Friday, December 11, 2009

The Photographer's New Year's Resolutions for 2010

Every year we come up with these lists that we swear we are going to live by. As symbolic and exemplary of a life of procrastination as they are, they make up an important part of our end-of-the-year reflections and, if taken seriously, they can set the vision for the future.

So, why not make a list specific to your passion and favorite discipline?
Here are my ten. Let's circle back a year from now....

1.- Shoot, and shoot plenty. Even if you don't agree with those that say that even a monkey will be able to take a good photograph if we wait long enough, setting up, shooting and processing your photographs can only make you better.

2.- Publish. There is no point in shooting if you don't show your work to somebody, or even better, to a wider audience. Find your sweetspot and go for it regularly.

3.- Reign the web. Some say that if you cannot be found by Google, you are nobody. Start a blog or just have your own Flickr account where you publish your "picture of the week". Even advertising agencies are now sometimes harvesting Flickr instead of stock agencies. Get a Google Ad-Words account and dip your toes on pay-per-click, use the "Prepaid" version, having an open-ended campaign attached to a post-paid credit card is a formula to go broke if you don't know what you are doing.

4.- Be social. If you want to develop your business as a photographer, you have to be associated with good imagery in the mind of everybody who you know. Go to networking events -all kinds of them- and have a Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter strategy.

5.- Loose your obsession with equipment. Equipment is a means to an end, but you know that what counts is who's behind it. Develop your technique and your eye, instead of your equipment cabinet.

6.- Let go of comfort. Uneasy situations, bad weather, unlikely locations...they all make for potentially great photographs. Go for them, make a point of leaving the house/office when it is raining outside. Get up before dawn.

7.- Be disciplined. Backup your files, get a RAID array. Process them in a timely manner. Set your camera back to your defaults before stashing it in the bag. Keep your lenses clean, your batteries fresh and your cards empty. Just like you brush your teeth and you DO run those 5 miles everyday...

8.- Get better at producing, documenting and delivering. This is probably the greatest difference between a professional and an amateur. Check out pre-production software. Celtx ( is an open-source alternative created for the film industry, but fits pretty well.

9.- Don't talk down other photographers. There are too many talented photographers doing nothing as well as a few mediocre working their way into the craft. Look for the positive and learn on what has worked for every individual. Make note also on what NOT to do. Offer your input in a humble way.

10.- Put your work in perspective. It is not arrogance. There is much more to crafting a great image than pressing the shutter. Countless hours go into conceiving, pre-producing, taking and then post-produce an image. That work is worth it and it cannot be done by other than a professional. I can cook, and I still go every once in a while to a restaurant that charges $20 an entree, and it never crosses my mind to say "I could do that too".

Huba Rostonics is a Florida-based Photographer. He is constantly looking for new things to put a frame around. You can check his work at, you can also follow Huba on twitter @

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The relationship between shutter speed, aperture and ISO (again?) .... now simplified

This might sound like a topic that has been hammered enough to not even bother to publish an article on, but I can see the confusion in the eyes of my students every time this comes up. Why do we have 3 (four if you count the flash!) different adjustments for exposure in a camera?

The usual explanation goes like: "...aperture controls the ammount of light entering the lens, but it also has effect on the depth of field in the image..". So this gets even more confusing as we bring another parameter into play! I seem to have much more success with a little twist that I have given to these well-known (for a photographer) concepts.

I try to explain what are the unique effects of each of the adjustments in the camera in terms that are not related to exposure and then add, "...but it also has a collateral effect of changing the exposure.." So here is the whole explanation:
Aperture affects the depth of field. The higher the "f-stop" number, the better the depth of field. The lower the number, the shallower the depth of field. Changing the aperture has the additional effect of changing the amount of light that gets into the camera. The higher the number, the more light is blocked.
Shutter speed affects how motion is recorded in the image. Increasing the shutter speed will stop motion. Slower shutter speeds will cause blur or will make the camera more prone to record camera shake. Shutter speed also affects how long the sensor is exposed to light. The higher the number, the faster the shutter, more light is kept out of the camera.
ISO is the sensor sensitivity and the lower it is, the less noise we have in the image. But the higher the number, the more sensible the sensor is to light.
So is clear now the function of each parameter, but it is also clear that if you want to get a certain (many times referred to as the "correct") exposure, when you move one of them, either one of the other two have to change accordingly to restore balance. If you are in any of the automatic exposure modes (Aperture priority, Shutter Speed priority), this will happen automatically.
This is proving to be a much more easier to understand approach as it assigns at first a unique effect to each control and then ties them together through exposure.
Shoot away...

What would Cartier-Bresson use today?

I was pleasantly surprised when I read this month's American Photo's article on the iPhone's camera apps. It has been a long time since I saw an article on Cameraphones, besides the usual novelty note.

In my opinion, the iPhone with their camera apps is the new Leica. It has reasonable quality for web and even an 8"x10" print, is highly portable, silent and inconspicuous and -because of the audience that the iPhone and Apple in general appeals to- now in the hands of a highly creative people. Because of these reasons, i believe that the iPhone, and the cameraphone in general, is the new candid and street photography tool by excellence andwe willbe seeing a lot of art created by this craft.

I have always been excited about the possibilities a Camera Phone brings to the table and I did some early experiments in 2003 and early 2004 when I used to work for Nokia. They released one of their first cameraphones, the 3650, and I got one of these in my hands early enough with all its then mind-blowing 640x480 resolution.
The result of these experiments are captured in a flash gallery that you can check out at

Digital Crayola

I just read this article on the future of photography on PopPhoto on how photography will look like in 2006.

The author goes into every possible hi-tech gadget possibility, ranging from photo-gloves and eye implants. In my personal opinion the article looks, in the best case like a 3-D visual effect sensationalist Sci-Fi with a crappy storyline, sometimes childish.

It totally misses the point of photography as an expression -and I am presuming you are on my side of the discussion on whether photography is art-. If you reduce photography to its simple, snapshot-taking, everyday-event-documenting simplicity, the article might be somewhat on target on predicting the future.

If we are going to be so evolved by 2060, Why not think about a world that is constantly surveyed by hi res cameras and every inch of our existence is documented by automatic picture-takers? We could then get any possible picture just by downloading the image from a giant "world-stock" database, making any gadget absolutely pointless.

With all due respect to the never-to-be-released-cool-factor-technology-creating (remember the 3-D manipulator? or the Human-face-shaped CRTs for video conferencing?) guys at the Media Lab at MIT, having a photograph that can be modified by the viewer depending on the mood he is in, well...that is so 1960s...I used to do it in pre-K....with crayola. While it can be fun, it is also insulting for someone who is intending to express a message and a mood and somebody is "interpreting it" differently. I know a lot of people who would be upset if I did this just with one of their phrases, let alone admiring the "guernica" and "interpreting it" as a bachelor's party.

Claudio lovo melts SoBe

How do you define yourself as a Photographer?
As I capturer of dimensional light & space

Was it that way ever? When did you first pickup a camera?
Yes, since my early years living in Michigan, I had a darkroom in the basement of my house and experimented with distortions and dodging prints and negatives. I loved the magic of the darkroom, as much as I did capturing.

What made you move to South Florida? What makes it special for the photography business in general?
I’m originally from Nicaragua, studied in Paris and have lived in Louisiana, Michigan and Washington D.C where I came from 21 years ago from, where I was a media consultant/producer for government and private companies.
I arrived January 1st of 1988 and worked for PBS as an independent Director-Producer of a documentary series “Consuming Passions, origins & adaptation of food in America*. That took me 4 years of production and editing.
I was here when the photographers and models from Europe discovered SoBe and it was wonderful, no traffic, just a quiet location with beautiful morning light and vibrant colors.

You do commercial photography, and then there is your work with Photoshop, giving images fluidity. How do you reconcile these? Which one is the real Claudio?
I say that the “real” Claudio is both, since I enjoy them equally. I love the process of shooting the pictures but then I love sitting in my computer with A/C and begin the workflow. Sometimes I see a photo that I feel connected and instead of being commercial it becomes art.

For your fine-art pieces, what is the process that you follow and where do you get your inspiration?
The process involves 10 to 20 layers in Photoshop with a myriad of filters. Many are home made (custom filters). I think that “filters” gives you the “signature”, like in the case of music, when you hear the sound of Carlos Santana playing, the sound of his guitar its unmistakable. Edison said once that his work was “10% inspiration and 90% perspiration” and he’s absolutely right I think of the possibilities and have a concept of my final intention but to get there it might take me 20 hours of work, that’s where you need the inspiration: work. I wish I had that “Muse” all the time!

What is Claudio’s "Secret Sauce”? Can you tell us about your lighting style?
My “secret sauce” has to be my wife, Lisa Mae; she’s my muse and inspiration. She let’s me create and be myself. I think that’s the most important part, to have the freedom to do your thing, like working until 7:00 am and waking up a 5:00 pm to continue working… She takes care of the management/financial affairs and that gives me the freedom that I need to create.
My lighting style hmm? Well I’m obsessed with light as much as I am with shadows. I feel the light, and feed from it too. I spend considerable time playing with it, be it with flashes, bouncers and natural light.

With ubiquitous access to digital cameras and editing software, where do you see professional photography going?
I think that now they’re so many digital photographers that its tough to compete for the younger generation in certain fields, like adventure, extreme sports, etc.
The cameras are getting better and more affordable, this makes it harder to succeed, I have a name and most of my work is from word of mouth and referrals and thank God, keeps me busy.
I think that the key is to find a “niche” in the marketplace and do whatever but do it good and with passion.

Check out Claudio's website, and more of his selected work.

For more info: Huba Rostonics is a Florida-based Photographer. He is constantly looking for new things to put a frame around. You can check his work at, you can also follow Huba on twitter @

Where I set my sight I place the bullet

This week we sat down with Kiko Ricote, a renowned Commercial Photographer based in Miami, with their studios in Miami . Kiko has made commercial work for such brands as Corona, American Airlines, ATT, Cocacola, Ritz Carlton, etc.

How do you define yourself as a Photographer?

I am a Commercial Photographer and with this I mean that is irrelevant for me what I shoot, my goal is to sell. I can very comfortably do fashion, architecture, children, people, products, etc. What I am looking for is that the picture appeals and that the subject on the photo looks good, with no distractions, it should be the first thing that catches your eye, always looking for angles, lights or something, so that when people see the photograph it will catch their attention. In summary, always trying to sell.

Was it that way ever? When did you first pickup a camera?

No, I started out working as a model, one day I bought a camera for fun, never thinking in becoming a photographer. I didn't realize at that moment that the years I have been in front of the camera and the numerous hours I have spent looking at photography books, magazines,etc. in different studios while I was in between shots, have taught me so much about photography. Then I took some pictures of a model and the model agency I used to work for in Munich liked them. They started sending me models to make tests of them for their composites. After the third model I started charging, that was 30 years ago.

What made you move to South Florida? What makes it special for the photography business in general?

I am Latino, and I love to live in a Latin city with the rules of the first world. Work is good here, since you keep getting jobs from many cities in Latin America. Besides that, the light, the weather, locations and the variety of models available at hand make for an ideal place.

You do a lot of architectural photography, What is Kiko's "Secret Sauce"? Can you tell us about your lighting style?

I love to mix lights, natural with the ones I place, without being evident. That gives photographs a special taste that resembles reality. If you do something real, natural, photographs are always pleasing.

Kiko is a diminutive of Francisco, But You are called "Quicko" by some. Can you tell us about that?

Well, after so many years doing photography, there is nothing I haven't done or tried -several times-. So, "Where I set my sight I place the bullet". I am very quick, sometimes too quick, which makes things seem easy. If you know what you are doing, illuminating and composing are made in minutes. Because of that, people started to say how quick I was and Quick and Kiko, they started calling me Quicko.

With ubiquitous access to digital cameras and editing software, where do you see professional photography going?

Honestly, I don't think it is going to change a whole lot in the next few years. Digital Photography is quite developed already. What I am seeing more and more is a merging of full-motion video with still photography. Cameras such as the Canon 5D Mark II do amazing HD video. I see video very much related to photography, covering movement between one initial shot and a final one. What you have to know is how to start and how to finish and then light up the transition.

Kiko has 30 years of experience in photography, the last 14 of those based in Miami. His company, Kikor, Inc. owns a full-fledged production and post-production studio with all the necessary equipment to realize any shot. Kiko also travels extensively throughout Latin America and the US for his clients.

You can check Kiko's work at

Huba Rostonics is a Florida-based Photographer. He is constantly looking for new things to put a frame around. You can check his work at, you can also follow Huba on twitter @

Virgin for the light

Every once in a while, a friend and I get caught up in a conversation where we debate where the technology will take us. One of the current topics is the Shutter+Mirror mechanism in modern DSLRs.

The shutter mechanism, with its sliding-curtain and flipping-up mirror is very well known to any photographer who has been around for some years, as it is an exact adaptation of the mechanism used in regular film SLR cameras. Its main advantage is that it allows for composing and metering the subject through the very same lens that will take the picture and then, expose the sensor in a controlled fashion. The mechanical shutter also allows for having a completely clean sensor, "virgin" for the light.

The drawbacks are obvious, being a mechanical device, to achieve the speed needed can be a complicated fate. The mirror mechanism is also somewhat complicated and it accounts for the so discussed "photographus interruptus" where the mirror ocludes from the photographer the actual image being taken. Moving parts are delicate and noisy.

Point and shoot cameras use a less expensive and simpler solution, having a constant opening that allows for the light to hit the sensor and hence view, meter and continuously compose on the LCD screen. This alternative is superior in the sense that it allows for high above and under-the-hip composing as well as being able to judge the noise level on the sensor. When the picture is taken, the CCD device is cleared electronically and the exposure process begins. After the exposure time has elapsed, each pixel is transferred, "stopping" the process.

In contrast with the Diafragm, which is optically needed, there is no doubdt in my mind that with time, this "electronic shutter" will be perfected and will eventually replace the mechanical shutter even on the most expensive cameras.

As it happened with the electro-mechanical sequencers on our washing machines that were continued to be widely used until just recently when replaced by Microprocessors, mechanical shutters are so mature that we will continue to use them for years and they will make for good background noise. It always make me smile when some "sound effects" genius uses an outdated shutter noise and you can hear the whirr of the motor-drive advancing the film.

For more info: Huba Rostonics is a Florida-based Photographer. He is constantly looking for new things to put a frame around. You can check his work at, you can also follow Huba on twitter @

Miami, Photo friendly city? Not even close!

I knew it was bad, but not THIS bad. I probably was trying to convince myself that everywhere else was the same, and that this was normal. Being Miami such an Image-Driven City, with iconic South Beach and Little Havanna, and the many model agencies operating in the area, you would think that Photography is everywhere, but -besides a handful of oasis- it can be really dissapointing to try to get photographic equipment or related services locally and many times I end up getting them online.

Also and during almost every single one of my photographic excursions in Miami, I have always sensed some type of hostility in the air. It is like the paparazzi have paved the road to doom for all shooters in this area. I was just taking innocent shots last week of some fuel tanks that I thought might be useful for stock when a guy came asking me for my "Press Pass". When I replied to him that I did not need one to take editorial material, he shifted his argument to "you have to leave". I was still surprised when this week Popphoto published on their online edition a"Photo-Friendly cities" survey. 30 cities, ranked on several factors such as number of parks and zoos, number of camera stores and photo finishers, museums and galleries with photographs, and number of private security companies operating in the city. Miami is not even on the list!

Maybe we were not even considerd, but hey, Isn't that bad already?

Here is an idea for stimulating the economy: Make Miami a Photo-Friendly city and promote its many premium locations for photoshoots. We have already many ammenities, access to our city is easy from anywhere in the US and many South American countries, we have plenty of sunshine and sometimes dramatic weather du jour.

(This is a reprint of an earlier article on The Examiner)

Blowing Rocks

This is a reprint of an earlier article on The Examiner. The photograph can be seen at

This January, I had the opportunity to photograph at one of the most interesting locations in South Florida.

Blowing Rocks is a nature preserve located at Jupiter Island. The coast of Blowing Rocks is composed out of Anastasia limestone. The sea has eroded holes through the stone and in situations where the tide is high and there is on-shore wind, the breaking waves impacting the shore are channeled through these holes and plumes of water shoot as high as 50 feet.

The spectacle is remarkable even on a calm day. To see a larger version of this image go to my website,

Now, for those that live in South Florida, we know that -being on the east- any view of the sea on this shore is better at dawn. This is the case for Blowing Rocks and I highly recommend it, but don't go packing yet to be there tomorrow at 5 AM and catch the Sunrise. The park is open from 9:00 AM on, so there might be some permits you want to clear first.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Miami Show Scene

Miami has many interesting attractions to be photographed. Staple scenes that can be immediately identified with the area. South Beach, Little Havana, the beaches.

Almost any photographer can capitalize on these.

There are also plenty of events being conducted outdoors. Some of them feature great music-industry personalities. Most of these events are open to be photographed by anybody who is toting a camera and they feature some "ammenities" for the photographer:

Interesting topics
Many times these events feature celebrities. Musicians, Singers, Dancers, and other performers that are well known locally and on the media. Celebrities are almost a guarantee that your shots will be worth looking at. The atmosphere around the events is also worth featuring and characters appear spontaneusly, don't be afraid of shooting the crowd, they are in a public space.

"Studio" Lighting
The lighting provided for the event is usually bright enough for photographing, even with a f3.5 lens. The traditional technique for shooting a well-illuminated stage would entail measuring the incident light and sticking to it as it does not deviate that much during the performance. Proper adjustment for light fall-off due to distance is necessary though. With Digital, you can pretty much just experiment.

You'll blend in the crowd
With the Motley Crew out there and a handful of photographers also doing their thing, you won't stand out of the crowd that much and will let you concentrate on your work.

My own rebuttal

Some months ago I wrote about the differences of the APS-C sensor format and full-frame. Despite the fundamentals of all the arguments I presented in favor of the smaller format (smaller lens sizes and weight, same expected resolution and the benefit of Moore's law), I found one sustainable argument in favor of the full-frame sensor supremacy.

The arguments deals with the fact that for all things equivalent (same resolution, etc.) each individual pixel on the sensor is of a smaller size on the smaller sensor. In other words, each pixel on a 12-Megapixel APS-C sensor is smaller than each pixel on a 12-Megapixel Full-Frame sensor.

The first issue -which I addressed on my previous entry- is the amount of light that falls on the sensor. A bigger pixel gathers more light than a smaller one, so if Signal-to-Noise ratio is an issue the full frame sensor performs better, but in the case of a better technology where noise is reduced significantly and the material in itself is more sensitive, this becomes a non-issue.

One another effect is related to the imperfections on the lens surface that determine the sharpness of the lens. A smaller sensor captures images created by a smaller section of glass on the lens. It is presumable then that acceptable sharpness calls for more precisely crafted lenses when utilizing very small sensors. This is a purely optical issue.

At this time, I have not seen a good calculation of when this effect becomes noticeable, but initially it seems to be that a full frame sensor would be more tolerant to less-than-perfect lenses and would be capable of rendering sharper images.

My problem with this is that it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy since the leading camera and lens manufacturers make more high-quality lenses for full-frame (or legacy 35mm) cameras. In other words, better lenses are only made in the format that does not require them that much!

DX vs. Full Frame

If you have not figured it by this time, is because you have not searched on me on the Web. I am a photographer, and I take it quite seriously, but still, I have reptilian remnants of a techno-geek inside me, so sometimes I get caught in the "shop" discussion.

I have heard many times that the DX format that Nikon got into when they started with their D70 (and other manufacturers like Canon with their REBEL), is never going to replace the full-frame technology. My opinion is that this might be possible, but not because the full-frame is better, but because professional photographers were lead to believe this.

Here is my argument on why DX HAS TO eventually replace the full frame.

The main reason why you want a full frame sensor is because:

  • You can fit more pixels into the area of a full frame sensor. This would have a resolution advantage.
  • You can fit BIGGER pixels with the SAME resolution. This would have a illumination advantage, as each pixel captures more light and because of this the camera is capable of performing under low-light conditions.

The two reasons why you want to use a smaller sensor (such as the APS):

  • It is cheaper, making the camera body smaller, lighter and less expensive.
  • Because the area that has to be illuminated is smaller, lenses don't have to be as big (this is the real reason why point-and-shoots are so small!)

Now, let's take a look at the two alternatives. First of all and these days the investment that a Pro Photographer has, is much more in the lenses than in the camera body, so cheaper lenses lower the whole investment. This is also true for weight and handling. Heavier and bigger lenses will add much more weight and clumsiness to the gear than a bigger body.
So whenever we can reduce weight and size of all lenses, we should go for that. There are two ways of doing this. One is to come up with more refractive materials and the second is to illuminate a smaller area at the sensor. So let me ask you, When was the last time you heard about a radically new type of glass?

The D70 was released in 2004 with 6MP of resolution. Just recently, less than 5 years after, the D90 is on the market with twice as much resolution, and I-don't-know-how-much-better high-ISO performance.

The truth is the camera sensors and their Signal-to-Noise performance pretty much follow Moore's law, optics just cannot. Smaller sensors is the way to go...