Meeting Other Photographers: The Kit Divide

Canon v Nikon

I donâ??t know about you, but whenever Iâ??m at a party or friendly gathering and meet a fellow photographer for the first time, almost without fail, the same thing happens. There are the normal how-do-you-do type pleasantries, then you realise you’re both photographers and there’s some small talk and then, before long, the kit question comes up.

Other Photographer: â??So, Canon or Nikon?â?
Me: â??Canon. You?â?

At this point something very interesting happens. Depending on the answer, youâ??ve either made a new chum or, for all intents and purposes, a die hard enemy. OK, that might be putting it a bit strongly, but if youâ??ve been in this situation youâ??ll know what I mean. Providing you both use the same make of camera you get to chatting, often obsessively, about photography and before you know it your other half is annoyed with you because you still havenâ??t gotten her the vodka and cranberry she asked for an hour ago. Should the makes differ however, something entirely different happens. You make polite small-talk for a few minutes then, as soon as thereâ??s a suitable gap in the conversation, one of you makes an excuse about having to speak to someone else or needing to make a phone call and thatâ??s the end of that.

I donâ??t think it’s anything to do with not liking the other person, or even a lack of respect for the way they go about their jobs. There isn’t time to really learn anything about each other in those few short minutes, yet for some reason the different kit creates an insurmountable gulf between photographers. Of course if youâ??re friends first this doesnâ??t happen, but there will always be the tongue-in-cheek, slanderous remarks exchanged whenever the topic comes up.

Iâ??ve spoken to some of my photography chums and theyâ??ve found that the same happens to them too. Interestingly Iâ??ve just thought about it and without exception we all use Canons. There isnâ??t a Nikon among us? How odd.

I find this baffling. I wonder how many collaborative opportunities have been missed because one photographer uses different kit to the other. Itâ??s so short-sighted yet the majority of us seem to do it. Why is there such segregation between Canon and Nikon camps? Is there a group of Nikon users, similar to me and mine, who are pondering the very same question? If so, weâ??d love to hear your take on the subject.

Oddly, I’ve not come across too many photographers that use other manufacturers, but I wonder if the same divide is there too.

Now, weâ??ve tried to stay away from the Canon vs. Nikon debate on TDM. Mostly because we feel a good photo is a good photo and why should it matter what was used to take it? However, that being said, itâ??s always interesting to know what kit people use. So, what do you use? Canon, Nikon or something else? Let us know in the comments and weâ??ll come back to this at a later date with the results.

Spotlight On: Lionel Deluy

Copyright: Lionel Deluy

I hate him!

His photographs are fantastic, his client list is phenomenal, his work has been published everywhere and he has photographed everyone who is anyone! Here is the “Brief Intro to Lionel’s History” which I have lifted direct from his website:

“Lionel Deluy was born in the South of France, where he was first introduced to photography. He migrated to Paris and started his career as an assistant at Daylight Studio, and…

…Lionel has since photographed the hottest celebrities, most recently, Jessica Alba, Adrian Brody, Kevin Bacon, Ashton Kutcher, Orlando Bloom, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman, Fiona Apple, Dita VonTeese, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Hefner, Jessica Simpson, Michelle Rodriquez…

His work has appeared in magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Arena, FHM, Harperâ??s Bazaar, Premiere, In Style, Flaunt, The Source, Elle, Pavement, Atomica, The Book LA, Variety, Vogue, Ink, French Photo, GQ…

Lionel has shot advertising campaigns for clients such as Zoo York, Haagen Dazs, Dita Eyewear, Reebok…

His client list extends to music giants like Disney, Warner Brothers Records, Sony Music, Thrive Records…

Lionel currently resides in Venice California.”

There is little more I can say except please do yourself a favour and visit Lionel’s website. Brilliant!

Cheese, Anybody?

Say Cheese

Traditionally (at least according to popular culture) we photographers are supposed to request our sitters “say cheese” when we photograph them, in order to get a smile. Obviously, we all know this is a rubbish technique which is never going to produce a satisfying, natural result.

A few years ago, a designer friend of mine was dating (and later got married to) an officer in the Royal Navy. She showed me a photograph, taken at a summer ball, of her with her chap and several other officers and ladies. I was immediately struck by the natural expressions on every person in the photograph, especially because they all had beaming smiles. I asked her how the photographer achieved this and she explained that it was actually down to her. She waited until he was about to release the shutter and then she shouted a “certain word” and trusted the photographer to capture the reactions, which he did perfectly. I’m not going to tell you what the “certain word” was, but it was a scientific name for part of the female anatomy – not exactly a rude word, but definitely not expected in polite company!

For a brief moment (but just long enough), everybody forgot they were supposed to be having their picture taken and reverted to being a bunch of people having a good time. This is exactly the opposite of what happens when you are asked to say cheese. Or at least what would happen – I refuse to believe any real photographer actually does this!

This got me thinking about how to get the right expression from the people in front of my camera. Not just how to make them smile, as it isn’t always a smile we are looking for. The answer is (broadly speaking) quite simple – you need to engage with the sitter. People look at each other every day. They make eye contact and study each other’s expressions for visual clues during every conversation or encounter. This does not make them feel self conscious. It is when we put the camera up to our eye that everything changes.

I have found that one of the ways that works best for me is to talk constantly, asking questions, saying anything which comes into my head. Talking about the sitter is always good as it is a subject they know about and will soon become absorbed, as long as you can jump in with a question or two when they pause. Silence is the killer.

If I’m looking to get a natural smile, I’ll often ask my sitter not to smile and then, depending on what expression they do adopt, I’ll follow with something like “when I said don’t smile I didn’t mean for you to look like a bulldog chewing a wasp” which will usually get a chuckle and I can capture the smile I want as they relax.

Thanks to my children, I have also found that variations on “say cheese” can work very well. When I say “variations” I mostly mean complete alternatives. For example, “say stinky cheese”, “say smelly sausages”, “shout hairy camels” all seem to have the desired effect, especially with kids who love the opportunity to shout something silly. The technique seems to work pretty well with adults too, who get so tied up in trying to work out if you are being serious and wondering if they sound foolish that they completely forget what is happening and I get natural expressions.

I recently came across a technique used to engage a young child who was refusing to cooperate with the photographer. The photographer told the child that if he watched the camera’s “eye” carefully he would see the camera wink at him. The child became totally absorbed watching the shutter winking at him and the resulting photos were wonderful. I have used this technique myself and it worked a treat.

On the many occasions that the sitter is someone you are meeting for the first time, it is worth building up a set of easy conversation starters. Obvious subjects are holidays, jobs, family, hobbies/interests, why are you here in front of my camera? – pretty much anything, actually.

The important thing to remember is to engage. Talking to people should be easy – we all do it every day without even thinking. And remember that your sitter is probably nervous and expecting YOU to be in control.

Trust Versus Evidence

Frustration

Before I bought my Canon 20D (3 years and 3 days ago, apparently), fancy functions like auto-focus and evaluative metering were completely unknown to me. I was used to sticking my medium format camera on a tripod, carefully focussing manually and setting the shutter and aperture based on readings from a handheld meter.

Once you master auto-focus, it’s a truly wonderful function. I can’t focus a camera faster or more accurately. I (mostly) find the results from the camera’s built-in meter to be superb, too. The technology is there where you need it, it’s fast, accurate and reliable. Admittedly, you still need to know what you are doing, but I consider that to be the saving grace – if the camera did absolutely everything perfectly without my intervention, I would have no interest in being a photographer.

Anyway, the first time I connected up my Canon to my studio flash, I was very excited. This was how I was going to compare my new digital camera to my old film one. This was the photography I knew about. I set everything up and took a reading with my trusty Minolta flashmeter, set the aperture accordingly and took a test shot. Miles off! Checked everything, reset everything, took another reading, took another test shot – still miles off! To get the job done, I changed the aperture and checked repeated test shots on the camera’s screen until the picture and the histogram looked about right. “About right” is not really the way I like to work!

After the session was over, I visited my good friend Mr Google to see if he could help. I found several people on forums claiming issues with the 20D metering and I was pretty concerned. I was comfortable that the Minolta was accurate as it had worked perfectly with my film camera for many years (albeit it had sat unused for about 8 years prior to this). I spoke to a photographer friend of mine who said he thought that ISO for film and ISO for digital were not related, which would account for the different readings. Then I had a chat with my other good friend (in the real world), Charlie. We bashed through the logic and we both felt confident that ISO is ISO, meaning that either the flashmeter or the camera must be way out of whack.

To find out where the issue lay, we set up a test. We stood a Kodak grey card in front of a constant light source and took exposure readings with my 20D and lightmeter, as well as Charlie’s 350D and his Sekonic lightmeter. The Sekonic and both camera’s gave precisely the same reading (and I mean precise), but my Minolta meter was about 3 stops out! Although I was a bit gutted that my favourite gadget ever was malfunctioning, I was hugely relieved to find the camera was fine.

Luckily for me, Charlie knows a bit about electronics and he took the meter apart, cleaned it and re-calibrated it. Now it works perfectly. Best of all, I didn’t end up looking like a fool when I returned the camera with a “faulty” metering system!

The point of all this is trust. You need to be able to trust the equipment you use. You need to trust your own ability and skills. But you also need (as they say on CSI) to follow the evidence. Blind faith in your kit just because it is the latest/best/most expensive/highest specification could lead to some rubbish photos and to a lack of trust in YOU.