Monthly Mailbag, July 2011

The Manual Photography Cheat Sheet (image by kind permission of Miguel Yatco)

I’ve decided that toward the end of each month, I will excerpt some of the mail and messages I get here on The First 10,000. Names have been changed, but I’ve kept the content of the messages largely intact.

Our first message comes from Murphy Brawn, who says, “I’m enjoying your blog even though I am not a photographer by any stretch of the imagination.”

Murphy, that pretty much makes you my target audience. Well, I’m kidding, but only slightly. There’s a reason I started this blog, and targeted it at inexperienced photographers: a lot of blogs and sites tend, I think, to assume a certain experience/interest level among the people reading. The challenge, therefore,  is to reach people who are casual shooters that either a: want to get a bit better, or b: aren’t really sure where they are in relation to photography. I guess the way I’m looking at it is taking something about which I’m passionate, and hoping some of the passion rubs off.

Of course, the other reason I’m targeting the inexperienced is that if I targeted professionals, I’d get laughed off the internet. My chops aren’t up there with the big guys, so it’s a matter of learning as I go, and hoping that someone finds my (in)experience helpful in some way.

All of which is a longish way of saying, “I’m glad you read it, and even more glad you enjoyed it.” Thanks.

Jon Orton sends along the picture that graces this post, courtesy of Miguel Yatco of Living in the Stills (click the photo to enlarge/print it, click the link to visit Miguel’s site). It’s a great little “Cheat Sheet” to explain some of the camera’s workings, and to visualize what’s going on with the camera when you’re changing certain settings.

Short Trini asks, “Any tips and tricks for taking good photos with those disposable cameras? My mom buys them a lot, and sometimes the pics leave a lot to be desired. Sometimes they are out of focus, or they just have that “disposable” look to them.

That can be any number of things. First off, disposables don’t give you much control over focus, shutter speed, or aperture, so the camera’s not always going to be focused where you’d like it to be, nor is it necessarily going to expose the way you had in mind. As is the case with any kind of camera, you sacrifice control for simplicity and cost. One problem you also tend to get with point-and-shoots of pretty much any kind — whether it’s a disposable or a digital — is that the built-in flash can be a bit harsh. If you don’t need the flash, shut it off (most disposables will let you do that).

The other thing that makes a difference sometimes is the brand. Disposables made by Fuji or Kodak, while they’re generally a bit more expensive, come loaded with better film, and are going to be “new,” whereas some of the off-brand disposable cameras not only use cheaper film, they also sometimes use recycled and re-badged disposable bodies. So if the person who last shot with it knocked it around, spilled their drink on it, etc., you’re already starting off with a strike against you.

Finally, sometimes your processing makes a difference, too. Places like CVS and Walgreens do a much better job at processing than they used to, but if the lab’s not using a “name” photo process, the quality of your photos can suffer, too.

Long story short (which is to say, longer): It might not be anything your mom is, or isn’t, doing. Could be the camera, the processing, or any number of other things. The one thing I’d suggest is that if she’s shelling out a lot of money over the course of the year on cameras and developing, a digital compact might not be a bad idea. You can get a decent one without breaking the bank, and while it might seem like a fair chunk of change, it may actually represent a savings depending on how often she uses it. Right away you’re saving on processing, since processing a roll of film where everything came out badly costs you the same as one where it all came out right, whereas with digital, you can pick, choose, process, and print only your “keepers.”

One last thought: as the first month of The First 10,000 draws to a close, thanks to everyone who’s been reading, and for the words of encouragement many of you have sent along. Next month brings more of the same, with the possibility of some surprises in store.

Photo News Roundup, 7/23/11

As I was saying…

Ten pounds of news in a five-pound bag…

Olympus firmware update, EP3 and GH2 battery grips, rumors of Fuji Micro 4/3 camera (4/3 Rumors)

Canon EOS 60D firmware update, Holga Canon-mount giveaway, very remote possibilities of new flash system and EF-mount video camera (Canon Rumors)

US court allows LaChapelle’s suit against singer Rihanna to go to trial, Panasonic announces FZ-47 superzoom bridge camera (which, unlike many of the FZ series thus far, does not shoot RAW), X-Rite launches monthly photo contest (DPReview)

Nifty instructions for making a “Leica” pinhole camera (Leica Rumors)

Interview with Samsung bigwig Sungrok Kim, mirrorless shootout at DxO Mark, Samsung NX100 discontinued (Mirrorless Rumors)

New Coolpix cameras in the offing, including one that’s ruggedized; leaked photos of Nikon mirrorless camera ordered taken off of Chinese website; two new FX bodies (reportedly replacements for the D700 and D3) to reportedly be announced in August, in time to begin shipping in the fall (Nikon Rumors)

New Olympus EVF (Electronic View Finder) leaked, this time by Olympus. Sigma hints they can probably make the SD1 do live view without modifying the camera (which begs the question why they didn’t just have it do that in the first place). Contest to win SD95 book. New website launched for 4/3 fans. (Photo Rumors)

Sony and Sigma head-to-head at Luminous Landscape; yes, that is in “fact” a leaked “photo” of the NEX-7 (I still say it looks Photoshopped!); DSC-TX55 compact announced (Sony Alpha Rumors)

Photographer Bostjan Burger faces prison time for taking 360° photos in Slovenia (Steve’s Digicams)


Photography: Art or Craft?

The Soft Serve Sentry

Bear with me, as I’ll be spending a fair share of this entry essentially thinking out loud; the purpose of this post isn’t so much to issue the last word on something as it is to hopefully start a discussion.

To begin with, let’s establish the definitions from which we’re working. Art, according to the folks at Webster’s, is skill acquired by experience, study, or observation. It could also be loosely defined as the application of imagination to a chosen medium; some have also posited that anything created with artistic intent is, by definition, art. Whether the end result of those creative efforts is actually art, however, seems to be defined by a mixture of cultural consensus and historical perspective.

So it would seem that trying to pin down a definition of art itself (much less whether an individual piece is art or not) is a bit like trying to nail Jell-o to a wall. Let’s see if we have any better luck with Craft. Webster’s again: an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill <the carpenter’s craft> <the craft of writing plays> <crafts such as pottery, carpentry, and sewing>. Well, at least we have some agreement between the two on the skill part.

Let’s put aside the dictionary for a bit, since that’s getting us nowhere. In popular culture, art tends to be seen as something inspired, while craft is somewhat looked down upon as something decidedly pedestrian. Craft has also often denoted something more practical or workmanlike (think of the Bauhaus emphasis on creating objects that might be pretty to look at, but had, above all, to be useful) if not downright kitschy (Martha Stewart, hot glue guns). While photography has its practical applications, those aren’t the first thing most of us would think of when we consider, much less enter, the medium.

Perhaps a more useful distinction can be drawn between art as the end result and craft as the process from which it comes. Ah, now I think we’re getting somewhere. If getting to “art” is somehow fleeting or ephemeral, then craft is the way we attempt to catch that lightning in a bottle. Put differently, anyone can get lucky and create one work of art. Craft is the process by which you take at least some of the chance out of the equation, devoting enough time, effort, and sheer repetition to the process – your process – that you can get the same results consistently.  

 Ansel Adams, who we discussed this time last week, once said “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” Stop and think about that for a second: one photograph a month, if you’re lucky. And he didn’t mean, “Go outside once a month, take one photo, and you’re done.” If you get lucky, ten percent of your photos will be competent enough to be worth keeping; a much smaller percentage of those would be the ones that somebody besides you still wants to look at a year from now, ten years from now, or when you’re pushing up daisies. Getting even to the point that Adams is talking about – not a hundred significant photos a year, remember, just twelve – took years of practice on his part, and will take years of practice on your part, mine, or anyone else’s who really cares enough about their chosen medium to get it right. That means not just photography, but any other thing to which you care to apply yourself diligently enough to be any good at it, whether that something is photography, sculpture, writing, pottery, or knitting.

Unless you’re using your camera the same way you’d use a steno pad — strictly to document, giving no more thought to art than if you were making a shopping list or jotting down a phone message — at some point or another, each of us has the urge to capture something artistic. Paradoxically, it’s when we start paying more attention to the craft than the art, beginning to hone our vision and the technique with which we express it, that we increase the odds that we create art instead of having it just happen (or not) by chance.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments section.

Photo News Roundup, 7/16/11

Huzzah! More News!

A snapshot of this week’s photography news from around the web: links are to the sources’ websites.

New Micro 4/3 lenses, and DxOMark tests the sensor on the Olympus EP-3 (4/3 Rumors)

Kenko-Tokina acquires filter makers Cokin, Pentax unveils a red version of its 645D medium format camera, Toshiba opens quake-resistant factory (Adorama)

The Andy Warhol Museum releases an iPhone app that makes your snaps look like Andy’s legendary silkscreens (Boring Pittsburgh)

Canon raises prices on as-yet unreleased lenses, and Holga Direct releases a Canon-mount lens that promises to make the photos taken by your thousand-dollar camera look as though they were done on cheap plastic by a hipster with questionable facial hair (Canon Rumors)

Leica to enter EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) fray? And since rangefinders (the company’s bread and butter since the 1920’s) are already mirrorless, isn’t that a bit redundant? Also, Panasonic DMC G3 review posted (DPReview)

Leica M9-P now in stock in the States, Moscow’s Leica store robbed (Leica Rumors)

Nikon issues service advisory due to overheating issues with Coolpix L23, also announces 40mm 2.8 DX Macro lens (NikonRumors)

RED’s EPIC-M in stock, EPIC-X still delayed due to the earthquake in Japan (Photo Rumors)

Rolling Stone has an exclusive preview of the upcoming limited edition book of photographer Masayoshi Sukita’s photos of David Bowie, titled Speed of Life.

Possible first look at the upcoming NEX-7? Looks photoshopped, but you never know… (Sony Alpha Rumors)

Ansel Adams and Lemon Cake

Public Domain: Tetons by Ansel Adams, 1942 (National Parks Service/NARA)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved my Aunt Olga’s lemon cake. It’s one of those things that crop up on the occasional birthday or special occasion, and it tastes like nothing else in the world. Well, one time I asked for, and was lucky enough to get, the recipe for that lemon cake. I’ve tried making it a few times over the years, and while it’s been competent (tasted fine, didn’t have the consistency of, say, the stuffing from a seat cushion), it wasn’t anything like the original.

Fast-forward a few years. Not long ago, I read an article about a person, or maybe a group of people, that organizes photo tours to the places where Ansel Adams made some of his best-known photographs. People from the world over dutifully trudge to the same parks and vistas that Adams so lovingly, and expertly, documented, waiting for exactly the same light, some even using the same kinds of cameras used by the Master himself. I’m sure their photos were competent (exposed well, didn’t look like the aftermath of an all-night bender), but they weren’t anything like the original.

These two seemingly-disparate things have more in common than you might think.

Some people, whether they’re musicians, painters, chefs or photographers, jealously guard their technique. They realize they have something unique, and I think on some level, they feel that if they share what went into that “something,” some of its uniqueness is somehow stripped away or diminished. They may be perfectly good at what they do, but they’re missing the one thing that makes a good craftsman great: they don’t share their secrets.

A great cook can teach you every last one of their recipes and techniques, and a great photographer can be willing to show you every last step in their process, from the framing of a shot, to the settings used, to their developing/postproduction process. They’ll get their results; you, probably, will not. Some of this has to do with the years of experience that go into becoming an expert. *

Some of it, though – and a big part of the reason that those who share, do – is that knowing someone else’s process, their recipes, if you will, is only a starting point. You can become competent following someone else’s lead, but the only way to become great (or get near great’s ZIP code) is to use those teachings as a point of departure in developing your own voice. Just the same as great cooking stems from the taste of an individual chef (any two people can make pesto, for instance, using the same ingredients, but taste and experience will generally mean different proportions of each), great photography comes from seeing the world as only you do, and conveying that vision to someone else.

So I’ll still make Aunt Olga’s lemon cake from time to time, and one of these days, if the mood strikes, I may even schlep my camera and myself to the Grand Tetons. But the bigger challenge, not just for me, but for anyone else who picks up a camera – whether they realize it or not – is moving beyond someone else’s way of doing things, and finding your own.

*This is also one very big reason that the recently discovered Adams negatives were regarded not to be worth quite as much as their discoverer had hoped. It wasn’t just Adams’ composition that made those photos; his developing process (not just the chemical part of it, but other aspects, like the way he dodged and burned his prints) played as much of a part in the photos’ final appearance, and without that individual touch, the negatives lose a good deal of their impact.

Photo News Roundup, 7/9/11

Material 3 (2010)

Your weekly dose of photography-related news kibble from around the web. Links go to sources’ websites:

Olympus scaling back or abandoning 4/3 SLR system in favor of Micro 4/3? Panasonic Japan announces new Lumix Phone — it’s not Apple, and has built-in optical stabilization. What’s not to love? (43Rumors)

Travel Photography Invitational 2011 (two days left to enter); new wide-angles from Tokina, new “bullet cam” from Rollei, new compacts announced by GE, mirrorless systems rumored from Fuji, ESA builds billion-megapixel (!) camera (Adorama)

Photojojo introduces Canon mount for iPhone (all together now: “WHY?”), while Canon patents a three-layer sensor system similar to Sigma’s Foveon sensor — here’s hoping that, unlike Sigma, they don’t try to pass off a 15-megapixel sensor as 45 megapixels. (Canon Rumors)

A “Caveat Emptor” that anyone concerned about their intellectual property rights should read before using Google Plus (Going Pro)

2011 Oskar Barnack Award winners announced; new video out from renowned street photographer Eric Kim that’s a must-see (Leica Rumors)

Nik Software-sponsored portraiture contest (

Photojojo likewise introduces Nikon mount for iPhone (again: why?); rumors of updated Nikkor lenses, and the rebirth of the Nikonos underwater camera (Nikon Rumors)

Oxfam and the European Journalism Centre launch the third round of Cl!ck About It, a photo contest that aims to show, in photos, the impact that Oxfam’s programs have (Oxfam, et. al.)

Within the Frame author/photographer David duChemin’s Photographically Speaking due in October (Pixelated Image)

Masaya Maeda, head of Canon’s camera division, interviewed; says production is back to pre-quake levels, slyly hints that Canon may be introducing its own mirrorless system (Reuters)

DxOMark data out for NEX-C3, possible A-Mount mirrorless compact in the works, NEX-7 touted as possible “Killer” of Fuji X-100 (my prediction? If quality’s the same as the NEX cameras we’ve seen so far, it retains the retro look that everybody loves about the Fuji, and adds interchangeable lenses while keeping prices reasonable, the X-100 stops looking quite so attractive); reviews up for several Sony lenses (Sony Alpha Rumors)

Former Yahoo engineer says he’s got the Flickr killer; if you’ve ever been annoyed — or infuriated — with Flickr, you’ll understand the appeal (Steve’s Digicams, but I’d also suggest you check out the engineer’s Kickstarter page, with which I am unaffiliated, for additional info)

Songs About Photography

I thought I’d shift gears today and put up a list of photography-related songs just for fun. A couple of these are a bit of a stretch, admittedly. But really, would “Alice’s Restaurant” be the same without “twenty-seven 8X10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one…”? We all need something to listen to while we’re working in Photoshop, right? And on the off chance you’ve got an afternoon to waste, the songs that have links attached go to YouTube, for your viewing/listening pleasure.


3X5 (John Mayer)

Alice’s Restaurant (Arlo Guthrie)

All the Negatives Have Been Destroyed (Spoon)

Camera (REM)

My Camera Never Lies (Bucks Fizz)

The Camera Eye (Rush)

The Camera Never Lies (Michael Franks)

The Cover of Rolling Stone (Dr. Hook)

Distant Camera (Neil Young)

Editions of You (Roxy Music)

Every Picture Tells a Story (Rod Stewart)

F Stop Blues (Jack Johnson)

Family Snapshot (Peter Gabriel)

Freeze Frame (J. Geils Band)

From a Photograph (Chris Whitley)

Gentlemen Take Polaroids (Japan)

Getting the Picture (Jimmy Buffet)

Girls on Film (Duran Duran)

Hey Ya (Outkast)

I Am a Camera (Buggles)

I Turn My Camera On (Spoon)

In My Room (Yaz)

Into the Lens (Yes)

Kamera (Wilco)

Kevin Carter (Manic Street Preachers)

Kodachrome (Paul Simon)

Life Through a Lens (Robbie Williams)

Local Boy in the Photograph (Stereophonics)

Miniature Secret Camera (Peter Murphy)

Paparazzi (Lady Gaga)

Peg (Steely Dan)

Photograph (Blue Rodeo)

Photograph (Jamie Cullum)

Photograph (Def Leppard)

Photograph (Johnny Mathis)

Photograph (Natalie Merchant & Michael Stipe)

Photograph (Nickelback)

Photograph (Ringo Starr)

Photograph (Weezer)

A Photograph of You (Depeche Mode)

Photographic (Depeche Mode)

Photographs and Memories (Jim Croce)

Picture Book (The Kinks)

Picture Postcard (Steve Hackett)

Picture This (Blondie)

Pictures (Statler Brothers)

Pictures of Lily (The Who)

Pictures of You (The Cure)

Please Just Take These Photos from My Hands (Snow Patrol)

Send a Picture of Mother (Johnny Cash)

Snapshot (Kinky)

Take a Picture (Filter)

Traces (The Association)

Turning Japanese (The Vapors)

Wishing (If I Had a Photograph) (Flock of Seagulls)


If I’ve missed something, drop me a line.

Weekly News Roundup

Some news items from around the web this week (full text available at the websites linked below).

  • Nikon concept cameras displayed in France; Nikon D4 and D400 rumored for August ’11 (Nikon Rumors)
  • Leica M9-P, a “professional” variant of the M9 rangefinder, starts shipping. (Leica Rumors)
  • Hoya sells Pentax Imaging to Ricoh for $124.2 million; the first Lytro camera is due for the end of 2011; Olympus announces scads of new cameras and lenses (Photo Rumors)
  • Leaked specs for Canon G13 (Canon Rumors)
  • Panasonic G3 news and reviews trickling in (43Rumors)
  • New lenses from Tokina and Sigma, new software from DxO and Nik (DP Review)

Support Your Local Camera Shop!

Support your local diner while you're at it.

If you do a quick Google search, it’s pretty easy to find several thousand articles debating the merits of film versus digital photography (waters into which I’ll probably dip my own toe at some point). One thing that hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention – and should – is what the rise of digital photography has done to the local camera shop. If film seems an endangered species, your local camera shop is doubly so.

The advent of digital photography as a viable medium roughly corresponds to the advent of viable, trustworthy online shopping. Just as companies like Fujifilm and Kodak have sometimes struggled to adapt to the changes digital has wrought in the landscape, so too have small independent retailers found themselves on the losing end of a price war sparked by the likes of Amazon and Best Buy. In the past, I’ve purchased from both of these retailers

Let’s look at the pros and cons of buying locally versus buying online:

  • Price: This is one arena in which your local camera shop has difficulty competing. However, ask. Some will be flexible on pricing to the extent that they can, others may be willing to bundle an additional item or two if you’re making a big purchase. Besides, the savings you’ll get at your typical online retailer on newer items often won’t be that much. To pick just two examples at this writing*, the Fuji X100 retails at Amazon for $1,199.95, while the Canon Rebel T3i (body only) goes for $799.00. Over at my closest local camera shop, the Fuji is identically priced, and the Canon sells for a whopping 99 cents more. Some savings, huh?
  • Selection: Sure, Amazon carries a bit of everything. They can afford to, since they buy in massive quantities, and because the sales of items that move help to offset the stuff that doesn’t. Your local shop doesn’t generally have that luxury, so they’re not going to have every item from every brand. However, if it’s a brand with which they usually deal, ask if they’ll special order for you.
  • Knowledge: You tell me which is easier: sorting through a hundred reviews on Amazon (or talking to a salesperson in Wal Mart, who usually works in small appliances, but is filling in for the person in the camera department today, ’cause the girl who normally works cameras is subbing for someone in Automotive), or asking one person at a camera shop who’s either worked with a brand for years, or has at the very least been thoroughly trained on it?
  • Support: No matter how hard we try, how knowledgeable we are, or how much research we put in, nobody thinks to ask every question before they buy. Some questions aren’t covered in the manual. And some of them won’t come up ’til you’ve used the camera for a couple of months. Many local shops also offer classes for all levels of photographers that can help take your photography to the next level.
  • Try Before You Buy: Quality control is generally pretty tight at most camera manufacturers. However, sample variations do exist. In other words, it’s possible to get a lousy copy of a camera, lens, or just about anything else you use on or around your camera. If you want to try out that “nifty fifty” on your camera before you buy it to make sure it doesn’t have any issues, you’ll have a much easier time doing it at your local dealer than, say, walking into Target with your gear and asking them to try out one or more lenses.
  • Used Equipment: Maybe you’ve outgrown the 18-55mm kit lens that came with your camera and want to sell it, or maybe you just don’t feel like paying retail for the macro lens you’ve been waiting to get your sweaty paws on. If inspecting and testing new equipment is a good idea, for used equipment it’s mandatory. It’s easier to do this before purchasing than having to re-pack and return an item that wasn’t quite what the online seller or auctioneer said.
  • Rentals: Every so often, a particular project or assignment may call for a specific type of equipment that you may only need one time. If you can’t see the sense in buying something, and don’t have a friend or colleague from whom you can borrow, rental’s always an option. You can’t rent a body, lens, speedlight, or much of anything else from most online retailers. ‘Nuff said.

Camera equipment doesn’t come cheap, so it can be tempting to buy on price alone. When you stop to consider the rest of the picture, however, buying locally has quite a bit to recommend it. Support your local camera shop!

*July, 2011

Additional reading:

1001 Noisy Cameras’ “Support Your Local Camera Store Initiative”