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How To Reboot, Refresh & Refocus Your Creativity — The Fine Art of the Sabbatical

Photo by Chase Jarvis.

Many of us have …ahem…fantasies about shutting down the laptop and closing up the studio for an extended period to go try something different. Pick up horseback riding. Learn a new language. Fly a plane. We all know our creative souls need it, but making the move is frightening. A couple months ago my writer friend Ben dropped in to share his thoughts on strategic renewal and scheduling breaks throughout the work day. His post about doing more by doing less was a hit with many of you. Well he’s back, and he’s talking about breaks again. Big breaks. Weeks, months, even…um…a year. Read on to find out how a sabbatical may help you keep that love feeling fresh. Take it away, Ben.

Thanks, Chase.

My second love is soccer. I play it, I coach it and I follow it. (And for those of you who didn’t know it, Chase went to college on a soccer scholarship and loves the game too…) As a US citizen, I am a passionate supporter of the US National Team, which is currently in the middle of qualifications for the 2014 World Cup. Anyone who gives a damn about US soccer will know the name Landon Donovan. Easily one of our nation’s best players ever, Landon announced last December that he was taking a 4-month break from the sport following the title-winning Championship match for his MLS club team, the LA Galaxy.

In the middle of World Cup Qualifiers and at the top of his game, our nation’s best player decides to take a sabbatical. “What the F?” said half the US soccer nation, instantly polarized. On the one side were the haters who called the act the epitome of selfishness and narcism. On the other, less-populated side were those who got it. Dude needed a break. He’s burnt out. He’s been the poster boy of the entire sport in the States for as long as he’s been representing the country on the field. Let him surf. Or snorkel. Or learn tennis. Or whatever it is he needs to do.

I thought about this for another hot minute. My Father is a professor at a University. I learned the meaning of the word “passion” by watching him devote his life to his students and to his discipline. But I don’t remember anyone calling him “passionless” for taking a sabbatical. So given Donovan’s moves, learning from my Dad, and some conversation with Chase, I’ve asked the “when do you know you need a break?” question. This is not the definitive list, but it’s a start to some answers:

_All your work starts to look the same
_You dread getting out of bed in the morning [not just once in a while, but routinely]
_You haven’t had an original, “eureka”-moment idea in weeks
_You spend a good portion of your waking day fantasizing about travel, learning a new skill or craft, or marking a bucket list item off the list
_You truthfully answer “nothing much” to the frequently-asked question “what have you been up to lately?”
_You feel like your passion for something is waning
_The things in your routine that used to be easy and fun seem hard and annoying

But don’t feel like you’re alone in these feelings or “getting soft”. History is full of amazing creatives who take time off… Up high on the list are:

Daniel Day-Lewis. Master of the Sabbatical. Photo from Wikipedia.

Daniel Day-Lewis — arguable the greatest actor of our time — routinely takes breaks for as long as 5 years between his [award-winning] roles. In fact, it’s been rumored that he is planning another 5 year break to focus on family and learning “rural skills” like stonemasonry. Director Terrence Malick famously took a 20-year sabbatical between the critically-acclaimed “Badlands” (1978) and the thought-provoking “Thin Red Line” (1998).

Alternatively, check out this TED talk below by renowned NYC designer Stefan Sagmeister, who closes his studio doors once every seven years to take a full year extended break from work.

And then there are some companies that support this…. Greeting card giant Hallmark — which employs a staff of over 700 writers, illustrators and designers — owns a 180,000 square foot “innovation facility” where staff can pursue myriad artistic endeavors, from stitching and woodworking to ceramics and leather tooling. Hallmark’s renewal program sends employees to the innovation facility for up to four months at a time to learn a new skill or craft and get a much needed break from the computer screen. The company also owns a farmhouse retreat on 172 acres, which it uses for similar employee getaway purposes. This sort of forced creative renewal keeps workers inspired and prevents burn-out and creative drought.

Not all employers are as cool as Hallmark. And we’re not all university professors who get a year off every 7. Some of you are wondering how you can afford to take extended time off from your work. If you are currently ‘stuck’ in a corporate job and looking for a way to take a strategic job pause without losing your job, take a look at YourSabbatical.com. The company helps employees put together convincing proposals to negotiate a career break with the bosses. If you’re short on ideas for ways to spend your sabbatical, the site put together a top 100 list. Some of the gems include:

_Circuit Iceland by car
_Tackle Kilimanjaro [Chase would attest to this being a having climbed Kili in January]
_Travel without an itinerary
_Trap and track puma in Argentina’s pampas grass
_Raft the Zambezi with your dad
…and you get the picture…

The company draws an important distinction between a vacation and a sabbatical. The former, for example, is often not goal-oriented and pays little mind to enhancing one’s life or career. The sabbatical, on the other hand, is designed to restore creative juices, enable the attainment of personal goals and achieve greater career success.

It’s a daunting step to take. Unknowns and what-ifs abound. Great security probably lays with the status quo. But status quo is creeping death to the creative. So take a moment and ask yourself if you’re creative side would benefit from a planned sabbatical. Then start planning.

Kickstarter of the Week – The Glamour & The Squalor

Before the Internet made sourcing new music and rising bands a simple matter of keystrokes, bookmarks and RSS feeds, there was the radio DJ. Those with an insatiable thirst for the fresh and undiscovered relied on the savvy DJ with the right connections to feed us a steady diet of the up and coming, the unsigned, the ones-to-keep-an-eye-on.

For the unsigned and undiscovered, it was said DJ who provided the air time, created the buzz and could ultimately set the stage for stardom. Or at least greater notoriety.

One DJ who epitomized this role was Seattle’s Marco Collins, a local legend whose work on 107.7 The End helped propel the careers of notables like Weezer, Beck, Deathcab for Cutie and The Prodigy. And that’s just using the fingers on one hand. As Chris Ballew of Presidents of the United States of America puts it: “He was the on/off switch for your potential career.”

Such is the story behind Marco’s rise (he’s in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a DJ) and fall (battles with addiction) that Seattle-based director/producer Mark Evans & his team have set out to create a documentary on the man, which they’re calling The Glamour & The Squalor. They’ve interviewed 32 people for the film but need a little help rounding out the interviews and editing down the footage and archival material.

Marco’s story deserves to be told. He turned his passion for new music into a career and he battled some seriously determined demons along the way. And he’s still standing.

Check out the Kickstarter video for The Glamour & The Squalor above. If you are keen to help see this project through to the end, donate here.

Marco Collins, still hard at work. With Allen Stone. Photo by Michael Profitt Photography.

Moving The Camera Pays Big: New Gyro Game-Changer used by Teton Gravity Research [interview + video]

Teton Gravity Research Aerial Reel – The Bay Area in 4K from Teton Gravity Research on Vimeo.

Fancy gimbals are the rage these days and I love ‘em all. Not withstanding some homies of mine from my action sports days, Teton Gravity Research, recently announced a partnership with Gyro Stabilized-Systems and launched the GSS C520, a game-changing 4K camera platform that makes that footy that you and I shoot look like sh*t in comparison. Having worked with these cats a bunch (see here – that’s me hanging out of the heli with Todd…) and having seen a sneak peek of the Bay Area aerial footage video above, I wanted to know more. So I sat down with TGR founder Todd Jones to get the scoop and see the new work behind this aerial gimbal game changer.

I know the details of course, but share with the readers your production company Teton Gravity Research.
The short version is… TGR is an action sports brand founded in 1996. We specialize in media creation and distribution. The core components of our company are films, television, commercials, film tours, and our digital platform, www.tetongravity.com.

From a creative standpoint what does this crazy cool GSSC520 do for you as a filmmaker?
From a creative standpoint the GSS allows us to capture the highest quality footage we possibly can. In the past, when working with 16mm film and DSLR’s, we had amazing tools, but they had their limitations as well. Our push now is to use the same tools and cameras that the most high profile films in the world are shot on. We believe that the ultra hd/4k movement is here and is necessary to provide a certain level of quality delivery to the audience. I never bought into the HD cameras and distribution space. It just was not equivalent to film. I was always impressed with the cineflex footage for its stability, but it also had the HD video edge too it. The C520 allows us to get those super stabilized motion shots at true cinema resolution. We have already been getting calls from some big feature films that are interested in using it on their films. It is pretty cool to think that Hollywood is now calling us to help them create their films with our camera systems. After all, 18 years ago we were just a couple of kids who wanted to make a ski and snowboard film from our point of view.

Break it down for me and the people…what’s the difference between this camera gyro and what you’ve used in the past?
This system is the first 4k resolution system of its kind. It has the most highly sophisticated stabilization technology that has ever been released. There are so many creative ways to use this system. We film highly visual action in stunning locations. To be able to have this camera in those scenarios is a dream.

Yeah, but why is this a game changer?
I think I was touching on it above, but it is the camera system of the future. We also have the ability to put the newest cameras in the world in it. We are currently working on putting the Sony F55 in it and will follow with the new 4k Phantom. The fact that we can rapidly integrate the newest cameras in the world into this system is huge.

Give us a glimpse into the future… Does this technology point to more/new things to come?
I think it does. For one thing it points to the Ultra HD/4k movement. That is coming at us fast. If you’re going to rent helicopters and shoot aerials you might as well shoot them in cinema resolution if you can afford it.

Ok, handwaving and high-fiving is nice, but give me a specific example of where this camera creates an advantage for you…
On the above point, any footage shot with our system will be relevant as the Ultra HD movement takes over. We are already in a situation where the 16mm film we shot for years has very little stock value beyond historical pieces or the TGR brand story. It will need to be presented as archival footage in those scenarios. We can’t even put some of those super epic shots on reels anymore. I am really psyched that the stuff we have been shooting is more future proofed – at least for the next iteration of technology.

I know the answer on this one, but for the benefit of those who might now, what makes you and the TGR team so uniquely qualified to create with this tool? Hollywood here we come?
We have been filming aerials for 18 years. We have worked with limited resources up until now and made them work. Shooting with this system is crazy. The quality of shots is like nothing we have ever captured and it opens doors for us. I just spent the last three weeks working with it in Alaska and it is our best footage to date. We can’t wait to show it to the world.

And we can’t wait to see it. Thanks Todd.



A Good Interview. Photography + Entrepreneur Stuff [ Tearing Down Walls - A Podcast with Jenni Hogan]

I had the distinct pleasure of being a guest on Jenni Hogan’s “Next Big Thing” podcast a couple weeks ago to talk a bit about my life path(s), pivot points and the way that creativeLIVE is systematically re-shaping access to the best education.

For those who don’t know Jenni, she’s a super smart, sharp journalist who has a passion for connecting with like-minded people who impact, inspire and inform. Equally at home in the worlds of tech, media and fashion, Jenni pressed me on my origins as a creative, from my early pivots away from school and PhD’s in philosophy of art to my career as a photographer and entrepreneur.

In these days of media sound bites, those of us who are lucky enough to get a stage rarely get to give lengthy accounts of our experiences. This is a more lengthy account.

What we discuss:
-beginning as a photographer
-how “making it” is really not “making it” at all – just another chapter
-my #1 iTunes app from 2009 (Wired, Macworld, NYT top app) Best Camera – and what I learned
-how creativeLIVE came to be
-how creativity is the new literacy and cL is a big part of that future.

Big thanks to Jenni for having me on the show. Here is the complete podcast, below:

The Results Are In! Photo Contest Winners Announced for the ThinkTank Giveaway

Thanks everyone for the overwhelming response and involvement in our Street Photography contest. We had a blast looking through the thousands of entries and have finally managed to wittle them down to our three favorites….plus five honorable mentions that we felt compelled to shine a spotlight on. Take a look!
[Winners - congrats! We will be in touch with you about your ThinkTank prizes.]

The Winners

Wojtek Lesiak

This photo embodies the spirit of street photography. Out in the world, traveling, fun and spontaneous. What makes it good is that the photographer saw something that no one else did. There are great parallels in the frame. Out of more than 2,000 photos this one caught me off guard and made me laugh aloud. The photo looked back at me.

;

Jeremy Givens


The photographer merged fashion and street for this photo. Breaking down the barriers between two genres in a “candid-posed” moment. Genre-bending. I love the reaction of the lady looking back while everyone else is trying to ignore the model.

Adrian Woźniak

The photographer saw an opportunity for a unique moment – one that would be very easy to overlook. The expression is gritty and raw. I couldn’t figure out where the man is even standing!? I like the shallow depth of field with the tack sharp face – it’s a really impressive technical photo while still achieving some mystery and wonder.

Honorable Mentions:

Steve Stanger

;

Anthony Delao

;

Dave Sundstrom

;

Dave Butterworth

;

Chris Johnston

;

F*&$ the SATs – “I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate” [A Public Service Announcement]

Creativity is the new literacy, and I’ve got an anthem brewing over here… But what fires me up is that I’m not alone. So many of us are feeling this anthem right now. Times are changing. The old methods of memorization and rigid exams for a diverse student body is not working for today’s world. Those times were for the factory. But what now? The average US college student graduates with about $27,000 in debt. For what? Students in the arts graduate with the highest level of debt. For what? Student debt now outpaces credit card debt. For what?

The good news is, for those of us who came up through the traditional education system and always felt there was something off with that path, we are rapidly approaching a new era of freedom (wisdom) to learn about what excites you first…not “later” after you’ve been chewed up and spit out by the system.

Our attitudes around education and learning need to shift. It won’t happen overnight, but I applaud this spoken word piece.

suli breaks education

So You Want to Be a Commercial Photographer? Here’s How… [Joey L on creativeLIVE]

Update: It’s official now, I’m dropping in as a guest on JoeyL’s show TODAY at 10:45 Seattle Time (1:45 NYC; 18:45 London). Join us – ask questions. I just was sent over the topics he’s going to grill me on and I haven’t given an interview this in-depth about commercial photography in more than a year. Tune in HERE to watch…

Occasionally I hand pick certain people that I’d like to see on creativeLIVE. Joey L is one of those people — and starting NOW, AND for the next 3 days, he’s going to be sharing everything he can muster about his approach to commercial portrait photography and personal projects. Specifically he will be walking photographs from concept, thru lighting, posing, shooting and post production…and doing it all LIVE (so you can ask questions) and FREE.

Why did I choose JoeyL?
Here’s 3 reasons you should watch:
1. Few photographers today know how to make the pictures they see in their mind. But Joey can do this as well or better than any long standing pro – he turns his vision into reality. In truth this is one of the hardest things for people trying to “make it” as a photographer, and Joey shows you how.

2. Professional photography is more than just capturing the image. This is the simple secret that few people know. It’s about 3 distinct steps… planning for the picture, taking the picture and then making it come to life in post production. In this course, Joey walks you thru all 3 steps with flair.

3. Combination of hard work and technical execution. Most photographers I see in the world have one of these keys, but not both. You can’t succeed with just hustle and yet having shitty technique. And you can’t succeed by being a genius technician without any hustle. JoeyL exudes both of these, and you’ll be able to learn the balance of these in action by watching him.

So check it out. (I’ll be roaming around off set for 2 of the 3 days, maybe even drop in. Hope to see you.)

Resister FREE here to get updates and info about the class each day
Just drop in LIVE here anytime here.

joey L on creativeLIVE

Win $15,000 From Burn Magazine. Emerging Photographers Apply By May 5th.

chasejarvis_burnmagazine

Photo: Matt Lutton/ Pristina, Kosovo


Need a little more change in the pocket (or a lot)? If you’re doing top-notch work, you may be in luck because Burn magazine is giving away $15,000 in grants for three photographers. Called the “Emerging Photographer Fund”, the grants will be awarded in three allotments; one photographer will win $10,000, and two others will get $2,500 a piece.

Initiated by legendary photographer David Alan Harvey in 2008 and awarded by the Magnum Foundation, the site describes the grants as “Designed to support continuation of a photographer’s personal project…[whose]…body of work may be of either a journalistic mission or purely personal artistic imperative. We just want to support committed authored photography of any ilk.”

A maximum of 25 photos may be submitted for a non-refundable submission fee of $25.

Entry deadline is May 5, 2013 at 6pm (EST), and winners will be announced in June 2013. Get on it.

Check out the exact rules and contest description HERE
Or to apply directly for the EPF grant for 2013, click HERE.

Photo Kickstarter o’ the Week — The Supraflux Video Camera Stabilizer with Brake

I’m loving the photo related projects that are popping up on kickstarter these days. I get 4-5 emails per week from people pimping their projects. Some of them suck. Some are fun. Others are downright dope. So, as we usher in a new era of DIY gadgetry and attempt to discover a future slew of products that might help us photogs + directors, I’m going to try to regularly recommend some kickstarters that have a little swagger. This week, I present, the Supraflux Video Camera Stabilizer with Brake.

You might have the eye of an auteur, but without smooth and stable footage your film is going to reek of amateurism.

The folks at Supraflux brought video stabilization to the masses with the geeky-but-effective Picosteady, a hand-held camera stabilizer. Back by customer demand for a heavier-duty stabilizer to accommodate larger cameras, Supraflux’s new Kickstarter campaign, introduces said larger stabilizer with a cool feature that they call the Brake.

The Brake is an electronic locking device that locks one axis of the stabilizer with the touch of the button, allowing for 2 free-floating axes and eliminating the need to touch the stabilizer with the free hand in order to turn the camera. (a problem we’ve noted on the expensive but pretty good Merlin Steadicam that we’ve owned for years.) So this is Supraflux’s solution. Haven’t tried the prototype myself, but they could be onto something.

Check it out here on Kickstarter campaign and donate!

We scored an interview with Nadim Elgarhy (one of the inventors):

CJ: What inspired the SupraFlux? Did you wake up at 3am out of a dream or was it a more iterated process?

Nadim: A few years ago I developed an interest for filmmaking. I quickly realized that it wasn’t that easy to get nice, smooth footage. So, I started exploring stabilization options: tripods with fluid heads, sliders, jibs, and of course, handheld stabilizers. The stabilizer got my interest the most because it doesn’t have the same limitations as the other devices do: it’s not limited to only one type of motion, it’s not limited in range, and it’s quite compact. The only problem is that it is much harder to operate and it’s not as easy to get decent footage with it as it is with other devices.

Last year my brother Karim, and I created a very small stabilizer (The Picosteady) that only works with small cameras, and that is very easy to setup and use. But it has it’s limitations, mainly that it can’t stabilize heavier cameras, like, for example, the very popular Canon 5D2. So, we started working on a bigger stabilizer. One day, while testing one of our prototypes and using our hands to control the direction of the camera, Karim just came up with the idea to have some sort of mechanism to lock the main shaft on-demand. We went through a couple of iterations before settling on the current design.

CJ: What makes the SupraFlux so innovative?
Nadim: The first stabilizer was invented in the 70′s and hasn’t seen any innovation since then. In more than 30 years it has always remained the same concept, and has always been operated with the same technique: using your fingers directly on the post to control the camera’s movement. The problem with that is that it requires a lot of experience to get a good results. What makes the Supraflux Stabilizer so innovative is that you no longer need to touch the post to control the direction. This removes the human-factor error, and it tremendously reduce the experience and skills required to get good footage from the Stabilizer.

CJ: You’ve already eclipsed your goal on Kickstarter – how many units are you hoping to make and when will you ship?
Nadim: We’re very grateful to all the backers so far! People are awesome! We’re hoping to reach 200 backers by the end of the campaign. We’re going to announce some stretch goals (bonuses and extra options that will be made available if we reach certain goals) very soon. We’re planning on having all Supraflux Stabilizers shipped by the end of August 2013.

CJ: Any other ideas up your sleeve you can give us a peek at?
Nadim: We’re working on a few things right now, mainly sliders and jibs. But we don’t want to come up with just another slider, or just another jib. We’re always looking to innovate, making things easier to operate and handle, making things more practical for the end-user, without ever compromising on quality. When we announce our next product, it will be something really cool!

Do Less = Do More. The Art of Being Creative + Productive

I’m a huge fan of the concept of “strategic renewal.” Chasing shiny opportunities, working in a reactive state and dealing with each new email that pops up on your phone is not only exhausting – it’s a way to ensure you get nothing done – and it’s simply not sustainable. “Busy” isn’t success. It’s a lack of priority. I’ve been paying attention to those who have command of their time…systems that bring sanity and purpose to a hectic travel and work schedule. I fly about 150,000 miles a year, at minimum, so keeping myself healthy and productive in the midst of constant movement is essential to being an effective creator. For the first 25 years of my life I resisted “systems” and plans with every fiber in my body because I thought it meant the man was keeping me down. But now, FLEXIBLE routines for exercise, meditation, renewal, creative expression ARE key essential parts to my success. My writer friend Ben has been developing his own system of strategic renewal for years – which is very much in line with my own – and I asked him to share it for our benefit today. Take it away Ben. -Chase

Thanks Chase. I work from home like many of the creatives reading this piece, so right away, we’re in cahoots. While the home office / studio environment is filled with distractions — dirty dishes, laundry, an un-made bed, the un-vacuumed carpet and myriad other 10-minute chores that call out like a siren each and every minute of the telecommuter’s working day, I’d rather create a plan that kept me away from those pesky distractions than be trapped in a soul sucking job, under the soul-sucking glow of fluorescents, surrounded by employees who worked by an unwritten company rule that more is more. Arrive early, leave late. Rinse, wash, repeat. Scratch that. Despite being chained to a chair for 12 hours a day — our peers in those role are NOT more productive than we are. Here’s why.

Chase and I have both recently read an article by Tony Schwarz in the New York Times about a what researches are calling “strategic renewal” and its impact on productivity. According to Schwarz, strategic renewal is vital to staying productive. The concept includes activities like:

daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations…boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.

The theory boils down to the fact that we can’t increase the hours in the day, but we can increase the energy with which we make the most of those hours. Taking short, scheduled breaks throughout the day rejuvenates and restores us physically and mentally, helping us plow through those assignments and to-do lists in a third of the time.

The coolest take away from the article concerns what I now call “work blocks.” In short, after that 90 minutes of work, our bodies and minds need a break. But our 9-5 (or 7-7) work culture demands focus for much, much longer blocks of time, so many of us fight that urge to break by filling up the mug with more coffee, rubbing our eyes and refocusing on the screen.

No more.

Inspired by Schwarz and the studies he cited, I created a Daily Schedule that broke up my day into 90-minute Work Blocks, separated by 30 minute Breaks and, in the middle of my day, a 2-hour lunch. I know some of you just spit your coffee out. But you read that right. I take a 2 hour lunch to get a long run or workout in, eat and read from a book or write a few lines in my journal.

During the 30 minute breaks I read, clean, walk to the post office and complete those little, once distracting tasks that now actually kill two birds with one stone. Sometimes, if I didn’t get enough sleep the night before, I’ll even knock off for a cat nap.

Here’s a snapshot of my day, which I have printed out and laminated so I can use a dry-erase marker for daily tasks and to-dos:

[Download the Daily Schedule PDF.]

I schedule a total of four 90-minute work blocks in my day. Since implementing my Daily Schedule, I find that my productivity is nearly 4x what it was before, especially when I stay disciplined and, most importantly, when I get a full night’s sleep. [Which, for me, is at least 7 1/2 hours.] When you step back from it, I’m essentially “in the office” for 9 hours a day, from 7:30 – 4:30 (I’ll usually keep plugging until 5, out of respect), but by the time I punch out, I’m no wearier that I was when I punched in and I step away from my desk with a the clear conscience of one who has knocked out some serious work. Even better, I find myself going to bed at night genuinely looking forward to work the next day.

Sure, it’s no Timothy Ferriss 4-hour Workweek, but it’s working towards it. And it’s respecting my body’s physiological need for regular breaks, a full-night’s sleep and daily physical activity.

So that’s it in a nutshell. I’d write more, but the dryer buzzer just went off.

[I lied. A final word about the two hour lunch, because it sometimes does feel indulgent. As justification, I leave you with the daily schedule of one of America's most productive men, Benjamin Franklin:]

Photo Geek Alert — The Camera Sensor as Emulsion + Why Your Digital Camera is More Like Film Stock Than You Realize

Geek alert. Although the mentality stems from the last century, the megapixel wars are not over. It is, however, safe to say that those of us familiar with our cameras have started to realize that they are much more than megapixels + dynamic range. There are other factors that we have come to admit are important to consider – case in point, the sensor. Some are noisy, some are big, some are juicy, others are…well… you get my point. These apparent truths prompted a conversation with my friend Sohail and led him to this in-depth post about the comparison of digital sensors and processing systems that go into today’s cameras — all with the emulsion (the photo sensitive side of film) discussion that used to kick around in the era of film. It’s all coming full circle now… Take it away Sohail. -Chase

A few months ago, I made a switch in camera platforms. Comparing images taken with a 5D Mark III and a Nikon D800, I found that there was something about the Nikon image that I really liked, something that went beyond the standard things that can be quantified, like its 36MP resolution, or its 12 stops of dynamic range.

D800 shot on the left, 5D Mark III on the right. Fog-shrouded Bay Area, treated in Color Efex Pro 4. © Sohail Mamdani

D800 shot on the left, 5D Mark III on the right. Fog-shrouded Bay Area, treated in Color Efex Pro 4. © Sohail Mamdani

The atmospheric conditions for the two shots were different, but even accounting for that, the 5D Mark III image was uncomfortably crunchy, with some pretty serious color noise and banding in the shadows. The D800 shot, on the other hand, had amazing tonality, and the noise was mostly luminance noise, smoothly rendered, almost organic, like film grain.

Shadow Comparison. D800 On Left.

Shadow Comparison. D800 On Left.

I’d love to tell you that this was a moment of epiphany. It would be great if I could say something like, “And at that moment, it was as though the heavens themselves had opened up and poured the sweet song of angels down upon my ears and I realized I had found the camera I’d been waiting for all my life.”

Yeah, that didn’t happen. Though I did end up switching to Nikon, for a number of reasons. (Let no debate rage at this point…please).

An idea is born

Comparing the two images — especially the comparison of the Nikon’s luminance noise to film grain — did serve to make me aware of something that I think has been happening for some time now. Though the megapixel wars aren’t over by any means, we have started to look at our DSLRs as more than the sum of their megapixels.

Two of my current favorites when I shoot film.

Two of my current favorites when I shoot film.

I’m old enough to remember the halcyon days of film. Back then, we had vigorous discussions about tabular versus classic grain, T-Max vs Tri-X, why no one should shoot caucasian skin with Ektar 100 and why only masochists shot with color slide film (Chase tells me this was his primary mode). The old darkroom hands swapped developer recipes back and forth, or kept them close to the vest, like preciously guarded state secrets, while the young hands spent hours in the darkroom with pieces of cardboard punched with holes for dodging and burning under the enlarger.

It was with much amusement that I realized the parallels in our comparison of digital sensors and processing systems that go into cameras with the old film hands’ discussions about various emulsions.

Really? What parallels?

Let me break it down for you.

In the old days, every film could be said to have a purpose. Fuji Velvia was the landscape film, with awesome, popping greens. Kodak Tri-X was the photojournalist’s film, a 400 ASA film that you could push to three stops and shoot at ISO 3200. Kodak Portra was, as the name suggests, for portrait films.

We left a lot of that specialization behind when we went to digital – and thank goodness for it. Unlike real emulsions, however, digital emulsions can’t be switched out — unless you’re shooting medium-format or with a Ricoh GXR system — so it made sense to have a more “generalist” chip doing the job. Instead, we resorted to post-processing to recreate the look and feel we wanted, and this is an approach that still yeilds dividends today. The cityscape above was finished in Nik Color Efex Pro 4, for example, and I applied the Kodak Portra 160 effect to it to make it look the way I wanted.

Fog-shrouded Bay Area, treated in Color Efex Pro 4. © Sohail Mamdani

Fog-shrouded Bay Area, treated in Color Efex Pro 4. © Sohail Mamdani

But look around you. In the last couple of years, specialty sensors are, in fact, making an appearance. The Sigma SD–1, with its Foveon sensor, which purports to deliver a file that claims to rival medium-format images, for example. Or the proprietary X-Trans sensor in Fuji’s X-Pro1, with its EXR processor and built-in film effects, which does away with the standard optical low-pass filter and the traditional Bayer array of pixels, with fantastic results. Or the aforementioned D800E, with its ridiculous resolution and dynamic range. Or the most blatant of all specialty sensors – the Leica Monochrom-M with its black-and-white-only sensor.

That piece of silicon in your computer that sits on the film plane is starting to look a lot more like film, isn’t it?

Okay. But why does any of this matter?

Simple. It matters because when you reach for your wallet to buy or rent your next camera, accepting that there are differences in sensors beyond megapixels is going to go at least some way towards helping you pick your next camera.

Let me give you an example. If you’re the kind of shooter who likes HDR photography, then knowing that the D800E has incredibly dynamic range might help you chose that over, say, a Canon 5D Mark III. Or, if you’re nuts about great, popping, luscious colors, you might chose an X-Pro1. Black-and-white enthusiast? That Leica Monochrom might have your name on it.

The realization that the sensors going into digital cameras have their own unique characteristcs, just like the film emulsions of yesteryear, can actually direct your choice of cameras. I’ll happily put up with the X-Pro1’s foibles, for example, to get that awesomely luscious color out of it.

JPEG straight out of the Fuji X-Pro1. © Sohail Mamdani

JPEG straight out of the Fuji X-Pro1. © Sohail Mamdani

Wait a second. I can do that Velvia film look and get those colors in post, can’t I?

In many cases, sure. There are some great programs out there now that can help pull color out of RAW images like never before. And if you have the time, energy, and funds, you should invest in them.

You are, however, going to have a much better starting point if the sensor in your camera gets you that much closer to the look you want to begin with. To go back to images at the beginning of this article, I’m sure that with enough massaging, I could work that color noise out of the Canon image, deal with the banding to a large extent, then apply the film grain of my choice. I tried that, in fact, and like my experience, your results may not meet your expectations. After an hour of work on it, the image from the 5D was still murky in the shadows, and didn’t have the look I wanted.

The Nikon image, on the other hand, took less than ten minutes to get it to where I wanted it.

Conclusion

Unlike the days of film, you don’t need to delve into the minutae of the differences between film grains, the response curve of Portra 160 vs 400, or the tonality of Neopan Acros 100. But if you understand that — and accept — that modern sensors do, like their film analogues, have quirks and capabilities beyond those listed on the camera’s spec sheet, then you’ll be able to make a more informed decision about where you spend your money.

In the end, you’re going to make the image, not your camera. But it helps to have a great starting point.

 

Gear provided by BorrowLenses.com - where still photographers and videographers can rent virtually everything.

12 Tips for Entering the Commercial Photo & Film World [Hint: It's Not What You Think]

chasejarvis_12tipsforbreakingIntoCommercialPhotography
Hi folks, Megan here, long time staff Producer for Chase. We get a ton of email inquiries every day from guys and gals looking to “work their way into the industry” or utilize skills learned while at school. Most inquire about being a photo assistant. And while that’s certainly an option to learn a ton on-set, it’s not the only path you can take to get your feet wet in the business of commercial photography and film. It’s not often discussed, but as valuable as a good photo assistant is to a photographer, a good production assistant can be just as clutch. And it’s a way to ease in the biz without the same level of knowledge as the photo assistant gig, because a production assistant is even more about the hustle.

So I thought I’d have a little fun here and describe to you the Best Production Assistant in the World. This is all hypothetical, but if you think these are all qualities you possess, please, feel free to give your local photographer hero (or heck, even me) a call..

YOU:
…are the 1st person on set
One of my favorite sayings in photography + film industries: If you’re early to the set (or location), you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. And if you’re late, you’re fired. You should be standing around waiting, long before you’re supposed to arrive. You might not get fired the first time you’re not early, but the point is, don’t be late. Ever. Ever. Ever. Trust me, the producer doesn’t care if traffic was bad, or if your dog threw up. Be on time (= early).

…know when to be quiet
We champion the concept that a good idea can come from anywhere, but there’s a time and a place. The best PA knows when to chime in to their peers (almost NEVER directly to the photographer or director with a “creative idea” unless they ask but ALWAYS as a matter of safety – “hey that light is about to fall!”). So you’ve primarily got to know to stay quiet and observe. Getting caught chatting with the crew and making a bunch of noise is a quick way to not get hired again. Don’t be a know it all, but offer solutions to your peer group on set if you have a great idea. Generally speaking, keep your nose down and the work ethic up.

…have a car
And a decent driving record. A big part of being a PA is running errands, which is hard to do efficiently if you’re always waiting for the bus. Public transport is acceptable in NYC, Paris, London, etc, but usually frowned upon in non major-metro areas.

…are able to lift 50 lbs… easily.
There’s a lot of schlepping that goes on. You need to have some decent bicep strength and a healthy back. Be in shape, don’t be a slacker. If you’re not tired after a day of work, you either a) didn’t work hard enough or b) got lucky with a slack job. If b), don’t count on getting too many of those and don’t build your mentality of how in shape you should or shouldn’t be around the b) scenario. Be at least moderately physically fit – it will pay off.

…have no ego
Being a PA is not glamorous. At all. You’ll be asked to do things like take out the trash + clean up spills, all with a smile on your face. But doing so with pleasure and expediently is sure to get noticed and respected. Seriously. And in fact, I’ll add to this category… maybe even the most important thing… Have an amazing attitude. Nobody likes a whiner, a nay-sayer, a negative Nancy. Be a yes-boss, with a smile and some skills. Be positive. Oh, and be polite too. It’s amazing how far that goes.

…have a strong work ethic
You are working your tail off from the moment you walk on set, until you step out the door. The best PA is ready to work as hard and as long as it takes to get the job done. If any other PA or assistant is carrying stuff, cleaning, etc and you’re not, you’re not doing your job. Know when you need to steer clear of certain roles (Gaffer, Grip, etc) especially on union jobs – and know when to help. The more you’re around this stuff, the more you’ll understand the subtleties here.

…have a slight case of OCD
Attention to detail is the name of the game in production. The best PA is super organized and on top of his or her stuff. Always. If you’re a flake or even moderately poorly organized, this will show up quickly. Respect gets doled out if you can take on a project and complete it without being micro managed. On the contrary, no one wants to have to tell you the best way to “get coffee”. So you have to be able to figure it out. Efficiently and effectively.

…anticipate what needs to be done
See that the recycle bin is full? You empty it before being asked. The coffee pot is empty? You brew another pot before another crew member goes to refill his or her cup. Find yourself with nothing to do? Start making the rounds and ask if anyone needs a water. Anticipation shows that you understand what the heck is going on. Which, in turn, is the fastest way to get respect, a raise, a promotion.

…think on your feet
We’re always dealing with real-time problems on-set that need real-time solutions. The best PA is able to go with the flow and help resolve the issues at hand in a timely manner.

…remain calm under pressure
In the immortal words of Jimmy Dugan, “there’s no crying in baseball.” Or on photography sets. Be clear headed. Like Fonzi.

…value presentation
Sometimes there’s a designated Craft Services professional on set, and sometimes it falls on the PA to shop for and put out breakfast, lunch, snacks and bevies. The best PA has a keen eye for presentation, whether it’s food, a pile or cords, a stack of apple boxes, or whatever. Make stuff look nice. (You also hopefully have a sense of style, whether it’s food or design. Understand that setting down a can of Cheese Whiz and a pack of Saltines OR wearing your flip flops to a celebrity shoot is usually no bueno.)

…are resourceful
Perhaps the most useful and prized of all PA attributes, this one will help you out in any and/or all facets of the creative industry. You know who to call, where to go, how to make it happen, or you can figure it out without much oversight. Try to “know people” who can get shiz done – whether it’s a welder or a car wash, the owner of a photo store or the guy behind the rental counter. Make an effort to know people. And know how to do stuff. Lots of stuff. Sure you can make coffee, but can you properly coil cords and cables? Can you paint (as in walls)? Can you parallel park? Can you fix broken stuff? Can you MacGyver your a$$ off? The more stuff you know how to do, the better. BE RESOURCEFUL.

Of course having some experience is preferred in every line of work, but it’s not 100% required when starting out. There’s something to be said for possessing the innate ability to “figure it out.” If you’re eager to please and ready to work your booty off, starting as a PA might be a good entrée to the industry. You’ll certainly get to see the underbelly of the photography + film worlds, which is often a good thing if you’re wondering if this photography thing is a good line of work for you. Gotta see the sausage being made in the basement to know where all that industry flavor comes from…

Everybody’s gotta start somewhere.

Join Me! LIVE in a Google Hangout from Aspen Talking Photography, Music, SXSW and more…. with Robert Scoble & Chris Davenport.

UPDATE: here’s a recording of our chat…above! Thanks to all of you who watched live.
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LIVE today at 9:30 PDT, 10:30 Aspen, 12:30 NYT, 17:30 London right here on the blog or on my YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/chasejarvis.

I’m smack dab in the middle of shooting next year’s campaign for Aspen (last years BTS video here with octocopers and wicked visuals) but had the morning off and managed to wrangle a couple friends for a live Google Hangout to discuss a bunch of questions that have come across my desk in the last week about the Aspen/Snowmass campaign (helicopters and photography), my new favorite music, the democratization of technology and a few other odds and ends that you will find of interest. Joining me is one of the key talent for my Aspen shoot, one of the world’s best skiers, Chris Davenport, the tech guru Robert Scoble (fresh outta SXSW) and the digital maven here in Aspen, David Amirault.

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