Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of sites, products, services, etc.

eBook Review: The Magic of Black & White

[tweetmeme]I’m a real fan of black and white photography — doesn’t matter if it’s film or digital. There’s just something about it that can transform a photo so drastically by the “simple” removal of color.

So I was thrilled when my buddy Andrew Gibson contacted me about the release of his book on “The Magic of Black & White“. He’s a great photographer and his black & white photos are stunning — so I was certain that the book would be a good one.

I was right.

The book is a relatively quick read, but offers up a great number of tips, techniques, and guidance for black and white photography. It’s also beautifully illustrated with a ton of Andrew’s fine art work.

See the end of this post for a chance to win a free copy of the book.

“The Magic of Black & White, Part One – Vision” can be purchased through Craft & Vision. The links in this post are affiliate links.

ABOUT THE BOOK

The Magic of Black & White is a 58 page downloadable PDF eBook. The book is intended to be viewed in a two-page format (as you can see by the dashed lines in the samples below). Throughout the book, you’ll be presented with specific topics on black & white photography and large sample photos from Andrew’s collection of work.

After a few single-page “chapters” (Introduction, Why Black & White?, The Art of Black & White, and Learning to See in Monochrome), we dive into The Elements of Black & White Photography. This section covers many topics along the lines of tonal contrast, highlights, simplicity, minimalism, complexity, shape and form, texture, lines, foreground interest, negative space, shapes and patterns, and contrast. Each topic gives thoughtful insights and supporting imagery.

From there, we move on to Light in Black & White Photography, which covers the various lighting scenarios and how to use them to your advantage. The last main section goes into Subjects for Black & White Photography, and we look at several options where black & white may make more sense than color. This is all followed up by a conclusion and final thoughts from Andrew.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Gibson is a writer and photographer based in the south of England. He works for one of the UK’s leading photography magazines and also freelances. He loves to travel and one region he’s been drawn back to time and time again is South America, in particular Argentina and the Andean regions of Bolivia and Peru. He works in a ‘fine art documentary’ style and presents most of his work in black and white.

You can find Andrew’s work at his main website or at his blog. He’s also a regular contributor at Phototuts+, Smashing Magazine, and the Fine Art Photoblog. On top of all that, he’s an employee of EOS Magazine. Busy guy!

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

The eBook is longer than a blog article, but shorter than a printed book. I feel that the eBook medium is perfect for what is presented. Andrew gives a great introduction to black and white photography with content that strikes a perfect balance between educational and inspirational. It’s not so technical that the beginner will be lost, and not so “artsy-fartsy” that it isn’t informative — again, it’s just a great balance.

I would personally recommend this eBook to anybody looking to explore or improve their black & white photography. It will definitely get your gears turning and probably give you a few new ideas. At the time of publishing this review, the price of the book is $5 USD (subject to change at any time), which is a steal if you ask me.

Part Two of this book (to be announced) will examine the means of creating the black and white image in the digital darkroom. I’ll update you guys when it’s published.

“The Magic of Black & White, Part One – Vision” can be purchased through Craft & Vision.

WANT A FREE COPY?

[UPDATE 03-30-2010: The contest is over, and the winners have been selected]

[tweetmeme]Andrew has also given me a coupon code for 3 free eBooks to give out! I have a feeling that this particular contest will draw quite a few entries, so I’m limiting the entry period to ONE DAY (contest will end March 30, 2010 at 8am PDT). Here’s how you can enter for a chance at a free book:

1) Submit a photo and/or link to a black and white photo you’ve taken. The photo must be your own. Bonus points for supplemental descriptions.

OR

2) Submit a Flickr Gallery (not a set — a gallery) of black and white photos. Curate a gallery and pop the link in the comments below. Bonus points for supplemental thoughts within the gallery and/or comment.

One entry per person; only the first entry for any given person will be considered. Again, ONE DAY for entries, and I’ll post a comment of my own stating the cut-off time — so if you don’t see the cut-off comment, feel free to post an entry.

eBook Review: Photo Nuts and Bolts

Photography is just like every other skill — it requires three things: 1) a basic understanding of the fundamentals, 2) lots of practice, and 3) some raw talent (and maybe a little luck). Books won’t help you much with the last two, but they’re perfect for the first one.

Photo Nuts and Bolts: Know Your Camera and Take Better Photos is a book that focuses on the fundamental theories and mechanics of the camera. So this goes way back to the very nature of light and the tools we use to capture it.

Aimed at the beginner to intermediate dSLR user, the book steps through the foundations of modern photography. Understanding your camera and the light it captures is the basis of solid photography and is essential to more advanced topics.

You can purchase Photo Nuts and Bolts from digital Photography School. Links in this post are affiliate links to the product — It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but I get a cut of the sale.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Photo Nuts and Bolts is a 64 page downloadable eBook containing 10 lessons in the fundamental theories and mechanics of photography. The three column layout and minimalistic formatting make this book easy on the eyes and a pleasure to read. Supporting photos and diagrams are scattered throughout as needed, but are not overbearing in their presence. Each lesson is approximately three to four pages long, making them a moderately quick read.

The 10 lessons in this book are very concise and to the point (I’m particularly impressed because I’m a rambler). The material is presented as introductory reading for the given topic. While it does go into details, it will leave the reader with a basic understanding and a thirst for more. The last page of each lesson helps quench that thirst with homework challenges, additional resources to various websites and web articles, and questions/answers and comments from fellow photographers on the given topic.

The flow of the book is fairly important, and I would suggest reading the lessons in order since they build on each other. We start off with a few lessons in light and optics, followed by exposure controls, and finishing up with additional camera controls. The end of the book also has a glossary of the basic terms used throughout the book.

As a bonus for the launch of the book (1 week only), you’ll receive a one page pocket guide intended to print out, fold up, and… stick in your pocket. This little guide gives you some general camera settings that may be useful for 10 different situations (outdoor sunshine, outdoor dusk, indoor action, indoor low-light, etc.).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Neil Creek is a fellow photography enthusiast that decided to take a shot at the professional side of things a few years ago. He’s been doing well photographing, teaching courses, and writing for the digital Photography School. I’ve known Neil for some years now, and his enthusiasm for the art of photography has only grown each day. The writing in this eBook reflects his high level of understanding in the technical and mechanical/optical aspects of photography.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

This is a good solid book that teaches the foundations of photography in a concise and meaningful fashion. And even if you’re somewhat familiar with the topics, there are a lot of background and theory details presented that you don’t typically see outside of textbooks.

Readers of the digital Photography School blog will notice that many of the lessons in the book have been published in the past months. So why buy the book? A lot of stuff has been reworked and touched up in these articles. Plus, the last two chapters are completely new. It’s also handy to have everything in consecutive order and in one package so you can quickly reference the topics at any time.

I would suggest this book for beginner/intermediate photographers wanting to gain a better understanding of their equipment (the dSLR in particular). If you’re struggling with concepts like exposure controls, lens controls, light metering, white balance, and other fundamentals, this book should straighten you out.

You can purchase Photo Nuts and Bolts for $19.97 just for this first week for an undetermined time period, after which point it will return to the regular price of $29. Plus, the pocket guide is only available for the first week purchases, so grab it soon!

eBook Review: The Essential Guide to Portrait Photography

The Essential Guide to Portrait Photography

In my opinion, portraits can be the most interesting photos and they seem to naturally draw our attention. Why? I think we’re programmed to enjoy looking at photos of other people. Every person is different and we’re naturally curious about those we see in photos. In fact, I’ve often thought that the most important element of a photo is the human element.

As a photographer, you may already know that portraits are also one of the most difficult photos to pull off. Working with people and capturing them in a way that conveys their true beauty is not as simple as pushing a button. Portraits can be created in so many different ways that it is impossible to learn it all from a short article.

The Essential Guide to Portrait Photography is a collection of stand-alone lessons on various aspects of portrait photography. This eBook (PDF format electronic book) covers everything from technical to inspirational, and the information contained is top notch and well written.

You can purchase The Essential Guide to Portrait Photography from digital Photography School. Links in this post are affiliate links to the product — It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but I get a cut of the sale.

ABOUT THE BOOK

The Essential Guide to Portrait Photography is a 78 page downloadable eBook containing 25 lessons in portrait photography. The 3 column layout is incredibly clean, easy to read, and flows naturally. Photos are scattered throughout as supporting material or examples to the lesson. Each lesson is written as a stand-alone topic typically 3 or 4 pages long.

The Essential Guide to Portrait Photography Example Page

The sections provide the essential learnings for the topic at hand. The idea is that you can read through one or two sections, soak it in, try out what you’ve learned, and go back to another section when you have time. There’s no need to read the entire book cover to cover before applying what you’ve learned — in fact, I wouldn’t even suggest doing so. There’s so much in this book that most of us wouldn’t be able to take it all in at once.

To give you an idea of what the book contains, some of the sections include: photographing children – composition, how to photograph people when travelling, environmental portraits, a fresh look at depth of field, portrait photography’s power posing, the human side of photography, 11 tips for better candid photography, shooting like a pro on a budget, and lots of other good stuff. So you can see that the topics are widely varied — some instructional, some inspirational, and some in between.

And as a bonus, the end of the book contains interviews with 6 very different professional photographers. They lay down all sorts of great insight and inspiration too. The photographers include David Duchemin, Neil Creek, Jack Hollingsworth, Kris Krug, Chase Jarvis, and Bert Stephani.

Darren Rowse

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Darren Rowse is the primary author and editor of the eBook. He’s also the mastermind at the wheel of digital Photography School. Over 15 of the 25 sections of the eBook were written by Darren. The remaining articles were authored by various contributors including Natalie Norton, Christina N Dickson, Nathan Marx, Alexis Godschalk, James Pickett, and Neil Creek.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

Truly a great resource. I don’t know how else to say it! This is definitely more than a random collection of articles or a typical book. It’s really a resource that you can learn from, explore, and go back to as needed. You may not need every single lesson today, but most of the sections contain usable information and instruction for a large percentage of photographers out there.

Whether you’re shooting informal family pictures or professional portraits, you’ll likely find new things in this eBook. The content seems to be geared mainly toward intermediate/advanced amateurs looking to step it up a notch, but the voice of the writing is accommodating to beginners too. And even professionals need to keep learning new things in order to keep up with the times — I’m sure they can find a few nuggets of wisdom in there.

Highly recommended for any photographer interested in learning more about portrait photography. You can purchase The Essential Guide to Portrait Photography for $14.95 until December 1, at which point it will return to the regular price of $19.95.

WANT A FREE COPY?

Darren is providing a copy of The Essential Guide to Portrait Photography for 2 lucky winners here on Epic Edits! Here’s how you can get yours:

1) Submit a photo and/or link to a portrait you’ve taken. The photo must be your own. Bonus points for supplemental descriptions.

OR

2) Submit a Flickr Gallery of portraits. Curate a gallery and pop the link in the comments below. Bonus points for supplemental thoughts within the gallery and/or comment.

OK, so get your entries in soon! One entry per person. I’ll choose and announce the winners on (or near) December 2, 2009 — one winner for a personal photo, and one for a gallery. If, for some reason, we happen to have no entries from one of the categories, I’ll choose two winners from the category that has entries.

[UPDATE 12/3/2009] Contest winners have been posted.

Book Review: Live, Laugh, Celebrate

Before reading this book, I hadn’t really thought about one of the things that separates us from all other species: we celebrate! Birth, birthday, graduation, victory, rite of passage, holiday, and many other events are celebrated by people all over the world each and every day. Some celebrations are very public gatherings, while others are private among friends and family. But whatever the reason, almost every culture celebrates something at some point.

This book is a collection of photographs from all over the Earth taken by many different photographers. This format suits the subject well because it allows for a wide display of imagery that wouldn’t be possible from a single photographer. But even with a diverse set of photos such as this, they’re all similar in the fact that they show people living, laughing, and celebrating.

See the end of this post for a chance to win a free copy of the book.

Live, Laugh, Celebrate (ISBN 978-1426205064) can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Live, Laugh, Celebrate is a hardcover book containing 304 pages and 150 photographs. The physical size of the book is moderate to slightly large, measuring in at 10″x11″ — certainly big enough to appreciate the photos.

Photo by Michael Nichols | Maralal, Kenya | 2008 | Dancers perform during a three-day Samburu wedding.

There are three main chapters, preceded by an introduction and followed by a list of the contributing photographers. Each of the three chapters begins with a few pages of text in order to get you in the mindset for the photos that follow. Chapter one (Cycles of Life) deals mostly with family events and celebrations: birth, birthdays, losing a tooth, family gatherings, community events, Bar Mitzvahs, prom, reunions, weddings, and more. Chapter two (Around the World) explores various celebrations around the globe along with the various ways different cultures celebrate the same events: Easter, Ramadan, Shabouth, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Carnival, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Year, and many more. And Chapter three (Life of the Party) finishes up with a collection of formal and informal parties, gatherings, and events that may not fit into the other two chapters.

Photo by Ami Vitale | Srinagar, Kashmir, India | 2003 | A bride-to-be is decorated with henna at her engagement ceremony.

The second chapter was probably my favorite because it showed just how different our cultures can be, even when it comes to the same holiday. I was also amazed at how many holidays and events are celebrated in countries other than my own. Kite festivals, fishing festivals, and a dozen other festivals that I can’t even pronounce. It’s really exciting to see this stuff all in one book.

Interestingly, most of the photographs exhibit a similar style such that the photographer seems to be nonexistent. Most of the subjects in the photos are so caught up in their activities, it’s easy to forget that a photographer was standing right in front of them with a camera. Really great work from a lot of great photographers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The book was authored by Ferdinand Protzman, an award-winning writer, culture critic, and contributing editor to Art News magazine. He has written several book and contributed articles to the likes of The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal.

Photo by Sam Abell | Venice, Italy | 1995 | Easter Carnival participants in lavish costume.

The photographs in the book come from 72 different talented photographers. Many of them belong to or contribute to publications such as National Geographic, Magnum Photos, Time, Life, Newsweek, New York Times, and countless others. A few of the photographers in this collection include Sam Abell, David Burnett, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Stuart Franklin, Reza, and many other talented artists and journalists.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

A good photo book overall — quick to read and easy to get caught up in the photos. The photos themselves are basically G-rated, so the kids can browse through the images and enjoy it. Captions on the photos give just enough insight to understand what you’re looking at, but don’t drag you down with over-extended explanations.

I wouldn’t say that this book is the most revolutionary thing I’ve seen lately, but it did get me to look at people around the world in a different light. To me, the biggest eye-opener was how similar and different the cultures of the world can be. We all celebrate something, but we all do it a little different from the others.

Photo by David Alan Harvey | Arizona | 1992 | Ceremonial dancers compete at a Native American powwow.

I’d recommend Live, Laugh, Celebrate to anybody looking for a “feel-good” book that can be shared with the whole family. And with the number of brilliant photos it contains, it’s perfect for the coffee table collection.

Again… Live, Laugh, Celebrate (ISBN 978-1426205064) can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

WANT A FREE COPY?

Of course you do! And we’ve got two copies to hand out thanks again to the folks at National Geographic! Just like last time, you have two ways to nab a book for yourself.

1) Submit a photo and/or link to a photo you’ve taken of an event, festival, celebration, gathering, etc. The photo must be your own. Bonus points for supplemental descriptions.

OR

2) Submit a Flickr Gallery of photos photos pertaining to events, festivals, celebrations, gatherings, etc. Curate a gallery and pop the link in the comments below. Bonus points for supplemental thoughts within the gallery and/or comment.

OK, so get your entries in soon! I’ll choose and announce the winners on (or near) December 1, 2009 — one winner for a personal photo, and one for a gallery. If, for some reason, we happen to have no entries from one of the categories, I’ll choose two winners from the category that has entries.

[UPDATE 12/2/2009] The winning entries can be seen here.

Photo by Tino Soriano | Lake Banyoles, Catalonia, Spain | 2005 | Masked people cross a mustard field on the way to a summer festival.

Book Review: Polar Obsession

Polar Obsession

Nature and wildlife photos are generally pleasing to the eye and viewed with great interest from the masses. The interest is even greater when the photos show remote locations and/or elusive animals that we typically don’t see in real life or in photos. Earth’s polar regions are perfect examples of such imagery.

Polar Obsession, by Paul Nicklen, is a stunning collection of photos from the northern and southern polar regions. But these are more than just pretty pictures of the landscape or some distant shots of animals through a 500mm lens — these are up close and intimate views of the animals, their behaviors, and the delicate environment they live in. Paul specializes in photographing the Arctic and Antarctica with an emphasis on underwater photography, and it would seem that no location is out of his reach.

Although the photos presented in Polar Obsession are quite beautiful on many levels, they convey a much heavier message. These fragile environments are changing rapidly, and terrible consequences to the animal inhabitants have already begun. Through his work as a photojournalist, Paul conveys the truth about the polar regions in a way that I’ve never seen before. His passion and drive are intoxicating and his message is impossible to ignore.

See the end of this post for a chance to win a free copy of the book.

Polar Obsession (ISBN 978-1-4262-0511-8) can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Polar Obsession is a hardcover book containing 240 pages of text and photos (150 photos total). The book is quite large, measuring nearly 14 inches wide and 11 inches tall — definitely a lap book. I do like the size and shape of the book though, big enough to really make the photos come to life (and many of them are full bleed).

A young polar bear leaps between ice floes. Barents Sea, Svalbard, Norway

The book is broken into two major sections, preceded by introductory material: Arctic and Antarctica. The introduction gives you some important background information on Paul, sets the tone for the environmental message, and gives you a sampling of his portfolio. The Arctic chapters include “Ice and the Cycle of Life”, “Last of the Unicorns”, and “Svalbard: Polar Paradise”. The Antarctica chapters include “Leopard Seals: An Intimate Encounter” and “South Georgia: The Land of Kings and Elephants”. Each chapter begins with several pages of text that relate to the images.

Narwhals dive deep under the ice to feed on Arctic cod, then return to the surface to breathe and raise their tusks high in the air. Lancaster Sound, Nunavut, Canada

When I get any new book the first thing I do is flip through the pages to scan the photos. Upon doing that with Polar Obsession I thought “Hey, great looking photos! I wonder what all that text is for.” Once I started reading about Paul and his many adventures on the ice and in the water, the photos completely changed in my eyes. The surface beauty melted away and I began to appreciate them on a far deeper level… what they stand for, what they say about the environment, and what they say about humans in general.

Another major part of the book is the knowledge conveyed by Paul about the various animal species he photographs. Many of them are clouded with misconceptions and myths, but Paul reveals the truth about these animals and the places they live. The views presented come from his life experience and his many close encounters with the animals.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Nicklen on assignment. Lewes Lake, Yukon Territory, Canada.

Paul Nicklen is an interesting individual. He mostly grew up in a small Inuit community on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, spending his childhood observing nature, traveling the land, and learning the ways of the Inuit people. During this time, he developed a strong connection with the animals and their environment — a connection that most of us will never experience. When it came time for college, he attended the University of Victoria, British Columbia in pursuit of a degree in marine biology. It was during his final years of study that he made the decision to do something amazing with his life. Paul worked his butt off to acquire his gear and drew up a plan to share his passion of the polar regions with the world.

Paul’s dream has taken him to some of the most extreme and remote corners of the Earth, and I’m confident that he loves every minute of it. This is a man who, as a child, would get excited about blizzards because it meant he could go lay in the snow and let himself be buried by the weather. This is also a man who puts his own life at risk so he can capture images that nobody else will. Truly an extraordinary individual who cares about the life on our planet more than most people can comprehend.

A leopard seal feeds Paul Nicklen a penguin. Antarctic Peninsula

I had the great pleasure to speak with Paul for about 30 minutes on various topics, and he came across as very down-to-Earth. He also came across as an extremely passionate individual when it comes to the well-being of our planet and all the life contained within. Paul is one of those people who dedicate their life to a noble cause — this stuff is his life. From his experience, the polar regions are warming 2-3 times faster than the rest of the Earth, and this means big changes in the very near future.

Some of our discussion revolved around what we can do to “right the wrongs of our past” and make a better world for tomorrow. I’m not going to quote Paul directly (mostly because I can’t write that fast while having a conversation), but he basically wishes that we (the human population) would wake up and realize what’s happening and do something about it. The actions required to make a major difference are far beyond changing our light bulbs and driving hybrid cars — we need a serious shift in our priorities. Paul believes (and I agree with him), that we need to teach our children to “get back into nature” and start caring more about our impact on this planet.

A large female leopard seal greets photographer Göran Ehlmé. Anvers Island, Antarctica

We also chatted about pure photography stuff… and as photographers, we’re all interested in such things! He put a gear list at the end of the book, and it’s freakin’ crazy! I can’t even begin to describe it. I asked him about the film vs digital thing… he’s 110% digital at this point. This makes sense when you think about changing film underwater — it doesn’t happen! I also popped the question “Do you shoot for fun?” The answer… nope. I figured this would be the case with Paul (as is the case with some other professional photographers). The camera is merely a tool that he uses to pursue his real passion. He’s obviously an expert at using that tool, but his true interest is saving the world.

I can’t remember for the life of me whether this was in the book or part of our conversation, but it was profoundly eye-opening. Paul said something along the lines of “we need to move from being consumers of the planet’s resources, to being it’s protectors.” This made a ton of sense to me — as the dominant species of Earth, we should be protecting our planet rather than destroying it. We have the technology and the ability — why aren’t we doing it?

If you want to see more of Paul’s work, visit his website at paulnicklen.com

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

I’ve only seen a small number of books that changed my way of thinking at a very basic level. This book was one of them. At a glance — beautiful photos. Upon deeper inspection — an emotional plea to the importance of our role on Earth. Definitely more than a simple coffee table book.

In the Arctic spring, meltwater channels drain toward and down a seal hole, returning to the sea.

Honestly, I would recommend this book to anybody — it can be enjoyed by both child and adult. Not only that, the photos contained within may be some of the last of their kind. The global climate is changing fast and we’re on the brink of losing many species found in these polar regions. Paul Nicklen is a name you’ll hear again, as I’m certain he will continue to document and fight for these animals (in addition to other struggling species all around the world).

Again, Polar Obsession (ISBN 978-1-4262-0511-8) can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

WANT A FREE COPY?

As always, the folks at National Geographic have agreed to handing out a few free copies of the book (thanks guys!). So what’s the requirement this time around? A contest, of course! We have two copies of the book to hand out, and we’ll have two methods for acquiring the books. You can do one of the following:

1) Submit a photo and/or link to a photo you’ve taken of an animal and/or landscape of a polar region. The photo must be your own, and it’s got to be pretty damn close to the Arctic or Antarctic Circle. Bonus points for supplemental descriptions.

OR

2) Submit a Flickr Gallery of photos from the polar regions. Definitely a good option for those of us who haven’t been too far north (or south). Curate a gallery and pop the link in the comments below. Bonus points for supplemental thoughts within the gallery and/or comment.

OK, so get your entries in soon! I’ll choose and announce the winners on (or near) November 23, 2009 — one winner for a personal photo, and one for a gallery. If, for some reason, we happen to have no entries from one of the categories, I’ll choose two winners from the category that has entries.

[UPDATE 12/2/2009] You can view the winning entries here.

Oh… and be sure to say “hi” to Paul — there’s a very good chance that he’ll be reading this review and the comments. This guy is a hero, so let him know how awesome he is!!!

[UPDATE 11/16/09] Thanks John for pointing out this great video on YouTube:

Site Review (Plus Giveaway): FotoTV

FotoTV

Photography resources can be found in every corner of the Internet, but not all are created equal. There’s free, expensive, outstanding, terrible, and everything in between when it comes to these websites. Recently, I had the opportunity to explore an outstanding (and moderately priced) subscription website built around education through video.

FotoTV Screenshot

FotoTV was founded on the mission to provide an online learning resource for photographers based on the principle of ‘learn by watching the experts’. They offer instructional and inspirational videos to avid photographers on a very wide range of topics and lessons. Photoshop, digital image editing, photography equipment, photo art, analog photography, black and white, fine art nude, landscape photography, sports photography, photo techniques, exhibitions, history of photography, darkroom, photo technology, physical basics of photography, art work, portfolios of photographers, presentation of images, composition, studio lighting, interviews with leading photographers, and many more videos ready to be released. So… you get the idea!

I was provided with an opportunity to explore the entire FotoTV website (full access to all videos), and I must say that I’m quite impressed with what they have to offer. I spent several consecutive nights watching videos from each of the main categories and each of them taught me something new. The videos are very professional — not something you would expect to run across on YouTube by random chance. And the best part is that every video held the same set of standards, so I was never let down with the quality or depth of knowledge presented.

FotoTV Video Interface

Most of the videos are between 10 and 20 minutes in length — so not too short, but not so long that you lose interest. The video quality is great too, with a size of about 750px wide with the height depending on the aspect ratio (click the image for a full size view). Videos loaded quickly and the buffer never cut out on me (I’m using a cable Internet connection tested at approximately 12 Mbps download rate). The video player also has basic options for viewing full screen, controlling volume, and rating the video. Technically, the site is well prepared to handle most visitor needs.

From what I understand, FotoTV.com was launched off the back of FotoTV.de (hint, hint, for you German-speaking readers) — a German based photography site. The German version launched about 2-3 years ago and it’s very popular with over 500 videos available to subscribers. The English version (FotoTV.com) is basically the same resource with fewer videos available at the moment — I believe they launched with just over 100 videos several months ago, and they’re adding more each month.

Some of the videos on FotoTV.com are strictly English, while others are English voice-overs from the German videos. So I would assume that they have a huge pool of videos in the queue for translation — and thus, I would not expect a shortage of new videos on the English site. And I must say that the voice-over videos are not any less educational/intriguing than the native English videos.

In addition to the video archives, FotoTV has a forum available to registered members. Even if forums aren’t your thing, it’s still another resource available to you. They also have a blog that they use to announce new videos and other topics of interest.

FotoTV News (coming soon)

And one other thing — these guys are planning on launching yet another service that has done well on the German site: FotoTV News. It should be available to all registered users in the very near future (though, I’m not sure if you’ll also have to be a paid subscriber). It’s basically going to be a once-a-month photography show with approximately 1/2 hour of news, tips, artist spotlights, and updates on new videos coming out. Pretty cool!

So here’s the deal…

You can visit the FotoTV website and view 3 of their videos absolutely free of charge and obligation. If you want more, you can register for free and get access to 15 free videos and the forum. I would suggest at least checking out the 3 free videos. If you want more convincing, register and check out the 15 videos. If you want even more, subscribe and get full access!

ABOUT THE FREE STUFF…

You guys know I’m always looking out for you, so I have some goodies for you! The folks at FotoTV are giving away 2 — THAT’S TWO — one year subscriptions to the FotoTV.com website!!! Totally FREE!!! Awesome stuff — I’m sure we won’t have any trouble filling the two spots.

In order to get a free one-year subscription, here’s what you need to do: check out the FotoTV website, sample the free videos (and maybe even register for free to see more free videos), then — LEAVE A COMMENT HERE STATING THAT YOU’D LIKE TO BE ENTERED IN THE RAFFLE (yes, random drawing this time). I’ll be giving away two free one-year subscriptions to FotoTV.com on November 18th, 2009.

Before entering the raffle, be sure to read through the Terms and Conditions and the Privacy Policy. Something I would always suggest you do for any online resource — read the fine print and decide if the terms are acceptable to you.

Book Review – 44 Days: Iran and the Remaking of the World

For those who don’t already know, a favorite topic of mine is war and conflict photography. I say “favorite”, but I feel somewhat awkward calling it that… favorites are usually associated with happy things (kitties, butterflies, flowers, sunsets, puppies, etc). No, war and conflict don’t make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, but I do feel that photographs of such situations are vitally important.

Why are such photos important? Because they tell the story of things that are happening to fellow human beings around the world. Because the photographers capturing the images are risking their lives to tell that story. And because the photos are history in the making.

This latest book of images and recollections from photographer David Burnett is nothing short of amazing. National Geographic has a tendency to outdo themselves with the materials they publish, and this book is the latest in that trend.

See the end of this post for a chance to win a free copy of the book.

44 Days: Iran and the Remaking of the World (ISBN 978-1426205132) can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

ABOUT THE BOOK

44 Days

44 Days: Iran and the Remaking of the World is a hardcover book containing 224 pages of text and photos (both color and b/w). It’s an average sized book, not too large or too small, measuring approximately 9×10.5″. Needless to say, the quality of the cover, binding, and paper are all outstanding. And the images contained within are equally outstanding.

44 Days

The book covers the history of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 when the Shah was overthrown and the Islamic Republic was born. The major parts of this event took place in a mere 44 days, and David Burnett was there to capture a big part of it. Everything from mass protests, funerals, killings, the fall and rise of power, and everything else associated with the revolution. I found it amazing that one person could capture so many aspects of this event, and I was amazed that he lived through it.

44 Days

Obviously, this is a wonderful piece of photojournalism, but it’s more than that. David’s recollections and thoughts are visible every few pages of the book. This is more than captions on the photos — this is a historic account of what happened day-by-day through the revolution. From start to finish, from city to city, David recounts his steps and recaps the news of things that were happening in Iran at the time.

44 Days

All in all, this is more than just a photo book — it’s a history book. And this is the type of history that isn’t taught in most classrooms.

David Burnett

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Burnett is a seasoned photojournalist with over 40 years of experience in the field. He has worked in over 75 countries and won many awards for his photojournalism. After his college days, he worked for Time and Life magazines on many assignments.

David’s work has taken him to the Vietnam War, the Iranian Revolution, and countless other historic situations. He has also photographed every American president from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, in addition to reggae legend Bob Marley.

In 1975 David co-founded a new photo agency, Contact Press Images, in New York City. You can see more of his amazing work at his online portfolio.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

44 Days

For me, this book was an eye opening experience. When I first got it, I scanned through the photos and I was fairly impressed at a first glance. But when I started reading the text, the photos went to a whole different level — they had a deep sense of meaning and importance. The book is also written in such a way that your interest in the subject is accelerated as you read through it.

On the flip side of being overwhelmed with amazing photojournalism and story telling, I couldn’t help but feel like a stereotypical “Dumb American”. This is a subject that I knew absolutely nothing about, a subject that is not taught in typical American high schools. The Iranian Revolution was such a huge piece of modern world history, and I’m a bit disappointed that it isn’t as well known as other historic events of the same caliber. And with the level of anti-American feelings during the revolution, I’m quite amazed that David survived the ordeal. He’s a trooper, that’s for sure.

A great book overall. If you enjoy history, photojournalism, and/or conflict photography, I’d say go ahead and buy this book.

WANT A FREE COPY?

The folks at National Geographic provided me with 2 extra copies of the book to give away here on the blog! I like doing contests for the freebies, but I also like the contests to be on topic with the material. This one presents a difficult situation because not many of us have been to Iran or photographed revolutions. So the assignment for this contest is to curate a gallery from other people’s photos.

Flickr recently announced a new feature called “Galleries”. This allows you to create a collection of up to 18 photos from other photographers, while adding your own comments as a curator. This is a perfect feature for us to test out!

Here’s how you can get a free copy of “44 Days”:

Create a Flickr Gallery on the topic of “Iran” and leave a link to your gallery in the comments below. That’s it! You can focus on sub-topics and genres within the boundaries of “Iran” — things like people, places, buildings, religion, food, clothing, etc. Whatever you can come up with! Here’s a quick gallery I put together titled “Faces of Iran“:

Faces of Iran

So that’s it! Get your gallery curated and drop a link before October 12, 2009. I’ll announce and present the winners (my favorites) sometime soon after.

Book Review: What the Duck

What the Duck

I think it’s safe to say that many of us have seen the “What the Duck” comic strips (and if you haven’t, I suggest you go educate yourself right now). The basic theme of the comic strip is about a duck photographer and his journeys in the business. But you don’t have to be a professional photographer to “get it”, since many of the strips are humorous to a wide spectrum of photographers.

In addition to the comic strip, Aaron Johnson (the author and artist), has been putting out a few books. “What the Duck: A W.T. Duck Collection” is the second book released, and it contains 128 pages of comic strips.

What the Duck: A W.T. Duck Collection (ISBN 978-0740780967) can be purchased directly from Andrews McMeel Publishing or through Amazon.com.

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a paid review, nor has it been reviewed or edited by the book’s author or publisher. The book was sent to me by the author free of charge. I am in no way affiliated with the book, the author, or the publisher of the book.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Well… it’s a comic strip book. Don’t expect to find any breathtaking photos or golden nuggets of technical advice. Of course, the theme of the comics are very much photography related and full of wisdom. As I said, the book is 128 pages. It’s soft-bound (which is suitable for a comic strip book) and the size is approximately 8.8 x 8.4 inches. A typical page has three 3-frame strips from top to bottom, but occasionally you’ll find a page layout like the image shown at the top of this post. Everything is also printed in color, and the humor contained within is quick and to the point.

In case you’re not already familiar with the comic strip, I’ll do my best to give an explanation. The main character (the one wearing white) is a photographer who happens to be a duck. In fact, all the photographers are ducks (of various other colors). Clients, editors, models, and pretty much everyone else is not a duck. The comic has a somewhat dark sense of humor — the duck is always getting the short end of the stick, he knows it, and he just keeps dealing with it. The most amusing thing about the comic strip is that the scenarios presented are true to life in one way or another, and as you become more involved with photography you tend to find the comic more amusing.

Some (maybe all?) of the strips in the book have been published on the website, but I want to say that some of them are unseen prior to the book. I’ve been following the comic strip on a daily basis basically since it started and I came across quite a few that didn’t ring any bells. I could be totally wrong on this point though, since my memory is less than stellar.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aaron Johnson is the creator and artist of the “What the Duck” comic strip, a fellow photographer, Photoshopper, and in a band. Other than that, I don’t know a whole lot about him. Obviously he’s very creative, has a great sense of humor, and the ability to create a cult following via comics. If anybody knows more than this about Aaron, please start a Wikipedia page about him.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re a fan of the comic strip — definitely get the book. It’s going for about $10 on Amazon, which is ridiculously affordable. As is the case with photos looking 10-20x better on paper rather than a computer screen, the same is true with comic strips. In print, the strips are bigger (unless you sport the 800×600 res), cleaner, and less pixelated than what you’ll find on the website or rss feed.

If you haven’t been following the comic: go check out the website, laugh, become obsessed, THEN buy the book.

Either way, the book is scheduled to release on September 15, but Amazon has started shipping orders early for some folks — so go ahead and place your order now!

BUY THE BOOK AT AMAZON.COM
VISIT “WHAT THE DUCK” ON THE WEB

ABOUT THE FREE BOOKS!

Oh yeah! You guys didn’t think I’d leave you hanging, did you? Aaron told me he’s sending a few extra copies my way so I can hand them out to a few lucky winners. Not sure how many or if they’re signed copies, but I’ll let you know as soon as I know.

So how do you get a free copy? Let’s make this a little bit of a photo contest. Post a link or an image in the comments below to a photo (of yours) that is somehow related to ducks or the What the Duck comic. So it could be a photo of a real duck, a fake duck, a drawing of the comic character on the beach, a light painting of the letters “WTD”, or whatever else you can think of (and it’s possible that photos of other birds will be accepted for consideration, but I’d prefer ducks). If you don’t have any photos like this in your archives, get out there and shot something! Just keep it to a single photo or link to a photo.

I’ll finalize the deadline when I get the books, but I’d say it will be in about 1-2 weeks from now. After the deadline, I’ll pick out my faves and ship out the books to the winners.

[UPDATE] I just got the books in the mail today, and we’ve got 2 copies to hand out! I’ll pick out two of my favorite duck photos on Monday, September 21 — so get your duck photo in the comments before the end of the weekend!

Film Review: 120-Format Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Professional Ektar 100

I managed to get my hands on some 120-format Kodak Ektar 100 before it was available to the general public, and I was given the opportunity to conduct an informal review of the film. Based on the hype surrounding this film, I was quite happy to test it out. After shooting 5 rolls through a few different cameras, I was not at all disappointed with the results as I scanned them in.

I found the colors to be extremely natural and pleasing under daylight conditions. And the sharpness and grain are absolutely to die for. In general, the film has the best characteristics from both slide film and color negative film. Read on for my informal review.

ABOUT THE FILM

The Umbrella Perched on a Sink

Kodak Professional Ektar 100 is a color-negative film (using the C-41 process) available in 35mm and 120-formats. It is claimed to have extremely fine grain (the world’s finest for color-neg) and high color saturation, making it ideal for nature, landscape, and travel photographers.

In September, 2008 the Ektar 100 became available in 35mm format. Due to popular demand, Kodak has made the film available in 120-format in April, 2009 (I believe it’s available for purchase through a few vendors right now).

MY NON-TECHNICAL REVIEW

La Jolla Coastline San Clemente Pier

Equipped with a pro-pack of the Ektar 100, I loaded up my two medium format cameras and headed out on a few photowalks along the coast. One camera was my old 1956 Minolta Autocord MXS (twin lens reflex) and the other was my Diana+ (toy camera). I must admit, putting this film into a plastic toy camera felt a bit like ripping the engine from an F-1 car and strapping it to a tricycle.

The first day I shot this film, the weather turned heavy overcast quite rapidly, but I managed to finish off three rolls. I went out a few days later and shot the last two rolls in full sunshine. The film can certainly be used in either condition, but its white balance is intended for daylight use. The overcast photos just scanned in a bit cold — and I could have adjusted it, but it seemed fitting to leave them as is.

The Family in La Jolla Splish-Splash

Up to this point, I’ve been shooting mostly Kodak Portra VC color-neg films on medium format (and a little bit of Velvia slide). The Ektar 100 seems quite comparable to the color saturation of these films, but the colors on the Ektar 100 seem more “realistic” to me. The color saturation and contrast isn’t so overbearing that it looks unnatural, and the colors seems to closely represent the actual colors of the scene. One thing I did notice, though, is that the greens tend to be more saturated than the other colors — sometimes a bit too much.

The shots (especially those from the TLR) appear to be very sharp and free from grain. I might even go so far as to say that the Ektar 100 is comparable to Ilford’s PanF Plus black and white film (which is the primary film I use with my Autocord). Though I’ve only scanned the film (which tends to present softer grain versus an optical enlarger), I was hard-pressed to find any signs of grain even at 100% zoom on a 3200 ppi scan.

GRAIN? WHAT GRAIN?

If you don’t believe me, see for yourself. Here’s an image with a decent exposure — the little box is the spot I’ve taken the 100% crop for the image immediately below it. The full image is approximately 50MP, or 7000 x 7000 pixels.

Kayakers

Kayakers at 100% Crop

The softness of the 100% crop probably comes from scanning the film since I don’t use any sharpening while scanning. Even so, I can usually make out the grain easily on most films — it’s just not as sharp as with an optical enlargement. The Ektar 100 scans don’t show much sign of grain.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

I Stand Alone La Jolla Pier

I like it — a lot. When I decide to shoot color on my TLR, I’ll probably use the Ektar 100 exclusively. The colors look great and the shots appear to be very sharp and fine-grained. I’m still undecided with the Diana+… I might try a few more rolls and see how it goes, but I’m still leaning toward the Portra VC films just because I have a history of good results with it.

The Ektar 100 film seems to have similar features of slide film (high saturation and fine grain), but with a more forgiving dynamic range of a color negative.

But the thing that gets me most about this film is how natural the colors appear. Color film often has a “film-like” appearance to it because of shifted colors or grain. The Ektar 100 (to me) looks more like a well-processed digital than it does a typical film.

Would I recommend this film for color enthusiasts? Certainly! It seems well-suited for landscape and nature photography, but even skin tones in portraits aren’t completely unnatural.

SWEEPSTAKES OFFER

As a promo for the new Ektar 100 films, Kodak is running a bit of a sweepstakes giveaway along with a rebate offer on the film. You can get a $5 mail-in rebate for certain film purchases, and that rebate automatically enters you into a drawing for a prize package. The prize is a nature photography experience at Disney’s Animal Kingdon Park, including a 4-night stay and a full itinerary of activities. You can also enter the prize drawing without buying the film or mailing in the rebate. Visit the official sweepstakes web page for more information.

Book Review: Mothers and Children

Mothers and Children

Mom… probably one of the most important and meaningful relationships in many of our lives. And the bond that they share with their children is universally unbreakable. A new book from National Geographic, Mothers and Children, explores the various roles that mothers take on for the sake of their children. It also shows the numerous emotions and moments encountered between mother and child.

Read on for a brief description of the book, its contributors, and my own take on this captivating and uplifting publication.

Also, read on for a chance to win a free copy of the book.

Mothers and Children (ISBN 978-1426204258) can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a paid review, nor has it been reviewed or edited by the book’s author or publisher. The book was sent to me by the publisher free of charge. I am in no way affiliated with the book or the publisher of the book.

Siberia, Russia -- Maria Stenzel

ABOUT THE BOOK

Mothers and Children is a hard cover 6″x8″ publication with 120 pages containing 100 photos in both color and black & white. There are 8 chapters divided into two main categories: the facets of moms and kids, and geographic location. The facets category consists of chapters covering mothers and children at home, at work, and at play. The geographic chapters cover the north (Inuit & Northern European), south (Mexico, South America, & Australia), east (India, Japan, & China), and west (United States & Western Europe).

The photos in the book take us on a trip around the world while showing the many expressions and emotions of mothers and their children. The photos are divided amongst the chapters in a logical manner, making the book easy to follow. Most pages contain only a photo, a location, and the photographer’s name — making the book very visual and quick to digest. A few famous quotes are scattered about, and a couple of short stories can also be found in the book.

Rostock, Germany -- Gordon Gahan

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

Many of the photos in Mothers and Children are from National Geographic photographers in addition to other professional photographers. You’ll see images from the likes of Annie Griffiths Belt, Sam Abell, Jodi Cobb, Joel Sartore, and more.

The author of the book, Lynne Perri, is journalist-in-residence and a teacher on presidential election and visual strategies at American University. She brought the concept of the book together and she wrote the book’s introduction to set the mood. Writer Craig Wilson also shares a few stories and insights at the start of several chapters.

Valemount, British Columbia, Canada -- Chris Johns

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

Mothers and Children is a good little coffee table book. I like the fact that it’s hard bound — you know it will last and it sort of has that “photo album” feel in your hands. It’s fairly small compared to other books from National Geographic, but it can make for a short or a long read depending on how far you wish to immerse yourself in the photos. I found that a flip-through was enjoyable, and a deeper study of the photos was captivating and worthwhile.

This is a good one to have on the bookshelf or the coffee table, especially for those surrounded by a family. I think that mothers would appreciate the intent and gesture of the book, fathers will appreciate the mothers and wives, and kids always like to see photos of other kids. It might also make a good gift for an occassion such as Mother’s Day! At $15 or $16, the price is definitely right.

Mothers and Children (ISBN 978-1426204258) can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

WIN A FREE COPY!

We’re going to run a little competition here in the comments, and 2 winners will receive a free copy of the book. To enter the contest, all you have to do is leave a comment with a link to a photo or leave the actual photo (or photos) using html — and please try to remember to keep them at around 240 pixels on the long edge.

The theme of the photo must be “Mothers and Children” — or just mothers… or just children… whatever you do, try to keep it somewhat on-topic. More than one is fine, but don’t flood the comments with a bajillion photos — pick a few good ones.

I’ll choose the winners in about one week from the publication of this review — so around April 2 or 3.