Online study can help take your photography in new directions

Maybe you’re a working photographer who feels stuck in a rut, or you’re just keen to inject some oomph into your practice. If you’ve been toying with further study but are unable to relocate because of family or work commitments, online learning could be the way to go.

Distance learning has long been an established option for studying photography at higher education level, the big advantage, of course, being how flexible it can be. For many of us who lead increasingly busy lives it goes without saying that this is appealing.

An institution well versed in the benefits of online teaching is Falmouth University, which runs MA Photography and BA(Hons) Photography (Top Up) courses alongside its portfolio of campus-based photography degree programmes.

Priddy, Somerset, 2015 from the series Elementary Husbandry © Jesse Alexander

Part-taught and part-self-directed research, the courses offer a versatile approach to the learning of photography, says Dr. Gary McLeod, a module leader for the BA(Hons) Photography (Top Up) and MA Photography programmes at Falmouth University’s Institute of Photography.

“Weekly themed videos and carefully-designed forum tasks challenge students to reconsider their practice as well as the medium of photography, its histories and how it is used in different contexts,” says Gary. “Aside from the mixture of teaching and self-directed learning there is an optional offline component in the form of bi-annual face-to-face events where students can take part in practical workshops, receive portfolio reviews, and generally get to know peers and staff in person. […] Guest speakers at such events, as with online guest lectures throughout the course, are webcast, recorded and archived so that students can watch live or later on.”

The Falmouth Flexible MA Photography course, which launched in September 2016, is studied over two years on a part-time basis and there are three possible entry points throughout the year – in September, January and May. The course comprises five modules, including a final major project, and each module consists of a 15-week ‘study block’ featuring both directed and self-directed learning.

Concupiscence 5 © Chris Northey

With current students living as far afield as Hong Kong and Los Angeles, the international reach of the course is what makes it distinctive, says course coordinator and module leader Jesse Alexander. “That diversity is also reflected in the geographic spread of our tutors and module leaders. Gary is in Tokyo, Cemre Yesil is in Istanbul and we have people in Scotland, London and Falmouth. “When critiquing work, staff and students come from different cultural as well as professional perspectives,” he adds. “The course reflects the global nature of contemporary photography – the way it is disseminated, particularly through digital platforms and social media.”

Module leader Dr. Wendy McMurdo agrees that Falmouth Flexible’s international reach is part of what makes it unique. “On the MA we are working with engaged photographers from a wide range of backgrounds and locations,” she says. “This international cohort brings a wide range of experience that feeds into the group. The design of the Falmouth Flexible MA allows students to work flexibly through an intensive programme of specially designed modules, webinars and live lectures. […] It’s a course best suited to enquiring and self-directed learners who are keen to challenge their ideas and push their work in new directions.”

Christopher Northey is among the first group of students who will be graduating in September 2018. Although he is looking forward to graduating, there is a part of him that will be sad the course has ended. “I waited 10 years to study a masters and have thoroughly enjoyed taxing my brain again. The chance to meet and work with people from other countries and cultures really expands your outlook, which in the age of the ‘global village’ is invaluable.”

Mask of divine proportion, from the ‘Fractured Identities’ series © Jo Sutherst

For Jo Sutherst, also part of the first group of soon-to-be graduates, the ability to study in a way that suited her lifestyle was a key reason she enrolled. “Most courses would have involved me giving up work and relocating, which was not an option,” she says. “The Falmouth Flexible MA offered the course I wanted with the flexibility to be able to study when and where I chose. I have been able to access resources and professionals around the globe and the online environment has opened up opportunities and experiences that may not have been available to me in a campus-based course.

“I was a bit lost before starting the MA,” she adds. “The content of the course and feedback have facilitated my development and allowed me to become who I am meant to be as a photographer.”

Space Furnishing © Rita Rodner

For Jesse it’s about preparing students for the 21st century workplace in an environment that allows them to play to their strengths. “The mode in which we teach reflects the reality of how people work,” he says. “We wanted a course where students wouldn’t produce a project only to be consumed within the context of the MA. The expectation is that everybody will publish his or her final project, which could mean an exhibition or if they decide to make a photo book we would encourage students to have a launch event. Essentially, we’re asking students to place their work within some kind of public and/or professional context.”

Ultimately, online study goes hand-in-hand with life, says Jesse . Having lived in three countries during her studies, Ashley Truckley, who graduates this autumn, says the course “has gone with me without any issues.” She adds: “The tutors are highly knowledgeable and have been caring and helpful when giving critical feedback, and my fellow students have also been incredibly supportive. I would highly recommend Falmouth Flexible to others, especially those whose lives don’t allow for a traditional way of studying.”

For Rita Rodner, who is part way through her studies, the MA has been everything she expected and more. “It takes time and effort to get to the point where you feel that you know the medium you’re working with, and it’s easy to get lost on the way,” she says. “That’s exactly how I felt – lost and frustrated – and I knew it was going to take ages to move forward on my own. So I looked around for a serious, long-term course and found Falmouth Flexible. […] It has been a year of hard work so far, but I feel that I am really getting somewhere now.”

Visit this page for more information about Falmouth University’s flexible MA Photography (Online) and BA(Hons) Photography (Top Up) courses.

Indeterminate Objects (Classrooms i) production still, 2016 © Wendy McMurdo

Sponsored by Falmouth University: This feature was made possible with the support of Falmouth University. Please click here for more information on sponsored content funding at British Journal of Photography.

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Yes, Nikon Designs Its Own Sensors

Sony has been receiving attention and praise in recent years for the quality of its sensors and the fact that it produces sensors for other heavyweight camera companies, including Nikon. But even though some of Nikon’s CMOS sensors may be manufactured in Sony factories, Nikon actually spends a considerable amount of resources designing those high-end sensors.

Dave Etchells of Imaging Resource was recently given a rare behind-the-scenes look at Nikon’s secretive sensor design operations for a Nikon-sponsored in-depth report.

The Nikon D5’s sensor.

“I’ve known for some time that Nikon actually designs their own sensors, to a fairly minute level of detail,” Etchells writes. “I think this is almost unknown in the photo community; most people just assume that ‘design’ in Nikon’s case simply consists of ordering-up different combinations of specs from sensor manufacturers, picking a feature from column ‘A’, another from column ‘B’ and so on, like a Chinese restaurant menu.

“In actuality, they have a full staff of sensor engineers who design cutting-edge sensors like those in the D5 and D850 from the ground up, optimizing their designs to work optimally with NIKKOR lenses and Nikon’s EXPEED image-processor architecture.”

Responsible for determining the layout of devices on the CMOS sensor, Nikon’s sensor designers (assembled in teams that work on sensors for specific cameras) work to create an optimal combination of light-gathering efficiency, noise levels, readout speeds, power consumption, and more.

Nikon’s sensor engineers work in teams dedicated to individual sensors.

“One of the most surprising things to me was how much time they spent designing and testing for how the sensors interact with their optics,” Etchells tells PetaPixel. “That had never occurred to me as a thing before, but they seem to put in a lot of cycles on it.”

“Makes sense, [since] light doesn’t just appear at the sensor — the LPF, IR filter, microlenses and what’s under the microlenses are all part of an optical system that starts with the lens.”

A computer simulating light rays coming in through microlenses, and bouncing around inside the pixel, on the way to the sensor’s surface.
A a simulation that’s tracing the paths of individual light rays as they pass through the microlenses, through the intervening material, and into the surface of the silicon.

“Even though I knew that Nikon had its own sensor design operation, I was surprised to learn just how deep the process runs,” writes Etchells, who holds a Master’s in semiconductor physics. “[T]he level of design, simulation and testing I saw was frankly astonishing.”

Steps include sensor/lens testing, angle of incidence testing, RGB testing, and in-circuit testing.

The camera mount from the flare-testing setup. the camera mount from the flare-testing setup.
This machine tests how microlenses respond to light coming from different angles.
RGB testing.
Nikon has special “breakout boards” that allow access to what would normally be internal signals.

Nikon has long touted the fact that the highly-reviewed sensor in the Nikon D850 was designed entirely in-house, but Sony stole some of Nikon’s thunder back in June when it was found that the D850 sensor has a Sony-style model number hidden on the back.

But Nikon fans, rest assured: it was Nikon minds and hands that developed the sensor from the ground up.


Etchells’ full report from his time with Nikon’s sensor designers weighs in at nearly 8,000 words. Head on over to Imaging Resource if you’d like to read the technical details of what the engineers do.


Image credits: All photos and videos by Dave Etchells/Imaging Resource and used with permission

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Watch a Model Pose with a Crocodile in an Underwater Photo Shoot

Here’s a photo shoot you probably shouldn’t attempt yourself: photographer Ken Kiefer recently took his wife (underwater model Kimber Kiefer) and two other models into the crocodile-infested waters of the Chinchorro Banks in Mexico for a photo shoot. The goal was to shoot underwater glamour photos of the models right next to the fearsome reptiles.

The New York Post reports that lionfish were used to lure the crocodiles toward the models.

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Safety divers were also positioned nearby with poles to protect the crew.

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Keifer says modeling with crocodiles is a wish that Kimber has had, and that it took two years of trying to finally succeed in turning the idea into reality. He shared a couple of the resulting photos on social media:

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“May your adventures bring you closer together, even as they take you far away from home.”
― Trenton Lee Stewart…

Posted by Ken Kiefer Photography on Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Thankfully, the photo shoot was completed without any croc attack. But shooting with wildlife can be unpredictable and extremely dangerous: just last month a model was bitten and dragged underwater while posing for photos among sharks.

You can find more of Kiefer’s work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram.


P.S. Just a few years ago, Italian daredevil model Roberta Mancino did a similar shoot in the Gulf of Mexico:

(via NY Post via Shutterbug)


Image credits: Featured thumbnail photo by Terrazzo and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0, and viewfinder lines by Factory and licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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Is Lens Compression Fact or Fiction?

Photography can be confusing. I get it. I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Because of this, at times it helps us to actually put some of these theories and myths to the test. One of these myths is the concept of compression and, with it, parallax.

This gets confusing to me as I am sure it does for some of you. Of course, there will always be the joker that knows everything and needs to let you know he knows everything. So this post is for the average, humble photographer that can’t seem to get their head wrapped around this concept of compression, distortion, and parallax. Let’s test this out.

But first, let’s define some terms.

Lens compression is the idea that when you use a telephoto lens things in the background of the image will appear larger and compressed closer to the foreground. It’s a bit like the warning of your side view mirrors on your car. An example would be if you have a row of pillars coming towards the camera. The pillars will not only appear larger but the distance between these pillars will seem to be more compressed when using a larger focal length lens.

Parallax is the apparent displacement of the position of the foreground with the background in an image. As an example, to use our line of pillars, the pillars in the background in relation to the pillars in the foreground shifts to become visible. So the question would be: when you shoot an image with a telephoto lens and then change to a wide angle lens, will the parallax effect be seen?

These two concepts are linked. To the point, you really can’t talk about one without talking about the other. So, let’s look at parallax first before we move onto compression.

To test parallax I went out to my friendly neighborhood fishing village and made a series of photos of the Floating Mosque (it really isn’t floating, it rests on pillars over the sea). I stood in one location and shot a series of photos of the mosque focusing on the same spot in each photo.

To make the photos I used two lenses, the Fuji XF 50-140mm and my Fuji XF 10-24mm. I took five or six photos at different focal lengths just in case I need them. But in the end, I only needed one image shot wide and one image shot with a relatively long focal length to uncover this mystery.

Lens: XF50-140mm. Focal Length: 135mm. (35mm Equiv): 202 mm
Lens: XF10-24mm. Focal Length: 24 mm. (35mm Equiv): 36 mm

I then took these images and examined them for any signs of parallax. What was the verdict?

What we see is there is no parallax effect between lenses. But this will only happen if the photographer remains in the exact same spot. Why is this? Because the focal length does not change our relation to the subject. To do that we physically have to move. It’s basic physics, but we fool ourselves all the time to think there is a perspective shift between lenses used.

The only way you will see any change between the lenses we use and a shift of position between the foreground and background is when the photographer changes position nearer or farther from the subject.

Below are the same two images from above. The difference is I enlarged (a bazillion times) and cropped the 24mm photo to the same scale as the 140mm. You will now be able to see there is virtually no parallax at all. Nor is the compression any different between the two images.

135mm (202mm in 35mm terms)
24mm (36mm in 35mm terms) cropped

Here’s a back-and-forth comparison of the two images:

Now, let’s move on to lens compression. I hear photographers say how a telephoto will give you more lens compression than a wide angle lens. But I think you will see that the term “lens compression” is a bit of a misnomer. We do see compression when we use a telephoto, no doubt. But it has more to do with how, or shall I say where, we use the lens than the lens its self.

We attribute the compression to the lens when in fact it is actually due to our physical distance from the subject. As in the photos above, where I photographed the same scene with two lenses of different focal lengths but never changed positions, there was no compression or better put, the compression was the same.

Where we see compression is when the photographer keeps the subject in relatively the same position in the frame between lens choices. Look at the images of the statue below. I tried as best I could to keep the upper body of the warrior in relatively the same position in each photo. Because I moved closer to the subject (changed spots) each time we finally see parallax and we see compression.

Photos captured (from left to right) 10mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 140mm. (15mm, 53mm, 75mm, and 210mm, respectively, in 35mm terms).

Now look at this photo:

Lens: XF10-24mm, Focal Length: 10 mm, (35mm Equiv): 15 mm, Lens Aperture: f/4.0

Now we see something else happening. Now we see lens distortion. Here you can see the distortion of the warrior’s lance and his face. This type of distortion gets worse with the use of a wide-angle lens and the closer in proximity you get to the subject the more exaggerated this distortion becomes. But that is for another post on another day.

As for compression, we can clearly see background objects appearing closer when I readjusted my position to keep the subject (the warrior) framed in the relatively same position in the frame using the telephoto.

Actually, “focal compression” might be a better choice of words for this effect. But let’s face it, I am not going to change the industry’s use of this term. So let’s just say, lens compression happens in proportion to the distance from your subject and that it is more pronounced or easily seen in the use of a telephoto lens.


About the author: Matt Brandon is a Malaysia-based assignment photographer who has experience shooting for non-profits, assignment, and editorial work. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Brandon’s work and writing on his website The Digital Trekker, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This article was also published here.

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These Surreal Photos Were All Created Without Photoshop

Photographer John Dykstra says he believes in the power of perspective. His surreal photo style is created entirely with practical effects and simple ingredients — things like paint, chalk, and glass — rather than digital image manipulation techniques.

“My goal is to create photographs that dabble between abstract truths and concrete reality,” Dykstra says. “By drawing connections between illusions of realism and the subjectivity of human experience, my work lingers between daylight and daydream.”

Here’s his account of how his first anamorphic illusion (shown above) came about:

My first idea came to me when I thought about how our perspective can trap us, and how so many of our boundaries in life are self-imposed and illusionary. Combining that thought with anamorphic illusions lead me to the idea for “Penalty Box,” a self-portrait that depicts me as drawing the illusion of a box around myself in chalk. At first I tried drawing the illusion on paper, but that didn’t work at all. Then I remembered the work of John Chervinsky, who I discovered a month earlier just after his passing. He was using chalk on chalkboard to create these very interesting photographs, and I knew I had found the solution to creating my piece. I quickly built a small 8’ x 8’ x 4’ plywood stage in my parents’ garage—God bless them for letting me use that space—covered it with a pint of chalkboard paint, set up my camera, and then the magic happened.

Here are some more of Dykstra’s photos:

Here’s a photo next to a behind-the-scenes view showing how the illusion was created using chalk marker on a sheet of glass:

You can find more of Dykstra’s work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram.

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The Ways of Zen Photography

When most people think of the word Zen, a meditating monk in a monastery comes to mind, a practice of enlightenment, a person being in the present or someone without attachments. When I think of Zen, I think of a lifestyle that has profoundly influenced my photography practice. I would like to dive into the ways of zen photography and how it might enlighten your creative practice.

The word Zen is from the Japanese interpretation of the word Chan which has ties to the Indian practice of meditation. Zen originated as a school in China, influenced by Buddhism.

It later found its way into Vietnam, Korea and then Japan where Zen is currently known today. Zen practices take from Buddha nature and sitting meditation known as Zazen. There are two-forms of Zen teachings: Rinzai and Soto. I could write a whole book on the subject, but let’s move on.

In short, all you need to remember is that Zen can be a state of mind. Stillness, simplicity, looking inwards, beginners mind and finding the beauty in all things. Take these words into consideration when engaging in your photography practice. Remember that Zen photography can be more about your mindset than the subject matter you’re capturing.

A leaf falling in autumn is Zen. A river flowing around a rock is Zen. A cup of coffee is Zen. A homeless man yelling at you is Zen, confusing I know. But for now just focus on yourself as a human being, instead of a human doing when it comes to your photography practice. What I mean by this is have an open mind, maybe think about trying walking meditation or sitting on a park bench being present in the moment.

The trick is to be open to your thoughts being nonjudgmental, letting them come and go, like a river of ideas flowing through you. If you see something that attracts your eye take a photo of it. Let your knowledge and thought process take a back seat. Let your intuition and autopilot take over. Think expressionist painter, letting their body create the artwork instead of the mind. After some time this can turn into being in the zone.

For myself, I practice walking meditation when it comes to my Zen photography. I go somewhere I wish to photograph, a secluded landscape, park, or even the busy street of the CBD. The location doesn’t really matter. Next, I pick up my camera and set it and forget it. Here the less gear the better, because I have fewer decisions to make. Then I start walking, and I let my mind wander.

“What should I cook for dinner tonight?”, “I think I’ll buy that photography book of Koudelka’s work.”, “Should I focus on social media for showcasing my work, or get my own website?”, “…”, “…”, “Whats over there?”

Then before I know it, creativity and inspiration strikes. I notice something, and without thought, I bring the camera up to my eye and take a picture of it, then keep walking, and so on and so forth. Before I know it, its time to go home. That’s my process, just walking in public spaces, be it a park, beach, city or countryside. The one thing that I try to keep consistent is being present and in the moment, or as much as my mind will let me.

The ways of zen photography are hidden in your mind along with your creative thoughts and inspirations. Remember to be a Zen photographer you don’t need traditional monk clothing, access to a monastery or a place of worship. All you need is your camera and yourself, being present in the moment, that is where creativity shines, that is true Zen.


About the author: A.B Watson is a New Zealand photographer based in Auckland. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. To see more of his work, head over to his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram. This post was also published here.

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Kandao Raw+ Helps You Make Cleaner Low-Light Photos with Burst Shots

The 360-degree VR camera company Kandao Technology has announced Kandao Raw+, a new software tool that helps you create better low-light photos by shooting and combining burst shots rather than capturing single exposures.

Kandao Raw+ uses computation photography to turn a set of RAW photos captured in burst mode into a single photo with increased detail, dynamic range, and less noise.

Instead of shooting a longer exposure using a tripod, you can capture a burst of shorter exposures (up to 16 frames) while shooting handheld. The shots are aligned automatically and information from multiple photos are merged.

The software doesn’t just simply stack the exposures, which would often result in motion blur and/or the ghosting of moving objects. Instead, you select a reference photo that will serve as the image that will be optimized using the info gleaned from the other exposures.

For high-contrast scenes, Kandao Raw+ lets you create photos with higher dynamic range without having to do exposure bracketing (i.e. capturing a set of photos, each with a different exposure value). Instead, you shoot a set of images with the same exposure and the recovery of details in the highlights and shadows will be automatically handled by the program.

Here are some images showing what Kandao Raw+ can do:

Kandao points out that smartphones are already doing this type of photo merging to create higher-quality images. The company’s goal is to bring this technique to a wider audience of mirrorless and DSLR camera users.

Kandao Raw+ is compatible with most of the cameras that Adobe Camera Raw supports. You can download the software for Windows and Mac here.

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Photos of Intense Lightning Storms in Volcanic Eruptions

Francisco Negroni is a Chilean freelance photographer has spent years pointing his camera at volcanic eruptions. Over time, he has captured a series of incredible photos showing the lightning of “dirty thunderstorms” that are found in massive volcanic plumes.

Dirty thunderstorms occur when ash, rock, and other “ejecta” collide and create static electricity in the plume of volcanic eruptions. Researchers estimate that about 35% of volcanic eruptions are accompanied by lightning.

Colossal writes that Negroni travels light in the Chilean backcountry as he travels to eruptions, bringing only a backpack, laptop, camera, tripod, and three lenses in his car.

You can find more of Negroni’s work on his website and Instagram.


Image credits: Photographs by Francisco Negroni and used with permission

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