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What Kind of Photos Did the First Amateurs Take?

What Kind of Photos Did the First Amateurs Take?

We’re generally fascinated with things that our ancestors did using the tools available to them. Not too long ago, I heard about a tribe in Hungary who built a cannon out of a tree using medieval level tools. People used to build great, towering cathedrals and rotundas without cranes and steel i-beams. So, it’s only natural to wonder what the first “regular people” took photos of when cameras became affordable to the masses instead of staying a toy only of the rich and the professionals. Well, wonder no longer. Our friends over at GizModo have gathered up a sample of 14 photos taken by complete amateurs.

Oddly enough, many of these photos, if you changed the clothes on the people slightly, would be very much similar to the ones people take today. Candid shots of people in the street or children playing dominate the selections. However, the photo of the elephant is really cool. There aren’t any selfies which have become so common with mobile photography and ducklips are, thankfully, nonexistent. There also seems to be a distinct lack of smiling in these images. Granted, back in the 1800s, having a photo made was considered fairly momentous and so was a time of solemnity and seriousness — smiles and grins were considered goofy and a good way of showing how un-serious you were. Still, the subjects of these photographs are by and large the same kind of subjects we’d see in our own amateur photography: scenes from the market, children at play, and people sitting around reading or working.

The technology and the style of dress might have changed over the century but it seems that human nature and our fascination with ourselves has remained untouched.

– da Bird


The Megapixel Wars

The Megapixel Wars

Please note that our offices and warehouse will be closed from 3 pm today until Sunday. Orders placed during this time will not ship out until our warehouse reopens. Thank you for your patience during this religious observance.

Over at Skip Cohen University, they’re discussing some things that camera companies do that distinctly photography customers. I can sympathize with much of what they are saying considering that computer and gaming console companies do much the same thing. It’s almost as if they went to a seminar to learn how to annoy their customers and to make their websites absolutely useless to anyone who is looking to give them money. No wonder third-party vendors like ourselves are selling more units than the manufacturers through their own online stores. However, there is one thing that has been bothering me for several years now and I’m very glad that SCU mentions it — even if it does come in at #5 on their list — and that is the Great Megapixel War.

What do megapixels measure and are more of them actually a good thing? Megapixels measure the resolution of an image. They do not add much in the way of sharpness, detail, lighting, or focus on their own. However, most people will assume that more megapixels means better pictures when the reality is that more megapixels just means larger file sizes — it is the camera sensor-size that determines the quality of the image, not the quantity of pixels. For example, if I were to put a smartphone camera sensor in a 20 megapixel camera, the image is still going to look terrible compared to any image taken with a larger sensor. This comes down to the laws of physics — the larger the sensor, the more light it can handle. The more light it can handle, the more details it can capture. The more details it can capture, the better the image will be. Therefore, it is sensor size and ability that should be used to measure the ability of a camera, not the number of millions of pixels it can capture. The New York Times ran an interesting article with a professional photographer examining this very common belief about megapixels meaning better images and found out that in 99.99999999999% of cases, the number of pixels in the final image had little to nothing to do with the quality of that image. Megapixels are not equivalent to megahertz in which case more megahertz means more processing power. More pixels in an image just means a larger space will be required to store that image.

So, why do camera manufacturers and vendors continue to toot on about how many megapixels a camera can capture? The cynic in me says that it’s because they want image sizes to get larger so that customers will buy the larger (and more expensive) memory cards. Or, it could be because they assume that customers will always think “more is better.” However, as cameras improve in many ways and customers become more savvy about how to determine if a camera is a true upgrade or a sidegrade, vendors and manufacturers will have to become more honest and focus on the sensor size and processing power instead of the way over-hyped Megapixel Rating. Because, honestly, who outside of big-time advertising firms actually needs to print out an image larger than a square meter in size (A0 or where pixellation from “blowing up” an image actually comes into play)? Don’t let yourself be swayed into buying a camera that won’t improve the quality if your images simply because it captures more pixels — always check the sensor and processor to see if they are larger and more powerful than the ones in your current camera before you click on the “Buy now” button.

– da Bird


How Limits Broaden Horizons in Photography

How Limits Broaden Horizons in Photography

Our friends over at PhotoTalk have a really interesting article up about how to use an iPhone to improve your photography skills. Now, it goes without saying that a camera on a smartphone is not going to beat out a high-end DSLR any time soon. However, there is something to the notion of getting a start on less-than-top-of-the-line photography equipment.

One of the first rules novice photographers learn is how to find the subject and how to focus on it without necessarily seeming to do so at all. Over time, novice photographers learn short-cuts and tricks such as the Rule of Thirds and how to take advantage of the ambient lighting to get the shadows or highlights you’re after. Sometimes access to high-end gear can hinder a novice photographer in these tricks by making them overly reliant on gadgets and gear to achieve an effect that could more easily be gotten by relying on just the camera itself. That is one area where mobile photographers are doing an excellent job: with only a primitive camera and a few filters and effects they can add to a photo, they do their best to make certain that the underlying basis of the work — the photo itself — is sound. They know they can’t rely on things like depth-of-field to help them hide a lot of deadspace and that they can’t zoom in on something small to enlarge it or far away to bring it closer. However, they can take photos where a DSLR wouldn’t fit and they force mobile photographers to pay much more attention to the composition than ordinary.

With mobile photography becoming more advanced and establishing itself as a discipline in its own right, smartphone cameras are, more often than not, the cameras that photographers are carrying everywhere. Therefore, it is worth considering that the novice photographer learn to work well within the limits imposed on him by a smartphone camera as he may find that the confinement therein spurs greater creativity than he would have had had he been using a high-end camera to begin with.

– da Bird


Colorado Flooding and Photojournalism

Colorado Flooding and Photojournalism

Please note that our offices and warehouse will be closed from 3 pm today until Sunday. Orders placed during this time will not ship out until our warehouse reopens. Thank you for your patience during this religious observance.

Over the past week, a lot of news stories have focused on the historic flooding in Colorado. Looking at photos of the area, it’s kind of mind-blowing just how destructive water can be. It also makes you wonder just what kind of person it takes to be a photojournalist covering this story. After all, a regular journalist filing a report can sit somewhere nice and dry and safe and collate data from different sources and witnesses. They don’t have to actually be there to cover the story. But to capture an image of it or to get video of it, well, you have to be there and with a rather high-end camera in hand.

Photojournalists are very rugged individuals to be willing to fly off to the scene of a disaster, to put themselves in danger, all to provide photographic evidence for a story. They often are called upon to cover war scenes, terrible weather, man-made disasters, as well as the good things: school openings, seasonal celebrations, elections, holidays, and the like. Frequently, they do work in regional teams with string photographers submitting their images back to the journal’s headquarters but that still requires having someone there on the ground in a way that few other things do. So, the next time you’re glancing at the photo on the front page of the news paper or you’re looking over the images that illustrate a magazine article, take a moment to remember that for those images to be there, a photographer had to be present and, for photos of disaster and war scenes, willing to put himself in harm’s way just so you could see what he was seeing.

– da Bird


Unplanned Photography

Unplanned Photography

This morning while looking for an image to share on our Facebook page, I came across a photo taken by Rolf Maeder. The photo is quite stunning to look at given that it was taken in one of the most beautiful parts of North America and captures a phenomenon as photogenic as it is potent. However, the story behind the photo is the real star of the show here. It turns out that Maeder and several other photographers had headed out to the Grand Canyon to get some sunset photos of the canyon. I’ve seen several photos like that and they are amazing so it’s understandable that Maeder and his friends were no doubt quite upset when the clouds began to roll in and the sky turned hazy, hiding the brilliant sunset.

However, it is fortunate for us that Maeder and the others didn’t decide to pack it in right then and there. Instead, they hung around a bit long and were lucky enough to see the clouds coalesce into a storm. The storm gathered enough energy to produce some magnificent lightning bolts which Maeder was quick enough to capture with a long-exposure shot.

Quite a beauty, isn’t it?

That got me to thinking about how often some of the best shots we see are those which were completely unplanned or those which happened after the photographer’s plans had been discarded (in this case by the weather being uncooperative). How often do you find yourself looking back over a series of photos you’ve taken only to be amazed at how they turned out despite the subject matter or the lighting not being exactly what you’d hoped? Or, are you the kind of photographer who will not scamper and scramble if your plans have been disrupted? How often do you see photos you capture after hours or weeks of meticulous work and planning versus photos that are beautifully unscripted? Which photos do you tend to prefer in the end? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

– da Bird

Photo by: Rolf Maeder


Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

It’s been another busy week in the world of photography — especially after a long weekend for religious observation. On Wednesday, we had the twelfth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Photojournalists and historians were out capturing the images of the anniversary and many people turned to older photos, photos captured on that day twelve years ago. Beyond that, journalists and photographers have been out in droves capturing the changing of the seasons, the beginning of the school year, and the wars and rumors of war plaguing the Middle East. There have also been many articles filled with advice aimed at the novice astrophotographer since the Leonid meteor shower will be occurring in a few weeks and comet ISON is supposed to show up in early December.

All of these stories and more were featured on our Twitter feed. However, if you are not following us on Twitter then we’ll recap the highlights from this week for you below.


That’s all for this week, folks. Have a great weekend and see you again next week!

– da Bird


Raising the Flag at Ground Zero

Raising the Flag at Ground Zero

This post is a re-run of Photos That Changed History: Raising the Flag at Ground Zero which was posted one year ago.

Today marks the anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York City and in Washington D.C. Several bloggers out there have been posting about their memories of that day and showing photos and newspaper clippings that ran on 9/11/2001. One of the most well known is the photo featured in this post: Raising the Flag at Ground Zero taken by Thomas E. Franklin who works for The Record in New Jersey as a photojournalist. The photo below is one of the more iconic images from September 11, 2001 and was printed out as a limited edition postage stamp in 2002.

This photo was taken during the late afternoon, around 5 PM while Franklin was standing under a pedestrian walkway over the West Side Highway on the northwest corner of the World Trade Center site. He was about 150 yards away from the firefighters as they took the flag and raised it over the rubble that had once been the Twin Towers. The men in the photo are George Johnson and Dan McWilliams from Ladder 157, and Billy Eisengrein of from Rescue 2. The flag itself was taken from the yacht Star of America owned by Shirley Dreifus. The Star of America was docked in the Hudson River near the World Financial Center. McWilliams cut the yardarm from the yacht and took the flag and its pole to an evacuation site on the northwest side of the site. They found a pole and raised the flag over the rubble while search and rescue efforts were still on-going.

In 2007, a statue inspired by this photograph was unveiled at the National Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial Park in Emmitsburg, MD. Named “To Lift A Nation,” the statue depicts three New York firefighters raising a flag over the ruins of the World Trade Center. An earlier attempt to create a statue based on this photograph was quashed over the statue’s revisionist basis, depicting three unknown men instead of the three shown in the photograph.

Since today marks the 12 year anniversary of this attack, we’d like everyone to know that our thoughts are with the survivors of this attack and with the families of those who went to work on a fine September morning and never came home again.

– da Bird


Shooting the Moon

Shooting the Moon

There are several major astronomical events scheduled to happen for the latter part of 2013. From December 10 – 14, the comet ISON will be quite visible in the night sky. There is also the Leonid meteor shower that occurs during the autumn months as well as the chance for some great photography involving Earth’s nearest celestial neighbor: the Moon. Our friends over at Improve Photography have a few tips for the novice night-time photographer to use when trying to capture great images of Earth’s nearest neighbor. We have only a few things we’d like to add to their list.

1) Silhouettes are awesome. If you can capture images of people or objects against the moon, they will generally always look great. You will get major bonus points if you can recreate the famous flying bicycle shot from E.T. (even more points if you do so by actually befriending an extra-terrestrial).

2) If you can make use of the optical illusion of the moon being larger on the horizon, do so. Some of the most interesting photographs are the ones you have to look at for a while to figure out what exactly is going on.

3) If you’re living in an area that is very dry and sandy, you can set up a photo-shoot that makes it look as if you are taking pictures of an alien moon from a moon-like location. With careful photo-editing, you can sometimes make it look like an artist’s rendition of a non-Earth planet.

4) The moon against a spray of stars is always awesome.

5) Sun dogs and moon dogs are things that should be photographed whenever possible. They are really fun to look at.

6) Getting used to shooting the moon can help you advance in your astrophotography so that soon you’ll be capturing images of Jupiter, Mars, and other distant stars and nebulae. Nebulae are great.

Just about any camera can be used to get a start in night-time and night-sky photography. However, a camera that will let you adjust the ISO settings all the way down would be preferable over one that will not. And, if you want to take photos of what you see in your telescope, you may need to look into finding the proper mount to do that. Still, photography isn’t just about what you can get during the daylight hours. The night provides a wonderful chance to see Earth and her neighbors in a much different light.

– da Bird


Spectacular Time Lapse Photo Montage

Spectacular Time Lapse Photo Montage

Due to religious holidays, our offices and warehouses will be closed from 3 pm today until 10 am Monday, September 9. These closures mean that orders that are placed in this time frame will not be processed or shipped until the office and warehouse reopen. We thank you for your patience during this Rosh Hashanah.

Just a few days ago, I saw an image on Facebook that got my curiosity going. It took a while to track it down and find the original photographer but it was worth it. The photo is several years old but the technique used to make it is very interesting.

Eirik Solheim, a man living in Oslo, Norway, set up a DSLR camera in his bedroom window. The camera was left alone for a year, capturing one image every half hour, for the entire year of 2010. By the time 2011 rolled in, Solheim had 16,000 images to choose from. He decided he wanted to make one “master” image using only a single pixel-wide cutting from the other images. Since the resolution of his photos was 3888 × 2592, he selected 3888 images and asked his blog readers and Twitter followers to help him come up with a script that would select the appropriate one pixel slice from the image and place it in a new image so that the resulting image would be a time lapse photo of the year’s passing.

The result is amazing. Oslo has long summers and winters with short springs and autumns. And, even though the photos were taken at the same times of day every day throughout the year, you can see from his collection that there is a very wide range of lighting, weather, and colors at play in Oslo throughout the year.

Solheim’s photographic experiment and its beautiful result required a year of patient work to achieve. What are some of your photographic experiments or experiments you would like to see done and read about? Let us know in the comments below!

– da Bird


Good News for eBook Readers

Good News for eBook Readers

The news has just rolled out that the punishment for price-fixing eBooks between Apple and five of the big publishing houses has been set. If you purchased an eBook between April 1, 2010 and May 1, 2012, you might qualify for a refund of some of the price. Any eBook that was on the New York Times Bestseller list will be refunded $3.06. Non-bestsellers from these five houses will be refunded at $0.73 per eBook.

In case you didn’t know, a few months ago, Apple was found guilty of colluding with HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, and Macmillan to artificially inflate the price of eBooks and force Amazon to adopt the agency model along with the higher prices that Apple wanted set on eBooks. These higher prices frequently made eBooks more expensive than mass-market paperbacks.

So, if you are an avid reader like some people I know and you’ve purchased a lot of eBooks, chances are that soon you’ll be getting some of that money back to spend on other eBooks. And if that doesn’t brighten your Labor Day, then I don’t know what will.

– da Bird