Best Cameras of 2012: A Summary

Parking Lot #19 (Felix, the Cat). Boulder, Colorado, 2012
Parking Lot #19 (Felix, the Cat). Boulder, Colorado, 2012

So, what were the best cameras of 2012? Did your new camera make any of the “best of” lists? Well, if you’d like to see, check out my results below, derived from a very small, unscientific, skewed, biased and random survey around the webosphere/blogosphere.

Keep in mind that I haven’t sorted by price or purpose. Instead, I placed the cameras in one of three categories: first the DSLRs, then compacts with interchangeable lenses (includes mirrorless), and finally compacts with fixed lenses/point-and-shoots. Prices will vary considerably between models–for example, you can find on this list a DSLR with kit lens that goes for less than $500 (Nikon D3100) and a compact “point-and-shoot” that will set you back $2800 (the full-frame, 24mp, fixed lens Sony Cyber-Shot RX1).

Ready? Here ya go…! Click here to see the results!

The “Ice” series continues

Ice #120. Eldorado Springs Canyon, Colorado, 2012
Ice #120. Eldorado Springs Canyon, Colorado, 2012

Yet another image for the “Ice” series…I just love finding these things in the local creeks these cold days. This one needs a couple of miniature mountain climbers on one of the “pinnacles” and, say, a moon in the “sky.” In reality, the whole thing measures barely a foot across, but the image reminds of some of the weird, huge, ice-covered spires in Patagonia favored by extreme climbers…Cerro Torre being a great example.

Ice #111: Before and After

Ice #111. Eldorado Springs Canyon, Colorado, 2012
Ice #111. Eldorado Springs Canyon, Colorado, 2012

What you see above is after post-processing. At the end, I’ll show you what I started with.

In this case, I knew in my mind exactly what I wanted–I wanted that weird hunk of ice surrounded by a field of black, pretty much as you see it in this post. However, because of the terrain, the running creek water, and the thin ice along the bank, there was no way I could get close enough or the right angle to isolate the ice in the frame exactly the way I wanted, so I knew I would eventually be cropping away a lot of extraneous material. I also was well aware of the distracting background behind the ice, so I knew I would be using a selection tool to select and fill those areas with black. During the black and white conversion process (yep, I wanted it B&W from the beginning) I also planned on using one of the “high structure” presets in Silver Efex Pro 2 as a starting point to bring out the detail in the ice.

So, even before I made the capture, I knew what I wanted it to look like after post-processing and, ultimately, as a large print.

Does that always happen? No! Sometimes I don’t really “see” the image until later, as I am culling the good shots from the bad, or when I am actually in the post-processing stage. Ideally, though, that is my goal–when I see something with potential in the field I want to be able to visualize what it will look like as a print as well as have a general idea of what steps I’ll need to take to get there. I know that won’t happen all the time and I’m OK with that, too…I welcome serendipity anywhere along the chain of the photographic process.

By way of self-critique, there are two areas I need to work on with these types of images. First, I need to work on the transition (feathering) between the ice and the black areas. Second, I need to pay more attention to these transitions in another way–the left “stalagmite”, for instance, needs some very subtle cloning work to round out its tip a little more as it distracts the eye a bit. I did this with the large stalagmite on the right (compare the images), but wasn’t paying complete attention to everything.

OK, now here is the above image as it came out of the camera…I think you’ll see just a slight difference. (To clarify a bit, I shoot both RAW + JPEG Fine. What you see below is simply a resized version of the original, untouched JPEG with fairly neutral in-camera picture settings. The above after image was created by working on the RAW file in Lightroom then Photoshop.):

Ice #111, before post-processing...
Ice #111, before post-processing…

Henri Cartier-Bresson: “Just Plain Love”

The Elevator. Catalunya, 2011...a novice street photographer in action!
The Elevator. Catalunya, 2011…a novice street photographer in action!

“What matters is to look. But people don’t look. Most of them don’t look. They just press the button…”

-Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004)

HCB is considered by many to be the patron saint of street photography (he also did portraits and photojournalism) and so I thought I’d give myself–and you–a little homework today about this important photographer in the form of a documentary film entitled Just Plain Love. (I think such homework, and the understanding of the history of ideas of photography that comes with such study, is important to our development as photographers.)

HCB was a shy person and not many photographs of him exist, so it is a wonderful treat to spend some time with him in this video (1hr 10min) and hear his words and thoughts. He worked primarily with a Leica 35mm film camera, a 50mm lens, and no flash–so kiss goodbye your theory of the importance of fancy equipment. Instead, he became an expert at reading human activity and interaction on the street and he seemed to have an incredible gift for framing and capturing what became known as “the decisive moment” (the name of his 1952 publication) in iconic images such as this one and this one.

Without further ado, here is the film…enjoy!

Too much complexity?

He Photographs Her. Barcelona, 2009
He Photographs Her. Barcelona, 2009

Generally speaking, the more you can reduce an image to its essential elements, the more powerful it becomes. Simpler is usually better. With too many elements in the frame you can easily lose your message as it gets mixed in and confused with the distractions.

Is that the case with the above image? I have been told it is too confusing to be effective. Is it? What do you see in the image? Does the title give you any hints? Is there a story there, or is it too hard to decipher? Does the photograph keep you interested, or is it so complex and nonsensical that it makes you want to move on?

Would it help to hear the backstory? Perhaps. Well, obviously we are looking at a reflection in rain puddles–that much you have probably figured out. The reflection is of the spectacular building that holds the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC). But what we also have is a young man squatting on his heels (just to the right of the girl at the top left) and taking a snapshot of his girlfriend, who is posing in front of MNAC, while a statue of white marble looks on with indifference. Now does the picture make sense? Even if it does make sense to you now, does it necessarily make it more interesting?

As you learn the art of photography, perhaps the safest path is to keep your images as clean and simple as possible–strip them of anything that doesn’t contribute to your message or your story. But, reserve the right to experiment every now and then (as I was doing above) to push your comfort level and your artistic frontier. As a final thought, and as your photography becomes more advanced, remember that it is perfectly possible to create an image that contains many, many different elements but is, paradoxically, actually a simple composition when reduced to its basic lines and forms. Even so, simple is usually better, so keep that up front in your photographic crosscheck.

NOTE: The Wednesday Critique will return after the New Year. I’m taking a holiday break!

Happy Holidays!

Santa's Truck, Boulder County, Colorado, 2012
Santa’s Truck, Boulder County, Colorado, 2012

Hope all are having a happy and healthy holiday season!

Chanukah, December 8-16

Kwanzaa, December 26 – January 1

Winter Solstice, December 21

Christmas, December 25

But most of all…Happy Festivus, December 23! (For a really nice video summary of how George Costanza’s family celebrates this wonderful holiday…go here.)

¡Feliz Navidad a mis amigos argentinos!

River Sunrise #3. Yellowstone, 2011
River Sunrise #3. Yellowstone, 2011

Hace calor ahora en el Sur…un lugar donde he pasado varios años muy bonitos de mi vida. Y hace mucho que no veo a mis amigos argentinos, a mis  vecinos del barrio, a mis amigos georgianos, a mis compañeros de ciclismo, a mis profesores y a mis amigos de la Facultad…y a la Anna y a la Sol. Si, hace demasiado tiempo que no os veo.

¡Que tengáis hoy una Nochebuena muy bonita y, mañana, una Navidad esplendida!

En las palabras del famoso gaucho, Martín Fierro

Yo he conocido esta tierra
En que el paisano vivía
Y su ranchito tenía
Y sus hijos y mujer…
Era una delicia ver
Cómo pasaba sus días…

Y verlos al cair la noche
En la cocina riunidos,
Con el juego bien prendido
Y mil cosas que contar,
Platicar muy divertidos
Hasta después de cenar.

Ay…los recuerdos…¡Hasta pronto!

Bon Nadal als nostres amics catalans!

Galet Gigant. Barcelona, 2009
Galet Gigant. Barcelona, 2009

December in Catalunya, 2009, on La Rambla near the Port de Barcelona…This was when I had a chance encounter with a giant (3-feet tall), plastic, illuminated representation of a large noodle that is a traditional ingredient in the Catalan soups of their Christmas season. It’s called a “galet”, which literally means “elbow-shaped” or “snail-shaped” or “pebble” or “form of a container” or, well, many other things in Catalan, although the actual noodles they stuff, cook and eat look kind of like sea shells to me.

The huge galet in the image above was placed on the pedestrian walkway across from the wax museum by the City as a holiday decoration and certainly was “gigant”, or giant! For a fun link, go here for pictures and explanations of the giant Barcelona street galets, including a shot of what looks like the very galet I found on La Rambla back in 2009. Then, to stimulate your appetite, go here for a two-minute video on how to make an awesome sopa de galets–ironically, narrated in Madrid-style Spanish rather than in Catalan despite it being a Catalan tradition.

I made the above image at night with an older 6mp DSLR, handheld, and with a lens that is generally known as middling quality, entry-level, walk-around glass (a Nikkor 18-200 zoom). I had to brace myself as best I could and boost the ISO a bit–and I made several captures to ensure one would come out sharp.

I like the abstract form, the rough texture with what look like ribs, and the warm color palette that came from the interior lighting and the colorful hue of the plastic galet itself. I don’t think it matters whether you know what it is or not–I think it works as it is as a simple abstract. And…I could easily get an acceptable 13×19 print from this file, which means that piles of megapixels and expensive equipment are not always necessary in the creative process (depending of course on the type of image you are making). Even today’s iPhone would probably have been adequate for this particular capture.

So, here’s wishing all of my Barcelona friends, family, and Galvesport cycling buddies a happy holiday season–enjoy your sopa de galets (we certainly miss it!) and have an extra helping de part nostra! Bon Nadal (Merry Christmas!)