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May 20th, 2016

True Confessions, Photography Edition

Photographers, especially pros, are expected to conform to a set of, if not standards, then expectations. Keep the mode dial firmly on manual. Don’t say you’re a “natural light” photographer. And so on.

But in our unguarded moments, we’ve all slipped.

The folks at Digital Rev TV are clearing the air with a series of raw, heartfelt photographic confessions. We hope they’re cathartic.

January 11th, 2016

Here’s What a 136 Year Old Lens Looks Like on a Modern Digital Camera

Here’s a good reason why you should never, ever, throw out a lens: it may star in some future video.

Photographer Mathieu Stern dug up a large format camera lens that he claims dates back to the 1880s and slapped it (with some modifications) onto his Sony a7 II.

You can peruse a collection of the resulting stills here and check out the video below for the moving picture.

“The lens is incredibly sharp for a 136 years old simple metallic lens, from my test it’s even sharper than most of my modern canon lenses, the results are amazing,” Stern writes. “But it also gives some strange lens flares and light leaks that are pretty dreamy (some would say it’s horrible).”

Judge for yourself:

Read More:

Step Into Photo History: Inside Kodak’s Tech Vault

The Hidden History of the Zoom Lens in Film & History

This Software Promises to Make Cheap Lenses Awesome

 

December 17th, 2015

Some (Mostly) Fun Photo Stats for 2015

 

Simon Cunningham | Flickr

Simon Cunningham | Flickr

With the year drawing to a close, it’s time to reflect on the year that was and there’s no better way to do that than through a bulleted list of statistics. Here are a few that caught our eye:

  • 1.2 trillion: The number of photos humans have collectively snapped in 2015, according to the UK research firm Futuresource. The number of images snapped per year has grown by a factor of six since 2005. The figure may sound huge, but an analysis of InfoTrends data released in late 2014 suggests it may even be a bit conservative.
  • 33 percent: the decline in selfie photos on the EyeEm platform vs. 2014.
  • 69.2 million: the number of digital cameras sold in 2015, down from a 2011 peak of 137.4 million.
  • 80 million: number of images uploaded to Instagram every day.
  • 80 million: the number of EOS camera systems Canon had sold as of 11/10/2015.
  • 60,000: number of nude selfies taken off the Internet by the Internet Watch Foundation.
  • $10-$20,000: what a director of photography can make a week in 2015 on a major motion picture.
  • $59 million: the decline in Kodak film revenue through September 2015 vs. the prior period in 2014. Amazingly, however, Kodak expects to see a return to profitability in its film business in 2016 thanks to support from the motion picture industry.

 

December 14th, 2015

The Evolution of Camera Technology in 11 Portraits

Photography is a bit unique among technologically-driven disciplines in that new advancements don’t completely replace older approaches (even if they do marginalize them). While no one would relish the thought of creating computer-generated graphics on decades-only technology, photographers and artists routinely create work with processes and technologies far older than that.

The Cooperative of Photography just released a new video that takes us on a brief journey through 11 portraits taken with everything from a pinhole camera to a smartphone to illustrate the progression of picture-taking tools. It’s an interesting look at how far we’ve come, and also how portrait poses have a way of changing over time as well.

Read More:

Artist Turns Condemned Building into Disposable Camera

Step Into Photo History: Inside Kodak’s Tech Vault

Inside a Shoot of 2,100 Global Portraits

Tin Types in Motion

September 23rd, 2015

Selfie Copyright Battle: Monkey See, Monkey Sue

©David Slater (unless a court rules otherwise)

©David Slater (unless a court rules otherwise)

An animal rights group has filed a copyright ownership claim in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of a monkey that used British photographer David Slater’s camera to shoot a selfie, according to an Agence-France Press report yesterday.

Naruto, the six-year-old macaque, grabbed Slater’s unattended camera in 2011 and took at least two selfies. The incident occurred in Indonesia. The photographs have circulated widely on the internet, and have been the subject of a previous ownership dispute.

On Tuesday, PETA filed suit on Naruto’s behalf, seeking a ruling from the court that the monkey is the “author and owner of his photograph,” the AFP report says. Slater, who has previously claimed copyright to the image, is named as the defendant in the case.

PETA asserts in its claim that U.S. copyright law doesn’t prohibit animals from owning copyright, and since Naruto took the selfie, “he owns copyright, as any human would.”

PETA filed the lawsuit as part of a strategy to establish through legal precedent that non-human animals can have property rights. PETA says that if it prevails, the case will establish for the first time that rights beyond basic survival needs are extended to a non-human animals.

The U.S. Copyright Office said last year that it would not register works produced by “nature, [non-human] animals, or plants,” suggesting that the office doesn’t consider those entities to be “authors” eligible for copyright ownership under U.S. law.

In any event, the case will be a test of the court’s willingness to hear monkey business.

Related:
Monkey Selfie Not Eligible for Copyright Registration Under New Rules
The Monkey Selfie: Who Owns Copyright to It?

June 15th, 2015

LOOK3 2015: Walter Iooss Jr. Shares Advice and Lessons from His Encounters with Great Athletes

Walter Iooss Jr, a sports photography superstar for more than 50 years, regaled a 2015 LOOK3 audience on Friday with some of the best tales from his storied career. Steve Fine, former director of photography at Sport Illustrated, joined Iooss on stage at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville to prompt Iooss about his encounters with many great athletes: Roger Maris, Dave Parker, Joe Namath, Muhammed Ali, Tiger Woods, and Michael Jordan, to name only a few.

Iooss was a teenager without a driver’s license when he got his first assignment from Sports Illustrated around 1961. His father had to drive him to the job. The subject, an 83-year-old man who had built a sailboat and sailed it to Florida and back, looked at the 17-year-old photographer and said incredulously, “This is my moment?”

Iooss was, by his own account, born with a passion and a talent for photography. “Photography’s not that hard. It really isn’t,” he said during his talk. “It’s just instinctual. I’ve never had another job. I don’t know anything else. [I’m an] idiot savant.”

Equal to his passion for photography is his love of and fascination with sports. “When you play, the moment a pitch is thrown, or you shoot, or hit a golf ball, the whole world stops. There’s nothing that’s really happening except that moment with you, and that’s the escape of sport,” he said. “Sport is a real fantasy world, and in some ways, I try to project my childhood fantasies continually in pictures because you need a child’s heart to get the energy of these guys.”

Asked by Fine to talk about the defining characteristics of his work, Iooss offered what amounted to advice for aspiring sports photographers. (more…)

January 9th, 2015

National Geographic’s Photo Engineering at Work

Striving for new and unusual ways to photograph subjects from land, sea, and air, National Geographic photographers often turn for technical assistance to NG photo engineers Kenji Yamaguchi and David Mathews. The two men, who are the subjects of an article in January PDN and now on PDN online, devise ingenious tools for making pictures that would otherwise be too dangerous or difficult for photographers to make. ““These guys are the unsung heroes of the Geographic,” says long-time contributor George Steinmetz.

Yamaguchi and Mathews worked behind the scenes on Nick Nichols’s Serengeti lions project, Steve Winter’s snow leopards project, and various projects by underwater photographer David Doubilet, to name just a few examples. Here are some videos that show their technical ingenuity in action:

 


Nick Nichols and his assistant, Nathan Williamson, at work on the Serengeti lions project with a robotic camera tank and a camera drone.

 


Steve Winter explains how he used camera traps to photograph a mountain lion at night under the Hollywood sign.

 


The Photo Engineering department faces possible budget cuts, but National Geographic recently profiled of Kenji Yamaguchi, with this video showing him at work in the publisher’s Photo Engineering lab.

 

Addition videos on National Geographic’s web site:

Steve Winter describes his 2008 snow leopard project in northern India. Scenes of Winter setting up remote cameras and strobes on snow leopard trails start at 2:47.

An encounter, narrated by Steve Winter, between a tiger and a robotic camera vehicle developed by NG Photo Engineering.

Scenes from the sinking of a ship for the creation of an artificial reef, featuring David Doubilet’s remote camera images from the ship’s deck as engineers set explosive charges, then detonated them. Remote camera images begin at 1:21.

Related Article:
The Technical Ingenuity of National Geographic’s Photo Engineering Department

November 17th, 2014

With $10,000 Grant, Photographer Orchestrates Panoramic of Mile-Long Street

Tryon Street, Charlotte, NC: Charlotte Ballet Building, November 1, 2015. ©Jeff Cravotta

One of 138 images taken along Tryon St. in Charlotte, NC for a 100-foot long panorama. ©Jeff Cravotta

Photographer Sean Busher was looking for a project to herald the return of The Light Factory—a non-profit gallery and photo education center in Charlotte, North Carolina–when he hit upon an audacious idea: Recruit dozens of volunteers to create two panoramic images of both sides of Charlotte’s historic main drag. With months of preparation and a $10,000 grant, Busher pulled it off November 1. A two-sided, 100-foot exhibition of both panoramas is now pending at the Mint Museum of Art, the city’s main art museum.

Established in 1972, The Light Factory is a gathering place for photographers that hosts exhibits and offers classes. It closed in 2013 because of financial problems, but a group of local volunteers launched a Kickstarter campaign and managed to re-open it this summer at a new location.

Busher, a Light Factory board member, wanted to commemorate the re-opening and bring some publicity to the gallery. His idea was to photograph a single, vibrant moment on a mile-long stretch of Tryon Street in Charlotte. He dubbed the project “Moment Mile, the Ultimate Panorama.”

“I loved the concept, but I figured it would never happen,” he says.

Photographers line up November 1 to photograph Tryon Street simultaneously on signal. ©Rodney Nichols

Photographers line up November 1 to photograph Tryon Street simultaneously on cue. ©Rodney Nichols

But the more he explored the idea, the more excited he got about making it work. He needed funding, so he called the Charlotte-based Knight Foundation, which supports innovative journalism, media and art projects. Knight Foundation program director Susan Patterson surprised Busher by saying she had already heard of his project and wanted to help.

Knight Foundation provided a $10,000 grant, which Busher will use for marketing, and to cover the cost of printing and mounting the panoramic images. He also used some of the money to cover the costs of parking and a pizza party for the volunteers who showed up to help with the shoot.

Based on some shoot tests, Busher determined that he needed approximately 150 volunteer photographers spaced 36 feet apart to get the best panoramic, a measurement that provided some overlap to guarantee one continuous picture. He put out a call for volunteers, requiring them each to bring their own DSLR with a 50 mm lens.

Prior to the shoot, Busher made 4×6 test shots from each designated position along the street, and asked the volunteers on the shoot day to use his test shots as guides for framing their images. He also instructed volunteers to shoot at 1/125 or faster to ensure sharp capture. He didn’t specify aperture or ISO, but advised everyone to give priority to depth of field, rather than low ISO.

Busher woke up to cold, rainy weather on November 1, the day of the shoot. “We thought we were going to have to cancel the whole thing,” he says. “But about two hours before the shoot, the sun came out and it was beautiful.”

Out of the 150 photographers who volunteered, 138 showed up. Busher had created a website with a countdown for the first picture, scheduled for 6:15 pm, which was just before sunset and around the time the street’s Saturday night bustle begins. The volunteers took their positions along a 15-block stretch of Tryon Street, and monitored the countdown to 6:15 on their smartphones. After the first picture, they all crossed the street to photograph the other side exactly five minutes later. Then they gathered at a pizza restaurant where Busher and his team downloaded everyone’s flash cards onto computers.

“When you get that many people together a lot can go wrong—camera batteries, compact flash drives. It kind of had me freaked out,” Busher says.

He used Photoshop to combine the individual images into a panoramic. Because Photoshop only allows about a 500,000 pixel-wide image, he had to break the document into two different parts. Originally, he planned to stitch the pictures together as one seamless image, but as he was laying it out, he decided to juxtapose the images without stitching them so viewers get a sense of each individual frame.

“To get 138 photographers together at the same time to do something unified like this shows real dedication and support,” Busher says. “This couldn’t have gone better. I’m happy and relieved and thrilled.”

No date has been set for an exhibition at the Mint Museum, but Busher hopes to show the panoramas there this fall. He’s also looking for a corporate buyer for the panoramas. If he succeeds, he says, the proceeds will go to support The Light Factory.

–by Sam Boykin

November 14th, 2014

New Book Explores the Rich and Wacky History of Toy and Novelty Cameras

 

The Charlie Tuna camera,  manufactured in 1971.

The Charlie Tuna camera, manufactured in 1971, could be had for three StarKist tuna labels and $4.95. Photo by J.K. Putnam.

Early in his career, renowned fine-art photographer Stephen Shore made a project using a Mick-a-Matic, a snapshot camera shaped like the head of Mickey Mouse. True story.

It’s funny to imagine one of America’s foremost photographers out in the world making art with a Mickey Mouse head hanging from his neck. But many artists have used toy and novelty cameras. For Shore, the Mick-a-Matic allowed him to explore snapshot photography as a concept and phenomenon at a time when photography as an art form was formal and almost exclusively shot in black-and-white.

Other artists are drawn to the unpredictability of toy and plastic cameras. Photographers “love these toys, they love the authenticity of the unexpected,” says Buzz Poole, co-author of Camera Crazy, a new book that recalls the history of mass-market cameras, from the Eastman Kodak Brownie Camera, released in 1900, up through present day toy cameras. The book is a delightful look at the fascinating and, at times, ridiculous forms cameras have taken. In addition to popular and well-known cameras from Diana, Holga and Lomography, there is a Fred Flintstone camera, soda and beer can cameras, a Charlie the Tuna camera, a Looney Tunes camera that talks, and a spy camera shaped like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups package. “That is just a weird product,” Poole laughs. “[The manual] tells you how to trick people into stopping so you can get a clear picture of them without them knowing.” (more…)

October 2nd, 2014

“How Come This Stuff Isn’t Animated?” The Story of Mr. GIF

Pop star Miley Cyrus and the rapper 2 Chainz backstage at Jeremy Scott's S/S 2015 show at New York fashion week. © Mr. GIF

Pop star Miley Cyrus and the rapper 2 Chainz backstage at Jeremy Scott’s S/S 2015 show at New York fashion week. © Mr. GIF for Milk Made

Mr. GIF wants to animate the Internet. The creative duo has made photographing and illustrating GIFs—the 27-year-old bitmap image format that supports crude animation—their calling card. They’re the team that Marc Ecko, Evian and Transamerica tap when they need to quickly make strong, easily shareable moving images for whatever they’re selling. In just a few short years, they evolved from a pair of daydreaming MTV plebes to shooting Miley Cyrus and 2Chainz backstage at fashion week. To them, still images that move were obviously taylor-made for the Internet and its thousands of screens. But can you really make a career of making GIFs?

The duo, Jimmy Repeat and Mark Portillo, are college buddies. They studied advertising design together at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Their studies were almost irrelevant—Portillo didn’t even finish—but the renowned art and design school is where the two would meet. Less than seven years later, they would quit their jobs to make GIFs—the full-time for clients like and others. Even an insurance company.

Having gone their separate ways after school, Repeat and Portillo reconnected under the umbrella of Viacom, at MTV’s “Geek” vertical, which covers cartoons, comics and videogames. Doing research for work, they devoured the same comics, but were struck by the format’s limitations.

Maria Sharapova for Evian at the U.S. Open © Mr. GIF

Maria Sharapova for Evian at the U.S. Open © Mr. GIF

“We were like, ‘How come this stuff isn’t animated yet?’” Portillo remembers. “We read Akira and we were like, “If this background was giving me seizures, it would be so much better.’”

So they dreamed up a GIF comic over smoke breaks outside Viacom’s Times Square HQ, and quickly learned why animation was so expensive (it’s a lot of work!). They abandoned the book idea, throwing the frames they’d finished up on Tumblr. But they were having fun. Illustrations gave way to photos, and a thought: “How is the GIF better than the JPEG?”

“We saw the potential,” Repeat says. “Everywhere you look, there’s a screen.”

As relative neophytes—Repeat especially—they were intrigued by the technology of photography. They experimented with odd cameras well-suited to the medium; at first, digital models like the Fujifilm FinePix Real3D W3, but they would later become obsessed with the aesthetics of analog. Toy cameras like Lomography’s Pop 9 (a nine-lens camera that makes nine exposures at once) and ActionSampler (four lenses, four consecutive frames), even 3D film cameras like the Nimslo 3D. The multi-exposure cameras helped streamline their workflow—helpful, as they had to develop and scan each frame to animate their GIFs. They found creative ways to merge digital and analog, using a DSLR to make time-lapse clips of instant film as it developed. They have a lot of cameras.

Marc Ecko, founder of Eckō Enterprises, Mr. GIF’s first big client. © Mr. GIF

They spent their nights and weekends making GIFs and posting them to Tumblr for free. It wasn’t long before Mark Ecko came calling (tweeting, actually) with their first paid gig, animating his upcoming TEDx presentation. They powered through it in three days. “I think we made 200-300 GIFs in one night,” Portillo says. “It was intense.”

“That was the beginning of the end for our day jobs,” Repeat says. “Like, ‘Oh, this is what a good client’s like?” Ecko dug the work, and they started to get more gigs. They GIF’d the U.S. Open for Evian, and fashion week for Tumblr. By 2013, they had quit MTV, and would soon score a huge project: a year-long Tumblr promoting the San Francisco-based insurance company Transamerica’s “Transform Tomorrow” campaign.

The pair convinced Transamerica to send them across the country making GIFs of America’s cities. They flew drones over rooftop gardens in Detroit, Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota and, of course, San Francisco and the iconic Transamerica building. They booked a room at a luxury hotel with the perfect view for a 24-hour time-lapse of the skyline. Transamerica was skeptical of the format—until they saw the popularity of the first clip they posted. Now, when you go to www.transformtomorrow.com, their fancy hotel view of San Francisco graces the background, the current time of day reflected by the time of day in the 24-hour time-lapse they made.

A time-lapse GIF of the San Francisco skyline, that Mr. GIF made for Transamerica, prominently featuring their iconic headquarters. © Mr. GIF

A time-lapse GIF of the San Francisco skyline, that Mr. GIF made for Transamerica, prominently featuring their iconic headquarters. © Mr. GIF

Now certified pros, they’re still almost instinctively inventive with their resources. When a client that was supposed to fly them out and put them up in Austin, TX, to shoot a SXSW panel told them that they had to pay their own way, they got their drive down to Texas sponsored. Their friends at Tumblr would connect them with Transamerica, but it was the GIFs they shot on the trip to Austin that would help them land the gig. When a job for St. Ives took them to Hawaii, they stayed an extra week and shot Honolulu for Transamerica. Since they like to shoot film (which is expensive to buy and process), rather than go to a professional processing house, they trained the local CVS employees how to prep and cut their negatives, adding a healthy tip for their trouble.

One thing they learned early on is that new work leads to new work. They needed to show clients they could make the work, so before they had paid work to show, they just did it for free, and for fun. The fun shows up in the work, and it works.