A lot of bandwidth has been burned up lately on the subject of how digital photography and video has destroyed professional still photography as a career and an industry. The thought goes something like this: digital photography has made imaging so easy and inexpensive that still photography as an occupation is no longer viable. People don’t need professional photographers anymore because anyone can make their own images that look pretty good using inexpensive and highly automated digital cameras and computers. Young people looking for a career with which they can earn a decent living should look elsewhere. Professional still photography is finished. Film photo labs are disappearing. The whole skill set of traditional photography is obsolete. Some have even suggested that the still photograph itself is on its way to obsolescence. Do I have you completely depressed yet?
There is some truth in this perception, but I think many of the conclusions miss the mark. What is undeniable is that the economics have turned negative for still photographers seeking to earn a living. With many millions of high quality digital cameras in circulation and broadband internet as a delivery system, it’s just too easy to get images quickly and at very low cost. Anyone with a computer, internet connection and a credit card, anywhere in the world, can quickly scan massive archives of “stock” images online, and purchase usage rights for ridiculously low amounts of money. So, yeah, to those who are planning to set up a photo studio on Main Street to shoot stock, portraits and weddings on an RB67, lovingly producing prints in a darkroom on a Bessler 67 enlarger, it is time to rethink the vocational choices.
Digital photography is a paper tiger. Digital photography in and of itself has little bearing on the cataclysmic change that has swept over professional photography. The “Information Age” and the Internet have changed the way we consume and disseminate media. If we were still shooting on film cameras, scanning our negatives and uploading them to the web, we would still have the same problem with supply and demand, perhaps only slightly reduced due to the expense and time of film development. With the web, we have developed a highly efficient delivery system for images and many more quality images are readily available, but at the same time, we consume far more images and much more information than we did in the old days of paper. Ultimately, I think the digital revolution is a wash on the supply and demand scale. Nevertheless, we do face increased pressure on earnings due to the ready availability of high quality images via the web.
There is a myth floating around that I would like to address. It is that video is going to make still photography obsolete. This is nonsense. I have a photo of my mother framed and sitting on a table in my study. I like the photo because it reminds me constantly of someone who loves me unconditionally and is always on my side. But, having a video of my mom running 24-7 in my study would be totally creepy. As long as there are walls, brochures, documents, signs, show booths, posters, packages, crime scenes, web sites, weddings and relatives, there will be a demand for still photography. Video requires the support of a highly complex, energy intensive and expensive infrastructure. Still photography does not. Once a photo is printed, it requires no machines or power to display. Still photographs operate on our perception differently. They invite, but do not demand our attention in the way a video with jarring audio will do. There will always be a need for still photography. It is wise for someone looking to make a living in photography to master video, but it is not because still photography is in imminent danger of obsolescence.
I want to take this discussion in a different direction. What if someone told you that you would never again make a single nickel from photography? Would you stop making photographs? I wouldn’t. Certainly, it would be upsetting to think that no one would care enough about my photography to pay for a picture, but I wouldn’t stop. I shot photographs long before I ever made any money from photography because I just love to make pictures. That’s the long and the short of it. I relate to the world visually. If my cameras all went away, I’d draw pictures. Birds fly; fish swim… etc. A long time ago, I read one of those “advice to young writers” things, and the grizzled veteran writing the piece suggested a simple test: “Ask yourself, ‘do I have to write?’ If the answer is ‘no,’ forget it. Find something else to do.” I would suggest that this same test works well in today’s photography environment. If one’s object is primarily to make a lot of money, photography is surely the wrong vehicle. It may also be that our traditional notion of the “professional photographer” no longer really works. Yet none of this means we will stop making photographs.
So, we have established that still photography isn’t going away; the economics of the still photography business are dreadful; and, our model for the “professional photographer” has changed forever. How do we respond? Assuming the decision is not to give up and find something else to do, here are some thoughts:
There will always be a market for talent.
If you are one of those rare individuals who can consistently create compelling images with a camera, there is a demand for your work that will pay you. You just have to find it. If you are not one of these rare birds, do yourself a favor and don’t kid yourself. The path of self deception is painful and expensive.
Owning a camera does not make you a photographer. It makes you a camera owner.
I own three lovely guitars, but I do not consider myself a “musician” in the professional sense. I play what I want to when I want to. I don’t play standards in the clubs at night, teach or compose music. The last time I was in a recording studio was to photograph people who are professional musicians. There’s nothing wrong with being an amateur or a collector of cameras. What’s important is to know the difference. Professionals learn their market and produce a quality product that people want and are willing to pay for. This implies proficiency, talent and consistency.
Professionals practice professionalism.
[Activating “Master of the Obvious” Subsystem] Professionals of any discipline have some common behaviors. They show up on time. They dress appropriately. They get the training they need as suggested by industry standards. They find employment in their chosen field. They procure professional grade equipment appropriate to the job. They deliver the goods promised on time. They don’t embarrass or disappoint their clients.
Network and communicate.
You can be a great talent, but if no one knows you’re there, you will starve and be terribly frustrated. Don’t argue about which mode works; use everything you can to make your market aware of you. Don’t ignore traditional forms of advertising. Participate in local organizations where you can make new contacts. Contribute some time to local charities. Even in this age of “social media,” I remain a huge fan of the personal contact. You aren’t likely to get a call from a Madison Avenue ad agency just because you have a cool website, but the guy to whom you gave a business card at the chamber of commerce meeting will remember you when he needs a brochure photo of his latest swimming pool installation.
Develop an eye for change.
This is another piece of obvious, but it is worth saying: develop an eye for change, newness and novelty. I don’t care how good you are, you will have a tough time selling a photo of El Capitan in Yosemite simply because so many great shots have already been done of it. However, if El Capitan collapses into the creek, and you’re the first one out there to get the shot, you have a marketable photo. No one will pay you for a photo of an iPhone 3, but if you happen to get a shot of an iPhone 6, that’s money in the bank. So, what changes? People, fashions, lifestyles, sports, technology, entertainment, wars, politics and the like are some areas which constantly change. If you can produce a photo of something that most people haven’t seen yet, odds are good you can make money on it. Chances are that it will not be that cool close-up of a dandelion you shot while walking your dog in the park.
Remember why we do this.
Being a photographer is like being a minister or a teacher in one way: if you’re only doing it for the money, you have a serious problem. Some wit on the web noted that, “The quickest way to make money in photography is to sell your camera.” That’s more truth than joke. If money is the primary objective, find another way to make it. If you pass the “Do I have to do this?” test, then set aside the artificial dichotomy of amateur/professional. Think of yourself simply as a photographer with no limiting adjectives. Let your craft and vision grow and take you where it will. The only viable reason to do photography is that you love it. Money alone will not carry you through, but passion for the art will. A bit of talent helps as well.
I don’t believe we’re facing the end of professional photography, not by a long shot. In many ways, this is the most exciting time to be a photographer since film was invented. We are witnessing a massive sea change in the way our world delivers and consumes media. The real key to survival in the digital age is to understand this change and let it work for us rather than against us.
My Christmas present to myself was Adobe’s LightRoom 3. I had been using PhotoShop, Capture NX and ViewNX 2 to manage my digital photographs, but LightRoom 3 presented a single package that provides all of the functionality of these other programs and then some (except maybe PhotoShop for manipulation) in a single unified package, and it can handle the RAW files of my new Nikon D7000. Just before Christmas, it went on sale on Amazon for half off and I couldn’t resist.
What is LightRoom?
LightRoom is a complete management solution for digital photography. It has three major areas of functionality: correction and adjustment, database and filing, and output to print and the web.
In this article, I’m going to focus on the adjustment and correction. I may do the database and output in subsequent articles.
LightRoom 3 provides non-destructive image editing and color correction for digital images. The images don’t even need to be RAW files for LightRoom to perform its non-destructive magic. By “non-destructive” we mean that modifications to the original image are saved in a separate instruction file, and the original image, be it digital camera capture or scan, remains unaltered. Modifications in LightRoom are only saved into the image when you “export” it to a TIF, JPG, or other derivative format.
LightRoom is very smart about cameras, RAW formats and lenses. It has profiles for nearly everything I use in the digital world. It reads all the EXIF data from my RAW files, and it has lens profiles for most of the lenses I use. So, it does a superb job of interpreting the information the camera captures. It has handy presets for embedding copyright and other file information into the image files. It also has a handy “preset” system which allows you to quickly apply a set of adjustments to a given image. There are a bunch of default presets; you can create your own, or you can download a gillion of them free on the web. There is also a cottage industry of plug-ins created for LightRoom, much like PhotoShop plug-ins, which perform more complex operations using the adjustment capabilities inherent in LightRoom.
What LightRoom Isn’t
It isn’t Photoshop. It isn’t Illustrator. If you do a lot of serious retouch and photo manipulation, you still need PhotoShop. LightRoom does not do layers, layer masks, vector imports, outlines, typeset, feathers, drop shadows, EPS files, vector art, spot color duotones… and on and on. If you are a publishing professional, you still must have PhotoShop. A photographer could easily get by on LightRoom alone unless one does extensive retouch on complexions and backgrounds.
Color Correction in LightRoom
The following image was done a while back with a Nikon D70s shooting RAW on site in the dead of summer with hot sunlight beaming down overhead (click on the image for a larger view):
What you see here is a portion of the LightRoom “Develop” screen showing the “before” and “after” of the image. A white tea rose in direct sunlight is a problem. The highlights clip and much of the texture of the petals is lost. Using LightRoom, I was able to “recover” a great deal of the texture in the petals. This is where I find LightRoom to be superior to PhotoShop in some ways because LightRoom is natively dedicated to digital photography, and its adjustments are designed to make optimum use of the image information in the RAW file. In PhotoShop, RAW manipulation is an afterthought. You have to download a separate “Camera RAW Plug-in” for PhotoShop to read and correct RAW files, and it isn’t as good in my opinion, but Photoshop is navigating a different universe of imaging.
The image to the right is the LightRoom control panel showing the adjustments I made on the rose (you can click on the image for a larger view). Mostly, I pulled the highlights and light colors back while adding vibrancy and saturation to the mid-tones. I added a bit of “Recovery,” brightness and contrast and left the shadows and dark tones mostly unchanged. This gave me much greater detail and texture in the flower petals and made the clipping all but go away. These are subtle things, and an untrained eye might miss them, but they can make the difference between a really excellent photo and a near miss.
LightRoom 3 is giving me superb color correction, great library organization, and a host of new output options. I’m enjoying the hell out of it.
LightRoom 3 is not a program which is mastered in an afternoon. There is still much I have to learn about it. It would take a book to cover all of its features in detail. It is a full-featured management interface for digital photography that will correct, organize, output and create web galleries for your digital photographs. It quickly became the core interface for my digital imaging, and I recommend it without qualification.
Unfortunately, the half price deal is over, but you can still get the program on Amazon for a fairly decent price. And, of course, if you use the link below, I’ll get a little piece of the action which will help to keep me going and taking chances on software so you don’t have to:
A couple of weeks ago I put my faithful Nikon D70s out to pasture. A new and more powerful model had eclipsed it, and at a resolution of 6.1 megapixel, it had “grown long in the tooth” in the DSLR world. I bought the D70s in 2005. It was my transition to digital from film. Economically, it was the most successful photography purchase I have ever made. It paid for itself in savings within the first couple of months, and has paid for itself many times over in the succeeding years. It convinced me of the validity of digital photography – the speed, economy and quality of its production could not be ignored. If you would like to read a detailed technical review of the D70, click here.
In the past five years, the D70s has traveled with me everywhere and shot a bunch of pictures of which I am very proud. I have other cameras, and I have gotten some nice shots with them, but the D70s has been the dependable one that I could always rely on to come back with the picture. When there was work to be done, I grabbed the D70s. There never has been a “firmware update” for the D70s because it was the update for the original D70. It fixed the small bugs in the D70 and slightly increased the size of the view screen.
The internals of the D70s are sort of odd-ball. It has a CCD sensor rather than a CMOS sensor which gives it a flash sync speed of 1/500th. It has a 1,005 segment color meter which was unusual at the time. It also had the best automatic white balance of its time, with detailed white balance adjustments which were lacking in cameras costing four or five times as much. The net result of these unusual features is excellent color even in crummy lighting conditions. If you asked me why I have hung onto the D70s for so long, my immediate answer would be the color, but there is more.
So why did I leave it behind? It still shoots terrific photographs, and it rides in my bag now in the back-up role. With a maximum ISO of 1600, the low-light performance of the D70s is OK, but not great, and I shoot in a lot of low-light conditions. My photography is often printed at absurdly large sizes for show booth displays and banners, and I have run into situations where the D70s just did not give me enough pixels to blow up a photo to extremely large sizes. So, the time came when I knew I had to move on, but I didn’t really like it. I still love this camera, and wouldn’t sell it for any amount of money (well, if someone wanted to offer me a couple million…).
Beyond the inherent qualities of the camera, there is another, more fundamental reason that I have been reluctant to retire it, and that is familiarity. I know it like the back of my hand. I can change all of the adjustments in the dark – well, at least all that matter to me. I know how it behaves in particular conditions. I don’t have to think about it. It has become a physical extension of my imagination. Any new camera, regardless of how good it is, is a venture into the unknown, and a new learning curve. That comfy “old shoe” feeling is gone.
I see some photographers who never seem to shoot on the same camera. They always have something new and different and tout the virtues of the latest and greatest camera of the day. To do that successfully requires a lot of work, and I don’t want to spend my life with my nose in a manual. I want to learn an excellent instrument and shoot pictures. I don’t really have time to do a lot of new product testing. I admire those who do and I benefit from their work, but it’s not my style of operation.
Recently, I was researching Stevie Ray Vaughn, the great blues guitarist who was tragically killed in a helicopter crash in 1990. The specific line of inquiry I followed was the obsessive attitude he had toward his guitars. He only played Fender Stratocasters built between 1959 and 1963. He owned a couple of custom built guitars which weren’t Stratocasters, but they were built to imitate the Stratocaster. Each of the Strats had names like “First Wife,” “Red,” “Yellow,” and “Lenny” (named for his wife). Stevie Ray would play particular guitars on particular songs, seldom varying in his choice of instrument for a song. Perhaps the pickup winding on Lenny gave just the right sound for “Crossfire.” Stevie Ray played hard on extremely heavy strings. “First Wife” a.k.a. “Number One” was re-fretted so many times that the neck could no longer accept another re-fretting. Most people would go to the store and find a new guitar, but instead, Stevie Ray got another maple neck of the same vintage so that First Wife could be returned to service.
I don’t propose to compare myself to Stevie Ray in any way except to say that I relate to that feeling of getting attached to an instrument that gives you the results you want. The D70s was that way for a long time for me. The new camera is a wonder, and I have no nostalgia to return to the days of yore. In thinking through this, a couple of thoughts did emerge. The hardware is just hardware, and it makes a lot less difference in our photography than we like to imagine. Great photography comes from vision and imagination. The particular model of camera is purely secondary. The greatest camera cannot produce a photograph by itself, and some great photographs have been produced on extremely primitive cameras.
I believe that it is OK, and maybe even necessary, to step away from the gear race. If you find that the 1959 Stratocaster makes the music you want, then that is your axe, and your job is to learn everything there is to know about it. It is a huge mistake to tell yourself that if you only had camera X, you could do the kind of photography you want to do. It probably isn’t true. While I wouldn’t want to take on the Madison Avenue fashion photography business with a $100 point-and-shoot from Best Buy, the hardware limits us far less than we think it does. If you have the vision, you can find a camera that will realize it. Hardware is our Number One Excuse.
Another thought that came to me about this question of familiarity is that if you are thinking about the camera, you aren’t thinking about the photograph. It really pays to become intimately familiar with your camera. There is a wonderful scene in the movie “Scent of a Woman” in which Colonel Frank Slade, played by Al Pacino, though blind, completely disassembles and reassembles his Colt .45 automatic pistol in about 30 seconds. That’s the kind of familiarity we need to attain with our cameras. Any kind of photography involving living beings and dynamic situations do not allow us the luxury of looking up camera functions in a manual. In a political rally, baseball game or fashion shoot, you really can’t be thinking about how to operate the camera. There just isn’t time. So, we need to shoot and practice enough that the camera operation becomes second nature to us, and we can focus on the scene in front of the lens. This means we shoot a lot and then shoot some more. Henri Cartier-Bresson said, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” He was talking about practice, about getting the mechanics of photography hardwired into your nervous system so that the boundary between photographer and camera disappears.
Finally, time moves on. Technology improves. It’s important to be able to recognize the moment when a new instrument will help you to make a better photograph. There is something about the passage of time that makes us stiff. Once we have experienced significant success with a particular platform, it is hard to let go of it and move on. It requires effort to remain flexible and open to what is new. I have one camera that is older than I am. It still works, but with each passing day, spare parts and the film to use in it become harder to come by. Were I to take the position that this is the only camera for me, a day would come when I could no longer make photographs. My objective is to make photographs, not idols out of cameras. So there comes a time when even a camera which has served as well as the D70s gets lovingly packed away.
In a word: humbling. It is humbling because I know that this camera will impose no limit upon my creativity. There is really nothing that I can think of to do that this camera is not capable of capturing. There will be no “blaming the tools” with this axe.
What is it? The Nikon D7000 is Nikon’s newest DX sensor camera. It supersedes the superlative D90, and at this moment in time, only one Nikon DSLR has higher resolution, and it is the D3X at 24 megapixels. Unlike the D3X, the D7000 is also able to shoot HD video at 1080p and record sound. The D7000 shoots 14-bit lossless stills at 16.2 megapixel resolution. In print terms, this is a 16.5” x 11” image at 300 dots per inch. The D7000 will shoot at up to 6400 ISO with two additional push stops rendering an effective 25,000 ISO, although the image quality will suffer noticeably at the highest H1 and H2 ISO settings. At an ISO of 3200, the loss of image is quality hardly noticeable on a computer screen, and not at all on normal print sizes. In short, this camera can shoot in the dark and render excellent pictures.
One feature I found particularly delightful is the D7000’s ability to meter older manual Nikkor AI lenses. You can set up 9 lens profiles and the camera can read the aperture and meter the exposure. Nikon shooters who have been around a while often have vintage lenses that they love, but can’t use fully on any bodies but the D3, D700 and D300. The D7000 can use the older lenses just like it was an F3.
At a price point of $1200 for the body, the D7000 is extremely attractive and provides performance that equals or exceeds Nikon and Canon bodies costing two or three times as much. This is the camera I have been waiting for.
When the money finally appeared in my bank account to buy the D7000, I checked all of the online vendors, and they were all backordered on the camera for thirty days. On an intuitive whim, I called my favorite local camera store, Murphy’s Camera, and asked them if by chance they had a D7000 in stock. The person answering the phone said, “I don’t think so, but I’ll check.” After an eternity of waiting, I heard a voice on the other end of the line, “Sir, I’m holding one in my hand.” I said, “Put it under the counter, I’ll be there in five minutes.” My hands were shaking as I pulled the American Express card out of my wallet. I got the excellent Nikkor 70-300 VR lens with it. On a DX sensor, this lens functions as if it were a 105-450mm on a 35mm camera. I had been frustrated with my 200mm telephoto during the baseball season and I wanted something that would get out as far as I needed without a tripod. The Nikkor 70-300 VR does that so well that it’s almost supernatural, but that will be another article.
Camera in hand, I began to test it on all of the hard stuff I could think of: birds in mid-flight, squirrels in the trees, airplanes overhead, pretty girls at outrageous distances, soccer practice at Bellarmine University, motorcycles in the dark illuminated only by a streetlight. In every case, the D7000 got the picture and I was amazed. (Click on pictures for larger view.)
Nikon D7000 Key Features
- 16.2MP CMOS sensor
- 1080p HD video recording with mic jack for external microphone
- ISO 100-6400 (plus H1 and H2 equivalent to ISO 12,800/25,600)
- 39-point AF system with 3D tracking
- 2016 pixel metering sensor
- Scene Recognition System (see 2016 pixel sensor, above) aids metering + focus accuracy
- Twin SD card slots
- 3.0 inch 921k dot LCD screen
- New Live View/movie shooting switch
- Full-time AF in Live View/movie modes
- Up to 6fps continuous shooting
- Lockable shooting mode dial
- Built-in intervalometer
- Electronic virtual horizon
- Shutter tested to 150K actuations
Chase Jarvis YouTube Demo of the D7000 video:
Water and photography are a natural pairing. The openness and reflective properties of water make for interesting textures and the activities of people on and around water provide us with great subject matter. I have been exploring the waterfront in Louisville – the park, the docks and trails. I never seem to fail to fill up my memory cards and expose all the film I carry when I go down to the river. (Click on images for larger view).
This lady was definitely getting her inner Zen going. She was just reading at the end of the dock. I think her serene vibes helped to make the picture. I wanted to know what book she was reading, but I decided not to disturb her. It was probably The Diamond Sutra or something like that.
I was carrying my Yashica 635 TLR (a 120 film camera) when we walked past this guy. He yelled, “I got something!” and I turned and shot the picture without focusing or even aiming the camera because I thought a big fish was about to explode out of the water. It turned out to be an unfortunate box turtle. The fisherman cut the hook with some wire cutters so it could slip out of the turtle’s mouth and let him go. He said, “I’m strictly ‘catch and release.’ I don’t like killing things.” (The vignette is a Photoshop effect, not the lens.)
Another guy fishing with bridges in the background. This is looking upstream on the Ohio River toward Cincinnati. We talked to this guy and he wasn’t catching anything. He said he’d never fished the river before and didn’t know what he was doing wrong. My hunch is that it was so hot that the fish were deep in the channel, out past where you could cast a line.
Here’s the crew tying up the Belle at the Third Street dock. That foggy stuff is real live steam from the engine. I particularly enjoyed catching the rope in mid air (and yes, this was done with a digital DSLR).
See also “Cooling Off in Waterfront Park”
There’s a park on the waterfront in Louisville, creatively named “Waterfront Park.” Through the park runs a long fountain and wading pool that was put together with an artistic eye. Part of the fountain runs underneath a section of Interstate 64 so that you get not only the cooling water, but also shade. We went down there today and there seemed to be a picture everywhere the camera was aimed. (Click on images for a larger view.)
It was a great night down at Slugger Field. Two fine teams faced each other, and my youngest son particularly wanted to see Curtis Granderson who is temporarily playing with the Scranton Yankees while he heals from an injury. The Bats managed to win it but it could have just as easily gone the other way. The Scranton Yankees are an excellent baseball team. I took two Nikons. Here’s the shots:
Click on Pictures for Larger View
Technical Information: Nikon D70s with AF Nikkor 80-200mm