A-ha! Moments in the Big Apple

The field of photography is changing faster than ever before—and this was especially apparent to me last month when a group of us from RMSP headed to New York for the annual PhotoPlus International Conference and Expo.  My wife, Jeanne (who is our School Director), our son Forest, and I had never attended before.  Marcy James, our Director of Education had been there several times before.  We were floored not only by the sheer volume of people, but by all the new products. I love living in Montana and wouldn’t entertain the idea of settling anywhere else, but there’s something to be said about the energy of a big city—especially when it’s the backdrop to an impressive gathering of amateur and professional photographers and more gadgets than I’d ever thought possible under one roof. So what struck me? A lot.

•    The photography community is still surprisingly small—and friendly. It is amazing how many of the people I saw in New York have been colleagues or students in the past. With all the new products, online marketing and sales, the perception is one of change. And while many things have changed in the industry, there is still that same sense of consistency and community that I felt some 40 years ago when I started teaching photography.
•    There’s room for the old and the new. While the photography community may have maintained quaintness, there’s nothing quaint about the technology. Camera bodies, lenses, flashes, and other accessories have advanced in unimaginable ways. Still, there’s always room for the “oldie but goodies.” In New York, not only were all the newest and latest showcased, but there were booths demonstrating more traditional techniques and cameras that are a combination of old and new but look exactly like my old Leica M3 (that I used for ballet and takes the same old manual focus lenses) but shoots high quality digital (the M9).
•    Brand competition—as intense as it sometimes gets—is instrumental in encouraging research and innovation. This was evidenced by the two major booths greeting visitors as they walked in: Canon and Nikon. Not only are their gadgets constantly edging out each other, so is their customer service, which was across the board warm and generous.
•    The Big Boys may be big, but they’re great people, too. RMSP has been working with B&H Photo for years. They send employees to our Summer Intensive program each summer to showcase their products and let our students get to know about their company. Every year we remark on their unassuming, down-to-earth personalities; of course, we couldn’t imagine that the rest of their employees were equally gracious and friendly. Until, that is, New York. We had a complete tour of the B&H store and offices, and met a fair number of employees at a dinner organized just for us. And now that we’ve have a behind-the-scene look, we are even more impressed. They care about the quality of their products as much as they do about the people who use them – and their knowledge of their products is amazing.

Should you ever find yourself stepping through the double doors at a major photo show, a well-organized trip can make all the difference. I highly suggest planning ahead of time to consider both potential purchases and as well as the many opportunities to learn, mingle and have fun. And, to avoid overwhelm.  To that end, I offer the following tips:

•    Browse first. It’s like being a kid in a candy store—except there are no penny products to choose from. All the new products are right there to see, touch and use, so take advantage of that. But first, take it slow. Use the first day to take it all in: visit all the booths, see what’s there, grab some literature. Then, when you return, really spend time tinkering with and asking questions about those products that most interest you.
•    Take advantage of the “extras.” Not only are there industry reps there, but incredible teaching resources. Many shows often have classes and speakers on a range of topics. There is always something new to learn, and these shows—by bringing together so many of the leaders in the field—are excellent opportunities to open your mind (not just your wallet).
•    Get a critique. Another “extra” at some large photo shows are critiques, or “portfolio reviews.” Often, you can have your entire portfolio critiqued by an experienced professional. At PhotoPlus, there was always a long line of people waiting outside such booths.
•    Get a tune-up. Some camera companies will clean and make minor adjustments to your camera for free. At PhotoPlus, Canon had a room dedicated to doing just that. My son Forest and I had our cameras cleaned and adjusted by kind and competent technicians.
•    Visit someplace new. We saw the sights, ate great food, mingled with wonderful people and all around enjoyed ourselves.

PhotoPlus is oriented toward both amateurs and professionals across genres. There are, however, many photo shows and conferences that cater toward more specific pursuits. For example, those interested in nature photography might consider the upcoming Nature Photography Summit and Tradeshow hosted in McAllen, Texas, by the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) March 9-12, 2011. It is a well-established photo show full of opportunities to learn, meet other nature photographers and shoot a different and remarkable landscape.

O.K., so what did I think about the latest and greatest technology at the show? Several things, namely about:

1.    High Definition Video. HD video is fast becoming an essential part of photography and is installed on most cameras, from point-and-shoot to professional models. As such, if you’re unfamiliar with this feature, you may want to consider a local weekend or afternoon workshop.
2.    Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras. The small and very reasonably priced mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras are increasingly popular, as you can see from the chart below. Four brands now have these cameras, and I am confident that Canon and Nikon will soon as well—or they’ll lose a large share of the market.

MIrrorless Camera Chart

NOTE: I own the Panasonic Lumix GF1 and love its size and quality.

3.    High Dynamic Range.  HDR is now being built into cameras. This feature is useful in high-contrast situations, especially when part of a scene is in the sun and another part in the deep shade.  Normally when we have a subject in these conditions we end up either washing out our highlights or blacking out our shadows. With HDR we can usually get great results in these high contrast conditions.
4.    Advanced Lenses. New lenses are always being developed, many with the following features:
→    Higher-quality glass to handle higher-quality sensors
→    Dust and water resistance
→    Advanced stabilization processes. Many new lenses have 4-stop stabilization, which means you can shoot four stops slower while hand holding in still scenes. For example, let’s say you’re shooting running water as part of a beautiful landscape and want to blur the motion of the water; you’ll still need a great depth of field to have the whole scene sharp and low ISO to ensure a high quality image. You’ll also want a slow shutter speed to blur the water. Let’s say you take a meter reading at ISO 100 and the exposure you come up with is 1/125 of a second at F4.  With more advanced stabilization, however, you can achieve the following:

Given 1/125        F4
1 stop slower, 1/60     F5.6
2 stops slower, 1/30     F8
3 stops slower, 1/15    F11
4 stops slower, 1/8    F16

Now, if you’re careful, you’ll get a sharp photo at 1/8 second, which beautifully blurs the water with a F16 depth of field. Of course, if you can, using a tripod is always best.

5.    Flashes. Camera companies are always working to improve their most powerful flashes so they can be used on camera as well as in fairly complex small studio set-ups. It is rather amazing what you can now accomplish with a small, fairly inexpensive flash.
6.    Studio lights. Studio lights, along with all of their accessories, are increasingly in demand. I personally like the battery-operated studio lights that can be used almost anywhere. They are still considerably more powerful than the on-camera flashes mentioned above and yet still portable.
7.    Camera Bags. The options for comfortable totes are endless. It seems companies are designing more creative and easy-to-carry options every day.
8.    Printing Paper. While too many choices can sometimes be overwhelming, having a range of texture, weight and tonal options lends photographers more creative license in how they choose to showcase their work.  Speaking of which…
9.    Display Options. Back when I was becoming a professional photographer I was taught that there was one acceptable way to display work professionally – dry mounting prints on archival matt board. Now, people break these rules everyday—with style and class while still maintaining their professionalism.

Despite the untold amount of new products at PhotoPlus, there’s more on the way: companies typically release new products after the New Year. I’m still waiting for updates by some major brands on camera bodies more than two years old. With all the innovations in equipment, a new digital camera body can quickly become outdated. It’s not like the old days of film when you could easily use the same body for a decade without wanting (or needing) a newer version.

PhotoPlus was a treat. Marcy, Jeanne, Forest and I thoroughly enjoyed our industry-immersion with photographers from around the world; and when we could, took in as much of New York as possible. I certainly hope to attend next year, but I have to be honest: one of the best things about going was coming back—there’s nothing like home, especially when home is as beautiful as the Missoula Valley of western Montana.

2 thoughts on “A-ha! Moments in the Big Apple

Elizabeth Moore

Looking forward to meeting with you next week! Thanks for all the great info at the lecture last week, Neil.

Carol MacDonald

Thanks, Neil, for the tips and the fun, yet informative overview! Made me rethink options for our next trip because it brought back exciting memories of our first RMSP weekend.

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