November 13th, 2014

The Hidden History of the Zoom Lens in Films and Movies

What do the zoom lens and atomic bomb have in common? Both have roots in the second World War and both owe their genesis, in part, to qualified engineers fleeing the Nazi regime.

Nick Hall, a researcher at Royal Holloway, University of London composed the following short history of the zoom lens for the Society for the History of Technology’s three minute dissertation contest. It’s a fascinating, if brief, overview of how a once controversial technology permeated U.S. filmmaking.

Via: Studio Daily

November 12th, 2014

DJI One-Ups Phantom With More Powerful, 4K-Recording Inspire 1 Photo Drone

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DJI has a new flying camera in its growing air force of drones.

Billed as a step-up for the Phantom 2 but smaller and more approachable than the Spreading Wings line, the Inspire 1 quadcopter will have more lift and stability than the Phantom thanks to its 13-inch propellers. It also sports something no other drone in its class currently does: an integrated 4K camera.

The camera uses a 12-megapixel Sony sensor and is capable of 4k/30p video recording and RAW still photo capture. In addition to 4K, the Inspire 1′s camera can record 1080p HD video with varying frame rates between 24 and 60 fps in either MOV or MP4 formats. It’s capable of burst shooting up to 7 fps.

There’s a fixed focus lens that’s threaded so you can screw in ND filters before you take flight. The camera rests on a 3-axis gimbal to maintain stability while airborne.

While the Inspire 1 won’t accept third party cameras, DJI’s Director of Aerial Imaging Eric Cheng tells us that the system is modular so that you can replace the camera in the future if and when DJI makes a new camera available for this platform.

The new drone features a design that transforms into a v-shape as it takes flight, allowing the camera to drop down below the landing gear giving it an unobstructed 360 degree field of view.

647A2339The Inspire 1 is stabilized using an optical flow package with a dedicated camera and ultrasonic sensors that helps orient the drone in the air indoors or without GPS, a first for UAVs in this category, Cheng says. The system is for use at low altitudes (under 5 meters) with plenty of light and a varied surface patter. Cheng said it would be particularly useful in cities where GPS’s 2-meter margin for error may be too wide to avoid obstructions.

You’ll also find built-in Lightbridge, DJI’s technology for wirelessly transmitting 1080p video to mobile devices up to 1.7 km away to aid in composition while in flight.

The Inspire 1 has enough bandwidth to not only accommodate an HD signal but also full metadata, analog video for pilot steering and 16 channels of RC control. A single, technically adept operator could thus not only steer the drone but operate the camera too, all from a single controller, Cheng said. You will, however, still have the option for dual control (one pilot, one camera operator).

The on-board battery can keep the Inspire 1 aloft for up to 18 minutes and you’ll be able to monitor the battery’s life throughout your flight. The total platform (including battery, gimbal and camera) weighs roughly 6.5 pounds.

DJI has also revamped its app, allowing for a live map with flight route and flight telemetry data, plus remaining battery life and manual camera controls.

It will cost $2,899 with one controller or $3,399 with two.

In addition to the new drone, DJI is also releasing an SDK today so that third party developers can create Android and iOS apps for the company’s Phantom 2 Vision series of drones. Many users are interested in industrial mapping applications, Cheng says, but a few photo and video-centric apps are in the works as well that will allow users to edit and share videos from mobile devices and ensure flights comply with regulations.

App developers will have access to the drone’s camera, including video transmission, positioning, settings and image storage. They’ll also have access to live telemetry (flight speed, latitude, longitude, distance travelled, etc.) and flight control.

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November 12th, 2014

Forest Service Chief Says Journalists Don’t Need Permits to Photograph in National Forests

When the United States Forest Service released a vaguely worded directive that suggested journalists would have to pay up to $1500 for a permit to photograph or film in national forests, photographers and first amendment activists were alarmed. The controversial directive, issued as a draft in September, was first reported by The Oregonian newspaper.

Following the outcry, U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell has clarified the USFS’s position with regard to photography and film for journalistic purposes, rather than commercial use. In a letter written to Forest Service officials, sent on November 4, he said the clarification was needed because “considerable response” from the public “raised significant concerns beyond the intended scope of the directive.”

“News coverage on NFS lands is protected by the Constitution, and it is our responsibility to safeguard this right on the lands we manage for all Americans,” Tidwell wrote.

He outlined how USFS officials should differentiate between journalism and other activities: “The following question should be asked: Is the primary purpose of the filming activity to inform the public, or is it to sell a product for a profit? If the primary purpose is to inform the public, then no permit is required and no fees assessed.”

Tidwell clarified USFS’s position with regard to commercial film and photography. “Permit fees should be primarily viewed as land-use fees. If the activity presents no more impact on the land than that of the general public, then it shall be exempt from permit requirements.”

Read the full text of Tidwell’s letter here.

Via The Oregonian.

November 11th, 2014

Photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa’s Murder Trial Delayed Again

The trial of photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa, who has been charged with the 2013 murder of an alleged sex worker in a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, has been postponed six months because no judge is available, the Daily Maverick newspaper reports. Mthethwa, who is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery and published his first monograph with Aperture, was arrested in May 2013, and accused of beating and kicking to death Nokuphila Kumalo, 23. A trial scheduled for August 2013 was delayed until April of this year then delayed again until November 10. When Mthethwa appeared in court, however, no judge could be found, so an acting judge set a new trial date of June 1, 2015. Mthethwa remains free on bail.

Outside the courthouse, representatives of  the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce rallied, demanding justice on behalf of the victim, an alleged sex worker. Times Live, a South African news site, reported that Kumalo’s mother was in the courtroom on Monday.

Mthethwa, a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology, has been exhibited internationally. His work was shown at the 2005 Venice Biennale and he had a solo show at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2010.  The murder indictment alleges that Mthethwa “attacked [Kumalo] by repeatedly kicking her and stomping her body with booted feet.” The Sunday Times of South Africa reported the prosecution planned to show closed-circuit television footage of Mthethwa’s car at the scene of the murder.

Related Articles
Fine-Art Photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa Faces Murder Trial August 26

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November 10th, 2014

Canon’s New 100-400mm Lens Is Steadier Than Ever

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It’s been 16 years since Canon shooters have seen a new 100-400mm EF lens. The wait is now over.

The second generation EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L II USM lens is official and boasts improved image stabilization, giving it four stops of stabilization versus the 1.5 available on the first generation model. Image stabilization is also now tripod sensitive and will be available in three modes: standard, panning and during exposure only.

The lens has been redesigned from the original “push-pull” zoom to a rotating zoom that Canon says will keep the lens steadier and more precise when zooming. The zoom torque adjustment ring has had its own makeover so you can set your zoom tension more easily.

The optical formula has been revamped as well. There is now one Flourite and one Super UD lens element in the lens as well as newly developed Air Sphere Coating to minimize flaring and ghosting.

The new 100-400mm will be able to focus on objects as close as 3.2 feet away.

The lens will offer Flourine coatings on the front and rear surfaces to keep dusty and water from beading on the lens and will feature a weather resistant magnesium housing to keep it safe from the elements.

It will ship with a new lens hood that will feature a slide window for quick access to lens filters, so you don’t have to pop the hood off to adjust your filter. The tripod mount has also been redesigned so that it’s quickly detachable.

The new 100-400mm will hit retail in December carrying a $2,199 price tag.

November 7th, 2014

Reimagine the Client Gift: Custom Self-promo Magazines

Sponsored by Blurb

While small self-promo pieces for clients are a popular option for photographers during the holiday season, a multi-page printed promo can have much more impact.

Fashion photographer Benjamin Kaufmann recently created his first print run of a custom self-promotional magazine that mimics the high-end glossy magazines that he regularly shoots for.

For design and production of the issue, Kaufmann turned to self-publishing platform Blurb. He found that the site’s design capabilities, high-quality paper options, and flexibility in production was the perfect vehicle to create a magazine tailored for his clients. And with on-demand printing, he could quickly follow up with new clients to solidify the relationship.

“The more one communicates on a personal level with clients and the more effort one puts into self-marketing, the greater the feedback will be,” Kaufmann says.

For the full article on PDNonline, click here.

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Photos © Benjamin Kaufmann

November 7th, 2014

First Hasselblad Camera Used in Space Up for Auction

Atlas CameraYou can own a piece of photographic–and space–history next week when the first Hasselblad camera body and Zeiss Planar 80mm lens carried into orbit on the Mercury-Atlas 8 goes up for auction.

The Hasselblad 500c was purchased by astronaut Wally Schirra from a Houston photo shop in 1962. The camera was not blasted into space as-is. Schirra, fellow astronaut Gordon Cooper and the U.S. Air Force camera lab made their own tweaks, such as adding a 100-exposure film container, an aiming device on the side of the camera and a new paint job to minimize reflections.

The camera snapped multiple images of Earth from orbit as it travelled on what was America’s fifth manned mission to space.

The camera will be auctioned by Boston’s RR Auction on November 13. The terrestrial version of the 500c is fetching $400 on eBay. The celestial version, with the custom film container and lens, may command up to an astronomical $100,000 in auction.

UPDATE: It did much better than $100,000. The camera sold for $275,000!

November 5th, 2014

PPE 2014: Building a Career in Fine-Art Photography

Be nice. This simple and self-evident maxim was one of many takeaways from the PhotoPlus Expo seminar, “Your Picture on the Wall: Building a Career in Fine-art Photography,” which was held on Thursday, October 30 at the Javits Center in New York City.

Hosted by collector, curator and former gallerist W.M. Hunt, the panel included gallerists with different ideas and interests: Andrea Meislin and Sasha Wolf from New York, and Catherine Edelman from Chicago. While they may show different work, the gallerists all agreed that being pleasant and respectful goes a long way when you are trying to get a gallerist interested in your work.

Wolff told a story about an artist who came to all of her openings, was enthusiastic and pleasant, and all the while never asked to show Wolf her work. Instead, it was Wolf who asked to see her work.

Hunt recalled a letter he received from an artist who praised a talk he gave. The artist never mentioned his own work. “It was implicit that he wanted me to champion his work, but he didn’t ask for it,” Hunt says. Showing an appreciation for a gallerist’s time and the work they show, and being able to talk about how your own work might fit, shows that an artist has done some homework and has “an appreciation” for the gallerist, Hunt noted.

Appreciating the work a gallerist does also came up when the panel discussed the issue of exclusivity. Each said they preferred, and Wolf insisted, that they be the “home” gallery for the artists they represent. That means they handle responsibilities like recordkeeping, exhibition production and business for their artists. This didn’t mean they aren’t willing to have the artist show with other galleries, the panelists said. They just want all of those arrangements channeled through them. Edelman noted that she’d lost exclusive artists to galleries in New York City. She advised that artists not “use dealers” as stepping stones to larger galleries. “It’s a small world and we know each other,” Edelman noted.

On the perpetual question of print pricing, sizing and editions, Meislin suggested that photographers not offer images in more than two sizes, and said she doesn’t want the total number of prints available of a single image to exceed 10. “The smaller [the edition] the better,” she said. Wolf agreed, saying that collectors “feel good knowing that they have one of not very many.” She, too, felt that two sizes of prints was a good bet. She also added that she prices the work of artists who are new to her gallery based on the career they’ve had and what collections have purchased their work. She also looks at other artists who are at similar points in their careers. Meislin added that she also considers how much money goes into producing the work.

Artists should “have feeling about it,” Hunt said of their pricing. Artists should have done their homework and have an opinion, otherwise the conversation about pricing becomes “cumbersome,” he said.

All of the panelists agreed that image sizes should be appropriate for the work, and that big prints weren’t necessary or even preferred. Wolf talked about artist Bryan Schutmaat’s show, currently on view at her gallery. His portraits of people living rough lives in the West wouldn’t work as large prints, she said. But at the right size they are beautiful and powerful.

Edelman reminded the audience that artists can “always raise prices but can’t lower them.” Photographers should start low, and if an edition sells quickly the price should increase slowly.

The panelists also discussed making prints for special editions of books and for charity sales. Edelman said that when one of her artists wanted to offer a print with a special-edition book, she and the artist chose an image from an edition that was already sold out. That way they weren’t undercutting the market for the larger print of that image. (The print was also made at a smaller size for the book.) Hunt says that when photographers want to donate works to charity auctions, he advises them to print them differently and in “a weird size.” He also suggested they write all over the back of a print specifying that it was created for charity, and consider creating an edition specifically for donation purposes.

An audience member asked who should be responsible for framing, and all of the gallerists had different answers. Meislin said she expected artists to handle 50 percent of the production costs, and that she would front the artist’s 50 percent if necessary, but would recoup those costs when sales were made.

Edelman says she tries to get her artists to pay for production, but will ultimately pay for everything if an artist needs that. She noted that she’ll recoup the framing expenses when an artist sells a framed print if she’s paid for the production.

Wolf said she doesn’t want to pay for production, but she will. She reminded artists to keep in mind that they are not “in our league” in terms of the overhead gallerists have to come up with each month to keep their galleries open.

MFAs aren’t necessary, the panelists agreed. But they also agreed there was value in an MFA degree, not only creatively, but in the network it provides artists. Wolf noted that MFA teachers will call her to recommend artists.

To close, Hunt asked what had changed recently in the fine-art photography business. Wolf got the last word. “Tragedy abounds,” she said jokingly. “But I feel blessed, no matter what little things change.”

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November 4th, 2014

OSI Announces 2014 Audience Engagement Grant Winners, and New Funding Model

Open Society Documentary Photography Project has announced the winners of its Audience Engagement Grant Program, which supports photographers who “have gone beyond documenting a human rights or social justice issue to enacting change.” This year, Open Society Foundations offered two forms of support. The Project Development grants  gave grantees a chance to attend a workshop, organized by Creative Capital’s Professional Development Program, to learn strategies for moving their projects forward. The Project Implementation grants supported photo-based artists who, in partnership with other organizations, are using photography to engage a unique audience. Grant winners were also invited to the professional development retreat.

The grant winners in the Project Development track are:

* Nazik Armenakyan: to document women living with HIV/AIDS in Armenia.
* Paul Botes: to showcase the impact of the Lonmin Marikana Mine violence in South Africa.
* Robert Godden: to address migration policies, practices, and research in Nepal.
* Cristobal Olivares: to confront violence against women in Chile.
* Thenmozhi Soundararajan: to expose sexual violence against Dalit women in India.
* Andri Tambunan: to chronicle the rise of HIV/AIDS within indigenous Papuan communities living in Tanah Papuah.

In the Project Implementation track, the following photographers and partner organizations were named winners:

* Mario Badagliacca with the Archive of Migrant Memories (AMM) on their campaign to collect, archive, and share testimonies of migrants held in Identification and Deportation Centers throughout Italy.
* Rula Halawani with Al-Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art to produce an exhibition addressing Palestinian identity and collective memory, as these relate to the natural and physical environment.
* Karim Ben Khelifa with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Open Documentary Lab, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab to create an augmented reality installation that will allow users to engage with soldiers from across enemy lines.
* Jean Melesaine with Silicon Valley De-Bug to work with California public defender offices in effectively and responsibly producing client “social biography videos” as tools for reducing sentencing and potential incarceration.
* Pete Pin with the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia and Michael Weiss (of IXL Learning) to create an online platform for Cambodian Americans to share their family stories based on ephemera saved from before the war and refugee camps.
* Michael Premo and Andrew Stern with Working Films’ Reel Power Initiative to educate and mobilize communities in areas surrounding shale beds and to build public opposition to the recent lift of a ban on fracking in North Carolina.
* Brooke Singer with the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice to develop a more accessible, user-friendly Superfund365.org, a data visualization archive of the worst toxic-waste sites in the United States.

Open Society Foundations, which funds the grants, announced in April that it decided to divide its funding for projects being launched and those that are ready to implement after recognizing that “cultivating collaborations and effectively executing these projects requires significant effort, time, and strategic planning.” In announcing this year’s winners, Open Society also noted that documentary photographers have to do more to advocate for lasting change than simply raise awareness. As the Open Society Foundation’s website notes, “The 2014 grantees take on multiple and often simultaneous roles—artists, activists, advocates, and community organizers, to name just a few.”

More information on the grant winners, and some of their images, can be found on the Open Society Foundations’ website.

Related Article:

Open Society Announces 2013 Audience Engagement Grant Winners

November 4th, 2014

PhotoPlus Expo 2014: Gerd Ludwig’s Tips on Shooting in Low Light

Gerd Ludwig dips into his bag of tricks at PhotoPlus Expo 2014 © Matthew Ismael Ruiz

Gerd Ludwig dips into his bag of tricks at PhotoPlus Expo 2014 © Matthew Ismael Ruiz

During his PhotoPlus Expo seminar, “Digital Vision in Low Light,” the photographer Gerd Ludwig offered a peek behind the curtain at the tools and techniques he uses to make National Geographic-worthy images under terrible conditions. The veteran photographer spoke for two hours about the ways he uses small strobes and long exposures as well as rapport with subjects to make the images he captures in Russia and the Ukraine for NatGeo, his book Broken Empire, and his Chernobyl iPad app, The Long Shadow of Chernobyl.

One of the first things Ludwig shared was that he had never had an image published in National Geographic that was shot at a speed higher than ISO 500. He often shoots at night—or in the case of a sarcophagus he photographed at Chernobyl, in pitch darkness—but darkness isn’t the only reason Ludwig likes to use strobes. Harsh fluorescent lighting can make for hideous color tone, something he would regularly encounter in Russia.

“The Russian fluorescent lights are the worst in the world,” Ludwig explains. “They’re very green.” He would use strobes to counteract the sickly green glow, often attaching gels to suit his esthetic.

For one famous shot of the control room of reactor #4 at Chernobyl, he revealed the secret to the dramatic lighting that seemed to emanate from within the control panel: During a long exposure, he and his assistant crouched behind the panel and fired strobes up onto the wall-mounted displays. Again, he used a variety of gels to get the tone of the light just right.

Here are some additional technical nuggets that Ludwig shared during his seminar:

- When shooting in low-light with strobes, Ludwig typically shoots TTL on Aperture Priority, firing his strobes at -1, or -2 1/3 EV.
- Strobes are often more effective when the subject looks away from the light.
- In falling snow, using a wide-angle on the strobe on camera illuminates the snow closest to you, to dramatic effect.
- Using a headlamp can be helpful when working in complete darkness (a trick he used in the sarcophagus at Chernobyl). You can get a red one that isn’t as intense, and during long exposures, you can “paint” your scene with the headlamps to emphasize various elements.
- In a pinch, you can use your hand as a reflector, provided you have light skin.
- You can use the free sample set of gels at your local camera store to make your own flash gels.

Much of Ludwig’s work in Chernobyl focuses not just on the ruins of the plant, but of the people affected by the plant’s meltdown, particularly, the children of victims of contamination from the disaster’s nuclear fallout. The children’s physical condition is difficult to witness—most are permanently disabled by the effects of radiation. But in videos he played of himself taking photographs in the hospital, he engaged the children completely, encouraging them to dance, even crawling under tables to meet them on their own level. In one particularly touching moment, he touches the hand of a blind and deaf boy, sitting on the ground because the boy cannot walk. The boy smiles instantly, and Ludwig returns the favor.

“When shooting underprivileged victims,” Ludwig told his audience, “you have to realize that when you point the camera at them, you temporarily increase their pain.”

 Related Article

PDN Video: Gerd Ludwig on Why He’s Risked His Life at Chernobyl