The Next Level

Iron Lantern

On the weekend an elderly gentleman from Hong Kong approached me, waving his arms, and asking what kind of camera he should buy to take better photos. While I spent some time with him explaining the basics of camera equipment, I asked him what kind of photos he wanted to take better? Most people want to take great photos of their families, their lives and their travels. They want simple, light technology that doesn’t cause spousal disapproval, but that also gives them the air of a real pro. Unfortunately, the best equipment is heavy and complicated to use if you want to capture the style of photo you seek; this is the stuff your father bought and left in the closet after your first family vacation. However, there is another way, a secret to photography that will help anyone improve: take more photos more often.

Nishiki Market

In the run of a week, I take about one hundred photos between teaching English classes. Last weekend, when I met that older gentleman on a sports field, I had taken about one thousand shots that would be culled down to a cool twenty for the school yearbook. The day before I had taken twenty shots of garden produce for our eco-calendar project, and then captured a few personalities around the school in candid portraits. During a year I take well over five thousand images that I colour-correct, archive and retouch. These are images that I receive no credit for, that are owned by my employer and that only see the light of day through approved school-publication usage. Sometimes I wish that I could show people the best of these images, but I know that respect for my clients’ privacy far outweighs the vanity of showing this work to others: photographs are often a personal and sacred event.

Ueno Noodle Shop

Regardless, my countless hours acting as an event photographer has taught me how to use my camera so that I never ever miss “the moment”. It has been priceless, practical experience that I was able to gain in tandem with my full-time job, and it is that experience which makes me a better photographer for when I travel or work as a commercial photographer. I might also secretly add that I can now just as easily take a comparable photo with a cheap snapshot camera, but that I value the feel of using exotic equipment and the weight keeps me from getting out of shape. Really though, the value of using the professional gear is that it forces me to learn how to improve my skills and understanding of the art of photography.

Walking Towards Ueno Park

Speaking of exotic gear…the Hasselblad lens continues to light my imagination while stressing me out to learn how to use it properly. Last night I took some product shots of some surplus cameras destined for resale, and I caught a ton of flare in the centre of the image due to the Profoto lights. I am thinking that I did not have the leaf shutter disengaged properly, but I will have to try again on the weekend. I do love the richness of the colour and the feel of the manual focus on this lens. With the camera adapters I should be able to use it properly on both cameras by next week. The focus is not hyper sharp, but I did not expect it to be. It will make a great portrait lens.

Lastly, there has been a whole lot of changes in the camera world since I last had a chance to blog. Leica has released both their new M9 and S2 cameras – these are giant killers for the well-heeled, and actually the M9 looks like a perfect blend of small camera with big tools. Of course, it costs over $7000 without a lens, and the Noctilux 50mm f.o.95 I dream of is a mere $11000, but then who needs to retire?  Canon has the new 7D, while Hasselblad and Phase One have introduced the H4D and 645DF cameras respectively. Phase One has added Schneider Kreuznach leaf-shutter lenses to their stable, so that will even things back out with Hasselblad. All in all it should make for an exciting year in photography, especially with the Olympics around the bend, which will be when Canon and Nikon release their next big things for sports photographers.

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