Rethinking Instagram

A couple of my portraits.
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Over the months I have written a few posts about how Instagram is bad for photojournalists and how it really shouldn’t be used. However, that is a very specific viewpoint to write from and I feel like I didn’t give Instagram a fair chance.

My very hipster self.

My very hipster self.

Now, I started using it for real. It started as a joke but I’ve really come to enjoy using it. It started with a party that I got dressed up pretty hipster I must admit. So, the best portrait would have to be Instagrammed. It was funny. But it evolved into more usage and my current idea.

Here is how the actual project began.

I have a good friend who doesn’t use any social media. I decided it would be funny to Instagram a photo of him a day and post it on Facebook. All of our friends love it and I find it really enjoyable. Though one complaint is that some filters can really just kill an image.

Here is the first image from the series:

Isaac Ford adventures through the snow.

Isaac Ford adventures through the snow.

Check back to see more! Or follow me on Instagram, Twitter, etc… @shawncsteiner

I’ve realized Instagram isn’t a great image creation tool. But, for social interactions through photographs, it is a good way to entertain your friends.

Making room for others

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Frankly, the original purpose of this posting was to show off a new photograph of myself. I rarely have nice photos for myself besides those random cell phone photos with my friends. So this is a very nice change of pace.

Here is the photo taken of me.

Shawn Steiner, Photo Editor
Emily Fuller/The Ithacan

That was taken by a one Emily Fuller, design editor of The Ithacan. This was simply after a short training session in the lighting studio. The date of this photo shoot and the nature of how the photos were not taken by me has led to a great change in my approach to the job. After a good bit of time I’ve done a lot that I have wanted to and I feel that for my own personal projects I need to take a step down and let others take over.

I am taking a step down at the end of this semester as Photo Editor of The Ithacan. It was a tough decision but a necessary one. I have made significant changes to the newspaper’s photo section that I am proud of and now I get a chance to relax… mostly.

This is actually resulting in more of a move to multimedia. I find it an area where I can make another huge impact and hopefully leave a large mark. It also allows me to stay a part of something that I love and be there for those who still like my presence. I will have an outlet for my ambition, but I will also hopefully be able to sleep.

The right place

The Ink Shop
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The Ink Shop

The Ink Shop doubles as a workshop and a gallery on East State Street in downtown Ithaca.
Shawn Steiner/The Ithacan

So, after my recent Instagram post I’m going to start this with a little clarification. I am not opposed to cell phone photography, I simply find that utilizing it in some ways is unnecessary. But, I believe in the right tool for the job and there are instances where an iPhone happens to be it. Onto the rest of the post.

A couple issues ago I was shooting for a story on a local screen printing business called The Ink Shop. On that shoot the designer and I felt that a wide shot of the entire workspace would be fitting top art. Well, being a Tuesday afternoon with less than a day to work meant speed was paramount. First, I took a series of shots with my SLR and prepared for a process of stitching a panorama together. But, then I realized the new feature iOS6 granted to iPhone users, panoramas.

I pulled out my phone and quickly moved across the scene. A bit of editing in the office led to a usable top image for a front story. Best tool for the job.

Members of the Ithaca Police Department and Fire Department stand outside The Commons at the intersection of South Aurora Street and East State Street. The Commons was evacuated Thursday, Oct. 11 due to a suspicious package.
Shawn Steiner/The Ithacan

This was then followed last Thursday with an odd shoot. Driving back to campus with a fellow editor we saw a swarm of emergency vehicles downtown. I pulled out my phone and took a couple shots as we drove by.

Once we were back on campus the phone calls began. We needed to get a photographer downtown for an investigation into a suspicious package. Fortunately, I already had a photo and we were able to put a story with art up online very quickly. The photograph and story even got picked up by a news station in Syracuse.

Cell phone photography is an incredible advancement in photo technology. We have a high quality camera in our pockets at all times. Use it when the need is there or the aesthetic is desired and serves a purpose. It is something to be utilized.

Vimeo adds monetization via “Tip Jar”

Vimeo Tip Jar
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Vimeo Tip Jar

For years artists had to rely on the earnings they could get by performing or selling their art on the street. In each case it was a hat or jar that held the pennies, nickels and occasional dollar bill. Nowadays, things like YouTube videos can earn a couple bucks as the views add up. But, YouTube was never really friendly to the independent filmmakers nor does it really support a moderated community of media creators. These starving artists struggled through, gaining fame on Vimeo and maybe getting the occasional deal. This is why Vimeo Creator Services is such a big deal.

The Tip Jar is a new way of allowing content creators to earn a living. The major difference between Vimeo’s approach and YouTube’s is that Vimeo doesn’t rely on strictly a view count. Tipping is a process that allows viewers to donate money to support the creator, as much or as little as they would like. It is now possible to earn some cash through our work.

In the past, artists had to rely on their free time to produce content or to work on their ideas. And now this recent democratization of the industry has allowed even more people to join in the movement. This means that people can begin to focus more on their work because they may be able to pay bills with it. In order to actually be able to be focused, it is necessary that one find a way to survive.

Community is still the main idea to this new Vimeo feature. People like things and people are willing to support those who produce enjoyable content. Fellow creators understand the struggles of those around them and this community is how we need friends to assist in the production. The Tip Jar opens up that community to help in yet another way.

Here is the video Vimeo produced for the service: Introducing Vimeo Tip Jar and more Creator Services from Vimeo Staff on Vimeo.

Also, see my original post as part of The Ithacan’s In Focus blog here.

The fear of digital noise

Ithaca College senior Erik Caron, center, belts out “Devil’s Coming” and plays guitar for the Erik Caron Connection alongside bassist sophomore Gabe Lefferts, left, and drummer Alex Cano ’12, right.
This photograph was taken at ISO 25600, f/2.8 and 1/125 second at 20mm.
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Ithaca College senior Erik Caron, center, belts out “Devil’s Coming” and plays guitar for the Erik Caron Connection alongside bassist sophomore Gabe Lefferts, left, and drummer Alex Cano ’12, right.
This photograph was taken at ISO 25600, f/2.8 and 1/125 second at 20mm.

Noise was never a good thing. But, everyone still seems to want to emulate the grain of film.

Pushing film two stops so that you can get a usable image was more important than the amount of grain that you may see. It was the norm to have to deal with grain. Now that we have moved to digital sensors it seems that we are afraid to see anything besides a perfectly clean image on the camera’s LCD screen. The immediacy of digital has let us know how we can change things to “fix” the image in camera, and see when we take unusable photos.

Why should we be afraid to push the boundaries of our cameras technology?

I support the ability of modern day cameras to reach these absurd ISOs. Years ago I never would have imagined being able to shoot outside at night and have a perfectly exposed image. Independent filmmaking would also still require a lot of startup money. Now, we can shoot for bare minimum and produce something of quality.

In the realm of photojournalism it means we can go new places with less equipment and get the shots we need. The other day I was shooting at ISO 25600 in a pub late at night. I took photos. That is awesome. No flash, no unnecessary lights, just capturing the mood as it was set up for the show.

At first glance I have heard shock at the ISO speeds I was shooting at. But then when I have shot video on the same SLR I have heard that it is too clean and sharp. Where are we going to finally accept the world of digital and accept it on its own, without thinking about it in the context of celluloid.

Many companies are even trying to produce the ability to add grain to digital footage.As much as I appreciate the nostalgia for film, I respect the advancement is technology that allows our industry to advance to incredible heights. Accept the look of noise and forget the look of grain. It is a part of the digital image making process and we should see it as such.

Moving back to black and white

Junior Jeff Chilton plays trombone with Samuel B. Lupowitz and The Ego Band during their record release show Saturday at The Nines.
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Junior Jeff Chilton plays trombone with Samuel B. Lupowitz and The Ego Band during their record release show Saturday at The Nines.

RED Digital Cinema recently announced a monochrome version of their EPIC camera. Surprised?

Monochrome cameras seem to be a new trend with high-end camera manufacturers. Leica released their own M Monochrom weeks ago and while not much has really been heard about these cameras they seem to be doing well. A huge part is the price tag of these cameras. Still out of reach for most consumers.

What is their purpose?

Technically, these cameras offer significantly improved performance in areas like resolution, dynamic range and sensitivity. The removal of the debayering process found with color digital imaging means that every pixel of the sensor records raw luminance data. This means that it is a true image without processing and manipulation by the sensor to create a color image.

If you look at my sample image above it shows how simply converting an image at a high ISO can seemingly improve the look of a previously unusable image. And it shows just how far imaging technology has come.

It will be interesting to see how these cameras begin to take off. RED is boasting that David Fincher’s new film is being shot entirely on their new monochrome camera. So hopefully we will see some clips soon.

On a different level, this is the more obvious side to the current trend in digital camera development to create better images as opposed to simply add more resolution (although I’m sure RED would say that they can do both). It shows that companies are no longer just bumping the resolution.

For example, the recently released Canon 5D MKIII features an increase of only one megapixel. However, it features significantly better low-light abilities along with more dynamic range than previous iterations.

I’m glad to see this shift from a numbers game to a question of quality. I think that 20 megapixels is plenty, if we really want to replace film we need more than simply super large image files.

Instagram and its issues for the photojournalist

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You may have read about Ben Lowy. He’s an award winning photojournalist. However, that is not what makes him important. He became famous for his use of the Hipstamatic app while shooting images on his iPhone. Should we really allow this type of photography in a journalistic manner?

I will concede the earlier point by Rachel Woolf that Instagram and other apps provide social networking opportunities that are wonderful for the world of photography. But I will say that this type of editing should not be used in journalism. One thing to look at is that Ben Lowy himself even helped developed a “lens” for the Hipstamatic app that was more suited to journalistic work. Why would that be necessary if what he was doing was already ethically okay?

Cell phone photography is an amazing thing for journalism. We can produced technically usable images at a moment’s notice without the need for professional equipment. That is great. We see it has had a huge impact in the world of citizen journalism. The reportage of the Arab Spring revolutions would not have been as well covered or followed if it wasn’t for cell phone and citizen journalism, it even started to be funded by the United Nations.

Let’s take a look at some recent cell phone photos I took.
Above is the same image both Instagrammed, left, and put through standard editing in Photoshop, right. Is it a spectacular image? I wouldn’t say so, but it does work well for our discussion. Especially since it was a situation where professional cameras weren’t permitted and I was forced to use my iPhone.

Here we see Jon Samuels making a phone call in the parking area of the event. That is the very basic first look at the image. Now, if we look at simply the square crop of Instagram we can see some information lost. The main thing I notice is the lighting. In the original image we can see that it is a high placed spotlight set up for the event. In the Instagram photo we can’t tell if it is a light, a car or even the scale of the event. Just from that quick analysis we should be starting to question whether or not this is appropriate for journalistic work.

Next, the color is just off and unrealistically edited. If I were to be editing for a news organization I would feel uncomfortable doing that amount of color manipulation in Photoshop. So why do we allow it be done for us quickly using an app? It seems like just an excuse in lieu of an argument that would be completely unfounded.

I don’t see the point of Instagram beyond a social networking tool for the everyday cell phone photographer. Photojournalism is a field involving skill, thought and ethics, that is what keeps photojournalists relevant, and as such we should analyze these trends with as much diligence as everything else in the field, not just let it slip on through. Evolution of technology is great, but not when it hampers our journalistic integrity.

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera and the democratization of the industry

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Welcome to the thoughts section! I am going to begin sharing my thoughts and ideas on local happenings, industry information and other thoughts on cinema and photography. These are my own opinions and should be taken as such, so I hope you appreciate them. Now onto the first post!

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Recently released were samples of RAW video files from the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. This is great because now we can actually see how the camera performs before we drop the $3,000 on it. The top image is the ungraded RAW image simply exported as a jpeg for this blog. In my opinion it looks really nice, which is a great start.

Shot 1: Ungraded, ISO 800, 24 FPS, 172.8 degree shutter, 5600k, 35mm @ T2.1 w/ Zeiss Compact Prime

Why is this camera important?
Democratization of the industry.

You may remember a couple years ago when the first DSLRs with video were being released and in a week the dreamy “film look” was found in videos all the way down to the prosumer level. This revolutionized the film industry. Independent filmmakers were able to produce films of movie theater quality.

Like Crazy was one of those films. It was shot on an $1,800 camera with a small budget and ended up winning the Grand Jury Prize and the Sundance Film Festival. This camera takes the idea of good quality video in an inexpensive kit to a new level. For only $3,000 you have the image quality of a $60k camera rig. So how did the images do? Check them out yourself! They are available for download on the Blackmagic website and can be edited in many different pieces of software.

Below is my test image. I timed myself to what I could do to the image in just one minute and see how it looked. And personally, I found the ease of using RAW cinema files from an affordable camera incredibly useful. I’m excited to see what this type of technological development will bring next.

Shot 1: Graded, edited in Adobe Camera RAW and saved as jpeg for web.

Not bad, right?