Cuba: A Visual Treasure

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Just one day remains for folks to pre-order my first photography book, a joint effort called Cuba: Seven in 10 (currently on Kickstarter). We successfully passed our fundraising goal so the the book is on!

Each photographer gets to present 10 photos. To be honest with you I have no idea how I am going to whittle down my choices to such a limited amount of pics. Cuba is a visual paradise with incredible photographic opportunities! I already have dozens of worthy pics and still have one third of my pics to edit. I know the other six photographers in the project — Charles Butler of Union 206 Studios, Nana Gyesie, Dwight Jefferson, Joe Newman of DC Focused, Pablo Raw, and Jon Sterling — were also amazed by Havana.

I have included a few pics below to give you an idea of what I am talking about. From stunning street shots and incredible people to beautiful cars to amazing architecture, Cuba has it all. 27760624312_9f68c1cd7d_h

The shot immediately above epitomizes all that is good with Cuba and all that troubles it. The people have a great warm spirit to them, and the architecture and colors are beautiful. At the same time the passage is poorly lit with the exception of the area where the table is, and you can see corrosion, a result of neglect in the post Soviet era.  The warmth overpowers the negatives here, and that is my sense of Cuba. Hard times may be upon the people, but they will persevere and thrive.

Please find a few more pics below. You can also view my public galleries on 500 Pixels, Facebook, or Flickr.

I hope you decide to pre-order the book today! My offer to give folks a complimentary license from my photography portfolio after the Kickstarter ends still stands. Regardless, thank you for being an interested friend.

Smokin!

A portrait of a young woman in Havana.

Central Havana 2016A shocking scene on a Saturday night in Central Havana. This is the side of Cuba most don’t see.

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And then there is the beauty of Havana.

Kickstarter for The Next Book – Cuba: Seven in 10

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Image by Joe Newman.

My next book will be a team photo effort from seven Washington, DC photographers in Cuba. Cuba: Seven in 10 (see our Kickstarter page) will feature 10 photographic takes on Cuba from each shutterbug, representing our personal interpretations of Havana and Cuban culture as it is exists now before the American tourism rush.

The end result? Cuba viewed by Seven in 10 frames each. This should make for a great photo book.

How long until Cuba’s amazing culture is changed forever by this new influx of American dollars and influence? In many ways, the zeitgeist of Cuban culture is in its twilight before entering a new phase as a destination for vacationing Americans.

The other six photographers in alphabetical order are Charles Butler of Union 206 Studios, Nana Gyesie, Dwight Jefferson, Joe Newman of DC Focused, Pablo Raw, and Jon Sterling. We are asking for pre-orders and support on Kickstarter beginning today.

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Geoff Livingston (me, on the left), Pablo Raw, Joe Newman, Dwight Jefferson, Jon Sperling, Charles Butler, and Nana Gyesie.

The actual trip will happen on June 9-15, and you should definitely expect some behind the scenes photos on my accounts. We also launched a Facebook page where we will post pictures during and after the trip.

Please contribute to this excellent effort. It’s going to be an incredible visual journey, and one that interests most Americans who enjoy travel.

Also, I want to give a shout out to Joe Newman and his new travel company Focused Photo Adventures. The entire trip was arranged by Joe and his company. Also, the header image was contributed by Joe.

What do you think about Cuba?

The Special Nature of Night Photography

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The blizzard of 2016 is upon us. I am hoping the wind isn’t severe during the latter hours of the storm so that I can take some night shots of the blizzard before everyone steps all over the snow. Yes, I know. It’s insanity, but that’s how much I love night photography.

Most photography is about capturing the beauty of a moment or a scene. Light plays an essential role in magnifying that beauty. Night photography is much more than that to me.

Night is defined by the absence of the greatest light of all, sunlight. When you photograph outdoor images after the sun goes down, you attempt to capture the precious beauty usually hidden by night.

How many times have you walked outside in the night and needed to let your eyes adjust so that you can see your surroundings? When light appears it is stark, almost like a splash of paint in an empty negative space.

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Today’s digital cameras use sensors that are more sensitive and can better capture those details in the dim night. Many photographers use wide-open aperture settings to try and brighten the scene, often sacrificing detail in the foreground and background. But I think the real value of today’s full frame digital cameras are their ability to read deep amounts of light data across a nightscape at small apertures.

These long exposures can produce fantastic photos. If you have the patience to set up and sit by a tripod with a remote trigger for 1/2 second, eight seconds, 30 seconds or even longer, you can capture some amazing, stark, color-rich night shots.

You will see the subtle oranges of the not too distant day, the blues of an LED light, or the yellows of a tungsten bulb. Shadows dance across the scene hinting at deep colors of green or brown. Stars and planes twinkle in the night sky. Metal and glass reflect the scant light available creating mirror images. Streetlights and beacons in the distance proclaim the nearness of safe harbor if you can just traverse the nightscape before you.

It Takes More than a Smartphone

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The beauty of well-executed night photography is exceptional and rare. These pics stand out in a world filled with everyday black and white street photos in photo forums, grumpy cats on Facebook, and selfie shots proliferating Instagram. It is extremely difficult to capture a fantastic night image on a smartphone, at least with the current models (and here come the pics in my comments section).

Instead, a photographer must know her or his camera well, how the light impacts a landscape or an object, and the best ways to capture the essence of a night scene. Heck, in some cases you may even paint the scene with your own artificial light (flood or flash light, for example). Even then, you must know how to edit the RAW file produced by the camera and bring out the color, tone down light flares, and highlight details that may still be hidden in the shadows.

Night photography is truly an interpretation, a visual art form that cannot be minimized by popular technology. You have to have a vision of what you want to see, and you have to know how to shoot.

Here are thee tips beyond the usual (e.g. get a tripod and a remote trigger) for those who want to take their night photography a little further. I will warn you that one of these is unorthodox.

Spend the Time

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Serious enthusiasts and pros tend to shoot manual. And as most of them will tell you this requires a balance of light sensitivity (ISO), how far open your lens will shoot (aperture), and shutter speed (length of time it takes to capture your photograph).

In the most well lit situations you are photographing at 1/60th of a second or faster and at a relatively low light sensitivity. Shutter speed, aperture, and ISO vary depending on how much depth of field a photographer wants to expose. These are the benefits of artistic choice in normal photography.

With night photography, to get a workable capture you need to make some sacrifices. You have to shoot with a very shallow depth of field. Or your need a high ISO, which can make your photo extremely grainy. Or you need a low shutter speed, which in turn can require a tripod and trigger release to avoid shake. You may need a combination of these things.

I almost always choose to make my sacrifice with time. I prefer an extremely deep field with lots of detail for landscapes, so sacrificing on aperture is a no-no. And I hate photos that are too grainy, so I prefer a lower ISO setting.

I usually ignore the advice of experts who say to shoot between f8-and f16 to maximize lens sharpness. Frankly, my camera sensors are good enough to make up the difference, and I want as detailed a nightscape as possible.

Most of my night pics take between 5 and 30 seconds. In some cases, long exposures at night can take two minutes or more. This gives me the most detailed RAW file possible for editing. And that in turn allows me to bring out the best in my nightscape photos, at least that’s what I currently believe.

Don’t Spend the Time

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There are always exceptions to the rule. In my case, as much as I love a well defined nightscape, if I am photographing the moon or an outdoor action scene, I don’t have the luxury to go for a long exposure. I will open the aperture to f9 or 11, and then try to make up the balance with the ISO setting.

The above photograph is a Super Moon shot from 2014. The photo was shot at f10 at 400 ISO over a half a second. I am certain the focus was on infinity as the shot was taken at 160 mm. I may have done myself a favor if had shot it for 1/4 a second or even faster, and upped the ISO accordingly. The detail in the moon would have been better.

Nevertheless, the focus was on capturing a moon shot that was detailed and yet not too bright. This is the primary issue with moon shots, overexposing the subject. It was a fine line, because I also had to capturing the much dimmer Washington Monument to give the photo context. This was an extremely hard shot, one that a long exposure would have simply ruined.

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Another example is when you want a shallow depth of field. The above Little Snowman pic is an example. I wanted the focus of the shot to be on the snowman and not the Jefferson Memorial. With this one I went for an extremely shallow depth of field (f1.4) and let the lens render the Memorial as a bokeh blurred background. CNN, HLN and local TV picked up the photo for their iReport, social media and broadcast properties, respectively.

When to Break the Rules

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Digital photographers rely on their histogram to tell them when a photograph is well exposed. Most schools and experienced photographers will tell you to shoot and correct to get a balanced histogram. Some would even tell you to overexpose in a dim situation and correct later. Be careful. Instead, I am going to tell you to make your own educated decision when it comes to night photos.

I have corrected and overexposed photos to meet the mantra and almost every time I am disappointed with the result. Usually, I get a night photo that looks like a day shot or a sunrise/sunset pic.

My point is that if you are taking a night shot, it should look like it was taken in the blue hour or at night. The above frozen river picture was a two minute and 12 second exposure. It was dark outside, really dark. The photo looks like it was dark, too, but you can clearly see that a sunrise was approaching on the horizon.

Below is the histogram.

Histogram

This chart makes sense to me. There really wasn’t a lot of bright things to balance the histogram. When I went to correct it, the scene looked like it was moments before the sun peaked. In reality it was a half hour before sunrise. Sometimes you just need to break the rules.

I believe this to be true even when things are white such as buildings or snow, like the previously mentioned snowman shot. It is my view that night shots should look natural as if they were taken at night with delicate, yet illuminating light. The histogram should be secondary in the editing process.

What do you think about night photography?

New 2016 Sunrise Calendar, Monochrome Gallery, and a Photo Book?

Tony Corbell and Rob Hull released a blog earlier this week that suggested highlighting your work on a calendar. It seemed like a great idea, and within a couple of days someone asked me if I would be selling a 2016 calendar.

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So I built one featuring 12 sunrises and sunsets, which people can buy for $20. You can see a few sample pictures here.

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Sunrises and sunsets are by far the most popular pictures I publish. While individual architecture or landscape photos can perform as well, nothing does as well regularly as a colorful sky. The sunrises and sunsets were curated against the month of the year, each one depicting a season.

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I have also created a new gallery of monochrome photos on my portfolio site. Every month I feature a new series on the portfolio, and this month it made sense to publish monochrome (black & white for the most part) as they are arguably my most artistic works.

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The above photo of the Memorial Bridge in Washington, DC is a great example. I do like working in a singular color because it forces the eye to see structure and light in the purest sense.

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All of these monochrome photos are available for sale here. In fact, if folks ever wanted to buy a photo of mine and don’t know how, the photo portfolio is the place to do it. Any photo can be uploaded and printed on demand, and shipped right to your house.

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Many people over the past year have asked me to create a photo book. I have researched cost and to self publish a print collection of 50-100 photos would cost buyers $75, give or take. That photo book needs to be awesome to justify the cost.

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The good news is I definitely have enough pictures to do this now. It’s a matter of curation; which ones and how to present them. I am currently looking at how to do it via Blurb, and think I may release a book on landscapes before Black Friday.

Flickr 4.0: PR Hype versus Reality

Flickr 4.0 launched 11 days to much hype and fanfare in the consumer tech media. Some pubs went so far as to say that Flickr was now relevant again, ironic for a photo sharing social network that consistently ranks in the top 10 networks.

The new interface certainly is beautiful. But as well hyped as the new Flickr 4.0 is, it suffers on a few levels. For starters, the new interface seems to stifle interaction. I have noticed a 25% decline in favorites and comments on my photos.

Perhaps I am in a slump. I have been posting fewer landscapes and cityscapes, which tend to perform better for my following. But at the same time, when I have posted decent landscapes — landscapes that perform well on 500 Pixels and Instagram — they still garner quite a few less favorites and comments on Flickr than in the past.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the slump began the day the new interface launched.

As a viewer, I find it harder to favorite and comment on Flickr 4.0, too. The mobile apps are clunky. If someone publishes a series of photos, to comment you have to tap on a photo twice.

The traditional web version suffers as well. It gets stuck and fails to show you past favorites. In some cases, the responsive design prevented me from even seeing the favorite and comment icons on photos like on this image from Jan de Corte.

Responsive Fail

The new Uploadr has been wonky, timing out periodically. Flickr has acknowledged this new feature has issues and is working on repairing it.

Flickr 4.0 is not all bad. Some of the new features are great, like Camera Roll. Now I can view my photos chronologically, which is a pretty cool way to see how your work is progressing over time. It’s also a great way to get a timeline view of your life. This new feature also lets you organize your photos by type, e.g. landscape, portrait, etc.

Competitive Balance

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Flickr launched its new version to make it more competitive in the mobile era. In some ways, this makes Flickr more consumer-oriented, allowing people to store thousands of mobile photos automatically as they go.

In the context of Instagram versus Flickr, I really see Instagram as a more valuable consumer network. The land of selfies is fluid and dynamic, allowing for quick and easy feedback. Friends see how their lives are evolving in the moment. In comparison, Flickr 4.0 makes quick and easy feedback a bit harder.

As a photo storage site, it works (when the Uploadr is functioning). However, if people struggle to interact with your photos then you are publishing strictly to keep the images in the cloud.

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Similarly, 500 Pixels benefits from a strong critical group of professional and serious amateur photographers who only like the best images. While this can create homogenous photographer pool where certain images do better than others (think landscapes and pictures of models), 500 Pixels makes it very easy to like, love and comment on photos. Exploring popular images on 500 Pixels is also much easier, with segmentation by image type.

For a work-validation standpoint, I have been as reliant on Flickr as I have been on 500 Pixels to see what other photographers thought of my work. Now I am leaning towards 500 Pixels more often than not.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Flickr, always have, and won’t abandon the network. I just wonder if in its attempts to become a consumer photo network, Flickr shunned its existing power users.

In my mind, Flickr owned a niche as a photography site that catered to both pros and amateurs. The stream was good. It become a resource for many who searched for great images to fill out their stories. While adding mobility is a natural evolution, sacrificing interactivity and function to get there may become a long-term weakness compared to more specific-use oriented photo networks like Instagram and 500 Pixels.

What do you think of the new Flickr?

The Photographic Adventure

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We’re packing today for a two week adventure including 12 days on the Big Island of Hawaii (and a stop in Half Moon Bay, California). Lensrentals.com graciously supplied my equipment for the trip. Here’s what they gave me:

Nikon D810
Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 ED
Zeiss ZF.2 50mm f/1.4
Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S
Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED

I also have my SB-910 speed light, which I need to learn how to use. The equipment gives me an opportunity to try out two zoom lenses I’ve been eyeing as well as the Zeiss lens. I have also been interested in the D810 as a next camera, so it will be great to see what it can do.

Photographic adventure pics coming soon!