86 topics, ranging from useful equipment and a glossary of terms, all the way up to advice on architectural shooting and portraiture. On the surface, that’s all well and good, but the author rarely devotes more than a page to any of her topics.
That leaves somewhere north of 150 pages’ worth of photos illustrating each of the topics. While I won’t knock the photography, which is as good as you’d expect from the Popular Photography stable, I can see where it might be frustrating to think you’re going to get the straight skinny on, say, macro photography, only to end up with a short blurb and some (admittedly beautiful) photos. Far be it from me to complain about photos in a book about photography, but cliches aside, those photos aren’t going to supply their own thousand words. More in-depth writing about the techniques used to get the shots would have been welcome, even if it had meant fewer photos; a small handful of photos accompanied by case studies or deeper technical information would also have been helpful.
This book’s back cover copy promises that even advanced photographers will find the book useful, I differ (albeit politely) with that assessment. While there are a few bits and pieces toward the end of the book that are useful regardless of skill level (especially the bits on the legal aspects of photography), much of the rest will be review to more experienced shooters (even if, like me, you’re not quite “advanced). The brevity with which most of the subject matter is treated isn’t the most useful thing if you needed, or wanted, a more in-depth explanation of the concepts (though, in fairness, there are book-length treatments of nearly every single topic the book covers, and you could seek those out if you want that much depth).
However, if you’re just beginning your journey behind the lens, Take Your Best Shot represents a good starting point. It’s a brisk and readable overview — illustrated with some breathtaking examples — that can help you hit the ground running.
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At midnight EST tonight — about half an hour from now — Nikon is expected to finally unveil its new flagship model, the full-frame D4. It replaces the venerable D3 series (D3, D3x and D3s). With authority. A few highlights:
16MP full-frame sensor (this is good news)
51-point AF system with 15 cross points
10 FPS burst shooting
1080p HD video-capture at either 24 or 30fps/720p video capture at 60fps
MELVILLE, N.Y. (Jan 5, 2012) – The new Nikon D4 digital SLR builds upon the legacy of the proven Nikon flagship D-SLRs before it, engineered to give today’s professional multimedia photographers a new apex of speed and accuracy with unparalleled image quality, low-light capability and Full HD video. The Nikon D4 hosts a multitude of advanced new features and useful functions that deliver speedy performance and amazing image quality for when missing the shot is not an option.
Every aspect of the new Nikon D4 D-SLR has been designed to emphasize rapid response and seamless operation to help professional photographers consistently capture incredible content. Nikon’s proven 51-point AF System has been further enhanced for maximum speed in a variety of challenging shooting situations, even at 10 frames per second (fps). Considered the new Nikon flagship, the D4 renders supreme image quality, a feat accomplished with a new 16.2-megapixel FX-format CMOS sensor, coupled with the latest generation of Nikon’s EXPEED 3 image processing engine to help produce images and videos with stunning clarity and color. Photographers are also able to shoot in even the most challenging environments and lighting conditions with the assistance of Nikon’s new 91,000-pixel 3D color matrix meter and a broad ISO range from 100 to a staggering 204,800 for low-light capture like never before. The Nikon D4 is engineered for the modern professional and incorporates never before seen HD-SLR video features for those who also need to capture multimedia content from the field.
“Speed without accuracy is irrelevant,” said Bo Kajiwara, director of marketing, Nikon Inc. “The status of a Nikon flagship camera is not given lightly; this next generation of Nikon’s most professional body exceeds the needs of a wide variety of both still and multimedia professionals that rely on Nikon to make their living. Besides overall performance and burst speed, the D4 provides Nikon’s most advanced AF system to date, as well as enhanced workflow speed to give professionals the edge in the field.”
Velocity Meets Versatility
Speed is a necessity for today’s multimedia photographer as milliseconds matter when the action commences. Whether an assignment relies on fast processing power, burst rate, write speed, enhanced workflow or even streamlined camera controls, the D4 is the epitome of professional-caliber photographic horsepower. Ready to shoot in approximately 0.012 seconds, the new Nikon D4 can capture full resolution JPEG or RAW files at up to 10 fps with full AF / AE or up to 11 fps with AF / AE locked. Immediately before image capture, the camera interprets data from the AF sensor, including subject color as detected on the 91,000-pixel RGB sensor, to deliver consistently tack-sharp focus frame after frame. Whether a photographer is shooting a full-court fast break under gymnasium lighting or the downhill slalom in the bright sun and frigid temperatures, the D4 will instill the confidence with consistently great results.
The Advanced Multi-Cam 3500 AF autofocus system is the next generation of Nikon’s proven 51-point AF system. The fully customizable system offers users the ability to capture fast moving subjects and track focus with precision or select a single AF point with pinpoint accuracy. The Nikon D4 D-SLR aligns 15 cross-type sensors in the center to detect contrast data in both vertical and horizontal planes. In addition to detecting each AF-NIKKOR lens with an aperture of f/5.6 or lower, the camera also utilizes nine cross-type sensors that are fully functional when using compatible NIKKOR lenses and TC14E or TC17E teleconverters or a single cross-type sensor when using compatible NIKKOR lenses and the TC20E teleconverter with an aperture value up to f/8, which is a great advantage to those shooting sports and wildlife. For maximum versatility in situations such as photographing nature from afar or competition from the sidelines, photographers are also able to select multiple AF modes, including normal, wide area, face tracking and subject tracking, to best suit the scene.
The Nikon D4 D-SLR also employs a new 91,000-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix metering system that meticulously analyzes each scene and recognizes factors such as color and brightness with unprecedented precision. This data is then interpreted and compared against D4’s on-board database to implement various settings, resulting in vibrant images with faithful color reproduction and balanced exposure. In addition, this new AF sensor now has the ability to detect up to 16 human faces with startling accuracy, even when shooting through the optical viewfinder, allowing for correct exposure even when the subject is backlit. Additionally, to capture every brief moment from a bouquet toss to a photo finish under nearly any condition, the 51 focus points deliver fast and accurate detection down to a -2 EV with every AF-NIKKOR lens.
All of this image data is funneled through a 16 bit pipeline and are written to dual card slots which have been optimized for the latest UDMA-7 Compact Flash™ cards, as well as the new XQD™ memory card. The D4 is the first professional camera to harness the capabilities of this new durable and compact format, which offers blazing fast write times and extended capacity essential for multimedia professionals shooting stills and video.
Image Quality That Hits the Mark
The heart of the new D4 is the Nikon-developed 16.2-megapixel FX-format (36.0 x 23.9mm) CMOS sensor that provides amazing image quality, brilliant dynamic range and vivid colors in nearly any lighting condition. By achieving the optimal balance of resolution and sensor size, professional photographers will realize exceptionally sharp, clean and well saturated images throughout the entire ISO range.
Like the D3 and D3s before it, the Nikon D4 retains Nikon’s status as the sovereign of low-light capture ability, with a native ISO range from 100 to 12,800 ISO, expandable from 50 (Lo-1) to an incredible yet usable 204,800 (Hi-4). From a candlelit first dance to nocturnal wildlife, the large 7.3µ pixel size absorbs the maximum amount of light to excel in any situation. Additionally, the sensor’s construction features a gapless micro-lens structure and anti-reflective coating which further contributes to images that retain natural depth and tones with smooth color gradation. For ultimate versatility, photographers can also take advantage of the camera’s extreme high ISO ability while recording video.
Another factor contributing to the camera’s rapid performance and stellar image quality is Nikon’s new EXPEED 3 image processing engine that helps professionals create images with amazing resolution, color and dynamic range in both still images and video. From image processing to transfer, the new engine is capable of processing massive amounts of data, exacting optimal color, perfect tonality and minimized noise throughout the frame.
There are also a variety of shooting options available to help capture the highest quality images and video. In addition to standard NEF (RAW) files, the D4 is also capable of shooting smaller compressed RAW files to ease storage and speed up workflow. Users are also able to capture even more dynamic range with the in-camera High Dynamic Range (HDR) function that merges consecutive exposures. For deep contrast and further tonality, Active D-Lighting can also be activated during shooting for balanced exposures even in backlit scenes. Additionally, the camera features a dedicated button for quick access to Nikon’s Picture Controls, allowing users to quickly select one of six presets.
Professional Multimedia Features
The Nikon D4 D-SLR is engineered with innovative new features for the multimedia professional that needs the small form factor, low-light ability and NIKKOR lens versatility that only an HD-SLR can offer. The new features add functionality for those professionals looking for the best possible experience to capture a moment in Full HD 1080p video at various frame rates, providing footage that is more than suitable for broadcast.
Full HD video recording – Users have the choice of various resolutions and frame rates, including 1080p 30/24fps and 60 fps at 720p. By utilizing the B-Frame data compression method, users can record H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC format video with unmatched integrity for up to 20 minutes per clip. This format also allows for more accurate video data to be transferred requiring less memory capacity. The sensor reads image data at astoundingly fast rates, which results in less instances of rolling shutter distortion.
Full manual control of exposure – Shutter speed, aperture and ISO can be changed while recording to adapt to lighting and alter depth of field for professional cinematic results that help realize a creative vision.
Uncompressed output: simultaneous Live View – By using the camera’s HDMI port instead of the CF or XQD card, users can stream an uncompressed full HD signal directly out of the camera. This footage can be ported into an LCD display or appropriate external recording device or routed through a monitor and then to the recording device, eliminating the need for multiple connections.
Audio recording for professionals – The Nikon D4 features a stereo headphone jack for accurate monitoring of audio levels while recording. Output can be adjusted in up to 30 steps for precise audio adjustment. The D4 offers high-fidelity audio recording control with audio levels that can be set and monitored on the camera’s LCD screen. The microphone connected via the stereo mic jack can also be adjusted with up to 20 steps of sensitivity for accurate sound reproduction.
Multi-area Mode Full HD Video: FX/DX, and 2.7x crop mode at 1080p video modes – Whether shooting for depth of field in FX format mode, or looking for the extra 1.5X telephoto benefits of DX mode, the high resolution sensor of the D4 allows videographers to retain full 1080P HD resolution no matter what mode they choose. With the 2.7x crop, users can experience ultra-telephoto benefits in full HD resolution all at 16:9 aspect ratio.
Simultaneous live view output without display / simultaneous monitor – Shooters have the option to send the display signal directly to an attached monitor via the HDMI port. This signal can be viewed on the camera’s LCD screen and external monitor simultaneously. Additionally, the image data display can be cleared from the screen, to remove distracting data or when feeding a live signal.
Full-time AF – In addition to manual focus, four autofocus modes are available, including normal, wide area, face detection and subject tracking, which uses fast contrast detect AF to accurately focus while recording video and in live view.
New LCD screen – The large high resolution 3.2-inch LCD screen is 921K dots, and includes auto brightness adjustment. Users can also zoom in up to 46x to check critical HD focus.
Time lapse shooting – This new feature combines a selected frame rate and “shooting interval” in a dedicated time lapse photography menu. Playback can be achieved with a wide variety of speeds from 24x to 36,000x while producing a fully finished movie file output for faster multimedia workflows.
Remote shutter operation – Using dedicated Movie Custom Settings, recording can be set to be engaged by the shutter release button -users can now use a variety of remote accessories to trigger video recording.
NIKKOR lens compatibility – The highest caliber optics are vital to creating HD images and Nikon is the world leader in optics manufacturing with a legacy spanning more than 75 years. Nikon has a vast NIKKOR lens system, with more than 50 lenses with a variety of focal lengths and features, including VR II vibration reduction.
Professional Construction, Superior Operability
The reputation and respect bestowed upon a Nikon D-Series flagship camera is earned from those who use it; therefore the chassis of the Nikon D4 is machined from magnesium alloy for maximum durability and reliability. The body of the camera is sealed and gasketed for resistance to dirt and moisture, as well as electromagnetic interference. Photographers are able to easily compose through the bright optical viewfinder, which offers 100% frame coverage. The shutter has been tested to withstand 400,000 cycles for maximum durability, while sensor cleaning is employed by vibrating the OLPF. The self diagnostic shutter unit also encompasses a mirror balancer to minimize the residual “bounce” to enhance AF and extend viewing time. What’s more, the viewfinder is coated with a new thermal shield finish which works to resist overheating during prolonged use, enhancing overall reliability. Users can easily compose on the camera’s wide, bright and scratch resistant 921,000-dot high resolution 3.2-inch LCD screen.
The overall controls and operability of the camera has also been engineered with a renewed emphasis on speed and functionality. During critical moments, users will appreciate refined button layouts with renewed ergonomics, such as a quick AF mode selector placed near the lens mount for fast access on the fly. A new joystick style sub-selector is also placed on the camera’s rear for AF point and option selection, while vertical controls have been enhanced for improved operability. Finally, to continue the D4’s moniker of the best tool for just about any condition, key control buttons on the back of the camera can all be illuminated, making the camera simple to operate in complete darkness.
Nikon has also made enhancements to overall workflow, adding options to streamline the process and maximize shooting time. Users are now able to automatically generate IPTC data for their images and image sets, making organizing and chronicling images easier for both the photographers and their editors. A wired Ethernet port is also utilized so that a user can shoot tethered and transfer images easily and quickly to clients. Nikon has also introduced the new WT-5A wireless file transmitter, to transmit via FTP server or computer. The device can be set to transfer either automatically or manually selected images. This device also allows for remote operation of the camera using Nikon’s Camera Control Pro 2 software. A mobile application is also in development to control the camera using this accessory, which will include the ability to trigger the shutter and record video, making this a must-have remote accessory for many professionals.
Price and Availability
The Nikon D4 will be available in late February 2012 for the suggested retail price of $5999.95.*
To see the new D4 D-SLR and other new Nikon products, visit Nikon at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at booth # 11039 from January 10-13th, 2012 in Las Vegas, NV.