Recreating Vermeer's paintings: article in Vanity Fair

I just read this article in Vanity Fair about a huge experiment to recreate what may have been the Dutch painter Vermeer's secret weapon to create such incredibly photo-realistic paintings all the way back in the 1600's. This article covers Vermeer, painting, photography, camera obscura, optics, Penn and Teller, digital image analysis - the whole 9 yards!   Very fascinating.

Robert Cameron died on Tuesday

Robert Cameron died in San Francisco on Tuesday. He's responsible for the "Above..." series of books, including "Above Hawaii", Above San Francisco" and about 10 others. After selling over 2.5 million copies of the Above series, he's got to be the most prolific and well known aerial photographer in the world. An obituary is here, but this much better article says a lot more about him. I love that his photography really picked up after a full career in a different field but I REALLY like how active he stayed all the way to the end. That's the way to live life!

My parents always had a copy of Above Hawaii on the coffee table and I see his books all the time in bookstores (new and used). When I think of aerial photography, I think of him and Yann Arthus Bertrand. Since I'm thinking a lot more about aerial photography these days, I should probably pick up some of his books. (I smell a Christmas list coming on...)

Found the Jeff Mitchum Gallery

I was walking around Los Gatos last weekend and I discovered the Jeff Mitchum Gallery which has a mix of high-end furniture and panoramic photos.  The furniture is very comfortable (and attractive) but the photos are really stunning.  He shoots only panoramics in color (on film) and offers them between 5 and 8 feet wide.  You can see lots of the photos on his website but the computer screen doesn't really replicate the experience of seeing a well-lit 8 foot wide print hanging in front of you.  There's something to be said about the power of a perfect, large, bright print standing right in front of you. I also found that he has a book called "Seasons of Light" which is one of the nicest printed photo books I've ever seen.  His website says it uses a "state of the art publication including UV Spot printing for archival quality preservation of all of your favorite images."

The UV Spot process creates gorgeous glossy prints on matte paper pages which is a really neat effect.  The pages are probably 15 - 18 inches wide and make a really nice presentation of most of his work.  I was looking at the book for about 10 minutes thinking to myself that if it cost $100 or less I'd buy it in a heartbeat.  It's just my luck that it costs $175 so I ended up walking away without a copy.  :-)

Perhaps I'll save my pennies and head back there sometime to pick it up.  The books really is so well done you could cut the pages out and have have about 90 frame-worthy prints for only a couple bucks a piece.  A horrible thing to do to a $175 book, but that's one of the first thoughts that went through my head when I started to thumb through it.

FTC Disclosure: Since the original publishing of this post, Jeff and I have spoken a few times and he's provided me with a copy of the book.  I will _not_ be cutting it up!

Since I now have the book and have taken a little more time to look at it, I can add some more detail.   Hopefully in a later post...

Working for Free - Photography is not Plumbing

There's been a huge discussion going on recently on The Interwebs about photographers working for free.  Big-time bloggers like David Hobby (of Strobist), Vincent Laforet, Chase Jarvis, and John Harrington are all talking about it right now due to a post by David Hobby last week, but the discussion has been going on for a couple years, including this big post by Matt Brown on Matt is a photographer whose thoughts I'm especially sensitive to because we both shoot for Cal Poly Football and Basketball and I wouldn't want to be doing anything to jeopardize the work he gets from them.  (As an aside, I caught a glimpse of Matt on TV on the sidelines of the UCLA/USC game yesterday...)

The main argument comes down to whether it's "OK" to do photography for free and what the effects of that are on you, your clients, the industry, Western Society, etc.   On one hand you've got David Hobby putting forth four reasons why you should consider working for free.  On the other end of the spectrum there's John Harrington who reasons that working for free will destroy your career, put other photographers out of business, make you a horrible person, and maybe worse.

I'm not going to weigh in on the discussion other than to say that working for free has it's place (especially when trying to get your foot in the door) but isn't a long-term business model.   I shoot for some clients for free.  There are other jobs I would never take for free.  (I turned down a free job offer just last weekend, because it involved too much travel.)  But one argument that always seems to come up that you could never call a plumber and tell them that your toilet was clogged and would they please come over and clean it up for free and therefore, photographers shouldn't ever work for free either.

I love that argument, because its so ridiculous.  I've got news for you: taking pictures is a lot more fun than cleaning up poop, and that's why there's a steady stream of people willing to try it for free.  I'm a firm believer in the law of supply and demand and the recent explosion in the popularity of photography means there's a huge glut of people wanting to try it.  If you're a professional photographer lamenting all these damn newcomers to the industry, all I can say is that if you can't actually differentiate yourself from the amateurs then you probably have a problem.

There are lots of ways a pro can differentiate their work from that of the newcomer:

  • the quality of the final product (this seems first and foremost)
  • being able to handle large or complex projects
  • professionalism when dealing with the client (invoices, quotes, business insurance, someone to answer the phone during the day, etc.)
  • availability for jobs when hobbyists might be at their 9-5 day job
  • the ability to be there in the future

and so on.  I don't think we're in danger of pros losing their ability to make money, due to the fact that there are always people that are going to need the level of service that a professional photographer can provide.

Final Thought: In computer science, there's a long transition of giving away perfectly good work for free.  The entire open-source software movement is proof of that.   I wonder how that affects the philosophy of computer nerds who go into photography...

Shooting on white seamless

Photographer Zack Arias has put together a five-part discussion about how to build a space for shooting people on white seamless, and all the different ways you can make it look. Great post!  This is one to bookmark, or send to the Mrs. when she wonders why you want the basement to be 20' x 40' x 14' high.  :-)

I don't have quite that much space (yet) which is fine since I mostly do products on the white seamless, but the concepts are sound.  You can scale it all down to a smaller size for tabletop work.