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Featured Photography Profiles

Analog to Digital: Exclusive Interview with Photographer Craig Strong, Inventor of the Lensbaby

In the beginning, there was light, and we captured it with film. Next came digital cameras, and then came the Lensbaby. Created by professional photographer Craig Strong, the Lensbaby has had an impact on photographers, and their ideas and images. Craig is a photographer turned inventor… his love for photography started at an early age, and after college he went pro, working as a photojournalist. He also had a steady business shooting weddings and portraits. I recently had a chance to interview Craig for our digitalapplejuice readers. Here is the first installment of two…

Britt: Photography is always evolving… today, we’re dealing with a lot of digital natives. Our kids in high school now probably never shot film. It’s interesting to me to see what kind of changes there are in an analog photographers move to digital, such as you and I have done. How do you think that is going to affect the photographers that never shot film? Do you think that will have any impact on them in the future?

Craig: Instant feedback brings with it excitement for photography. Shooting digitally is similar to us getting our images developed at the one hour lab (although I don’t think there were one hour labs when I was in ninth grade). I was taking my 35mm print film to the lab and they were doing their magic. They would take this piece of exposed film and turn it into prints and negatives. It wasn’t until college, and I started learning from people who were serious into photography, and especially newspaper photographers, it was a lot cheaper to roll your own film and develop it and print it than it was to send it out, and a lot quicker for a newspaper. It was a natural progression for me to get intimately involved in the process of photography through working in the darkroom.

The process of photography is changing to where a print comes off an inkjet printer if you’re doing it in-house or you upload the file and it comes off of a printer that prints it optically with a laser. That’s obviously very different from what you and I experienced, but the end result is potentially the exact same. I don’t think there’s a huge difference. What may happen, and I can see it to some extent with the Lensbaby, is that people are getting much more interested in the process. In the same way that my journey led me to the darkroom and staying up until 3:00 in the morning making prints, as they become more serious many photographers are spending time learning and influencing the process that had previously been out of their control. It’s bringing people to say, ‘Well, that’s great if I can do this or that in Photoshop, but how else can I do this?’

Photographers are exploring how it used to be done, what really made prints look so organic, and in answer to these questions, many of them are going back to film. They start with their 18-70 zoom and their digital SLR that they are making great photographs with. As they become more excited about it image makers are more interested in the process, whether that’s the hands-on of using a Lensbaby to control things like selective focus in ways we never could before, getting a Holga and shooting on film or actually going into a darkroom and printing. It’s a different progression. It is similar to the process we went through to learn photography but today photographers can learn the art of making great images much more quickly. They can become excellent photographers by discovering much of their photographic vision long before they need to learn the process.

Britt: I find this an interesting idea, that as a visual artist you don’t necessarily have to breathe fixer fumes to achieve a good print these days. It is an interesting concept to me thinking about the process of photography and thinking about how I do things now versus how I did things twenty years ago. In your previous statement you mentioned the Lensbaby; what made you become an inventor and create something cool like the Lensbaby?

Craig: That’s a great question. I never really saw myself doing what I’m doing now. There wasn’t a big plan for me to go off into a business other than photography. I was doing well and very happy with what I was doing as a professional photographer. Eventually, though, frustration was what made me an inventor. My most useful homemade gadget when I was shooting film was the flash diffuser I couldn’t buy that I made out of a Tupperware lid. Once that worked so well I went to Goodwill and bought every Tupperware lid I could find so I could make a better one and have a bunch of them laying around (because I would lose them all the time). The first Lensbaby came about because I liked the look of selective focus lenses but I wanted something to experiment with that didn’t cost me $1,200 for a Canon tilt/shift lens. I just wanted to make some crazy images and I have a lot more fun with things that don’t cost me so much I have to worry about them. The very first Lensbaby prototype started as an 50-year-old Speed Graphic camera that my sister bought and gave me for my birthday in the early nineties. I removed the lens from the Speed Graphic, mounted it to a short piece of shop vac (vacuum) hose, cut a hole in a body cap that the tubing snapped into and started shooting all sorts of stuff with it. I took it to weddings and photographed the wildest images I had ever created, my clients loved the photographs. It was just something to play with at the time, not anything that I considered a business, especially not to the extent that Lensbaby has become.

Britt: So now that you’re several years into making Lensbaby’s and on the second major revision (of the commercial version) and expanded the line quite a bit… what do you think about what Lensbaby’s are doing to the look of photography that you’re seeing?

Craig: The fact that people want to buy this lens seems feasible, but the enthusiasm that users have for their Lensbaby’s is far beyond my expectations. And the application that they are making of this lens to just about any subject matter really blows my mind. Honestly I’m much more impressed with the photographers who’ve found such impressive and unique ways to use this funky tool than I am with the Lensbaby itself. I’m really excited about people trying new things. The willingness to try new things, coupled with frustration, has changed my career, changed the way I look at life. I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen. I think it is inherent in the fact that so many photographers, like you said, a lot of them, even many of the professionals, have never shot film. Everything they’ve done in photography has been brand new for them in the last several years. Lensbaby lenses are just one more aspect of that. Photographs that people have created with Lensbaby lenses just blow me away time and again. Much of my amazement with these images has been because they are far beyond anything I would have imagined using the Lensbaby for.

We came out with the Pinhole/Zone Plate optic for the Optic Swap System and it replaces your glass (the Composer comes with the double glass) and you just swap it out for the Pinhole/Zone Plate cup. The Zone Plate was a last minute addition to our system. Shawn Linehan whom we work with and does fantastic graphic design suggested the zone plate as one of the options for the optic swap system and I looked into it. I had no idea what it was. The zone plate is by far my favorite Lensbaby optic now. I’m seeing completely differently than I ever did because this is a new tool that interprets light and subject matter and detail and, well, everything in a way I never could have imagined. I’m putting this on my camera and I’m seeing things, I’m looking at the world saying, ‘here’s an image that I never would have seen before’ because of this tool that I’ve got on my camera.

Someone picking up a Lensbaby for the first time often experiences a ‘Wow!’ moment when they realize that they can create images of completely different subject matters than they’ve photographed before. It’s important to find a way to apply new tools to the subject matter you’ve always photographed. In addition, photographers can broaden their horizons with the kind of pictures and the kind of subject matter they choose with these new tools, be it fisheye lenses, Lensbaby lenses, tilt/shift lenses or Holgas. Each one of these non-traditional tools has a resonance, a spot where they really fit into someone’s style and the way they see the world. I’m excited to see people trying something new and finding that place where it resonates with their personal vision.

Britt: When digital started coming into the photography scene, I thought it would be a long time before digital eclipsed film and analog style photography. Every few months it seems we see a new digital SLR with more features and more megapixels. Where do you see digital photography and photography in general going over the next ten years?

Craig: It’s funny you say that, because about two weeks before I ordered my first digital SLR someone came up to me at a wedding and asked ‘So, do you have a digital camera? I said ‘Nah, that doesn’t really apply to what I do, (I knew there were professional cameras out there but they cost $15,000 or $20,000 dollars for the SLR’s), maybe I’ll get one in 10 or 15 years.’ at that point film was really required for the kind of photography I made my money with. Two weeks later I had just found DPReview out of the blue, I think I actually did a search because I heard someone saying ‘Canon’s coming out with this digital SLR’ for $3,000 or $2,000 I don’t even remember what it was, but it was the D30 that can print film-quality 11×14’s. And I went ‘What? That’s not possible.’ And so I went looking and I think I was the second person on the list at Pro Photo Supply (www.prophotosupply.com) here in Portland. I picked up that Canon D30 the day the first shipment arrived; it changed my career, it changed my photography.

And obviously the Lensbaby came out of that because I wouldn’t have done all of the necessary experimentation to come up with the Lensbaby had I been shooting exclusively with a film SLR. I had not experimented much with photographic techniques since I was in college. I had a developed very comfortable vision, something that I was comfortable with, of what photography was, how I used it, what my role as a documentary photographer was, and I didn’t really see a need to try a whole lot of new things. I had my three prime lenses and a couple of zooms and that’s what I needed, just as long as my camera bodies worked. Once I got the D30 I immediately started trying new things, and my vision started to change, and as far as my personal artistic vision (and I’m getting older so my vision changes anyhow), but the excitement for photography came back and I felt like I was in college again where I was trying something new and trying to get my mind around paradigms that I’d never understood before.

I’m rambling here, but I’d have to say based on having told someone that digital photography wasn’t for me and then two weeks later ordering my first dSLR I am looking forward to being surprised by the future of photography in this digital era. Things are changing so much… you look at that D30 and in two weeks my paradigm shifted from being ten to fifteen years before I get a digital camera to two weeks later putting one on order. There are a lot more of those kind of innovations and changes to come in this industry, thats the world we live in right now. Things are changing. Paradigms are shifting, there’s a lot of technology that hasn’t been fully utilized that’s maybe just in the mind of the inventory right now that I think is really going to dramatically affect photography. It’s going to affect how we see the world, and it’s going to affect the images we create. I can’t really guess; I’ve got some things in my engineering notebook but I wouldn’t say those are going to categorically change anything.

I am excited about the stuff that is out there that will be changing how I see the world, the tools that I have in my hands. On the other hand, I know that I have a digital SLR in the (Nikon) D300 that’s able to keep me happy as a clam with more than enough features for me to play with and to figure out, for the rest of my life. With what I’ve done thus far I’ve decided that I have a camera which is all I need. I’m sure that when the D800 or whatever comes out with the full-frame (sensor) and the HD video, and hopefully it’ll have some other features, because I don’t think the HD video is something I have the time to work with right now, but there will still be something that entices me to do an upgrade. But at the same time, I am still photographer, I have the tool I need that potentially I could create and continue to grow with for the rest of my life. There’s a real dichotomy there too, ‘cause while I have everything I need, I know there’s going to be something else that’s going to bring me along, and get me excited down the road, and I have no idea what that is.

Read Pt 2: Analog to Digital: Interview with Craig Strong, Inventor of the Lensbaby here…

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ArtWorks Featured

Interview with Robin Pedrero-on marketing

Tell us about your marketing journey…how did you start?

I learned a few things from my mother who did PR for our theater group, when I danced and sang in musicals. Her example taught me to be fearless about just asking or sending something in to the press, radio or TV stations.

When did you discover that you needed to market?

When I moved to Florida in 1988 and began painting portraits for just $25, word of mouth spread the news. Now my portraits are $1200 – $5500, and  people who bought my early work are collecting new work from me. My next move took me away from the community who knew me as an artist. Now, I had to work at building a good reputation as an artist all over again in a new place. I started by landing a show, joined groups, and participated in central Florida art events. As you grow your business you expand your territory. The relationships that you build will carry your business around the world especially if you use social network media.

Do you have a marketing plan, strategy if so please summarize?

My strategy is perseverance and sharing. I never stop working. My goals inspire the marketing I pursue. Most marketing is event and project oriented, building my brand, which is my name, my art. I might be unusual for an artist because I find the business of art fun!

Do you use Social media online alone or do you combine it with off-line efforts?

My first thought is if it is free and I can do it myself I use it, both online and offline. I have paid for ads in magazines, art guides, newspapers and radio broadcasts, yet my own efforts to build and maintain contact with my collectors personally are the most fruitful.

What has been the reaction to your making your work available in non-traditional ways, like mugs, jewelry etc?

In gauging buyers both my art collectors and those who would not typically purchase 2D art are attracted and purchasing.
cafe_press_coll

Has it been successful?

As a new endeavor, I had hoped for more sales, yet I haven’t focused on marketing the products extensively.  I would really like more venues to pick up the products. Would I recommend it? Yes of course! Low overhead, easy shipping and the items make great gifts for my collectors at the touch of my fingertips!

Have you seen it effect sales of originals or prints?

I have had people buy items then later buy originals. I see these items as another form of advertising as well. When products are used they are a conversation piece.

Where do most of your sales come from?

80 % of my sales come from 20% of my collector base. I adore my collectors! It saddens me when I don’t get to know who bought a piece, yet as my sales increase in galleries sometimes that occurs. I do ask my galleries to share a handwritten thank you from me to my new collector.

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ArtWorks Featured

Profile: Robin Pedrero on Motivation, Inspiration and Influence

Tell us about your work?

My work is a visual journey, exploring what calls me, often those things which bring me joy or contemplation. My work is spiritual, color saturated with symbolic and natural elements.

What mediums have you worked in and which is your favorite?

take-the-yellow-road-etsy-copyI have worked in oil, soft pastel, oil pastel, watercolor, acrylic, gouche, pen and ink, charcoal, textile, collage, colored pencil, mixed media, photography and assemblage. My favorite is whatever I am working in at the moment to get the effect I desire – ok pastel, no, acrylic, see I can’t play favorites.

How did you get started?

My early memories include painting in kindergarten, as a child I recall many summers drawing on a huge chalk board under a tree. I was always crafting and creating. I began oil painting with master artists when I was 13 years old. I began selling art at 15 in a gift store.

Who has influenced/inspired your art work?

As my work evolves those artists who influence me change. I began as a teen artist drawn to Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh, Impressionists, Brackman followed by many years while a young mother adoring Renoir, and Cassatt then Bouguereau. My work circa 1990 reflects these interests seen here. Then Turner, Waterhouse ….. and the list grows with more contemporary artists and variations of style. I call my work a visual journey encompassing inspirations in my life; family, friends, travel, nature, meals, introspection, books, art, music and worship. Influences and inspiration are daily occurrences, experienced through all of the senses.

You have written about how music and rhythm influence your work…tell us a little more.

I am always intrigued at how all of the arts inspire and influence one another. Masterpieces encompass multiple art forms; performance, film, fine art, music, dances, etc. Interestingly rhythms in one art form like music can inspire rhythms or creativity in another form like fine art or dance. Rhythm usually brings music or dance to mind, yet it plays more than one part in the life of visual artists. Often I will listen to the same music or series of songs while working on a piece of art. Music sets a mood. We rely on all of our senses to create and music can be stimulating even intoxicating as we inhabit our own world of creation. I play particular music to accommodate looseness in my motions to carry through to the work or another style of music for more detailed concentration. The movements I make in creating can carry the rhythm of what I hear. Many titles to my works of art reference music.

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Books Featured Photography Reviews

PHOTOGRAPHIC MULTISHOT TECHNIQUES by Juergen Gulbins & Rainer Gulbins

I've been neglecting a new book that's been on my desk for a month.  When I first glanced at Juergen Gulbins and Rainer Gulbins new book PHOTOGRAPHIC MULTISHOT TECHNIQUES  I realized that several of the techniques discussed involved the new Adobe Photoshop CS4, and at the time I hadn't upgraded yet.  I put PHOTOGRAPHIC MULTISHOT TECHNIQUES aside until I had upgraded to Photoshop CS4 and become comfortable with the new interface and some of the new tools. Now I've had time to become familiar with the new CS4 in general, I'm ready to tackle some new specifics and new ideas.

I've always felt that there were two kinds of information that I find relevant.  One of those is information that I know so well that I can quote pages verbatim and live with everyday.  The second type is reference that I know where to find and I can refer to when needed, and that I have on hand for the moment I need it.  This second type is the sort of thing that interests me on occasion and I have need of for special moments.  I want it available, concise, coherent—and comprehensive. All of those requirements are met in PHOTOGRAPHIC MULTISHOT TECHNIQUES, and for long-term use without a loss of picture quality I love to see the notice that the book is printed on acid-free paper.  That means that the beautifully reproduced sample images will still look fine even a number of years from now.

Multiimage techniques are not new.  A number of photographers as early as Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901) and Oscar Rejlander (1813-1875) began to produce composite images in the 1850's made from several different images.  Rejlander's THE TWO WAYS OF LIFE" in 1857 combined over 30 negatives into one compositon with remarkable realism. The inability of daguerreotypes, wet plate processes, and early films to record the long dynamic range of both sky and subject produced the necessity of combing sky and subject images into one image until the 1930's. A multitude of photographers mastered this process.

However, it has been the advent of digital imaging and the computer's role in post processing the image(s) that has brought the possibilities of (relatively easily) using multishot techniques into everyday photograhy.  Though still requiring careful and meticulous work, it is not uncommon to daily see photographs that have been produced through multishot techniques.

The most common multishot techniques are:

  1. high dynamic range images that produce detail in both the highlights and the shadows far beyond the range of common films,
  2. super-resolution images consisting of thousands of megabytes—or even gigabytes–of data when contrasted to normal digital images that consist of perhaps 50 to 100 maximum megabytes of data,
  3. extended depth of field which defys to laws of optics when compared to the results of normal photography, and finally
  4. stitching images together to take pictures (often panoramas) that cannot be produced by conventional means.

Juergen Gulbins and Rainer Gulpins should be familiar to the readers of Rocky Nook books in that Juergen was the co-author with Uwe Steinmuller of FINE ART PRINTING FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS, and the author of DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY FROM THE GROUND UP. Rainer Gulpins is a well-known photographer whose work has ranged from the Sahara to the Canadian wilderness as he has illustrated his travels. He has translated photography books for German publishers and acts as a consultant for many photographic projects.

What we have with PHOTOGRAPHIC MULTISHOT TECHNIQUES is a careful explanation of the theories behind making miltishot images and the step-by-step processes by which we use the currently relevant software programs (both PC and Mac) that are available.  The step-by-step procedures contain settings that can only have been arrived at by copius amounts of hands-on experimentation.  There are lots of little asides and commentary that could only be produed by experience, and paying attention to them will help the photographer to avoid a world of inconvenience and frustration.

Some of the software described and given as step-by-step procedures are:

  • Photoshop "Merge to HDR" and "PhotoMerge" commands;
  • PhotoAcute;
  • FDR Tools;
  • Photomatix Pro;
  • Combine ZM;
  • Helicon Focus; and
  • DOP Detail Extractor.

Following the tutorials (most of the software is available for download as free limited-time or limited-functionality versions which allow you to try them out) will make the photographer familiar with the strengths and limits of each software.

Super resolution and how to prepare to take and finally make the images is the first multishot technique that is described.  Focus Stacking is the next technique described.  This allows the photographer to produce an image with deeper depth of field than that which can be captured with conventional camera and lenses.  Stitching, which increases image coverage, is followed by HDRI, high-dynamic-range-imaging, where the finished images shows detail in both the highlight and shadow areas far beyond what can be captured with either conventional film or digital imaging sensors. Finally, Enhancing Microcontrast is defined and examined.

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Actually, there is one more aspect that follows Microcontrast; actually it is the post processing that follows all of the techniques previously given.

It's all together in one neat package: Juergen Gulbins and Rainer Gulpins, PHOTOGRAPHIC MULTISHOT TECHNIQUES, Rocky Nook, ISBN:978-1-933952-38-3, US $34.95 CAN $34.95.  Oh yes, it's paperback, 227 beautifully printed pages in a book that actually stays open when I'm following the techniques on my own computer in a step-by-step manner.  I highly recommend it to any photographers whether just beginning or experienced, who are interested in any of the forms of multishot photography.

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Featured Gadgets Hardware Photography Reviews

Lensbaby Composer: A Selective Focus SLR Camera Lens (pt 3)

A Three Part Series  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Pt. 3 of 3: Be My Lens, Baby…always

Another improvement over my Lensbaby 2.0 is the lens cap – the 2.0 shipped with a nice, heavy solid metal lens cap that screwed in place… unfortunately, it was kind of slippery and difficult to get off sometimes. The Composer ships with a new squeeze-type lens cap (the style that lets your fingers get inside a lens hood, hmm, what a handy accessory that would be?). Easy on and easy off, but not so easy that you can lose it. In fact, the lens cap is flush with the front of the lens only when focused at the closest possible distance, so the style of the lens cap has something to do with getting the cap on and off when the lens is focused at a further distance and the front element is recessed into the front of the lens housing. The size is compact, about the same physical length as my Nikkor 50mm lens.

The Composer I received fit nicely on my Nikon, but you can also order Canon EF, Sony Alpha / Minolta Maxxum, Pentax K or Olympus 4/3. That covers most of the current digital SLR’s… of course, you could mount the Nikon version on your trusty Nikon F from 1965, and mount the Canon version on any autofocus Canon body ever made, including those that shoot (shudder), film. Pentax K mount may have had more bodies and lenses manufactured for it than all others combined. On my Nikon D3, I found that the website is essentially correct in that you need to shoot in manual mode and check your exposure via the histogram. I found it easy to get my exposure set for a scene, and then I set the bracketing to 3 shots (first exposure normal, 2nd exposure one stop underexposed, and the 3rd exposure is one stop overexposed). Most of the time, the normal or one stop underexposed produced the best images.

The first weekend I had the Composer, I visited my mother and grandmother. I got my mom interested in photography in the early 1980’s, and she has shot Nikon film bodies for 25 years now. At my gentle prodding, this year she upgraded to a Nikon D200, which she is never without. I showed her the Composer, and let her put it on her body… I almost didn’t get it back. I had to promise to order her one that very night to get it off her camera.

My shooting was sporadic over the time I had the Composer, but I did get to try it on a variety of subjects. Things, landscapes, people. I shot over 1,000 images with the lens… in other words, I barely scratched the creative surface. Having used many of the possible configurations, I have a starting suggestion for you: start with the Composer. It is not a huge investment by the standards of lenses made by camera manufacturers. Please check the Lensbaby website for current pricing at   http://www.Lensbaby.com/shop/ — there are some special pricing options there if you buy the Composer and Optic Kit and/or Accessory Kit at the same time. All told, you can get the entire system for the Composer and all the optics and accessories for well under $500.

A new feature I noticed as this article goes to press is the photo gallery on the Lensbaby website. There are many images to view with captions to tell you which lens optic made the image  http://www.lensbaby.com/gallery-photo.php . Every time you refresh the page, new images come up.


But Britt, surely there has to be something not perfect with the Lensbaby? Are you selling out? Well, no, I am not selling out. There are a couple of picky little things. When Craig Strong first developed the Lensbaby, my understanding is that he did it to fill a niche for his digital SLR. When he was first doing this, there weren’t too many full-frame digital SLR’s in the world. Certainly, I didn’t have one. So my original Lensbaby 2.0 looked and felt like a 75mm lens on my Nikon D2X (still half the focal length of the Sima, which translated to a 150mm). Now I have the D3… with the Composer (I have not tested the Muse or Control Freak), it is possible to skew the image to the point of cutting off or vignetting the image circle. Once I saw this and realized what was happening, it was no big deal. There is plenty of movement available without vignetting. I didn’t see vignetting with the D200 or D2X, which are both 2/3 frame sensors. Second, I wish the directions for removing and replacing lens elements were a little more detailed. Maybe I’m just not too bright. Are either of my minor gripes deal breakers? Not even close. One accessory I would like to see is a lens hood made to screw into the lens threads, although it would be funny shaped or maybe not possible because of the way the lens optic group moves into the body as you focus to infinity.

So, the bottom-line? Get one. I didn’t test the Muse, but it is essentially the Lensbaby 2.0 upgraded to use the interchangeable optics. In my opinion the Muse is best for fast, on-the-go photography.  Or, step up to the Composer (my recommendation). To me this is the most versatile lens in the series. If you shoot little toy soldiers in dioramas or architectural elements and want the ultimate in precision control, go for the Control Freak. Get more detail on all of these lenses and accessories at  http://www.Lensbaby.com/ . Any prices noted are current as of the time this article goes to the webmistress, but check the website for current pricing and availability… the Composer is currently in stock and shipping in about 3 weeks. The one that I ordered for my mom arrived in about four weeks, which was early by two weeks of the estimated shipping time on the website at the time it was ordered.

Lens Baby SLR Lenses

$150-270

Free Shipping Via USPS

For more information or to purchase, visit

www.lensbaby.com

The Lens Baby Composer – A Selective Focus SLR Camera Lens : A Review in 3 Parts

Part 1 |   Part 2 |   Part 3

Categories
Featured Hardware Photography Reviews

Lensbaby Composer: A Selective Focus SLR Camera Lens (pt 1)

A Three Part Series Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Pt. 1 of 3:  Be My Lens, Baby!

Soon after receiving my first 35mm camera, I found that photography was a little more difficult than it had first looked. Ok, it was a lot more difficult. After mastering the learning curve on how make a sharp, well-exposed photo, I saw some photography by David Hamilton and Robert Farber. I was back to square one. Suddenly, I wanted to shoot soft focus images. But, how to do it?

Shortly after graduating college, I got my first dedicated soft focus lens. I had tried all different ways of getting that beautiful soft focus look… shooting through cigarette package cellophane, smearing petroleum jelly on the filter, shooting through other materials like hose, netting, window screen, almost anything you can think of. Then came the Sima soft focus lens… 100mm at f/2 wide open, a simple single lens plastic element, push and pull focusing, it made beautiful images. It worked great… as long as you had your subject perfectly centered. The lens was sharper in the center than at the edges, so if you put your subject off center it would suffer degradation beyond the intent of soft focus. You could manipulate it slightly with an f/4 and an f/5.6 disk, plus there was a neutral density disk in the box that I never really used. The other limitation I immediately realized was the focal length; it was too long to use for most landscape situations. I moved on and tried other specialty lenses, mostly with less success than the Sima.

Then something wonderful happened… a guy like me who liked soft focus made a lens with an integral hard rubber-ish bellows to focus and bend all over the place to skew the plane of focus. Let me be clear – I experimented but never really built anything. I was content to use what others had made before me. Not so for photographer Craig Strong. He too had been unhappy with the soft focus options available to him, so he decided to do something about it, and the first Lensbaby was born. That was 2004; I found it in 2005 at PhotoExpo in New York City… when I saw the booth I went in and bought a Lensbaby 2.0.

The Lensbaby 2.0 creates beautiful images, but it has limitations for me. First, if I wanted to shoot a bracketed exposure, sometimes I found it difficult to hold the lens exactly on the focus point with the skew for a 3 or 5 shot bracket. I also had some difficulty focusing and bending the lens exactly the right way to throw the focus off a certain way. Using it on a tripod gave similar results. Forget trying to do a perfect long bracket for rendering an HDR scene… the original and version 2.0 Lensbabies were great for quick, on the move photography, but not for more studied compositions.

Jump forward to 2008. Apparently nobody mentioned to Craig Strong that he had created a great product and that he should rest on his laurels. He continued to improve the Lensbaby design, and introduced the new Lensbaby Composer. Instead of a bellows, it has a rotating ball-n-socket joint. Focus is achieved in a much more conventional fashion (to us old-school folks who were already used to focusing the lens themselves) with a rotating collar that moves the element assembly closer or farther from the sensor plane. But lo and behold, this wasn’t just an improvement on a single lens… the Lensbaby Composer had crossed over to… the system side. I remember one of the early literature pieces I saw from Nikon – it was titled the “Nikon System”. Need a right angle viewer that magnifies? Got it. How about a high-point action/sports finder? Ditto. Motor drive with 250-exposure cassette (yeah, film was somewhat precious, but what was really precious was time… like the time spent reloading your camera while the shot gets away). They can do that. Not to mention little things like the Noct Nikkor (look it up if you don’t know).

The Lensbaby and Lensbaby 2.0 had some attachments, but weren’t what I would call a system. The Lensbaby Optic Swap System is the heart of a new system of lenses that cover the spectrum of soft focus possibilities. Start with the sharpest, a double element glass lens. Second, a single glass element, followed by a single plastic element (if you have experience with a Diana or Holga, you’ll know this look). Apertures… we have apertures! Wide open the Composer is pretty soft with any of the lens optics. In the compact storage case/aperture tool housing (Lensbaby calls this the “Magnetic Aperture Set” and is included in with your first Lensbaby), you will find apertures from f/2.8 to f/22. If you are looking for f/4 in there, it is probably already in the lens. Finally, there is a fourth (and fifth?) element that thoughtfully combines a pinhole and zone plate in one housing. But wait… there’s more! All of these lens elements fit neatly into the newly redesigned Lensbaby Muse (replacing the Lensbaby original and 2.0 lenses), Control Freak (if precision soft focus, which seems something of an oxymoron, is your gig, this is the lens for you), and the Composer.

Ok, let’s do our math now. 5 lens types (double glass, single glass, plastic, zone plate and pinhole), 9 possible apertures including those in the creative aperture kit (without making your own), wide angle and telephoto converters, macro close-up kit… Without creating your own apertures from the blanks in the creative kit, there are well over one hundred different possible system configurations. Of course, you can also get there 3 different ways – the Muse, Composer or Control Freak. For those artsy readers that aren’t system oriented, don’t be alarmed… on the Lensbaby website you can preview the effects of many of the combinations… just browse to  http://www.Lensbaby.com/optic-comparison.php and use your mouse to create the combinations. This handy preview tool will get you started toward the look you desire.

Examples

Lens Baby SLR Lenses

$150-270

Free Shipping Via USPS

For more information or to purchase, visit

www.lensbaby.com

The Lens Baby Composer – A Selective Focus SLR Camera Lens : A Review in 3 Parts

Part 1 |   Part 2 |   Part 3

Categories
Books Featured Photography Reviews

The Nikon Creative Lighting System: Using the SB-600, SB 800, SB 900 & RiCi Flashes

As a landscape, architectural, and product photographer I seldom actually photograph people, and most of my artificial lighting is done with "hot light", that is, continuous lighting done with Lowell or similar tungsten-balanced equipment. Therefore, flash units for me are usually confined to snapshots and general family pictures. My experience with on-camera flash has been limited to the level of advanced amateur if I'm being completely honest with myself. However, a couple of years ago when I bought a Nikon D2x to replace an aging D100, I felt compelled to purchase three Nikon SB-800 flash units with the goal of becoming more familiar with them. My best of intentions was defeated by lack of time and the Nikon manuals which I have ranted about before as being written by engineers who want to tell the reader about all the things their product will do but only tell in the most cursory manner the HOW to do something. It's an organization approach that makes the customer read separate accounts from a half dozen widely separated categories. For a mind that has no trouble selecting information from column A, then column B (thirty pages later on) and then from column C another forty pages later…well. That's not me. I want to get all my information in linear manner from one source in one place in the manual.

Because of that I really ended up letting two of those new SB-800's sit and pretty much limited myself to using one SB-800 mounted on camera unless I got really daring and used an SB-29 cable to let me shoot with the flash off camera (by a couple of feet) for family gathering shots if I couldn't do them by available light. I stuck to my hot lights and usual way of professional working and ignored the wonderful wireless capabilities of the SB-800 flash units. Two things finally created a change in my working habits. The first was a former student who uses six or eight SB-800's at the same time who shamed me into rethinking what I usually did. The second was the arrival of a new book from Rocky Nook that made it possible to throw away Nikon's manuals. Between the two of these events I gained the incentive to charge up a ton of AA rechargeable batteries and get to playing with the flash units. 
 

The book that made the difference is Mike Hagen's THE NIKON CREATIVE LIGHTING SYSTEM: USING THE SB-600, SB-800, SB-900, AND R1C1 FLASHES.

If you are a Nikon Camera user then you are familiar with Mike Hagen from the Nikonians website or if you've had an opportunity you may have participated in one of Mike's workshops. His workshops range from African safaris to Montana game ranches and to Hawaiian trips. In between his workshops he somehow writes books and articles. Good ones!

THE NIKON CREATIVE LIGHTING SYSTEM, as a manual, shines in that it is a step-by-step HOW TO manual that takes each of Nikon's SB series flash units, matches the unit with a particular camera or cameras and spells out the step-by-step sequences necessary to make the units (notice the plural) work together wirelessly. Along the way, he teaches you everything you need to know about Nikon's iTTL flash system.

He does it by listing the steps one at a time in such a way that I fired up my copier and copied each set-up as he described them and then laminated the sheets into cards that will slip into my camera bag. I did this for the Nikon D2x, D300, and the wife's D80 so that I could refresh my memory after a spell of not shooting family pictures—and yes, I've begun to shoot some of my architecture interiors and products with flash as well.

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Mike starts with the SB-600 and moves on to the SB-800 and Nikon's newest SB-900 and R1C1 flashes as well. The book is set up so that he repeats himself where necessary regarding each flash so that you do not have to jump ahead or back to find something that is already taken for granted.

I have to mention Rocky Nook's book quality at least in passing. It pleases me so much to see on an inside page of the book the information that tells me that the book is printed on archival paper. That means that the pictures won't fade and the manual will be vibrant for years to come. I still have a couple of film Nikons (F2's) and manual lenses that are still operational after 30 years; so why can't I expect a book to last equally well and continue to perform as well? This one will.

Categories
Art Commentary Photography

Infrared Photography

The switch from film to digital photography has benefited people who desire to shoot images in infrared.  Infrared photography was born in the First World War as an aid to aerial photography that was used to film troops and equipment on the ground.  Where infrared photography aids in this is due to the fact that when tree leaves or grass is photographed through a deep red (visually black) filter on infrared film, it is plainly different (lighter) than buildings, metal vehicles or camouflage nets that appear to our eyes to be the same green as the foliage.  This difference in tone makes it relatively easy to visually separate real foliage from artificial camouflage as used by the military.  Military intelligence specialists love it.

Following the First World War and up to recent times, non-military film users who sought to use infrared film for design or aesthetic reasons had to use an appropriate filter, and a tripod with their camera to shoot (mostly landscapes) with long exposures.  The filter used is very dense in order to cut out the visible light while permitting infrared light waves to pass through it. It is necessary to focus the camera first because the photographer cannot see through the filter, then to attach the filter to the lens before making the exposure.  Because of the density of the filter and the low sensitivity of the film, the exposures were quite long‚ hence the tripod and usually non-moving landscape subjects.

In a digital camera the sensor, the "chip" that receives the image, has a much higher sensitivity to infrared light than has film.  In fact, that sensitivity is so high that the camera manufacturer must add an infrared-subtracting filter inside the camera body in order to remove the effects of infrared on the visual subject.  Photographers who desire to photograph subjects in infrared have camera repairmen remove the infrared-subtracting filter and dedicate the camera to infrared shooting alone.  Once modified, the camera is suitable only for producing black and white infrared images, it would no longer be possible to use it for normal images.

Britt Stokes is a corporate photographer who uses the unique quality of infrared cameras to bring his personal work an otherworldly and fantasy-like quality.  Using the characteristics of infrared-modified digital cameras, he utilizes controlled aspects of the infrared process to give us a different view of the everyday world.
In infrared, greens appear light in tone, blues become black, and reds and yellows appear as various shades of gray.  It is not a negative image but rather a curious combination of positive and negative that occurs.  Skin seems to glow, blonde hair produces halos in the air and an apparent graininess overlays almost everything.
Britt Stokes brings his perceptive and selective vision to landscape and portrait images, and gives us his somewhat different view of everyday things.

Categories
ArtWorks

On lessons learned and the importance of living in the present

Some of you may know that over ten yeas ago I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) which is a disease that causes the immune system to suddenly go into overdrive by attacking the body. Periodically and unpredictably  Flare occurs not only causing extreme pain ( I know combat vets who have been wounded and take a bullet wound over a flare) and depending of the area affected minor to extreme disability. This is not your grandmothers arthritis which it often gets confused with…it is in the same category as Lupus and MS.

So you may ask what does this have to do with the price of beer on Sunday? Well, when I was first diagnosed I was working as potter (in addition to photography) and I quickly learned that I had to stay in the present and focus on getting done what I needed to get done one day at a time. I could never know if I would be physically able to do something the following day. I kept up with this approach to life, practicing a number of meditative techniques to keep me grounded and focused.

It took a year or so to find the right combination of drugs and alternative treatments mostly acupuncture and Tai Chi and Qui Gong, once the right combo started working I continue for some time to follow my mindfullness strategies. However, after a couple of years Flare free or at least only minor flares I started forgetting about what it was like before re-mission.

Over the last year I switched to another drug regimen and one of the component drugs started to effect my liver, after months of tests the drug was eliminated altogether. However, this was the key element that had kept me Flare free. suddenly, in months following the drug’s elimination the old Flares started to return but only with minor “tolerable” intensity. That started to change over the last month with flares reaching or exceeding what I had experienced early on. December 28th I started noticing  pain in my right ankle but thought little of it, then on the 31st the pain turned into swelling and intensity until by mid aternoon I couldn’t walk even with a cane. For a day I improvised by using a step stool as a walker until my dear wife was able to get a real one. Generally flares lasted 3 days witht he second day being the worse. This one was different five days after its onset I still need a cane to move around since the foot will not take weight.

The reason for this post is to share with all of you the importance of living in the present, pay attention to your life by not sweating the small stuff. Focus on what is important to you the kinds o things that make a difference that would if passed up be a source of regret. Take a chance move out of your comfort zone, live as if there would be no tomorrow. It took this recent disabling flare to make remember how important it is to live in the present and stop thinking about tomorrow.

Often our ANTs get in the way of us living in present, if this is the case go back to the articles on getting rid of ANTs and re-examine your habits.

Good luck and thanks for reading this.

 On lessons learned and the importance of living in the present
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Categories
Art Commentary Media The Write Stuff

Requiem for The Polaroid

The days of the in your face – no touch-up’s – crappy lighting – crappy paper – instant photograph have come to a close, as Polaroid ascends to the big darkroom in the sky.I could write about the history of Polaroid, but then you could Google it if you were really interested. And you should because it’s pretty good reading. Instead, today, I’m going to tell you the story of Amelia.

Amelia was just ten years old when I was a volunteer at the Bancroft School in Haddonfield NJ, a residential/boarding school facility for children and adolescents with mental and emotional disabilities. I was seventeen and working toward community service hours, spending Tuesdays and Thursdays at the facility after school. Amelia was there for lack of a better place to stash her because, while her parents had means, they had neither the time nor inclination to take proper care of a deaf child.

On my second Tuesday there, I was assigned to over-see the residential pod where the girls slept and hung out while not in school. There were perhaps fifteen girls to the pod, all of varying levels of disability ranging from proufound Autism to mild social adjustment disorder.

Amelia had neither. She simply couldn’t hear, and henceforth, had never learned to speak.
Having gone to sleep away camp, I’d learned how to sign the alphabet and I attempted to communicate with her as well as I could, spelling out entire words instead of proper signing with symbols and such. And being a 1970’s hippy, I carried a napsack instead of a purse and Amelia, like any pre-adolescent, was curiously curious about it’s contents and immediately wanted to see what I had inside. What was inside was a camera- A Polaroid One Step.  The picture would come out and develop right there in front of your eyes.

I took her picture and let her watch it come to life. Mesmerized, Amelia had never seen such a thing and I must admit, I thought it was pretty cool too.

I handed her the camera and let her shoot. Her first shot was of the ceiling of the dorm. Having no idea why she would shoot a picture of the ceiling, I let her continue, figuring that she was having fun and who really cared what she was shooting. The next was of the corner of the hallway near the bathroom door. Then more. I reloaded the film and let her have at it. There were probably ten to twelve photos in all, not counting the ones that were blurry.

I took the photos and placed them on her bed, one next to the other, and we looked at them. Touching them ever so gently with her fingertips, she held them up to me and smiled, pointing to the places in the photo she wanted me to notice. I focus in, then, I see it. Little black spots in the ceiling that look like a constellation. She shows me a book she has under her pillow. It’s a book of planets and stars. She opens it to the page of constellations and shows me Orion’s Belt. It looked just like the pattern of the little black stains on the ceiling of her dorm room. She points out the photo of the wall near the floor by the bathroom door. There are scratch marks. Many of them. I come to learn later it is in this corner they sit for time out.

Each photo, a story in it’s own right. There was the photo of the empty bed, the bed of a girl who went away. Story was she had a seizure and choaked on some food and that was it, but they just told the kids she went away. The kids knew better though. Even the ones you couldn’t really reach.

She picked up two of blurry photos and held one in each of her hands. Stretching out her arms like the wings on an airplane, she began to spin around and around. She spun for a few moments and then flopped on her bed and laughed a deep, gutteral laugh. She signs to me the letters for DIZZY, and points to the blurry photos. I come to realize that the blurry photos are how she feels when she spins. I get it. I nod and sign YES, and smile. She smiles, takes my hand, and shows me the proper sign for I Love You.

A photograph. A connection. A link between two people in diametrically opposite worlds.

I leave my camera with Amelia and bring her some more film the next time I come by. After a few weeks I am transfered to a different pod and then school is over and that is that.
I don’t see Amelia again.

Then, In 1994 I receive an email. She’d found me.

Some years after I’d left, during a showing of some of the Bancroft student’s art for a fundraiser, a few of Amelia’s photos caught the eye of a teacher from the Moore College of Art, who, after some string pulling, arranged a grant for Amelia to attend some classes on campus. It was there she met a student professor who, as it turns out, had been raised by a hearing impared single mother. They date for five years and in 1988, are married in a small ceremony behind the Philly art museum, overlooking the Schuylkill River and a backdrop of vintage boat houses.

Today, Amelia teaches hearing impared children in a small town in Maine and helps her husband (the student professor) with his photography business on the weekends. They have two adopted sons, both hearing impared, and one biological daughter with no hearing disability. The family is happy and thriving.

It is with a heavy heart that I have come to accept Polaroid’s imminent demise, but in the words of Bob Dylan, ‘The Times They Are A Changin’. And while we can’t interfere with progress, I take this moment to raise my glass and bow my head to Polaroid and it’s legacy – for it has done far more than just capture moments, it has in many respects, set spirits free.

Namaste, Polaroid. Gone but not forgotten.

Categories
Gadgets Hardware Photography Reviews Workflow

Ray Flash: The Ring Flash Adapter

Ray Flash, a portable ring light for your Canon or Nikon DSLR camera system

Tonight I was making whipped cream for my wife’s dessert. It brought back fond memories of my mother making whipped cream, usually at Thanksgiving or Christmas, and I almost always got to lick a beater from the mixer. That was worth running from anywhere in the house – getting a beater with the thick, sweet whipped cream on it. Ah, those were the days. That is, until now.

A few weeks ago I got a box in the mail… the box was bigger than the hand mixer my mother used, but what it contained was sweeter than whipped cream. It was the Ray Flash attachment for my Nikon SB-800 flash unit, designed to transform an ordinary flash into a ring flash. This model was specifically for my D2X or D3, although it would also work on my old D1X. Ha… Christmas came early this year. And, I didn’t have to fight my brother for it.

Ring flash has an almost mystical following in the fashion and photography world. Ring lights are generally expensive, heavy, dedicated units that fit one manufacturer’s brand of flash pack. They can be very cumbersome to use hand-held. Oh, but that light… the wrap-around quality of shadow-less light is hard to create with any other equipment. The light produces a crisp catch-light in the model’s eye, with very even illumination and quick falloff.  The light that you can now, with your existing equipment, mount on your Nikon or Canon camera!

Imagine if you will a ring light that mounts directly to your camera mounted flash unit, and redirects the light into a perfect circle of light surrounding your lens.  Now imagine that it works totally TTL (through the lens metering with your camera’s exposure system)… finally imagine that it only costs about $300, not closer to $1,000 or more. OK, quit dreaming… it is here, in a real product that you can use now.

Let’s look at what you get in the box. First, you find the ring flash itself, with a head specifically designed for your model of flash (Nikon SB-800 or Canon 580EX). The ring slides on over the lens and the head cover slides onto the head of your flash and with a quick twist of a knob on top, locks securely to your flash. Second you will find a small Ziploc bag of shims… the shims are provided for the head if your flash head tends to droop under the weight. Finally, a short instruction manual. Do you need the manual? Probably not, but it is nice to have.

So far I have shot with two lenses, the Nikkor 24-120 AF VR and the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF. I shot the 24-120 without the lens hood, as it stuck a couple of inches in front of the ring light. I kept the lens hood on the 50mm, as it was much shorter. Here is what I found… first, on the 24-120, it isn’t easy to zoom… the zoom ring is pretty close to the body of the ring light. It is possible with nimble fingers, and I think it could be learned with a little practice. The 50mm had no such problems. I think an ideal lens is my 85mm f/1.8, although I have currently loaned it out to a friend.

So, what do I like about the Ray Flash? Well, for what you are getting, it is relatively lightweight. It stays easily mounted to the camera, and doesn’t get in the way of the camera straps or camera controls with a couple of exceptions… the controls that are a little blocked are the mirror lockup, autofocus mode selector switch, and lens mount button. With the 50mm, I could simply swing the whole assembly carefully up and make needed adjustments, but the 24-120 wasn’t quite as easy. All the exposures are TTL reliable, with all your adjustments being easily controlled from the back of the flash. You do have to use either TTL or manual flash modes, as the Auto mode won’t work… the photo receptor on the front of the flash body is blocked by the Ray Flash. I can’t remember the last time that I used Auto mode on a flash… probably more than 10 years at least. Want to turn vertical from horizontal? Well this is complicated… just turn the camera. Ha. No more rotating the head of the flash – it’s round!
Teen model Lindsay photographed with Nikon D3 with SB-800 and diffusion dome… note the telltale shadow on the wall. Surely we can do better for such a pretty girl.

 

Same location but photographed after removing the diffusion dome and installing the Ray Flash ring light on the SB-800.

I found several nice uses for the Ray Flash. First and most obvious, I had to find a pretty young lady to photograph for my testing. Lindsay was as easy to work with as the Ray Flash. First we did a test shot with my normal flash arrangement (turning the camera to portrait mode and rotating the SB-800 flash head to match). This usually works well, but if you have a wall or other object fairly close to the back of your subject, you will normally get a rather objectionable shadow on the side of your subject. Next I installed the Ray Flash, and shot the same photo – presto, magico… the shadow went away, and Lindsay’s face was beautifully and evenly illuminated. We shot at a couple of locations, both in open shade and then the lowering gloom of a late fall post-sunset evening. The shots turned out great. I played with the adjustment on the flash to get the illumination level correct with the changing ambient light.

Lindsay posing about four feet from the turquoise garage door… this shot was in open shade just as the sun was going down.

Did somebody say wireless? Commander Ray, front and center! Yes, the Ray Flash works with the Nikon wireless TTL system – program your other SB wireless compatible lights as slaves, set the one on your camera as master, and prepare to make some really funky cool photos. As long as the photo eyes on the side of the slaves can see the ring flash go off, you should be in business.

Lindsay posing about four feet from the turquoise garage door- this shot was in open shade just as the sun was going down.

Another nice use is fill flash on close-up subjects, like flowers. I even did a shot of a couple of my trusty, if dusty, F2 to see what it looked like – worked just fine. I set up a second SB-800 as a background light to make it interesting.

Until I looked at this shot in Photoshop’s Camera Raw  module, I had not realized how really dusty my trusty  F2 camera is. Another use for the RayFlash is shooting  quick photo illustrations like this one to use for online  auctions. This was shot with the RayFlash mounted on  my SB-800 plus 1-2/3 stops with a Nikkor 60mm  Micro lens. In the full-sized version of this photo you  can see every glorious scratch and dent of this 1972  camera.

Ok Britt, you say, there has to be some kind of downside, some trade off with the Ray Flash. Well, there is – the Ray Flash is only as powerful as the flash you mount it on.  An SB-800 has a guide number high enough to be very useful, but you do lose some light in the Ray Flash. On the D3, that is not a big deal – just go up from ISO 200 to ISO 400 and shoot away.  (I found my best results for portraits were shots done within about 8 to 10 feet of the subject. For exact information, refer to chart on the Ray Flash page at  HYPERLINK "http://www.expoimaging.com" www.expoimaging.com.) It is somewhat bulky, and does block some camera controls, but no more than any other ring flash I have seen short of the small macro photo ring flashes that Nikon makes. And to be fair, the $300 price is a little steep for some people, but let’s be completely fair and say that the ring light attachment for my studio strobes costs about $1,400 and you have to lug a $3,000 pack with you that weighs 25 pounds. Oh, don’t forget that you have to have AC power or an expensive battery pack unit to actually use it. Is the studio strobe ring flash more powerful? Absolutely. Is it more convenient for fast-moving location work? Not a chance.
This shot is cropped to show the catch light in Lindsay's eye from the Ray Flash ring light. This is typical, although it seems that the further the subject is from the flash, the less defined the dark spot in the center of the catch light is. Love those freckles!

The bottom line is, if you shoot Nikon or Canon DSLR’s and want ring flash capability out in the real world, get a Ray Flash.

Oh, yeah… after I made the whipped cream, I got both beaters. What a day – playing with the Ray Flash and getting the beaters. Gotta e-mail my brother. He he he…

Ray Flash is imported to the United States by ExpoImaging, the same folks who bring us the ExpoDisc. It is available from select photo dealers or directly from ExpoImaging at  www.expoimaging.net or 1-800-446-5086. ExpoImaging stands behind their products and offers free telephone technical support from 9am to 5pm Pacific Time Monday through Friday.
 

Categories
Digital Lifestyles Media Photography

PhotoVoice

It is well established that if you give someone a fish, they’ll have dinner for one night. Teach someone to fish and they’ll have dinner for the rest of their life.

In 1998, Edinburgh University Social Anthropology students Tiffany Fairey and Anna Blackman established two projects which sought to integrate participatory photography into their MA dissertations. These projects, the Rose Class project in Nepal and the Street Vision project in Vietnam, encouraged and inspired refugees from these areas to capture their everyday lives on film, with cameras supplied by the two projects.