Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of sites, products, services, etc.

Make Light Real ONE Action

Those who have used Photoshop probably know the power of actions. Some also know the power of LAB color mode. The problem is that LAB can sound like a scary thing, and most actions are “one hit wonders.”

Neil Cowley has created something that will blow you away — The ONE Action. It’s an action set that guides you through the LAB colorspace workflow. I’ve worked in LAB for a few little things in the past, but I hadn’t realized the full potential until I started working with the ONE Action.

Neil is sponsoring our most recent project, the “Action and Preset Extravaganza“, and the top 3 prizes include the ONE Action. I’ve been toying around with it for a couple weeks, and this is my introductory take on it. I should also state that I have much to learn about using this action and working in the LAB color space, so this is by no means a comprehensive review.

WHAT’S INCLUDED

The ONE Action package includes several handy items. Obviously, the Photoshop Action is at the heart of it all. You also get an ACR and Lightroom preset, an HDR action, LAB curve presets, an instruction manual, a really great walkthrough video, and some sample photos.

The video is a great place to start after you’ve loaded up the actions and/or presets. Neil goes through the capabilities of the action, how to use it, and the thought process behind the actions. He explains rather quickly that the ONE Action is more than just a “push and go” type of action — it’s a workflow process.

Here’s another video from Neil that shows an example of how the action can be used. This is not the video included with the action.

HOW IT WORKS

The action “forces” you to work in the LAB color space (which really isn’t a bad thing at all). This gives you the freedom to manipulate the luminosity and color of the image separate from each other. It also gives you the ability to pinpoint specific tonal ranges and apply adjustments only where you desire.

There are a lot of individual actions contained in the set, and each one is intended to target a very specific region of the image. The main idea, though, is to understand the adjustments produced by the actions and apply them in small steps as you work through the image. Masking and tone-mapping are important parts of the ONE Action workflow.

Honestly, once you start working with this action set you’ll really start to understand the power of working in LAB color space. As I went though several of my own photos, I was surprised and amazed at the results that could be achieved with just a few little adjustments.

EXAMPLE PHOTOS

Each of the images below show the unprocessed raw file, the processed raw file, and the final photo after processing with the “ONE Action.” I chose to use the action on a few particular photos from a recent photowalk that turned out less than optimal but had potential. I used the action with the intent of reproducing the scene I saw with my eyes (and in some cases introduce a bit more “life”), and in most cases the ONE Action saved my butt. Click on the photos for a larger view.

You can purchase the ONE Action from Make Light Real, or participate in the Action and Preset Extravaganza for your chance at one of the prize packages.

Book Review: Sony Alpha DSLR A300/A350 Digital Field Guide

Typically, the manual that comes with your new camera is less than satisfactory. Sure they tell you how to push all the buttons, but that’s about it. Third party camera manuals or field guides can be a great resource for specific camera model owners.

Tom Bonner recently published a Digital Field Guide for the Sony Alpha DSLR A300/A350. Since the two cameras are nearly identical, Tom wrapped up both cameras in a single book. Myself being a Sony Alpha user, Tom thought I might like to check it out.

The book is a combination of extended camera manual, general photography guide, and hands-on assignments. The flow is very logical and easy to follow. This is one book that A300/A350 owners will certainly benefit from.

The Sony Alpha DSLR A300/A350 Digital Field Guide (ISBN 978-0470386279) can be purchased directly from Wiley or through Amazon.com.

ABOUT THE BOOK

The Sony Alpha DSLR A300/A350 Digital Field Guide, by Tom Bonner, is 272 pages with a soft cover. The book is small enough to fit in your camera bag, but large enough to fit in your hands. It’s broken up into three parts and seven chapters, plus two very handy appendices.

Part 1 focuses on the two cameras and their various controls and menus. The A300 and A350 are so similar in construction that Tom covers both cameras simultaneously while pointing out the differences. This section of the book by itself could potentially replace the user manual that comes with the camera.

Part 2 starts with the basics of photography, including camera control, exposure, and composition. Then it goes into the specifics of lenses and other accessories, including various types of lenses available for the Alpha cameras. This section ends with a chapter on lighting — theory, application, and equipment.

Part 3 is more general in nature, covering subjects, types of photography, and digital workflow. Though this section is applicable to any camera, Tom constantly gives specific examples and tips for the Alpha photographer. I liked this section the best because it gives a lot of great examples and the content is structured in an academic manner with miniature assignments designed to explore and learn the A300 and A350.

The appendices are a good resource for Sony shooters. The first appendix is a listing of businesses and websites dedicated to Sony cameras. The second appendix is a troubleshooting guide specific to these cameras.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Bonner is a 30-year Minolta/Sony camera enthusiast and photographer (my kind of guy!). He’s spent many years as a freelance photographer and writer. Some of his photographic experience includes automotive and motorsports subjects.

I’ve been following Tom for many months because of his blog, Alphatracks — a website dedicated to the fledgling Sony Alpha DSLR line. Being a Sony/Minolta user myself, the subject of his blog caught my attention. But Tom’s ability to write and teach is what keeps me going back for more.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

This is a great resource book for the Sony A300 and A350 photographer. It covers just about everything you can find in your user manual, plus a whole lot of practical stuff. New users will benefit the most from this book, as the assignments in Part 3 will familiarize them with the camera in-use.

For those who aren’t A300/A350 users, it’s probably not a book you’d buy. The entire book is sprinkled with Alpha details and it would be frustrating trying to translate the features and functions. But, I’m sure that Tom wasn’t targeting Canon or Nikon photographers when he wrote it.

But regardless of which brand you use, I’d still go check out Tom’s blog. A lot of the stuff he publishes isn’t completely specific to Sony or Minolta.

The Sony Alpha DSLR A300/A350 Digital Field Guide (ISBN 978-0470386279) can be purchased directly from Wiley or through Amazon.com.

Book Review: Reza War and Peace

I’ll never get tired of saying how awesome National Geographic book publications are. They work with some of the most talented people around the world to produce amazing books and other publications. This book is no exception to the standard they’ve set.

Reza War and Peace is a book about many things, very deep and emotional. As the title suggests, the book is about war and peace. But it’s so much more than that too. This book is a testimony of humanity — at its worst, and at its best. It is comprised of 30 years of Reza’s work from across the world, and it contains some of the most incredible stories I never knew.

And just as the book is more than a collection of photos, Reza is more than a photographer or photojournalist. He’s a humanitarian, a story-teller, and a witness to the world. His conviction runs deep and this is his reality… his whole life.

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

Reza War and Peace can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Reza Deghati was born and raised in Iran in the year 1952. In a short conversation I had with him he indicated that even at the young age of 6 or 7, he was captivated by pictures and paintings depicting people in need and he saw the power of such imagery. Once a teenager, he began using the camera to document the world around him — particularly those in need.

One particular instance he wrote about was in a local marketplace. An old woman was selling fish of poor quality. He was compelled to take her photo and learn her story. She told him that she would find fish left behind or on the ground from other vendors and try to sell them to people who had less money than she. The local law enforcement always had their eye out for her and she was forced to hand over part of her meager earnings. Reza told the story in his school paper, and thus began his journey into professional photojournalism.

Once out of high school, Reza studied architecture at the University of Teheran. All the while, he captured the growing turmoil in his homeland (through the late 1970′s) and the uprising against the Shah and the revolution that surrounded it. His photography caused him to spend much time in jail, but he kept going. In 1981, Reza was forced to leave his country in exile.

Since that time, Reza has been a nomad traveling from one troubled culture to the next across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. He has spent much time in Afghanistan and Egypt, not to mention dozens of other countries.

Reza is more than a photographer — he’s a true humanitarian. He doesn’t just photograph his subjects, he feels their pain and he gets involved. When I asked him if he considers himself more of a humanitarian or a photographer, he replied that the two labels are one in the same for him. This man is a true giver, dedicating his life and all of his material belongings to causes across the world. Reza honestly sees all the people of the world as only human beings — with no boundaries or segregations.

His hope is that people will react to his work. See his photos, read his stories, and be compelled to do something about it. Reza has been featured in many publications (including National Geographic) and received numerous awards and recognitions. All of which is well deserved.

When Reza is not out doing his work, he resides in his adopted country of France with his wife and two children.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Reza War and Peace is a hardcover with 296 pages containing 200 images. The first thing you’ll notice about it is the sheer size of the book — it’s 11×14 inches! And you’ll notice that there are more pages than photos, which means some photos are sprawled across two pages at nearly 22″ wide. All of the images are accompanied by in-depth personal accounts and explanations from Reza.

When I first recieved the book, I flipped through the images to get an idea of what was in store for me. The photos were powerful to say the least, but I had no clue what that book would present to me once I read it.

Reza takes us on a journey through his life, sharing his encounters and adventures. The book not only covers the topic of war and conflict, but also the peace and awesome nature of the human soul (often in the wake or midst of terrible events).

The major strength of the book is that stories are told to the point of evoking an emotional response from the reader. Photos sit alongside paragraphs of background information and inner thoughts from the photographer. Reza constantly reminds us that the people in his photos are human beings no different than you and I — the only difference is the situation they’ve been thrown into.

This little section is one account of my emotional response to the book: While reading the book, I’ll remember one moment for a very long time (maybe for the rest of my life). I happened to be upon the photo of the young girl from Sarajevo in 1993. Dressed in pink among a war torn environment, this little girl was selling her toys because of her situation. My 4 year old daughter came near me and saw the photo — she said “What is that girl doing with her toys?” To which I instinctively replied “She’s selling them.” — “Oh, she doesn’t want them anymore?” — I found myself unable to continue the conversation, realizing what I had gotten myself into. I finally found the voice to say “She wants them… but she has to sell them.” — “How come?” — Again, I couldn’t find the words. I closed the book, answered with a short “I don’t know”, and started to cry.

How could I possibly explain to my innocent and care-free little girl that not all kids are awarded the luxuries she has known all her life? How could I tell her that other kids are forced to sell their most prized possessions, hide from the violence of war, and arm themselves with guns to fight for their country and their lives? I couldn’t do it.

These types of emotions and inner thoughts are brought out through the entire book. As you peer upon the faces of the people in the photos, you realize that they are (or were) living in a reality so very different from your own, and yet, they are so very much the same as the rest of us. But Reza doesn’t just show us the sad moments — he also reminds us that people around the world are compassionate, giving, and full of life. He also shows us the beauty of these foreign cultures including their various traditions and ways of life.

ABOUT GETTING INVOLVED

Reza goes above and beyond the call of duty — he puts his money where his mouth is. In 2001, Reza founded Aïna, an NGO whose name in Farsi means “mirror.” The name references a metaphorical mirror in which people searching for an identity destroyed by war can rediscover their culture. Aïna contributes to the emergence of civil society through actions in the area of education (particularly focusing on women and children), information and communication. Aïna promotes independent media development and cultural expression as a foundation of democracy.

This effort is a major focus for Reza, and he feels very strongly about promoting and teaching free and independent press as part of rebuilding a severely damaged civil society. If you would like to learn more about this humanitarian society, I urge you to visit their website and learn about how you can help others in need.

ABOUT THE GIVEAWAY

One lucky winner will receive a free copy of Reza War and Peace courtesy of National Geographic. All you have to do is leave a comment below and tell me so. If you want to be sure your comment doesn’t hit the spam bucket, be sure to use the word “Reza” in your comment. We’ll draw a random winner 5 days from now — December 8, 2008.

[UPDATE] The book winner has been announced.

MY FINAL THOUGTHS

If you’re looking for a fun little coffee table book with lots of pretty pictures, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re interested in experiencing the brutal and beautiful truths of our world, I would highly recommend this book. It’s an amazing book filled with amazing photos and stories, and it demands to be digested slowly and thoughtfully.

Reza gives not only a physical account of his travels, but an emotional one too. Be prepared to spend a lot of time studying this work, and be prepared to be emotionally torn.

I found this book very difficult to review because my write-up turned out 4 times longer than expected and I conveyed 1/4 of what I wanted to. My best advice is to pick up a copy for yourself and experience it firsthand.

Reza War and Peace can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

Book Review: Fundamentals of Photography

Photography is such an expansive subject and it’s quite impossible to cover everything in a single book. Some books focus on very specific topics, but contain in-depth information. Other books are broad, but just skim the surface. Regardless of the style, many informational photography books drone on page after page, leaving the reader in a haze of technobabble and jargon.

I received a copy of the Fundamentals of Photography by Tom Ang, and I must admit that I was skeptical of the book before I opened it. I assumed it would be one of those “talk about everything” books with a very shallow offering of knowledge. I was wrong.

I don’t know how he did it, but Tom Ang managed to pack an incredible amount of information into this small handbook. Not only is the information valuable, it’s extremely concise and well laid out. The book would be great as a front-to-back read or as a reference book for the occasional information search. Oh, and it covers both film and digital photography!

Be sure to read on, we’re giving away a couple copies of the book for free.

Fundamentals of Photography (ISBN 978-0375711572) can be purchased directly from the publisher or through Amazon.com.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Fundamentals of Photography, the Essential Handbook for Both Digital and Film Cameras, by Tom Ang is 352 pages long with a soft cover. The book contains 11 chapters filled with information and sample photos to demonstrate the topics covered. The chapters include a General Introduction, Fundamentals of Light, The Camera, Capturing Light, Using the Lens, Manipulating Light, Working with Color, Processing the Image, Digitizing the Image, Outputting the Image, and References.

Each chapter is broken up into bite-sized sections covering a very specific topic (as the sample above shows). Most of the sections span two pages (across the fold), so the topic can be studied without flipping through page after page — it’s all right there in front of your eyes. Certain sections are also marked as “advanced topics” aimed at the photographers with some amount of learning under their belt. And finally, there are a couple of “Analysis” sections in some of the chapters that present a full image across the two pages with many notes pointing out things that were talked about in previous sections of the chapter — kind of a “hands-on” lesson.

The really cool thing about this book is the fact that it presents material for both digital and film photography. In some cases, similar concepts between the two mediums will be in high contrast. In other cases, the same exact concepts apply to both. This type of content is useful for those wanting to explore the medium they’re not familiar with. It’s also useful as a digital photographer to understand film concepts and how those concepts have transcended into digital.

For me, the book showed up at a great time (I just got my darkroom set up and running), and I found myself reading heavily into the darkroom sections along with the deeply technical subject of film in general.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ang is a seasoned photographer and educator, not to mention an avid writer with nearly 20 books published. His work has been exhibited internationally, and for 12 years he was a Senior Lecturer in Photographic Practice at the University of Westminster, London. He was also the presenter for two six-part BBC programs on digital photography.

You can find Tom on the web at his main website and his photography blog. This man has a wealth of knowledge, and I’d suggest you check out his blog articles and any of his books.

ABOUT THE FREE BOOKS

Knopf Publishing Group is giving away two free copies of the book. All you have to do is leave a comment and let us know you’d like one of them. In one week (December 1, 2008), I’ll choose two random entries and we’ll send the books along.

If you don’t see your comment show up immediately, it probably just needs to be moderated. If you don’t see it show up after two days, it probably got attacked by the spam filter. If you want to be sure it doesn’t get eaten, just include the word “fundamental” in your comment and I’ll search the spam box for that word.

UPDATE: The winners have been chosen!

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

I like it, definitely. I’m not typically a fan of photography-information books because it’s not usually done well, but I like this one. My main reason for liking the book is because it gets to the point and doesn’t fool around — very concise layout. The other reason I like it is because of the diversity of the subject matter (film, digital, illustrations, examples, technical, non-technical, etc). The book is easy enough for a beginner, but interesting and useful enough for advanced photographers.

I don’t really have anything bad to say about the book. Some people might not like the soft-cover, but I think it suits this book just fine (plus it helps keep the price to a ridiculously low number). I could complain that it doesn’t go to extreme depths on every topic presented, but that would defeat the purpose of the book (plus it would be really boring).

I would definitely recommend the book to beginners wanting to jump-start their education. I’d also recommend it to the more advanced photographers as a reference. And if you’re interested in learning the ropes of film photography, this book is a good start.

Fundamentals of Photography (ISBN 978-0375711572) can be purchased directly from the publisher or through Amazon.com.

Book Review: Odysseys and Photographs

The books from National Geographic never cease to amaze me, and this book is no exception. Beautifully bound and hard-covered, Odysseys and Photographs is another example of book publishing done right. At 10×11″ there’s plenty of room for big brilliant photographs.

And the content of this book is something special. It’s a collection of amazing photographs from four historic storytellers, and many of the images have rarely been seen outside of the National Geographic archives. The four photographers featured in this book exhibit a collective work spanning most of the 20th century. Not only is the work extremely artistic, it’s also historic and serves as a permanent record of the World’s past.

Odysseys and Photographs (ISBN 978-1426201721) 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.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Odysseys and Photographs is a hard cover 10×11 inch publication with 224 pages containing 200 photos in both black & white and color. There are four main sections of the book, each covering a written introduction and a set of photos from the four photographers featured (see below). In addition, there’s an overall introduction by Gilbert Grosvenor and an Epilogue by Sam Abell.

The photos contained within the book take us through a journey of time and history across the globe. Although the imagery may seem foreign to us as present-day viewers, we have to realize that many of these are photos of real life and regular people. I often forget that every corner of the world is so different from my own, and this book is an awesome reminder of how diverse and rich our planet really is.

The locations and subjects photographed in this book are too numerous to list. But a few of my favorites include: Williams’ photos from India, Greenland, Syria, and Afghanistan; Marden’s photos from St. Lucia, Nicaragua, Argentina, Tahiti, and the United States; Wentzel’s photos from the Eastern United States, India, and Italy; and Abercrombie’s photos from Alaska, Japan, Egypt, and much of the Middle East (in stunning color too).

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHERS

The four men featured in the book were more than photographers — they were pioneers, teachers, and friends of the world. The legacy that each of them has left behind is truly awesome.

Maynard Owen Williams (1888-1963) was a National Geographic field correspondent from 1919 to 1953. Williams is often attributed with being a part of the group of photographers who invented the personality of National Geographic. He had a way of becoming intimate with his subjects, and this is apparent by looking at the people in his photos.

Luis Marden (1913-2003) was a National Geographic field correspondent from 1934 to 1976. Marden was a true explorer and a world scholar, devouring everything his adventures brought to him and masterfully documenting his experience with the camera. Maynard Owen Williams dubbed him “the Michelangelo of the Geographic.”

Volkmar Wentzel (1915-2006) was a National Geographic field correspondent from 1937 to 1985. Wentzel extensively photographed Asia and Africa as well as many other parts of the world. He had a strong passion for the preservation of historic photographs.

Thomas Abercrombie (1930-2006) was a National Geographic field correspondent from 1956 to 1994. His charm and charisma gained him access to much of the Middle East and gave him the ability to share the stunning culture with the Western World. Sam Abell (in the epilogue) gives an account of his character: “This is it. A man from Minnesota reading Muslim prayers in French to a Belgian family in a Spanish castle.”

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

Odysseys and Photographs is a wonderful collection of photos from an equally wonderful collection of photographers. The book is a tribute to these four men and all the passion they put into their work. Each page offers something new and exciting, with a mere 200 photos covering so much of the globe. The book is also a piece of history, and some of the places photographed have either been permanently changed or completely destroyed since the photos were taken.

It’s hard to come up with any negative thoughts on the book. I typically enjoy a little more information or background on the photos in these types of books, but such a thing would be understandably difficult due to the circumstances. Nonetheless, the brief biographies prepare the reader for the photos that follow.

This is another fine photography book from National Geographic, and I would recommend it to those who love photography, art, history, and world culture.

Odysseys and Photographs (ISBN 978-1426201721) can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

Book Review & Contest: Visions of Paradise

Where — or what — is heaven on Earth? This question was posed to the ranks of National Geographic photographers, and their answers are contained in the book Visions of Paradise. This collection of 155 images from 82 photographers takes us on an adventure through every corner of the world, on land, water, and air.

The photos are accompanied by the photographers’ own recollections and thoughts, providing us with a unique and intimate view into the bit of paradise presented. And each chapter is prefaced with an in-depth discussion of various aspects of the environment and human impact.

Visions of Paradise can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

ABOUT THE CONTEST

To celebrate the release of this book, National Geographic is hosting the Visions of Paradise Photography Contest. The general public is invited to submit images that best represent their unique vision of Heaven on Earth. The contest runs from October 21, 2008 to December 21, 2008, and each week 20 editor’s picks will be selected from the qualified entries and posted on the site where viewers can vote for their favorites. At the end of the contest, an expert panel of photographers and art directors will select a final list of 20 official winners. Winners will receive a customized copy of Visions of Paradise with their winning photograph as the cover image. Visit the contest website for more information.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Visions of Paradise is a collective publication from some of the most world renowned photographers of our time. 82 individuals attempt to present the audience with a vision of paradise based on their experience and travels. We are taken on a visual journey through places such as Canada’s Queen Charlotte Islands, the rain forests of Borneo, the Tallgrass Prarie National Preserve in Kansas, the ocean surrounding Hawaii, the city of Berlin, North Dakota, New York City, Syria, Darfur, Montana, and the list goes on.

Each of the three chapters (land, water, and air) is introduced by a different noted writer. Linda Kulman speaks to the issues facing our land, how we’ve impacted it, and what we can do to ensure it stays healthy. Joel Bourne Jr. dives into a discussion on the state of our world’s water, and offers some hopeful solutions. And Brian Doyle extols the miracles of air in a lyrical salute.

Each chapter is filled with brilliant and breathtaking imagery as large as life itself. Ranging from one to two page spreads, the photos contained in the book are easily appreciated and adored.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Many people were involved in the creation of this book, so it’s difficult to say who is truly the author. Bronwen Latimer had the premise for the book, and initially posed the question “where is heaven on Earth?” As I mentioned, Linda Lulman, Joel Bourne Jr., and Brian Doyle present us with words for thought prior to each chapter, or theme. And the 82 photographers all have a hand in contributing to both the visual and written portions of the book.

The end of the book also contains short photographer bios, which give you a glimpse of the talent and experience contained within the pages of the book. And in that list of photographers we can find Sam Abell, who also just released a book of his own titled The Life of a Photograph.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

This is really a wonderful book to read and enjoy. It tends to contain more text than most photo books you’ll encounter, but the extra insight and understanding is well worth it. At 304 pages, this book requires several nights of reading — though, my wife managed to read it in one day (but she also has the superhuman ability to finish long novels over a weekend). But for the rest of us with sub-superpowers, it’ll take a few more days of getting lost in the photos and digesting the text.

I think the most enjoyable aspect of the book lies in its diversity of style. Photos from a single photographer are typically of similar artistic style and aesthetics. But in a book such as Visions of Paradise, the style is constantly fresh and changing.

Visions of Paradise can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

Book Review: The Life of a Photograph

The folks at National Geographic approached me about reviewing an upcoming book from master photographer Sam Abell. The book, The Life of a Photograph, draws on 40 years of fieldwork from Sam and presents readers with a unique view of his work and the life of his photographs. I was also given the great pleasure of speaking with Sam on various topics surrounding his book and photography in general (and that alone would constitute a blog post). So this article is a bit of a mix between a book review and an interview.

The Life of a Photograph 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.

ABOUT THE BOOK

The Life of a Photograph is a collection of work from Sam Abell’s experience in the field as a National Geographic photographer. But the book isn’t about National Geographic or the stories covered by the photos — it’s about Sam Abell, his photos, and how they’ve taken on a life of their own. Sam has long been thought of as one of the most artistic photographers working for National Geographic, and this book is certainly filled with artistic photos — some having been previously published by National Geographic, and some being published for the first time ever.

The book is a hearty 208 pages filled with approximately 200 color photos (except for one). Each of the 11 chapters contains thoughts and anecdotes from Sam as he attempts to answer the question “What gives a photograph a life?” Sam has identified photos that have lasted through time and talks about the reason for this. The book was carefully designed by Sam and his editor to show each photo in a most truthful manner. No images were cropped or otherwise post-processed (except to preserve the image, not fix it). The photos are given plenty of room to be enjoyed, and no image bleeds up to the edge of the page or crosses the gutter of the book. The presentation of his work was of the utmost importance to Sam during the creation of this book.

One unique aspect of the book that stands out is the “two views” presentation seen on many of the pages within. Often times, a particular scene is photographed from multiple perspectives and the publication editors (such as those from National Geographic) have the task of choosing one that works best. The other photos are never seen by readers. Sam brings these photos back into the picture and opens up a whole new aspect of his work by showing “two views” from the same scene. This method of presentation has the effect of slowing down the reader because the visual relationship introduced. It also puts the reader in the shoes of the photographer and the magazine editor. All in all, the “two views” presentation is an amazing part of this book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Abell began his journey into photography during his childhood mainly thanks to his Father, Thad S. Abell. One of his first life-changing experiences was brought on by a photo Sam took of his Dad with his Dad’s Rollei in 1960. The photo went on to win a prize in a national contest in 1961, and this experience helped to shape Sam’s future. He also mentions that one of his major life-changing experiences was reading a simple book on the Great Depression by Dorothea Lange in the mid-1960′s. He was inspired by Lange’s ability to document the world in an artistic fashion, and Sam’s own work through his career has followed the same example.

Sam began his career with National Geographic in 1967, and has since contributed nearly 40 years of work in the field. Along the way, Sam has published several books of his own (The Photographic Life, Stay This Moment, and Seeing Gardens) in addition to several best-selling National Geographic publications (Lewis & Clark: Voyage of Discovery and The Mississippi and the Making of a Nation: From the Louisiana Purchase to Today).

Today, Sam has turned more of his attention to teaching and educating via seminars across the country. He’s also spending a great deal of time editing past photos from his body of work for use in possible future publications. But he certainly hasn’t put down the camera, and he still enjoys taking on side projects in the field and photographing for his personal diary using black & white film (which is the medium that is most dear to this lifelong photographer).

Though my interview with Sam Abell was quite informal, I learned a great deal from this man in just one hour. For a more formal interview with Sam, visit Photo District News for a verbatim discussion.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

Some books are flipped through, where the reader glances at the photos within. Others demand to be read and appreciated, but can still be knocked out in a single sitting. While few photography books require a detailed inspection and re-inspection over many sittings, The Life of a Photograph is definitely one of them.

I do believe that every photographer out there can learn much from this book while being inspired by its imagery. I would even go so far as to say that it’s changed the way I look at photos. Sam’s style is incredibly quiet and simple (just like his approach to photography). Upon first glance, the photos don’t appear to be incredibly special — but then they immediately draw you into them and hit you with a profound sense of interest and meaning.

I leave you with Sam’s favorite quote from the book, as he talks about that 1960 photograph of his father:What I no longer remember is the day itself. It was in color wasn’t it? And the snow I knelt on to compose the picture in my dad’s Rollei — wasn’t it cold or wet or both? Surely we talked afterward — about trains or photography or what we’d do next. But all that has vanished. In its place is this photograph. The photograph is what I remember.

The Life of a Photograph can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

80 Film Cameras for Under 50 Dollars!

I want these awesome camera reviews to be the main focus of this article, so all the text will be below the mosaic. As a result of a group project, here are 80 film cameras for under $50!

And if you’re into film, be sure to check out my film photography blog.

Project Winner #1 - (49) Marine XI, by Erick CusiProject Winner #2 - (14) Handy Box, by Jan MorenProject Winner #3 - (15) Yashica Samurai X3.0, by Tomas Webb (aka The_Wolf_Brigade)

(1) Minolta Hi-Matica AF2, by narruemon(2) Diana+, by Stephan Kaps(3) Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim, by Rafi Abdullah(4) Elikon 535, by Johann Affendy Mahfoor(5) Polaroid Pronto 600, by nan(6) Beier Beroquick KB 135, by Stéphane Heinz(7) Fed 3, by Brenden Delzer(8) Smena 35mm, by Matt Steinbrecher(9) Polaroid Fun Shooter, by Chica(10) Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim, by Toycamper(11) Akira PC-606, by Toycamper(12) Olympus OM-2, by Sam Galope(13) Olympus Trip 35, by Matt Charnock(15) Yashica Samurai X3.0, by Tomas Webb (aka The Wolf Brigade)(16) Lomography Diana+, by Brian Auer(17) Fujica Mini, by Bernd Saller(18) Argus C-3, by Brandon Babbitt(19) Minolta AutoPak 470, by Rex Auer(20) Ricoh 35 ZF, by Mikhail Fludkov(21) Kodak Vigilant 616, by Gary(22) Fujifilm Nexia Q1, by Toycamper(23) Meikai Point & Shoot, by Toycamper(24) Minolta X-370, by Bob Simmons(25) Kodak Retinette 1A, by kristarella(26) 25mm Panorama Camera, by Michele Ferrario(27) Olympus Pen EES-2, by Javier Odriozola(28) GP Hero, by Dane Doerflinger(29) Lomography Diana+, by Gavin McDougall(30) Zorki 4K, by Hitesh Sawlani(31) Zorki 10, by Toycamper(32) Villa Avto, by bLind-Shutterz(33) Kodak Instamatic 33, by monika mitterdorfer(34) Praktica B200, by Marco van Egdom(35) Reporter, by Stefan Bucher(36) Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim, by Rodrigo Monteiro Gonçalves(37) PhotoFlex MX-35, by Toycamper(38) Split-Cam, by Toycamper(39) Mamiya C330, by Jeremy Johnsen(40) Zenit TTL, by Dima(41) Pentax K-1000, by Nick Jungels(42) Chajka II, by Rodrigo Monteiro Gonçalves(43) Agfa Isolette I, by Mustanir Ali(44) Pentax K-1000, by Derek Dysart(45) Minolta SRT-Super, by Bryan Villarin(46) Lomo Action Sampler, by Udi Tirosh(47) Sears KS Super II, by Scott Coulter(48) Vivitar IC100, by Erick Cusi(50) Vivitar Avon, by Erick Cusi(51) Praktica Super TL, by Victor Ionescu(52) Baby Company Yellow Green Camera, by Erick Cusi(53) Sunny Fruit Juice 35mm, by Rodrigo Monteiro Gonçalves(54) Gevaert Rex Lujo, by Maria Eugenia Quiroga(55) Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim, by Claire Lu(56) Golden Half, by Kristoffer Marklund(57) FED 4, by Daria Sukhanovska(58) Agfa Billy I, by Antonio Marques(59) Konica C35, by Jim Davies(60) Canon Rebel 2000, by Monte Landis(61) Lomography Fisheye Camera, by John Hawkins(62) Time Camera, by Erick Cusi(63) Yashica J-7, by Mattias Wirf(64) Pinhole Camera, by Violeta Riera(65) Voigtländer Vitoret, by Jes Consuegra(66) Pentax Espio, by Ani Castillo(67) Nimslo 3D, by Hugo Pereira(68) FED 5C, by Suzanne Offner(69) Pentax IQ Zoom 835, by Monte Landis(70) Yashica-A, by Jason Hall(71) Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim, by Elaine Mesker(72) Yashica-Mat LM, by Sarah Gerace(73) Nikon One Touch L35AF-2, by Raquel Stanton(74) Tura Underwater Camera, by Stephanie Briggs(75) Lomography Holga, by Nathaniel Perales(76) Nikon F3, by Luke Rossin(77) Minolta X-370, by J.P. Stephens(78) Minolta XG-M, by Rey Berrones(79) Lomography Holga 135, by Matt Maldre(80) Olympus OM-1, by Amber Lupin

When I announced this project, I wasn’t sure what to expect for the level of participation. I asked for people to buy a sub-$50 film camera (or use one they already had), write a review of the camera, and publish an entire roll of photos from the camera. I was kind of hoping for 30 or 40 entries.

But the community exceeded my expectations and surprised the heck out of me! We had all kinds of crazy stuff showing up: rangefinders, SLRs, TLRs, toy cameras, underwater cameras, point & shoots, box cameras, folding cameras, Polaroids, and even a 3D camera. 80 of them in just one month! I applaud your efforts — you guys are awesome! With all this enthusiasm for film photography, I feel like we’re on the brink of a film-revolution. It was great to see so many people picking up a film camera for the first time in years (or for the first time ever!), and having such a good time with it.

So if you’re ever looking for a cheap film camera — just go through the list above and I’m sure you’ll find something that sparks your interest. The photographers who participated in this project have essentially created a huge resource for other photographers that may be interested in film photography.

OUR SPONSORS ROCK!

How cool is it that ILFORD Photo and Lomography have sponsored this project to give away a Diana+ and 10 rolls of film to 3 winners!? These two companies are at the heart of present day film photography and it’s pretty awesome that they’ve taken an interest in our project.

ILFORD Photo

I’d like to offer my thanks and gratitude to both companies for joining us, and I encourage all of you to check out what they have to offer.

A BIG THANKS TO OUR JUDGES

I asked each of our two external judges to choose their favorite project entry — which is a daunting task with 80 participants! I’d like to extend a huge “thank you” to Jim Talkington and Udi Tirosh for taking on this role. Two of the three winners are shown at the very top of the list, and will each receive a complimentary Diana+ from Lomography and 10 Rolls of film from ILFORD Photo. And don’t forget to cast your votes for the third winner!

A few words from Udi of DIYPhotography.net

Participation was amazing. Now, this is not your ordinary “shoot a pic and submit” kinda contest, it requires effort, discipline, and commitment. After all it is film and it takes at least one day to chimp. Not to mention getting a camera for less than 50 greens.

It is not easy going through 80 entries so here is the process I used: I divided the submissions into 8 groups of 10, and browsed through each group, limiting myself for one or two selection per group based on general impression, first paragraph, and camera reviewed. I ended up with 12 reviews. I skimmed through the 12 and narrowed it down to three. that was not easy as there were more than three that actually were really good.

It was a though competition between Nick Jungels’ Pentax K1000 review, Erick’s Marine XI, and Mr. Wolf’s Yashica SamuraiX3.0.

The Pentax K1000 review was written right from the heart. It is packed with the technicalities that would interest me when considering a film camera like the viewfinder, the aperture ring, and “feel” of the camera. However, Nick is not just talking about the K1000, he is talking to the K1000, and for this he gets my full appreciation.

The Wolf’s interview with Dr. Lomo was fun to read and was both amusing and informative. and earned points for “sucking up to the prize givers” (yes wolf it was worth it).

The last review that made the final trio was the Marine XI. I could not resist a review that brings GAS in the first paragraph. This certainly got my attention. This along with the creative use of flash got Erick the winning vote. This and the Cohaagen-Give-those-people-air expression on the set taken with the camera.

And a few words from Jim of Pro Photo Life

It’s been a great deal of fun getting to judge these entries. From the moment Brian first announced the contest I’ve been looking forward to seeing what readers would come up with and the results have exceeded expectations. This contest rocks, on many levels.

There was a great deal of diversity and many interesting cameras: toy cameras, half-frames, Soviet SLRs…you name it. And being totally honest, I always like a good bargain. Part of the intrigue would be seeing just how much camera could be purchased for $50. Just what bargains are out there?

So it was with a bit of a personal surprise that I found my winner to be Janne in Osaka with the simple “Handy Box” box camera. Rather than seeing how much camera could be purchased for $50, Janne showed how little camera is actually needed to enjoy photography and create beautiful photographs. The text was informative, explaining the camera, company background and tips for shooting with the simple little box. And the photos sealed the deal for me. Shot in a variety of situations and obviously more than just a test roll, they were a pleasure to view.

But the tech junkie in me still wants to buy a Zorki, Fed or Olympus Pen. As a runner-up I have to go in the other direction and point out the very unique Yashica Samurai half-frame camera (and equally unique review) from The Wolf Brigade. The little Yashica is about as high tech and over-engineered a $50 camera as you’ll find, a complete contrast to the little Handy Box. Long live the endless variety and possibilities of the $50 film camera!

Again guys, thanks so much for judging this contest!

DON’T FORGET TO VOTE!

[UPDATE] The official voting is over and all three winners have been awarded their prize — but you can still leave a comment about your favorite entry!

Like I said, we’re giving away 3 prize packages. The first two winners have been chosen by our judges, and the third will be chosen by the masses. Leave a comment with your vote for best project entry. Look for those who put in the extra effort and/or got creative. You can vote by listing the entry number or the name of the reviewer — if you hover your mouse over the thumbnails, you’ll see this information show up. More than one vote is OK if you can’t decide between a few really good ones. One week of voting, then I’ll tally-up the points and announce the third winner.

Diana+ Camera Review

There’s something to be said for the latest camera bodies and professional grade lenses — it certainly seems to be the focus of many photographers. But there’s also something to be said for a cheap plastic camera body and an equally cheap plastic lens. Meet the Diana+ from Lomography.

This review is my own entry to my $50 Film Camera Project. With a price tag of $50, the Diana+ fits right in to the project requirements. This also happens to be the camera that Lomography is giving away to three lucky winners (along with 10 rolls of film from Ilford Photo). I purchased this camera (and yes, I bought it), not because it’s a prize for the project, but because I’ve been wanting one for a while now. So let’s get into this review…

THE TECHNICAL STUFF

The Diana+ camera is almost completely made of plastic, lens and all. It is a medium format camera that takes standard 120 rolls of film. It can produce 5.2cm x 5.2cm shots at 12 per roll, 4.2cm x 4.2cm shots at 16 per roll, or panoramic images. These different formats are achieved by using a specific mask in the camera body.

The shutter speed on the Diana+ has two settings: “Normal” and “Bulb”. The normal setting gives you about 1/60 seconds of exposure, while the bulb exposes for as long as you hold the shutter. The shutter release is located on the lens barrel along with the shutter mode adjustment. Bulb is intended to be used for pinhole photos or dimly lit situations (or whatever other reason you may want to use it for).

The aperture has four settings: “Sunny”, “Overcast”, “Cloudy”, and “Pinhole”. This setting can be adjusted on the bottom of the lens barrel. The indicated apertures are intended to be used with ISO400 film. Using a slower or faster film means that you’ll have to compensate for the difference in exposure. The pinhole setting will require the use of the bulb shutter setting.

The focus is controlled by twisting the actual lens. It’s kind of a guess, and the lens has three indicators: 1-2M, 2-4M, and 4M+. Since the camera is a viewfinder, you don’t actually “see” the focus — just the framing. And speaking of framing, just watch out for that parallax error!

Other than that, there are a few other technical aspects to operating the camera: lens removal for pinhole photos, double exposures, panoramic exposures, setting bulb exposures for pinhole shots, etc. But in general, the camera is very easy to use because of the minimalistic approach to the camera controls. Watch out though — just because it’s considered a “toy camera”, this doesn’t mean that you don’t have to think about what you’re doing from time to time. You still have to set the exposure, compensate for lighting conditions and film speeds, watch out for parallax error, remember to wind the film, set your focus, and so on.

And the best part of this camera… no batteries! I’ve really come to embrace a camera that can operate without electricity. It’s so liberating!

THE INTERESTING STUFF

The most interesting aspect of the Diana+, to me, is the fact that it’s so basic. Once you open it up to load the film, you basically see a big empty space. You think to yourself “where’s all the… stuff?” I mean, there’s really nothing to it. You’ve got a piece of plastic as a lens, then a plate with a few holes in it for the aperture, then a simple little mechanism for the shutter. Other than that, you’ve got a couple of spots to hold the film spools, and a little window to look through.

This is all very interesting because the camera also uses medium format film, which is typically used in higher-end cameras. But this coupling of simple technology with medium format film goes back to the days of the original Diana camera. Back then, 120 film was more of a standard than it is today because 35mm film hadn’t become popular until the late 1960′s. Prior to that, most cameras used 120 film or other formats that have basically been phased out.

THE QUIRKY STUFF

For as basic as this camera is, you have to expect things to be a little different than your shiny new digital camera. Most of the stuff is easy to get adjusted to, but there are a few things that come off as a little quirky. Nothing that would prevent me from using the camera though.

My biggest issue with the Diana+ is the film loading procedure. 120 film is sort of painful to load, but this camera doesn’t make it any easier. The spool holders are pretty flimsy and don’t really hold the spools in place before the back is placed on the camera. The spools have a tendency to pop out of place and thwart your efforts to get the film started. I’m sure this will get easier with experience, but it’s pretty frustrating when you spend 5 to 10 minutes loading a roll of film.

The other thing that got me was the viewfinder. Yes, I totally forgot about the parallax error. But I was also under the assumption that the viewfinder showed less of the scene than would be captured on the film. The opposite was true with my particular camera, and this caused me to crop out a few things on a couple of photos.

THE INSPIRATIONAL STUFF

This camera is such a kick in the creativity, I can’t even fully describe it with words. When the Diana+ is in your hands, you see things differently. You act differently. You take photos differently.

There’s a certain amount of “letting loose” that occurs with this camera. Some of it probably results from the photos that most of us have seen from these cameras (or similar cameras such as the Holga). If you let it, the camera will allow you to take the mindset of “don’t think, just shoot” — which is one of the mantras of Lomography (and I suggest you take a look at the 10 golden rules of Lomography to get a better feel for this stuff). This is also probably a result of knowing that you don’t exactly have a Hasselblad in your hands — if your framing or focus is slightly wrong, who cares?!

I found myself “shooting from the hip”, trying double exposures, taking long exposures without a tripod, and not giving a crap about straight horizons. The photos won’t come out completely perfect, so why shoot for perfection? You end up with heavy vignette, occasional light leaks, lens flare, and motion blur — and all this stuff adds to the mood of the photos produced. Without these things, Lomography just wouldn’t be Lomography.

In conclusion, the Diana+ is a really awesome camera! It’s so different than your typical digital camera, and it can really open your eyes to a completely new world. For $50, you can’t beat it. I would definitely suggest this camera to any photographer wanting to get a little crazy with their stuff.

MY TEST PHOTOS

So here it is. I shot 3 rolls of film in my Diana+ one day after I got it in the mail. The project only calls for one roll of film to be posted, but I wanted to show how different the results could be with different types of film. I shot a roll of black and white (Ilford HP5 Plus, ISO400), a roll of color slide film cross processed (Kodak Ektachrome E100VS, ISO100), and a roll of color negative film (Expired Konica Centuria 100, ISO100 that The_Wolf_Brigade sent me). You can see the entire set on Flickr. Here are two of the best shots from each roll:

Ocean Breeze GeneratorMerry-Go-RoundFlying and FloatingPurple DressMy HeiferChit Chat

And here are the rest of the shots from each roll:

Back Seat DriverBoat ParkingFilm NoobSailboats SailingKickin BackFerry LandingJust Another Brick in the WallBeach GhostsTwo Middle Aged Bald Guys With No Shirts Riding Beach Cruisers Down The StreetMain Street DrugIt's All Just A Blur To MeNewport Beach PierBinocular ExcitementThis Way and ThatCabo CantinaBad AimWorkin On The BoatCommodoreMr. Two Camera GuyThe Brave Little PigeonUS Post OfficeFunny Little CarWindow SaleSt. John Vianney ChapelA Colorful SoulI've Lost My HeadFlagsSticker ScooterBikini SaleThrough These Eyes

If you’re still contemplating whether or not to participate in this project, think long and hard about what you might be passing up. Like I said, we’re giving away one of these cameras plus ten rolls of film to three winners. And be sure to look back at the project announcement — I’ve added links to five project entries as good examples of what I’m looking for.

And you know what? The hardest part of shooting film… is deciding to shoot film. Once you get over that little hump, a whole new world opens up for you.

Book Review – Night Vision: The Art of Urban Exploration

Some weeks ago, a fellow by the name of Troy Paiva contacted me about his new book that would be coming out soon — only asking if I’d like a copy of it. So of course I jumped all over the offer and told him that I could do a review of the book on the blog. He replied “Well, sure, but there is no real obligation.” Once I got the book and started diving into it, there’s no way that I could pass up the chance to let everybody else know about it.

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, out of his own goodwill. I am in no way affiliated with the book or the publisher of the book. The author has also granted me permission to post his photos in this review. The following review and commentary is my honest editorial opinion.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

To understand this book, you have to know a little bit about the author and his experience with photography and urban exploration. Troy Paiva began exploring the decay of the American west as a teenager during the 1970′s, driving the deserts in search of abandoned places and objects. By the end of the 80′s, he had incorporated night photography and unique lighting effects into his urban exploration, creating a style of photography that is quickly identified as his own. Through the 90′s and into the turn of the century, Troy wandered the West seeking out long forgotten places that were once bustling with activity. After releasing his first book, Lost America, in 2003 Troy began to shoot digital and the Internet had pulled him closer to other photographers sharing his love for urban exploration. The photos in this second book, Night Vision, are primarily from this era of Troy’s career. The book contains years of work, and decades of passion, experience, and artistic ability.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Night Vision is a book about urban exploration — or the investigation of man-made places ignored and largely unseen by the public. This includes old military and industrial installations, “ghost towns”, and any other sites that have been left to decay out of sight. Troy is a master of urban exploration, and he shares his thoughts and feelings on the topic throughout the book. In fact, he does this so well that he can get you excited and otherwise emotional about it. He has a very strong connection with this genre and it enables him to show you the world through his eyes.

The book is filled with brilliant photos of Troy’s adventures as he explores the historic monuments of the past. His photos appear to be impossible and purely imagined post-apocalyptic scenes like something from a movie. The work presented is both sad and exciting at the same time, with visions of towns and businesses that were once a part of everyday life for many people, reduced to nothing more than ghostly shells of a structure and decaying heaps of rubble. As I made my way through the book, I began to wonder what the landscape will look like 50 years down the road. Will the towns I know today be nothing more than a thing of the past, waiting to be demolished, salvaged, or completely forgotten?

There are 144 pages in this extraordinary book, most of which are filled with photos (115 to be exact). This may sound like a lot of photos, but as you read the book it feels more like a teaser. Just as you begin to gain some interest in the subjects, Troy sweeps you off to the next location, leaving you craving more of his imagery. For me, the book was a “one sitting” read — I couldn’t put it down once I started the journey. It’s a truly captivating work

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

I can honestly recommend this book to anybody with any background. The photos are outstanding and appealing to the eye, the writing is informative and educational, and the message is inspirational. It’s presented in such a way to let your imagination run wild with thoughts of days gone by in the American West. And on top of all that, this is a standing piece of history — as several of the sites photographed in the book are no longer in existence.

If you’re looking for a good photobook, this one is 100% worth buying. The photos presented in the book take on a completely different appearance versus those you can see on this page or on Troy’s Flickr Set. There’s a story being told, and that story is done justice in Troy’s book, Night Vision.