I love macro photography. True marco 1:1 magnification (or greater) has been a long time favorite of mine for many years. The butterfly in this post was one such shot I took a while back with a Nikon 105mm Macro lens. When Apple announced the new iPhone 13 received a “close focus” lens i was really looking forward to trying it out, yet I rarely remember to use it.
When I do remember to get in close with the iPhone I’m quite pleased with the results. It isn’t true full 1:1 marco photography, but it’s pretty darn close for shots you can take on a phone. The two shots here (not the butterfly of course) were taken of frost on my truck a few days ago. The shot in red was on the hood of the truck, the grey/green was the windshield.
Like most people in my surrounding area, I have been to this airport so many times, but most of the time it’s been rushed and hectic. I finally had a day planned to just go and do some photography in and around the airport. If you are new to this site or my photography, I have a long history, or passion for, photographically documenting “aviation” in one form or another (see my aviation portfolio over here).
Some day I’ve always planned on making a non-hurried trip to Atlanta Hartsfield to do some “street photography,” or people watching with a camera if you prefer, and to see some of the canopy construction updates, and to check out some of the great exhibits the AirportArt program is working on like the Evelyn Quinones exhibit. That day ended up being this week.
In brief, it’s capturing the reality of life as it happens in candid (spontaneous) images in public places. It’s always been one of my favorite studies in photography. I have studied it for years through the work of great photographers in the field like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Susan Sontag, Vivian Maier, and so many actively producing photographers like Eric Kim, Frederik Trovatten, a ton of YouTube shooters out there. I am fascinated by how difficult it is to do well, but when it comes together it’s amazing. That said, this may not be your cup of tea, and that’s fine. I love the reality of it, the realness of it, the fact that it’s far less polished, and sometimes more unpredictable than other forms of photography.
The images below are a selection of my time in Atlanta this week. My way of shooting in public comes from a highly introverted personality that would prefer not to bother anyone, or be seen. So I generally try to blend in and be as unobtrusive as possible. Luckily, today, 99.999% of people are on their cell phones and completely oblivious to my existence, which is fine with me.
Below is a mixture of fine art type work and gritty grainy street. It all depends on the lighting and the situation at the time. I love the dad with the pacifier in his mouth… that’s reality of a busy dad. Happy Father’s Day.
One of the first pictures created was said to have been taken in 1838 by Louis Daguerre, which shows Boulevard du Temple, in Paris. Susan Sontag in her classic 1977 criticism On Photography said “to collect photographs is to collect the world,” and as a photographer I often ask myself, hasn’t the entire world been collected yet? Why does the world need one more photographer taking one more photo?
The inventory started in 1839 and since then just about everything has been photographed, or so it seems. This very insatiability of the photographing eye changes the terms of confinement in the cave, our world. ~On Photography, 1977.
The answer often seems much more complicated. What is amazing about Sontag’s words from almost 40 years ago is we actually haven’t yet photographed Plato’s cave, our world. Today we upload over 2 billion images a day to social media sites, and just trying to figure out how many images may have been taken in the world is basically impossible. How, with billions of photographs being taken each day, has the entire world yet to be fully photographed? Because time is always moving forward, and the world is always straining under the constant change that time provides. If constantly changing, the art of photography an always ever changing medium, showing the world we live in 1/250th of a second at a time. A small point in time, but one that will never happen again.
For the past 25–30 years or so I’ve had this long standing love-hate relationship with photography. Mostly love, for the art itself, mostly hate for the business side of photography, never quite able to conquer it’s depths. I’ll shoot non-stop for years. Then comes the demands of life. The experience of skilled knowledge, equipment needs, changes in the industry, copyright issues, lack of funding, unrealistic expectations (from others and myself), lack of focus, busyness of schedules, doubt, lack of “paying” customers, drive, will, desire, on the list goes, until one day I say enough is enough, I don’t need you anymore photography. Then, inevitably, eventually, I come back once again, sad that I’ve been away for so long. I guess everyone needs a break now and then. And realistically, I really never did leave you, I just prioritized you to my back pocket and a phone. I’ve still managed to take at least one image a day for years on end now (half a million images and counting). There is just something special about having that DSLR in my hands that makes it official, to say, I’m serious about you, it’s a photograph with purpose, intent, where you have my full attention.
I could say I’ve been intrigued and fascinated with you going all the way back to my first camera (an eternity ago back in 1982), the Kodak Instamatic. Of course I had to give you up when Polaroid sued Kodak and won. That taught me some valuable lessons in photography I still remember today. The joy of seeing those instant results, the disappointment of when you were taken from me, before I was ready. I so fondly remember that first “serious” film SLR (a Nikon N70). You were so kind, but often so unforgiving. Then that first DSLR (the Nikon D100)… once again being able to see instant results just like I did back in 1982. Since 1982 some type of camera has been in my hands practically every day, so see, I never really left you. I have, however, taken a break now and then when you’ve been too much for me to handle.
Our longest separation from “serious” work came in May of 2013, and ended today, with the fragrance of wisteria and azaleas blooming in early spring as they do down here. The seductive pinks and purples of spring arriving in the South, beaconing for someone to see them and take note, to capture their brief beauty. You could say it was like a long lost romance returning after many years apart. That familiar look and feel, but refreshed from being gone for so long. Exciting, alluring, the same, yet new once again. Like the past had been forgiven, perhaps forgotten. Together again, present at long last, ready to move on with life, a little older, and hopefully a little wiser.
How does one keep alive, rekindle, redefine, a 25–30 year old relationship that’s been confined to the back pocket of my jeans for a few years? How did it take this long to be ready for a lively conversation, living life together, discovering new things once again. Why do the eyes see things new and fresh that have been right in front of them day after day after day without notice. Complacency, or maybe just familiarity?
This time around it feels different. There is more purpose, more direction, perhaps more intentionality not to delay anymore. A longing to forego negative opinions and detractors, to follow the will and the call to use the gifts so graciously given. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead. To collect the world once again with purpose and intention, a sliver of time measured in fractions of a second. To find those things, and places, and people that have yet to be confined in a photograph, in Plato’s Cave.
On a practical note… I am creating an actual portfolio over on http://scottfillmer.com, something I’ve wanted to do for years. Head over there for a place to let the photography speak for itself, and stay tuned here on my blog for a more casual commentary on photography.
This post was originally written in April 2016, then slightly updated in April 2017 and 2018, and now it’s April 2019, and I’m still struggling with this, still fighting with myself on why photography won’t let me go, won’t leave me alone, why it keeps pulling me back in year after year. This time I think I’m here to stay. I’ve put 30+ years of my life into photography at this point, I’m ready to embrace it.
With the pending announcement and release of the iPhone 8, or the iPhone Pro, iPhone X or whatever the new flagship iPhone is going to be called, the photography industry as a whole is once again going to be forced to advance to places it perhaps never considered 10 years ago. Features like dual sensors with different focal length lenses, the possibility of something like “scene selection,” and even the good “old” things like geo-tagging images (why is this still not a standard on all DSLR’s at this point?) will continue to provide space in the market between Apple and the big camera makers. This is probably never more true for Nikon and Canon who, over the last 10 years, have started to look slightly “Nokia-like” in advancements beyond the DSLR. They haven’t completely stuck their proverbial head in the sand, I think they woke up just in time, but it was just far too late for me.
Both companies have started branching out into mirrorless cameras, but it feels like they’re just playing catch up with Sony and Fujifilm, not transformational as in the past decades. Sony and Fujifilm at this point feel like the cutting edge of cameras just beyond the DSLR market, perhaps a bridge between mirrorless and the smartphone. Yes you will be able to shoot DSLR at native ISO-64 (and in probably complete darkness before long), and many other incrimental advancements, but they feel almost forced, and very late.
Of course Nikon and Canon built their empires on the SLR and then the DSLR, so changing business models 10 years ago probably wasn’t even on the horizon. The never ending product cycle of updated models was huge back when digital photography made giant leaps each year rendering previous models ancient worthless dinosaurs. My Nikon D100 I paid $2,000 for back in 2002 is worthless today, and that’s good for Nikon, except I’m no longer buying new models, and that can’t be good for them. I know there are more people like me who have come to the realization that, yes the sensor on the iPhone isn’t a DSLR, it’s never going to capture the same IQ as a full-frame or APS-C sensor, but now, and with the iPhone 8, it’s finally good enough.
I get it. It would have been hard, if not impossible, for them to abandon their cash cow. I just can’t help but think about how those meetings went when they finally decided to divert sizable cash reserves to R&D for some unknown non-DSLR future. Other industries can vouch for similar fates. How about the music industry, newspapers, magazines, point-n-shoot cameras, or when was the last time you bought a flashlight or a calculator, or how about an alarm clock?
Nikon and Canon aside, companies are continuing to think outside the box when it comes to capturing light, and that’s a great thing for consumers. Advancements like Light.co who just released their handheld 52mp 10 sensor point-n-shoot to Apple, maybe Samsung, even Fujifilm to some extent, have changed photography from the few who can (try to) afford big glass and new DSLR’s over and over again, to being completely and totally ubiquitous. In the past 10 years, this change has completely rearranged my thinking about the tools I carry as a photographer.
I’ve been shooting since 1984, and shooting seriously since about 1996 when I started studying photography in college. I made the transition from instant film in the 80’s to 35mm film in the 90’s to digital in 2000 (with a rinky-dink 1mp digital HP point-n-shoot. I was just so excited to be shooting digital I got the first digital camera I could find and afford).
Without getting too much into the technical aspect of image sensors and how many pixels get packed into something on the order of the 1/3.6in (or 3.99mm x 7.21) size sensor of my iPhone 7 Plus, it’s obviously a much smaller sensor than a 35mm full frame sensor. For me, it’s finally come to the point where it doesn’t have to. The results you can get with the iPhone today are well worthy to be called another photographic tool in the camera bag of a serious photographer. The colors have rich tones with little noise. The dynamic range improves all the time, and the editing tools have even moved to more advanced modes including RAW.
My iPhone 7 Plus works for 85% of everything I want to shoot on a daily basis, and since the iPhone 5, that percentage seems to be going up every time a new version comes out. Of course no, I’m not shooting weddings anymore, or senior portraits, or super long exposure astrological events. You can only push the iPhone sensor so far, but those times when I truly miss my DSLR have become fewer and fewer each year.
This year I took the leap to give up my biggest pro mirrorless body in anticipation of the iPhone 8, and I’m ok with that. With the release of the iPhone 8 / Pro and a sensor that can perhaps shoot 4k video along with 1080p in 240fps, with two lenses, wide and mid-focal length, AND take great images, I just can’t justify carrying around anything else in my camera bag (i.e. pocket) on an hourly/daily basis. The best phrase I’ve heard over the years is “the best camera is the one you have with you,” and that is never more true than one that can fit in your pocket.
I started shooting with the first consumer DSLR that Nikon released in 2002, the Nikon D100, and from that time forward I became a pixel counter with the masses. I think must have used every lens and every DSLR that Nikon made between 2002–2015 (minus the D5). That camera, along with the Nikkor 80–200mm f/2.8 was a great, but a super expensive, combination for what I was shooting at the time, aviation photography. My long haul camera combination in that time period was the D7000/D7200 and the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens. That came to be my most used and loved combination that went all over the United States, Uganda, and Europe. I shot well over 100,000 images with that combination, and I loved it. But now, times are different, and where the Nikon D100 cost $2,000 at the time of launch, the iPhone 8/Pro will be half the price, weigh basically nothing, fit in a 6-inch form factor, and is miles ahead in it’s light capturing abilities.
I’ve owned every iPhone model released (basically for the camera), except the 5S, and over the last 10 years I’ve also gone through this DSLR “gear acquisition syndrome” (G.A.S.) that all photographers go through. It’s always been the DSLR is king, and the cellphone is garbage. Now, over a period of just 10 years those two positions have changed dramatically, and with the release of the iPhone 8, to me, the DSLR has been de-thowned for every day use. If you look at the (very unscientific chart above) they have, in my photo bag world, had two opposite corresponding curves. At least for me, the iPhone 8 Pro will solidify that, even before I see the specs on the camera.
The big shift in my mind was when the iPhone 5 came out. The image at the top of this article, a panorama of Jordan-Hare Stadium, has for years now been the best selling image I have ever taken. And it was taken with an iPhone, almost 5 years ago! When the iPhone 6 came out I sold my Nikon gear and moved to the Fujifilm mirrorless X-Pro2 and X70, (a fantastic system), and this year, I’m moving to the iPhone 8/Pro and completely out of the heavy, bulky, expensive cameras.
The term iPhonography has been around a while. I started intentionally shooting with the iPhone camera since the first one was released, and this is just a sliver of what I’ve been able to achieve over the years with that tiny little sensor. That doesn’t even take in account my Instagram, which I loved way back before Facebook even knew it was a thing. Almost every image on that site was shot on some version of the iPhone. And if you want to see some truly amazing work done on the iPhone visit IPPAWARDS and browse their winnersthat span over the 10 year lifetime of the iPhone camera.
The problem with camparing a DSLR to a smartphone though is flawed at best because you aren’t comparing apples to apples so to speak. A better comparison or statement might be what are you giving up? What are the tradeoffs you are willing to make when going from a DSLR to a smartphone?
So I’m less about making a direct comparison of DSLR vs iPhone than I am confirming that, if you are passionate about photography, forget about the gear. Read, study, shoot with whatever you have, and improve every day. Learn why depth of field is important and how to use it. Learn about stops of light, exposure, shutter speeds, and shoot as much as you can possibly shoot. In the mean time, here is some iPhonography favorites of mine so far this year.
Isn’t this an amazing time to be interested in photography. Whether you’re a fan of the hype or not, the announcements of new tech are almost never ending. This week Apple announced the iPhone 7 Plus. With this Apple showed off the first dual camera on an Apple smartphone. This was something I had been anxiously awaiting. Just the technical achievement in having two different camera sensors, two different focal lengths, in your pocket, brings a whole new life to what’s photographically possible.
Nikon, Canon, Sony, Samsung, and all the big tech names in photography have been working diligently on that steady pace of incremental advancements that we often scoff at in tech reviews, and perhaps some would say boring. While we always want to see giant leaps from one year to another, the slow steady incremental advancements in technology are usually how innovations are made. This has been said for a long time over the history of technology. Walter Isaacson took a fantastic long look at this concept in his book The Innovators which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the topic.
Another camera company currently working on multiple sensors I’ve been eagerly following is Light.co who have been developing a camera called the L16 which uses 16 different sensors. Light.co is taking a different approach to multiple sensor from Apple and LinX. The new iPhone uses two sensors to house two different focal length lenses where the user can choose to use one or the other. Light.co is taking a 16 images from 16 different sensors and stitching them all together for a final 50mp high res DSLR-like image. But none of those advances alone can create beautiful or successful images. After watching the progress on the L16 for a while I was thrilled when they asked me to explore the aspect of finding a good “vantage point” for photography here on my blog.
There are so many elements to photography which come together to make an image “successful,” and when it’s done really well it’s hard for the viewer to even put their finger on why, they just know they like it. One of those elements is the vantage point of the image, and that’s what I’m exploring here today.
The Jordan-Hare Stadium Vantage Point
A “vantage point” is a “place or position affording a good view of something,” and it’s not always the most obvious place. What’s unique about this vantage point at Jordan-Hare Stadium is how well it tells the story of this particular night. You can see so many visual elements within the frame, thousands of solum fans milling around from edge to edge, the blackness of night soaking down all around the stadium, except inside where everyone’s left. Even the trash around the grounds tells part of the story. Then you have the stadium itself. A solid, strong, towering creation stretching endlessly around the block, patiently waiting for next time, the next game.
Since we are now full-force into the college football season in Auburn the image I decided to start with is this photograph of Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn that I took after the Auburn vs LSU game. While I’m offering a few suggestions from the perspective of Jordan-Hare Stadium as the subject, this will work well in any large venue. So, to find the best vantage point for any given image I would offer up these three suggestions.
1. Explore All Possibilities
It took me years to find some of the obvious locations to capture the best images of Jordan-Hare. And it took exploring the stadium for all possible angles, from all possible vantage points 365-degrees around the stadium grounds, and at all given times night and day. I’ve shot from the ground, from the top deck, on the walkways, from Plainsman Park (the baseball stadium next door), from the basketball arena (both of them), from super far away, super close up, and all points in between. Some I like more than others, but I keep coming back to this one spot on the south side of the stadium.
In fact, the vantage point where this image was taken wasn’t even possible years earlier before “the night the barn burned” to the ground during the 1996 Auburn vs LSU game, and more unique vantage points have grown up over the years as Auburn has grown. I finally found one of my favorite spots after a very dejected loss to LSU as fans slowly sulked out of the stadium. I ran up to the top floor of the parking deck on the south side of the stadium and captured a few images with my camera perched on the concrete wall.
2. Always Have a Camera With You
As security at big events has become tighter and tighter it’s been more and more difficult to get high quality pro gear in or near sports venues. Auburn implemented a no-DSLR rule a while back (though I would argue not for security reasons), and now they have a restriction on the length of lens you can bring into the stadium (i.e. have with you because you aren’t going to walk back to the car once you are there). So, the compact cameras have now become my go-to cameras when it comes to shooting scenes like this, but you never know when you are going to find that perfect vantage point, so always have a camera with you. This shot was taken with a Nikon D700 (a 12mp full-frame DSLR, which at the time was huge) and the Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 lens, neither of which I could get in with today, but it was what I had with me that night. As Chase Jarvis has famously said, “the best camera is the one you have with you.” For secure venues like this almost any compact camera will do. I love the Fujifilm X70, and the iPhone, both fantastic cameras to take this very shot. Once the L16 openly available in 2017 it will probably fit the bill in an amazing way.
3. Ask the Local Photographers
This is something I think many of us are hesitant to do. We photographers can be very competitive, threatened by anyone with a camera self-conscience types, always questioning our own work and hunting down the best vantage points. So the thought of giving up your sacred secret spots was once taboo at best, but has since vanished (for the most part) with the proliferation of photography in our digital age. Besides, what’s the worst that can happen, they don’t respond or say no, but any time someone asks me where I took this or that shot I’m more than thrilled to point out the specifics. So my suggestion would be to hit up the locals wherever you are on Twitter or Instagram and just ask. Most likely they already know where the best vantage points are, and are happy to share them with someone who also has a love for photography.
One thing Apple did was bring photography to the masses, a fundamental shift in the world of photography. That didn’t make everyone an award winning photographer, but it removed biggest barrier, owing an easy to use camera. Whatever the camera, constantly trying to improve my own photography is one reason I’ve spent so much time studying photography on every level I can find, the #VantagePoint being one of those areas. I especially love deep thick philosophical photography books, and one of the absolute best I read this summer was The Road to Seeing by Dan Winters which I’d highly recommend. Until next time, happy hunting that unique vantage point.