Tag Archives: photography

End of an Era: This Blog Ends Here

While speaking at the 2014 CITE Conference about the way that blogging has changed my writing style, how this blog has reached over 100,000 views all over the world, and what topics I have written about, I realized that now was the time to end the blog. Maybe it is that I have changed, maybe it is that the theme of If Not Now, When? has become removed from where my life is: I fulfilled the expectations of doing whatever I wanted over these past five years, and I have translated that into an amazing life in an amazing world. My reality is that the now is constantly in play, and I have the momentum to continue to the end without looking ahead or behind.

For this final entry I wanted to write a summative piece; I have avoided writing for the past two weeks to ensure that what I wrote was strong. In the end, I decided to reflect on the people who I have met in the past two years, and who changed what I knew to be true. Each one is a creative genius, an artist, connects deeply with my photographic work, and is an inspiration to work with. First…Graeme Cameron of Base Camp X.

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I met Graeme through a series of random events. Over two years I have shot about 200 images for him. His tools are beautiful, rugged, and connect to an inspirational narrative. I now own four axes, two canoe paddles and a few lethal, zombie-worthy knives, and I am always impressed by what he pulls out of his bag at each photo session. This week had me photographing his new series of Wendigo Blades, a slingshot, and a few clothing items. These new blades, especially the middle size, are prime examples of tools that not only make sense to own, but also feel like an extension of your body. The work I do for Graeme is personal, and money never changes hands; some work is simply worth the doing.

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When I began going to to hear music two years ago, we came across a local banjo picker at Cameron House whose music became the soundtrack of our lives. Darren Eedens has since become a friend and continual inspiration. I seem to recall taking a few shots at a show at Cameron House, and then at Lee’s Palace. I never tire of the songs “Waiting For the Freeze”, “Darlin'”, and Footprints in the Snow”. Darren’s music inspired me to pick up my guitar again for the first time in years. I ended up writing and recording an album about my life over an intense three month period. I began going to hear music at local bars even when I was exhausted from work. I found the music in life again. I found myself in the places between a pint of beer and a steel string guitar.

Paderno Nature Pan

The third person who altered my being is the most important. She is the person I am going to marry. She is the person who awakened me from a deep slumber. She is the most talented, adventurous, and kind individual that I have met. Our life is full of joy and challenges, but the balance keeps us moving forward together, and I know that I have found the love of my life. She keeps me in the now. I care little about the past now, and the future is not as important as what we do in the present together. We move into our new house in July, and I am happy. What does this have to do with the photograph of me dragging a sled?

I chose this photograph because she took it, and it represents a full circle coming around in the past year when I took a similar photograph of her with Paderno’s first Nature Pan. That photograph was widely published, and represents the highest point of my success in commercial photography. Our life is filled with passion and art; I need for nothing while I have her by my side.

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So here we are. While I continue to work as an educator, photographer and writer, I do so now because the work offers artistic and personal opportunities. While I continue to travel the world widely with a summer trip to Bangalore and Paris, I have a deeper desire to stay close to home and America. Instead of writing for this blog, I want to turn my talents over to a novel that I began two years ago. In it, I bring the mythical sirens to life in magical world beneath the one we all know too well. The idea of writing a longer, fictional piece feels like a logical progression. Thus ends If Not Now, When?  and the rest of my life’s story begins now.

“Teach me to hear the mermaids singing…”

~John Donne

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Go West, Young Man: Heading Out On The West Coast Trail

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Life is what happens when you think no one is watching. The past three weeks have found me speaking as the best man at my best friend’s wedding, speaking the eulogy at my father’s funeral, and photographing my brother’s wedding. I have slept at the Chateau Laurier, I have slept in a teepee on Prince Edward Island, and I have slept in the lap of the woman I love one warm, summer evening. We rebuilt the garden I began for my mother 15 years ago. We revised my plans on what to do with the property I bought at Christmas time after wading through ferns and mosquitos. We watched the sun set on an empty beach while eating lobster sandwiches and drinking an Alpine beer. I drove 1750kms each way long into the night. We walked in cold rain along a seashore with only a harbour seal to act as a companion. I could go on…and I will, and perhaps that is what death is about in this world: it instructs us on how to live better than the day before.

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The best that I can do is to share what I see and learn with others. I am not always right, but that is not the point. Socrates would assert that it is the act of sharing so as to question our very foundations that reflects our personal philosophy. I may not be rich nor beautiful nor brilliant nor even strong, but what I lack I aspire to improve upon, if only for the sake of those I love so that I can be a better son, employee, or loved one. I may spend a bit too much on food, shoes and travel for the conservatives; I may give too little back for the liberals of this world. I still become angry when I feel trapped or under appreciated by those around me. I am only a prima dona though to those who never gave a damn about what I wanted in the first place.

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The idea that strikes me most as I frantically pack for the West Coast Trail – a 78km trek along the Pacific Rim of Vancouver Island – is that in the end nothing we possess and nothing we achieve ever means as much as we thought it did at the time. We are each only here but for a moment. I will probably never regret not owning a giant house and an exotic sports car, but I will regret not having danced with the woman I love as many times as I could have. I will regret not spending time talking with my mother much more than I will regret not spending time making people like me at parties and social events. I take photographs to enhance my memories when I choose to reflect back on my life before taking new steps forward; if I am living well, then the photographs are much easier to make. If I am living true to my hopes and desires, then others will take photographs of me and them, too. These past few weeks I have permitted such takings to happen, and I am more proud of those photos than the 3,000 I took in that same time period.

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The world around me continues to fascinate me with both its beauty and frustrations. I am seeking a new residence in Toronto to accommodate my life and photography business, but that is always a challenge in a city where space is at a premium. I am also packing up my current space so as to allow the landlord in to find new tenants. I am at a loss for words when it comes to the photographs that my partner has taken of our lives and the recent family wedding. I must be doing something right if despite the hardships of the past few months continue to blossom into ambrosia from the gods. Letting go becomes easier when we realize that we were never on solid ground to begin with.

 

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Weddings and Funerals: Questions Beyond The Obvious

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Life is never without twists and ironic turns. My weekend was spent in Ottawa so as to be the “best man” for my closest friends. Such honours do not come often, and I have to admit that it was a little stressful to hold the rings, perform a speech, and make certain that the event went as well as possible without the obvious glitches. I also must admit that this was the most fun I have ever had at a wedding: dancing, drinking and conversation wear all had good and plenty without stress or feeling like a performance was necessary. I have never felt so alive in public, and spent the night with the woman i love and my best friends. All of this beauty and community could happen despite receiving word that my father may well be dying at any moment. Life understands irony.

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A man can be judged, and often is, by his shoes. Perhaps it is all to easy to forget that shoes are one object that speaks of where we walk and how. I appreciate the flamboyant, and I love well-made European shoes. I will wear them out because they are not art pieces, but rather reflect my mood at any given point in my life. For the wedding, I chose to buy a pair of Giorgio shoes in Ottawa that were handmade in Italy. Beautiful, perfect fit and…purple. I danced the night away, drenching my Hugo Boss suit in well-earned sweat, and felt like a man who had arrived.

Banshee BCX-3

My personal Titanis axe from Base Camp X was hand-delivered by Graeme last week so that I can use it to clear and chop my way through the property I purchased at Christmas on Prince Edward Island. Truly unique, I love the Banshee with its black translucent stain punctuated by stripes of U.C.C. blue and white. I have photographed a number of these that went to Ashton Kutcher, Zack Snyder and the Kraken for Graeme himself, and it never fails to surprise me how each one feels different. The wood speaks, and I think Graeme listens.

So next up for me is a road trip out East to home. I need to see my father in the hospital, join my brother for his wedding that we are photographing, meet up with my dearest friends there, and undoubtedly create Hell for anyone and everyone we can.

Everything changes, and nothing is predictable no matter what we tell you in school.

My father just passed away into another world a few minutes ago.

Norman Ernest Chandler 1947-2013

Relax, Refocus and the Art of Breathing: Summer Begins The New Cycle

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I live my life in cycles based on the school year. I have targets to persevere through, I have times of the year that I love, and there are moments that never fail to provide surprises and growth. Summer is my time to renew, reflect and enjoy two months on the road with friends and family. 2013 remains the most productive and personally fulfilling year of my life; I am thankful for the success, the challenges and failures the universe has offered up to me, as I truly believe that each second of 2013 has been pivotal in finding my dharma: my life’s chosen path.

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The past week has found me hosting a bachelor’s party for my best male friend, has found me dancing in the streets with new friends for Pride Toronto, cooking cupboards clean before I head East and then West for outdoor and wedding adventures, and I even had time to practice my bass playing in a serious fashion. As I sift through the week’s most interesting photographs, what strikes me most is how the littlest fragments captured can speak so deeply about the world around us.

As I walked through the Pride Parade aftermath in Toronto with friends, I found myself not snapping the “big shots” with a giant lens. I was not looking for images to sell or even share, but rather I wanted to remember what my eyes actually saw as I drifted with the crowds towards stages and patio parties. My eyes part-objectified the world around me: I saw necks, hips, backs, feet and the messages written across bodies for aficionado to find and decode.

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As I slow down, sleep in (first time sleeping more than 6 hours in a year or two), and even catch some tanning time by the pool, I feel healthy and capable of whatever my mind seeks out. I have been reading Plutarch, essays on food and identity construction, short narratives about how Time and the Modern Area clash and our need to reconnect with Nature, and even a few Estonian fairy tales about gnomes. I have watched a rabbit attempt to build a burrow in the middle of a freshly cut lawn, and I have spent a few hours observing a pair of young cardinals build a nest in a smoke tree. Time continues to pass, but unlike any other time in my life, I am present and making sure to fill each second with worthwhile, enriching activities and personal connections.

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Food is another story. With time on my hands and a need to leave no food behind to rot in my absence, I have been playing a game with myself: what can I cook from the random ingredients at the back of cupboards and in the back of freezers. Mealtimes have become Iron Chef competitions with myself. I entertain friends with recipes that come from my imagination and creative mind; I also make the effort to swim, run, lift weights and drink less coffee in an effort to balance out the calories and late nights. Balance is key.

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While I am not a fan of Italian cannoli, in general, I do have to admit that despite the sublime perfection of my own experiments with pineapple-upside down cakes, molten chocolate cakes, bread puddings, and plum crumb cakes, the cannoli from Toronto’s La Strada bakery beat me hands down and into submission. After munching three of these little beauties I was in a bit of Heaven. In fact it somehow inspired me to try my hand at cooking pork shanks on the barbeque after a few hours of pre-cooking in beer and spices. While I was aiming a a German beer garden taste I ended up closer to great southern barbeque. Next time, there will be less boiling, more brining and an oven used to crisp the final product into my Munich aspirations.

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Next step has me preparing all week for Friday’s trip to Ottawa for a wedding. I got a sweet room at Chateau Laurier, and am so looking forward to hitting the road even if my bank account would prefer to not have to pay to board my two dogs for a few days at a time. Regardless, the cost of boarding them is worth the unexpected freedom: priceless.

 

The Canoe Trip: Lifestyle Versus Life

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The start of any adventure begins with a moment of nervous hesitation. If one does not ask himself “can I finish this?”, then perhaps the grasp reaches for the all too easy fruit. As I embarked on my maiden canoe voyage, I felt like it was as great a journey as the rain forests of Costa Rica or the deserts of Egypt. I had a few tools earned through my photography sessions with Base Camp X (a Pathfinder hatchet, two Water Blade paddles and a custom kuhkri knife), a Holy Cow 16’6 Kevlar canoe to work with, and the best partner one could hope for. The weather was fine, the food was gourmet and the trail was in Haliburton through the Frost Centre.

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Food and the act of eating is more than simply shoving nutrients and proteins into the body as quickly as possible. Meals should be times when we appreciate what we have collected through hard word and prepared with the hope of providing pleasure and health to those we love. Fresh food is not easy to move a few kilometres over lake and through forest, but with a willingness there are ways to make food count.

The first meal of the day, breakfast, is the one meal I seldom have time for. I work through the day and into the late night; sleep is often sacrificed for the meagre meal I could whip up in the 20 minutes I have to get ready each morning. On a camping trip or travel adventure, though, I make time to drink coffee, serve eggs and fry up bacon whenever possible. On our Haliburton island site,  we were able to build a solid fire, and share a morning meal that would get any lumberjack through a long, leisurely afternoon of paddling. Normally for fire wood I would have a pack saw to make the job easy and the weight light, but for this trip whereon the portages would only measure a kilometre in and out I decided to try out the Pathfinder hatchet from Base Camp X.

I will be honest and admit that I was never allowed to chop wood when I was a kid. We had a wood stove and lots to split, but my co-ordination at that age was not exactly praised by my father. Chopping wood was going to be a learning experience that I treasured or hated. Fortunately, the Pathfinder is forgiving by being neither too heavy nor too difficult to control. For the four fires we collected wood for I chopped up about thirty pieces of bicep-sized timber. The palm of my left hand may have been bruised from being too soft from the city, but I felt truly useful and competent in a way that firing up the old espresso machine never makes me in Toronto.

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Nature has a way of offering miracles to witness if you can let go of your ego – the never-ending voice that screams for us to see big things and check off experiences like they were on a grocery list. While other people rush through trails to get as far in in as short a time possible, I prefer to move less quickly and stay in one spot for a few days. I was guilty of the checklist mentality earlier in my life, but in the past year I have come to terms with the reality that my best life experiences have always been those where I was present in the moment. Being present in a moment often demands less movement and more observation or participation in what surrounds you.

As I prepared to enter the canoe for the first time, we came across a tiny toad. He brought me back to the farm where I grew up. This little peeper brought me back to the days when my brother and I would find toads in the window well to show our grandmother. On the second time entering the canoe I found a shell of an insect beetle, and then I found what was inside of that shell just minutes before: a newly hatched dragonfly. I carefully brought the struggling insect to the shore so that we could watch as it fought for its life, to pump blood to its extremities and to become the creature it was always meant to be. The scene that lay before me was a powerful metaphor for what humans often forget as we battle on: we, too,  experience a metamorphosis at stages in our lives. The dragonfly cannot be the beetle, the beetle cannot be the dragonfly; neither can be held responsible for the sins committed by the other to become that which it was all along.

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I only spent two nights out. I have no great claims to come back with of being a force to be reckoned with in the outdoors. What I can say is that I spent an hour watching a water snake sun itself on a log in an inlet. I saw a muskrat, a mink, frogs swimming, gulls nesting, loons relaxing, Merganser ducks floating, hawks soaring and heard wolves howl by the half moon light. I cooked four gourmet meals on the open fire. I paddled around four entire lakes, and carried the Holy Cow through three portages. I did not scale Everest, but if I had then the food would be awful, the company grumpy, the moments lost. Instead I enjoyed my surroundings and found comfort in the simplest of tasks and acts.

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I did manage to take a few photographs using my Hasselblad 501C/M camera with Kodak 160 film, but those will take a few days to get to and from the lab. When they come in I will write about my experiences paddling with the BCX paddles, and the challenges of dragging a professional camera through the woods. I also shot a bit of footage on the GoPro Hero 3…all I can say initially: great footage, terrible battery life. More to follow…there always is.

Canoe Believe It?: Preparing For A Brave New Adventure

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I have been on camelback in the Sahara Desert. I have journeyed into deepest, darkest Peru. The secret world of Angkor, Cambodia is known to me. Sailing on the Nile and watching monsoons sweep across maharajahs once dwelt – yeah, I did that. I may be a world traveler, but, no, I have never traveled by canoe in my home country, Canada. Perhaps it is because the canoe is not the boat used by people in my home province of Prince Edward Island, but the canoe and its mythic heritage have been lost to me until now. In five days I will get to experience my first canoe trip, my first portage, and a myriad of other virgin moments. This, of course, demands the question: but what shall I wear?
As this summer will also find me taking on one of North America’s most challenging hikes – the 78km long Pacific West Coast Trail – I decided to purchase a solid waterproof outfit to ensure that I avoid being wet, cold and miserable, while still looking fabulously adventurous and manly. *Please note these are words of campy irony.

After a month of consideration I decided to go with an Arc’teryx Theta AR jacket and technical pants. Coming in at a whopping $800, this was not an easy purchase. Still, I know the value of the proper clothing for the environment, and understand that in Canada you can die from wearing the wrong clothes. What drew me to the Arc’teryx gear was that it was both well-made and cut to fit my body type. The pants are the first pair that will not need to be altered for my short inseam. You get what you pay for in outdoor technical equipment, so I ponied up the cash despite protests from my bank account. Plus, when the zombie apocalypse happens I will be ready to seek refuge in the wild country. I do wish that I could have gone with a colour other than black, but after standing in the full length mirror for 30 minutes I decided to go with the slightly longer Theta jacket so as to avoid an itchy, wet butt. After the permanent wet of the Peruvian Amazon, I know that being able to sit down without fear of water penetrating your bottoms is priceless.

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Next on my list of needed items was an MSR water filter pump. I had one of these key items in the days of hiking in Algonquin, but think it was surrendered during my divorce for reasons unknown and bewildering to me now. Regardless, being able to access clean water from streams and lakes without giving yourself dysentery is rather important to me. This filter will last me for many future adventures so the $82 was a no-brainer.

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Finally, I picked up a replacement buckle for my backpack, a few Clif bars for emergency meals, a bit of bison pemmican to be nostalgic of the coureurs de bois, Nalgene food containers and…a mess kit in titanium by the japanese company SnowPeak. Baby needs his dishes to be titanium if silver and bone china are out.
In the end, it was a great session of retail therapy that will yield an ease and comfort on what promises to be my most exciting year ever.

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From flipping a Ski-Doo 20km from base camp to luxurious spa treatments in Montreal to an insane 17 hour drive through snow storms across 1750 km of Canadian roads in December, my life continues to be fraught with peril and equal measures of reward. I also have two paddles coming to me from my client and friend, Graeme Cameron at Base Camp X, which I anticipate with giddy expectation. While I had intended shooting the blog photos with my new Hasselblad CFV 16 digital back, setting up lights at midnight seems overkill tonight. Good news though is that banjo player extraordinaire, Darren Eedens, needs promo shot for a new endorsement and there are rumours of a few weddings ahead to shoot. One never knows where life will lead you, especially not when you are in a canoe. Amen.

The Hasslblad CFV 16: The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Photographers

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Never underestimate the power of underestimation. The past little while has been spent shooting portraits and paintings for clients, working through the 3000 odd images taken for the school yearbook, and then contemplating the best way to move forward with my photography quandary of a five year business plan. Reality tells me that I can plan all that I want to, but that the actual narrative will require me to be open for the opportunities that will undoubtedly roll my way. Fortune smiles on the fool who finds a way to see a bigger picture so as to be able to find the pieces as they fall at his feet in lieu of in a set preconceived order. Enter the Hasselblad CFV 16 digital back…

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If you have been following my blog, then you would know that my main focus this month has been to find a way to buy into the medium format digital arena. I have spoken with the wonderful Walter Borchenko from B3K Digital and Jim Anderson from S1 Group here in Toronto, and have been trying to figure out a way to come up with the scratch to get into the bottom rung of the Phase One camera system. I need the quality of the larger sensor and the dynamic range that such a system will afford me. It is not about Gear Acquisition Syndrome, but rather that I am trying to keep my superb collection of Hasselblad CFi lenses while still moving forward.

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At $10,000 for a used digital back,  I could just not afford the next step. Renting would work for a while, but there is a larger learning curve with medium format systems than dslr cameras. If I have a big session, then too much time will be spent learning how to best shoot and light for the camera sensor. At $300-500 a day the challenge felt overwhelming, but so did committing to a system’s technology that might prove finicky. My nerves were shot, and despite the kindness of strangers, I felt like I had to take a chance…to risk it all in a game of pitch-and-toss.

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During the week I found myself purchasing a new Profoto RFi 2×3 softbox kit, a Hasselblad to Mamiya/Phase One lens adapter, Lomography film scanning holders, 127 format and 120 format film from New York and a second Avenger light stand. If I could not get the back I needed, then I would be wise to at least invest in the surrounding equipment that makes the biggest difference to my time on a shoot: lighting, processing time and lens choice make all of the difference to me. I know that Profoto equipment is brilliant, and the Avenger stand feels like a tank that a real pro would use to hold his lights. About $1000 in, I felt pretty confident in my choices for the long term. Then came the Hasselblad CFV 16 from Keh in Smyrna, Georgia…

I have bought every single Hasselblad piece of gear that I own from Keh. Delivery has been flawless, prices are about half of what I pay in Toronto, and the quality of used gear has been between okay for what I paid and astounding. Randomly the first ever CFV digital back came up for sale on Monday. I bought it within minutes for $3,100. It was listed as EX+ which from my experience means that it is going to be pretty close to new. Still…$3000 is a lot of coin for digital bits and bytes. The back might look pretty, but be a lemon. The CFV could be beat up but work nicely. Hard to say, but given that a similar demo [the ii version] was selling for $7999 in Toronto, I felt the risk was worth the taking.

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I have had the back for a whopping hour. I spent the first ten minutes admiring the perfect body. Next came realizing that the battery was dead so I would need to power up with a firewire 800 cable, which I fortunately own in an industrial variety. Ten more minutes realizing that the CFV sucks in low light and that my trigger technique needed to be worked on to properly signal the back to avoid weird colour casts. Then…I shot a series of images with the junk on my table, a D1 with a beauty dish reflector, and the CFV attached to my 501 C/M. The lens was an 80mm CFe, and for the close ups I went with a 32E extender.

What did I learn? I love this digital back. It will be the most important step forward for my work since the Profoto lights. Yes, there will be a few challenges, as I need to improve my actual camera technique and lighting. I will need to procure a CFV focusing screen with the smaller mask of the sensor ($225), but that is more for accuracy than the quality of the CFV.  At f.2.8 there is only a sliver of focus [as one can see from the images above], and that will force me to shoot at f.4 or higher if I want anything to be focus. The images featured here show what the camera can do with little or no practice. What I love is the richness of the colour, the huge dynamic range of the sensor, and the resolution is astounding. When I cropped the artichoke and blackberry image, the details pop out instead of turning to fuzz. The oil and fruit come to life where once they were just part of a composition. With the types of product work that I do this will prove invaluable to the client when he tries to blow my photograph up to a poster or crop it down for a catalogue or package.

So was the risk worth it? Yes. The game play resumes at a new level.