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LENSTOPIA Part II – The 5 Top Lenses For Your Nikon Camera

Hopefully you caught this popular post last quarter. And so it continues here with another review of the top lenses – this time of the top Nikon lenses – my preferred weapon of choice when shooting stills. You already know I rarely write about gear since there are entire websites dedicated to that sophistry but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a top request I get from you, so the way I mitigate these divergent forces is by occasionally highlighting the tools that I actually use, lust for or have used extensively in the field…for years. The benefit of this approach is that I shoot almost EVERY camera brand for one thing or another. There is no brand loyalty here – just a loyalty to quality. Nikon for stills. Canon dSLR for video. Hasselblad for high end studio / fashion, GoPro for POV etc etc. So between yours truly, my video guru Erik, and my gear editor/research pal Sohail we’ve logged some real effort here to aggregate our thoughts on these lenses with the hope that you get at least 1 or 2 juicy takeaways. The images are Sohail’s since he is more of a gear “tester” – and wrangling thru millions of images to find one of my fav’s with each lens would kill me. So there you have it. Finally…a “top anything” list always stirs some debate – but that’s welcome and appreciated. Think we’re off by a lens or two? Let us know below – and why.

Oh and as a reminder – this isn’t a list of ‘the 5 lenses everyone should have’. It’s ‘these are the top 5 lenses in the Nikon lineup… Reminder you can rent or buy at very different price point ;)
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So here’s Lenstopia Part II: Nikon.

Nikon 85mm f/1.8G

Nikon 85mm f/1.8G

Nikon 85mm f/1.8G

Nikon makes a very nice f/1.4 version of the standard 85mm portrait lens, but for my money (and yours), the smaller, cheaper, and lighter 85mm f/1.8G is where it’s at. Aside from the small difference in aperture, this lens dominates its more expensive counterpart. This is one of the best portrait lens I’ve ever used, and I can’t speak highly enough of it. It boasts 7 diaphragm blades make for a nice, buttery bokeh, and the optics are simply outstanding, providing tack sharp images even when the aperture is wide open. We’ve all got friends who made their start as portrait photographers with this lens and continue using it well after they could have afforded the more expensive 85mm f/1.4.

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Shot with a Nikon D800E and an 85mm f/1.8G lens. © Sohail Mamdani

Shot with a Nikon D800E and an 85mm f/1.8G lens. © Sohail Mamdani

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G Lens

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G Lens

This lens needs no introduction. To say that it’s legendary is to hit it right on the mark. It is a veritable workhorse for me – when I ask for the “wide” from my assistant, he knows to hand me this lens, period. For landscape photographers, it’s always a tasty lens to have.

Another tasty bit that makes this lens remarkable is how incredibly sharp it is, corner-to-corner. Wide-angle lenses –especially those with the bulbous front element that this one has– often lose some of that sharpness in the corners. At 14mm, you’ll definitely see some distortion and there will be some vignetting at that range as well, but both are easily corrected in software. If you use Lightroom, it has a built-in lens profile to correct for those.

Canon users have a serious case of lens envy when it comes to this beauty. There simply isn’t anything out there in this zoom and aperture range that can come close to it in the Canon inventory; in fact, a number of photographers (including Sohail) have stuck this baby onto a Canon body to get the most out of both worlds – especially when shooting video.

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Delta Farm. Shot with the Nikon D800E and 14-24mm f/2.8G lens. © Sohail Mamdani

Delta Farm. Shot with the Nikon D800E and 14-24mm f/2.8G lens. © Sohail Mamdani

Nikon 135mm f/2DC

Nikon 135mm f/2DC

Nikon 135mm f/2DC

Erik, Sohail and I rapped about this and two things came up. One: this is the sharpest portrait lens out there. It slays. And two: to the best of our recollection, Nikon and Sony are the only manufacturers that make these “Defocus Control” lenses. Simply put, they allow you to control the “look” of the out-of-focus areas (see this article for a good example of what that means), and that gives you an added amount of creative control over that aspect of your images.

#2 is a nice to have. For #1, this lens is the undisputed heavyweight champ of the Nikon line and perhaps the world. The Nikon 135mm f/2.0DC lens has pure rock-solid optics. Another bonus is the metal hood. The design is tops and helps us avoid those pesky (breakable) plastic ones that dominate the market these days. The only detriment to this lens making this list? It’s very hard to find. They are a limited-run lens and often out of stock. Rumor has it that a shipment is on it’s way to Adorama right now. Literally. If you have the means to pick one up you won’t be sorry. For the record, I don’t own this lens, but I wish I did and may get on this next shipment ;)

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Shot with a D800E and a Nikon 135mm f/2

Shot with a D800E and a Nikon 135mm f/2. © Sohail Mamdani

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII

This lens is the workhorse of the Nikon lineup. No lens has spent as much time on Nikon bodies – including mine – as this one, and every single one of my Nikon-shooting buddies swear by the 70-200mm. Version One of this lens was no less of a workhorse, but when the VRII came out around 2009 or 2010, Nikon upped the game considerably. Largely gone were any issues that plagued the version I – the vignetting at certain focal lengths, the slight softness at certain apertures, the chromatic aberration that showed up from time to time. This lens does everything the version I did, and then some. Focusing, btw, is legendary and almost bulletproof.

VR is better as well, giving you up to four stops of vibration reduction. Nikon also added nano-crystal coating to this lens’ elements and the lens is weather-sealed with compatible bodies. The focal length is useful for just about every kind of shooter (Sohail even uses it for landscape, as you can see below), and most wedding and portrait shooters will typically have this one on hand for important shoots.

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Fog-shrouded Bay Area. Shot with the Nikon 70-200 f.2.8 VRII © Sohail Mamdani

Fog-shrouded Bay Area. Shot with the Nikon 70-200 f.2.8 VRII © Sohail Mamdani

Nikon 800mm f/5.6

Nikon 800mm f/5.6ED

Nikon 800mm f/5.6ED

Okay, let’s be clear; this isn’t a lens a lot of folks will be able to afford. It’s sweet if you are loaded and have one laying around to use at will – but confession; I do not own this lens (both you and I can rent it from our pals at BorrowLenses.com, though). But it does belong on this list, and here’s why.

Until recently, Canon’s 800mm f/5.6 lens has been about the longest lens currently in production by one of the big manufacturers. The longest lens on the Nikon side has been the 600mm f/4, which is a rather good bit of kit on its own.

Until recently Nikonians have had to put up with Canonites flaunting their 800mm. Well, Nikonians now have their own cannon (yes, pun intended) to play with, and oh, what a cannon it is! The 800mm f/5.6 is a beauty of a lens, and is certainly the finest super-tele optics I’ve had the pleasure of shooting with and perhaps tops overall. It IS the lens on this list that I have the least experience with, but I can confirm that it focuses every bit as fast as Nikon’s 600mm f/4 does, and faster IMHO than the Canon 800mm f/5.6. The optics are yummy, and you’re more likely to notice atmospheric distortion caused by focusing on objects far away than you are optical distortion – which is a feat of physics.

Again, this is not your everyday lense (or even every month) but when you gotta go long, this is absolutely delicious. While TC’s are not my thing, Sohail says if you throw on the included 1.25x teleconverter (now you’re rockin’ a 1000mm f/7.1 lens) this sucker is so powerful, it’ll give you a slightly uneasy feeling as you point it at distant building. From across the San Francisco Bay, standing on Treasure Island, you can take an image that will let you actually see into the windows of the top floors of the Transamerica Pyramid Building well enough to make out the green glow of an “Exit” sign, some art on the walls, and a doorway. Whoa.

Closeup of the Transamerica Pyramid Building © Sohail Mamdani

100% crop of the image of the Transamerica Pyramid Building © Sohail Mamdani

Creepy? Yeah. Cool as heck? Definitely!

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

That’s it for this edition of Lenstopia. In the next installment, we’ll take on the best lenses Hasselblad has to offer.

LENSTOPIA – The 5 Top Lenses For Your Camera, Part I: Canon

So you just dropped an entire month’s pay on a super nice camera body. Ok. Take a breath. That was a big jump, and we want you making smart moves going forward. Yes, the lens is important. And yes, you can spend 10x what you just spent on a body on good glass. But before you go cashing in that 401k to buy one of each (dear god don’t), soak in the knowledge below. We shoot almost EVERY camera brand for one thing or another. Nikon for stills. Canon dSLR for video. Hasselblad for high end studio / fashion, etc etc. So my video guru Erik, yours truly, and my gear editor pal Sohail decided to put together a little series of blog posts. Over the next weeks we will break down the top lenses from several manufacturers, with an eye on application. If you know what kind of photography you want to do [or are already doing], there’s a great lens or two for you.
—-

“Which lens should I buy?” is a question I get just about as often as “which camera should I buy?”, and in both cases, I respond with the same two words: “It depends.”

Yet despite that rote answer, there are a few standouts from each major manufacturers that can be cited as their “top” lens. We’ve had the (somewhat dubious) privilege of using pretty much all of them, and we’re going to present the five best lenses for each platform we use on a frequent basis. This is a four-part series, and we’ll be publishing them in the following order:

  1. Canon
  2. Nikon
  3. Hasselblad
  4. Mirrorless cameras, including Micro 4/3, Sony E-mount, and Fuji X-mount.
That said, we’re starting today with Canon – our default dSLR video rig but you can consider the below advice for stills too.

Canon

100mm f/2.8L IS Macro

Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro

Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro

This is perhaps my favorite single lens of all time. When the folks over at DPReview did a review of this lens, this was the first sentence of their conclusion:

Just occasionally a lens turns up which delivers such implausibly good results in our studio tests that I have to go back and repeat everything, double checking all settings to make sure I haven’t done something wrong.

This lens really is that good. You start with a hybrid Image Stabilization system that compensates for horizontal and vertical shifts as well as lens direction, then throw in an 9-bladed rounded iris that makes for dope bokeh. Add optics that give you the some of the most razor-sharp images you can imagine, and you have a knockout combination.

And if you’re looking for a good portrait lens at the same time as a solid Macro offering, look no further; the 100 L Macro makes for an tidy portrait lens as well.

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Image from a work in progress series of still lifes. Shot with a 5D Mark III and a 100mm f/2.8L Macro. © Sohail Mamdani

Image from a work in progress series of still lifes. Shot with a 5D Mark III and a 100mm f/2.8L Macro. © Sohail Mamdani

85mm f/1.2L USM

Canon 85mm f/1.2L

Canon 85mm f/1.2L

The “Magic Canonball” [sic] as it’s come to be known, is perhaps one of the most popular portrait lenses, ever. If you’ve got the coin to drop on it, the Canon 85mm f/1.2L has some of the creamiest bokeh we’ve seen. It’s also one of the largest 85mm lenses outside of the Zeiss or Canon Cine versions. That front element even makes the posers look like pros.

Sohail once wrote of this lens, “You could shoot a portrait in front of a dumpster and as long as you shot it at f/1.2 or f/1.4, all you’re going to see is some soft, blurry shapes in the background that give no indication that you’re in that nasty alley behind your local convenience store.” That’s completely true, but be aware of one thing: I’ve often gotten a subject’s eyelashes in perfect focus, while their irises are soft. Be aware.

Then why would you buy an f/1.2 lens? Because, to quote my homie Zack Arias, “The optics in faster lenses are ‘typically’ much better than in the slower lenses. f13 can still yield a better image from a pro fast lens than a slow kit lens. Not all lenses are equal once you get past f8.”

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Canon 24mm f/3.5L TS-E II

Canon 24mm f/3.5 TS-E II

Canon 24mm f/3.5 TS-E II

Tilt-shift lenses are strange ducks, but they are, without a doubt, some of the coolest lenses to play with. I used to shoot action sports with them in the early 2000′s and it would blow the minds of art directors and editors everywhere. Get to know them well and you’ll find yourself using them for all kinds of things you didn’t know you could pull off with them. (But don’t overuse them or you’ll be “that guy/gal”

That said, it’s not the Canon 24mm f/3.5L TS-E II’s tilt-shift functionality that we love this lens for (though have used that extensively). We dig it because it is one of the sharpest 24mm optics that Canon puts out. And that makes it a go-to landscape lens on the Canon platform as well. It’s fun. Even wide-open, the lens is tack-sharp. Close the aperture down a bit and you’ll kill the tiny bit of purple fringing in your stars overhead, and sharpen up that image even more. Then use the shift functionality to ensure against converging lines and viola! You’ve got a killer combo in your hands.

One last thing to keep in mind here – this is a manual-focus lens, as most tilt-shift lenses are. Bad eyesight? Get glasses or pass on this sucker.

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Taken with a 5D Mark II and 24mm f/3.5 TS-E II lens

Taken with a 5D Mark II and 24mm f/3.5 TS-E II lens

Canon 24-70 f/2.8L II

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Mark II

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Mark II

While it was certainly a workhorse, the original Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 was getting long in the tooth, and enjoyed a love-hate relationship with many a photographer. On the one hand, it was the ideal mid-range zoom, had a fast aperture, and was the first lens most photographers, pro and aspiring, bought. On the other hand, it suffered from less-than-stellar optics (compared to the current crop of lenses from Canon) and was notoriously soft in the corners. When Canon announced the new version of the 24-70, the first thing that hit most folks was sticker shock. The lens retailed for a groan-inducing $2300 (street price), far more than its original counterpart. Worse, there was no image stabilization included, despite the high price. Add to that the fact that Tamron had just introduced a 24-70 f/2.8 with Vibration Compensation for about half the price, and the photographic community was ready throw rotten tomatoes at Canon’s money-grubbing tactics.

After the fervor settled down and folks started to realize that the optics on this new lens weren’t “pretty good” they were “Superb, almost flawless -DPreview.” This was born out by even the simplest of tests – shooting an Edmunds resolution chart with the old and new models side-by-side. People began to rave about the build quality, the flare resistance, the quick and accurate focusing, and sure enough, Canon turned what could’ve been a liability into a new legend.

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Canon 600mm f/4 II

Canon 600mm f/4 II

Canon 600mm f/4 II

Got about $13,000 lying around? That’s how much this baby from Canon is going to set you back (though of course, you could rent it for a lot less).

But for those needing a long, fast lens (wildlife photographers, for example), this is about as good as it gets in the Canon lineup. Pair it with a 1Dx and you’ve got what is easily one of the finest long lens combos we’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with. It’s a good 3 lbs lighter than the Mark I version of this lens, which honestly does make a good bit of difference when you’re lugging this down a rough path to get to that perfect vantage point. Moreover, Canon has improved the autofocus speed and accuracy on this lens. On tests with the 1Dx and the 600mm Mark II, Sohail shot about six or seven bursts of between 8 to 17 shots each, and each time, I’d have no more than one shot out of focus. For someone who photographs birds more as an amateur passion, getting this sort of accuracy is nothing short of remarkable.

This is, no doubt, a specialty lens, and requires a few accessories to go with it, such as a sturdy tripod, a gimbal head, and a fast camera at the small end. But get all those in place, and the first time you fill your frame with a swooping bird as it comes in for a landing, or a tiny hummingbird hovering in mid-air, and you’ll find that it’s well worth the cost and hassle.

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Great Egret touchdown. Shot with a 1Dx and a Canon 600mm f/4 II

Great Egret touchdown. Shot with a 1Dx and a Canon 600mm f/4 II

That’s it for this edition of Lenstopia. In the next installment, we’ll take on the best Nikon has to offer.

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

More Than CONTENT, It’s COMMUNITY That’s King [aka How To Cultivate Online Relationships & Stuff That Matters]

You’ve heard the drum beat for a decade – ever since the innernets really started popping… “content is king”. As a content creator (both in front and behind the scenes) this has, of course, always made me feel great about my chances to succeed in cutting through the noise online. Pump out good content and you can make your mark. Welllll, I’ve come to know that this target is a moving one…and that, while content is the most TANGIBLE thing for us creative types to latch on to, I’ve come to revise my position over the past year or so that it’s actually waaaaay more that COMMUNITY that’s king. For one, the purpose of making and sharing content, is really to cultivate COMMUNITY (in this case you’re probably here because we’re all of the creative + photography communities, right?!). Whether it’s to feel good about what you’re making, get critiqued, make a living, expand your understanding, etc. For two, the pure act of making stuff is an amazing gift, but community PLUS content can definitely act as a better lever to drive your life/career/hobby/professional experience forward. In short, there are important things to know that’ll help you understand how to cultivate online relationships that matter.

So that gets me to a conversation I recently had with good friend, Brendan Gahan. As a long time agency strategist and super creative guy, Brendan has crafted (social) media campaigns for some of the biggest brands and media companies in the world including Pepsi, GE, and Virgin, to name a few. In 2012 he was named by Forbes as one of the “30 under 30: Brightest Minds in Marketing’. But that’ not what makes him qualified. Why he qualifies in my book is because he GETS IT.

In the recent past Brendan was also a guest on creativeLIVE with Ryan Holiday where the twitter feed and chat rooms went nuts when he was dropping knowledge bombs. Sooooo, I’ve chatted him up in such a way as to inform, share, bestow wisdom on us here in THIS HERE community that’s been growing for nearly a decade. The guy knows his stuff and he’s been a great resource for me and my work, his no BS approach will help you connect the dots from concept to execution. Take it away, Brendan. -Chase
________

Thanks, Chase.

“Community is king.” What does this mean?

In the times before the interwebs, when you wanted people to know about something you had to go through very clearly established and familiar forms of media:

- NEWSPAPER – RADIO – TELEVISION – PRINT

In a sense, these outlets acted as gatekeepers, and production of content was limited to people who could afford distribution through these channels.

Now communities gather on social platforms that make that sharing and connecting easy, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. Chase understands this better than anyone – he’s built a reputation, business, and prestige based on the marriage of his art as much as the power of his audience.

Maybe you’re a singer and you have a new album.
Maybe you’re a photographer trying to generate customers.
Maybe you’re a theater and you have a new show coming up.

Regardless of what type of creator you are, you’re a marketer – and as such you face many, many challenges. Executing a social media campaign is one of those challenges, and before you draw up plans and start spending your budget, you should understand the lay of the land.

I get asked about social media and youtube marketing constantly. I’ve spent the last eight years working in the space. The framework I’ve outlined is the backbone I’ve applied to hundreds of social campaigns and shared with many of my friends. It’s constantly changing at every level and there’s always more to know.

This article doesn’t dig into the latest tools. This is not a list of 83 Tips. This is about excellent fundamentals and will help you get started on building your own audience regardless of your end goal.

I recently dug up an email that I wrote for a friend, but have since copied and pasted to share with others a dozen times or so whenever anyone else asks me for advice.

A QUICK NOTE BEFORE WE BEGIN:

The info below is helpful, but I’m assuming you’re two steps deep into the basic communication framework. I’m assuming you:

1. Already have a deep understanding of your target consumer, and
2. Know the story you want to tell.

This article addresses the functional steps that will help you get your message or content in front of your target audience. This article does not help you craft that message. If you don’t understand your consumer and the story that will resonate with them, nothing I share below is really going to help you.

So let’s break it out.

SOCIAL MEDIA 101
Where does all this start? You start with the three categories of media that are possible to generate online: Earned, Owned, and Paid. In laymen’s terms these are typically categorized by:

1. Earned Media – Buzz you generate (i.e., bloggers talking about you)
2. Owned Media – Distribution through the channels you operate
3. Paid Media – Ads/awareness you buy

1. EARNED MEDIA
Within the earned media space and engaging online influencers, take a three-step approach:

1) Identify Relevant Targets
2) Establish Incentive (i.e., what the benefit is to them)
3) Engage (i.e., reach out to them via email, phone, etc.)

Identify
If you know your target well you should have a good idea of what they’re already reading online. Use the sites you know as a jumping off point and identify additional, relevant sites with SimilarSites.com (which does exactly what it sounds like – recommends similar sites). Also, when you’re on a site you you’ve deemed relevant, visit the sites in the blogroll – most blogs and sites focused around the same topic help cross-promote one another. Also review who they’re communicating with and following on Twitter lists (I’ve outlined how to do this in the slideshare embedded in this post). If you’re really starting from scratch, you can search for blogs by entering the topics relevant to you using any of these sites:

http://blogsearch.google.com/
http://www.icerocket.com/
http://alltop.com/

Blogs are incredibly powerful, but a platform often overlooked is YouTube and online video creators. YouTube drives massive engagement – oftentimes moreso than blogs, tweets, facebook, etc. Just take a look at the average number of comments on videos – engagement is through the roof. To identify relevant YouTube ‘influencers’ simply search YouTube to see who’s already evangelizing your brand, product, topic. Nine times out of ten, their contact info can be found in the ‘about’ section of their channel. You can also view a directory of creators at vidstatsx.com.

It’s incredibly important to note that you want to focus on relevancy and engagement over reach. A blog with 10,000,000 monthly uniques that is mildly relevant is less valuable and far less likely to interact with you vs one that has 1,000 monthly uniques and covers your topic exclusively.

As you’re researching, you’ll want to collect data on who you’ve identified on an Excel sheet for each influencer, blog, site – entering summaries of their web presence for you to review and consolidate (Tim Ferriss has a great guest post on this process). I typically break this out into five basic sections (but you can tweak to suit your needs).

_Name

_Contact info

_Why they’re relevant

_Relationship (you or someone you know, knows them)

_Average engagement (comments, shares) per post

Once you’ve collected your list I recommend you review it and force yourself to whittle it down to the 5-10 most relevant outlets. This will ensure you’re focused on relevancy; you won’t end up sending a ton of spam, and that you’ve thought through your approach.

Incentive
When you reach out to people you want to answer the questions:

Why should this person share my story?
What value am I bringing them and their readers, viewers, followers?

It’s important to approach them with something that will incentivize them to post – make it easy for them to say yes. Can you offer them an exclusive trial of your product, interviews with the founders, etc.?

What can you do to make it worth their time to check out your product/brand and write about it?

Engage
Bloggers, YouTubers, and digital influencers get pitched constantly and its best to either have a relationship (ie your friends or acquaintances with these thoughtleaders in your space) or if at all possible get an introduction. Form real relationships with people that are of interest to you and the rest will fall in line. That said, I understand that it isn’t always possible to be best buds with everyone. So, when reaching out to people make sure to make it as custom to them as you can. They’re a person – use their name (not the blog’s name) when addressing them, call out articles relevant to them, etc., and don’t sell too hard.

I recommend a tease/intro email that hints at what you’ve got. Then, as soon as possible, escalate to a phone call. This allows you to become a real person and start building a real relationship vs. just being another email in their inbox.

PITCH TEMPLATE

Hi (Name),
I wanted to reach out because (insert brief explanation of what you’re doing – for ex, launching an album). I thought it might be relevant for (Site) because (insert example of similar stories covered by blogger in the past – for ex, they covered a similar artist and the post performed well). Any chance you’d think it would be a good fit?

I’d love to hop on the phone (insert time) if you think its something you’d be interested in (insert reference to incentive – for example, you could potentially provide a sneak peak to the demo before launch). Just let me know!

Best,
(insert name)

Here are some other great articles on how to ‘pitch’ a blogger:

21 Tips on Pitching to Bloggers
Make it a Win-Win Situation
20 Tips for Pitching Bloggers

2. OWNED MEDIA
When managing online communities, ie your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc you can really break things out into two categories:

1. Pro-active communications: e.g., events/initiatives you can plan for, and
2. Reactive communications: Responding to the community or current events, and whatever is happening in real time

Proactive:
On the proactive side you’ll want to create content calendars highlighting relevant holidays, events, product launches, etc., that you want to capitalize on.

Then, you’ll want to plan what you’re going to say. Here’s a great example of a content calendar template you can use.

Reactive:
Obviously it’s difficult to have someone sit in front of their computer all day long to interact with commenters, so I recommend utilizing a community management tool, which allows you to track fan engagement and schedule posts. These are a few I recommend–

Facebook & Twitter:

Hootsuite

Crowdbooster

Bufferapp

YouTube:

Tubular Labs

On the reactive side you’ll want to create guidelines outlining the various do’s and don’ts for how you react to the community (particularly if you delegate some of your community management). To accomplish this you’ll want to create an escalation chart, as well as community guidelines to outline how you respond to people.

NOTE – I highly recommend you invest in a presence on YouTube. As the second largest search engine, YouTube is an incredibly powerful marketing tool and its getting better every day. In my experience, I’ve seen engagement on YouTube to be much higher than most other social media platforms. Check out my post on YouTube Marketing, a one-stop hub/cheat sheet for all things YouTube.

3. PAID MEDIA
If you want to grow your community or distribute content quickly, paid media can be a great option. Across Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, I recommend buying directly through the platform for small scale buys (i.e., less than $5k-10k).

Never use a service that makes bold promises, such as ‘1000 fans for $50’ – those are just bots/fake followers and aren’t going to provide any value.

Each platform has relatively simple self-serve advertising platforms – Twitter and YouTube being easiest (in my opinion) with Facebook’s ad marketplace being a great tool, but potentially cumbersome if you’ve never bought ads online before.

Here are the links to self serve ad dashboards for each platform:
Twitter
Facebook
YouTube

TRACKING
By now you’ve built up some buzz, begun to cultivate and manage your community and you want to understand how things are performing.

It’s easy to get caught up in all the analytics options out there and have difficulty differentiating the signal from the noise. There are a lot of great tools out there and each has their pro’s and con’s. I won’t go into the paid options here (although there are a lot of great ones), instead I recommend starting out some of the great free options out there, including PeopleBrowsr & Topsy.com for Twitter, Facebook Insights on choose. Wildfire’s social monitoring tool is great if you want to do some competitive analysis. For YouTube I recommend using VidIQ’s chrome plug in, and SocialBlade for competitive research.

BUILDING YOUR OWN COMMUNITY
The reality is, the basic stuff is simple — marketers, pundits, ‘gurus’, ninjas, et al tend to overcomplicate this form of communication. That does not mean that it’s easy – it takes a great deal of time and effort. However, with this info you can begin to generate awareness, manage your social media profiles and have a deep understanding of what’s working for you.

So what’s your passion, your goal, the community you want to cultivate and craft you want to promote? When you can effectively master the steps and processes I’ve outlined, you can build your business, gain recognition for your craft, and develop social media campaigns brands pay millions for.

Start at the fundamentals. Where is my audience spending time? How can I provide value to influencers to ensure I’m relevant to them? How do I engage my existing community and where can I amplify my efforts through paid media – then track success? It’s all there.

What is the community you are going to build?

Check out Brendan’s slideshare of this post below:

Visit Brendan’s blog to read more social media and youtube marketing strategies.

10 Best Lessons I’d Teach My Younger Self

My dear friend Lewis Howes recently asked me a damn good question. If you could – what would you tell your younger self? My answer sucked. But he told me HIS answer and I thought his answer was a good one… So good in fact that I wished I’d had learned the lessons much much earlier in life. I tried to write this in my own voice, but since the list and story weren’t mine it wasn’t working…and so I’m stoked to have my good pal Lewis join us here to share some of his wisdom and inspiration. I’ve also peppered my $.02 as a photographer occasionally throughout the post below. In fact, I was recently asked this question in an interview: What’s one thing you’d tell your younger version of yourself? I answered: “Wash your hands.” And then added, “It’s okay to be the thing you want to be in life, and not what everyone else wants you to be.”
But otherwise, Lewis, take it away.

—-
Thanks Chase-man. The following is a true story that I shared on my blog right around my 30th birthday.

It was a warm Fall night outside Caffe Dante, my favorite Gelato spot in New York’s Greenwich Village, when I met her. The Italian waitresses don’t even ask for my order anymore. Shortly after I sit down they bring me my usual. I’ve had gelato all over the world, and to this day nothing compares to this little cafe. I usually go solo. Walk through Washington Square Park, enjoy the energy of NYC, people watch, and get my two scoops of gelato.

This particular time I sat outside at a table next to an older Italian woman and her little French Bull dog. I’m a sucker for dogs (especially cute little Frenchies because they sound like an old man snoring when they’re awake).I struck up a conversation with her because her dog kept licking my leg. We got into the Italian culture, travel, and how her husband is a famous artist who’se been commissioned to build sculptures all over the world. She talked about her grandchildren, and even invited me to see her husbands art gallery in SoHo. It was a pleasant thirty minute conversation. One of “those moments” everyone talks about when you live in NYC. She gave me her number and address to see her gallery, but somehow I lost both of those and forgot her name. One thing I did remember was an answer she gave me to a very specific question I asked.

“I’m about to turn 30 years old, and if you could go back and talk to your 30 year old self what advice would you give?”

She said, without hesitation, “don’t worry so much.”

She continued, “we try to create drama from nothing so often, but the things we think are major issues always pass, and we forget about them usually within a few months at most. Focus on loving more, and not worrying as much.”

Advice is always easier giving than receiving, but this is something that stuck with me, and it inspired me to share some lessons I’ve learned in my first 30 years of life. The post I did on my blog on my birthday had my 30 Lessons I Learned. Ive had some time to distill that list down to the most potent: My top 10 lessons.

1. Invest in yourself
Grant Cardone once told me to spend all of my money on investing in myself. Learn why this is important and why it’s a major focus for me now in this interview.

Movement is important especially when so many sit at a desk for 10+ hours a day. This causes serious aging, illness, and physical pain when you don’t move. CrossFit, playing team handball for the USA national team, and street basketball are my weekly activities. Do something you’ll have fun with and focus on moving every day.

2. Frame your goals
I started writing my goals down and framing the goal as if it already was achieved in my early 20′s. I was amazed when I started reaching these goals by the date I had listed on them. It was a daily visualization exercise, and it almost always works. I believe the things you put your energy towards the most, will most likely come true over everything else. Frame your goals.

cj: I encourage all you creatives out there to make a declaration of creativity and then proceed with the goal-framing.

3. Don’t let others dictate your life
If you don’t want to live a normal life where you go to a job you hate just so you can enjoy your weekends and get two weeks to vacation every year… then don’t do it. It’s as simple as that. Read The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss or other inspirational blogs about creating a lifestyle around a business you want to live. No excuses, just do it already.

cj: after the read, pop back up here and watch Tim Ferriss on chasejarvisLIVE for more inspiration on living a life you love:

4. Focus on relationships
You can accomplish anything with the right relationships both personally and professionally. People don’t care as much about what you know as they do on how much you care about them.

5. Feel your fears and do them anyways
My friend and sports psychologist Dr. Jeff Spencer told me this once and it stuck with me. Elite athletes feel fear just like everyone else, but they channel that fear to fuel their spirit and passion for competition.

cj: here’s a great example of channeling fear into supreme expression and creativity.

6. Eat clean & Sweat daily
I used to eat whatever I wanted and it didn’t matter as much when I worked out 6 hours a day. I still love my gelato from time to time, but I’m all about eating as much organic foods, experimenting with cleanses, and drinking green juice as possible. Focus on what works for you, but educate yourself on what you put in your body.

7. Attract great coaches
I’d be an angry, messed up kid still if I didn’t have amazing coaches and mentors. They knew how to get the most out of me and teach me about letting go of ego, working with a team, sacrifice, and so much more. The world is a better place because of great coaches. Find one for every aspect of your life and ask them to push you to get better every day.

8. Don’t let failure hold you back [Don't worry so much"]
“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed”. -Michael Jordan You have to take the shot to succeed. And trust me, you’re going to miss. A lot. But if you’re afraid of that failure it’s going to hold you back. Take the shot.

cj: we sometimes let failure — and fear of failure — give rise to false barriers. Here’s what happens when you dispense with the barriers and create in the face of possible failure. Also – here’s a talk I just gave about this subject

9. Pay off your debts
Some debt is good for building credit, minimizing risk, and so on, but there are some debts that weigh most people down from truly following their passion and living an amazing life. Pay off the debts that weigh you down as it’s an amazing feeling once you do. Read this book by Ramit Sethi for help on this. (Alternatively, read this guest post by Ramit on Business Essentials for Photographers + Creatives.)

10. Be extremely grateful for what you have
I was a pain in the ass most of my childhood, always mad at the things I didn’t have. Things shifted drastically in my 20′s where I started putting an emphasis in gratitude. Focus on the good you do have, not the things you lack. Drop your attitude and make a gratitude list. It will do wonders.

cj: 100% agree on regularly adding to the gratitude list. Gratitude writing is one of the 5 types of writing that can make photographers more creative.

There you have it.

Well, since I always try to be the dumbest person in the room, I’ve learned to ask the right questions. The right questions ignite innovation, solve problems, create marriages and powerful partnerships, and help us live a better life.

Also, since I learn from everyone — especially my readers, I’d love to hear your answer to my question. It doesn’t matter how old are you, what’s one thing you’d tell your younger version of yourself?

##

Lewis Howes is an author, a former professional athlete (arena football), a current member of the US National Team Handball squad and a self-styled “Lifestyle Entrepreneur.” He also wants you to know that you rock. Seriously. Follow Lewis across these channels:

Website
Twitter
Facebook
Youtube
Instagram

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Why Go Global? The Legacy of Great Local Photography

Alice Wheeler, Courtney Army, 2002. Courtesy the artist and Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle

I feel honored to serve as an honorary Board Member at Seattle’s Photo Center Northwest, a nationally renowned nonprofit community arts center that offers classes, workshops, gallery spaces and exhibitions – with a focus on community access to photography. A long time friend and photography powerhouse, Michelle Dunn Marsh, was recently elected Executive Director and has helped bring together their newest show celebrating my local stomping grounds. I’m excited to introduce Michelle to this community here on the blog, our humble little stage to wax nostalgic and to give you all a taste of what’s behind the curtain at the latest showing. If you’re passing thru Seattle, the PCNW is at 900 12th St. This show is not to miss. If you’re on the other side of the earth – consider spending an hour at your local galley for some inspiration. I’m guessing it would do you right. Happy Friday everyone, and take it away, Michelle.

Thanks, Chase. One month into my tenure as executive director at Photo Center NW, I’ve been contemplating photography and its history here. A college professor once told me that history was the freest of all liberal arts, because “it asks only that you take it for itself.” That sounds so easy! But history, like photography, has many layers and viewpoints. Each time you examine it you may discover something different; and how you perceive it tomorrow can shift depending on time, and the weather, among other cosmic factors.

So. Photography. Northwest. Growing up in Puyallup, my experience of photography started with family albums, progressed to working on the junior high school yearbook where I first entered a darkroom, and culminated with work trade for a portrait photographer in order to share precious “senior pictures” with my friends. My experience of place was slightly more colorful—the Puyallup Valley was at that point still predominantly agricultural, and I hated both the raspberries and the daffodils that were perennial signs of spring, because they meant….a lot of weeding. A lot of work. Now I sometimes immerse my hands in the soil just to remember that. I have few photographs from those years to stimulate my recollections, but recently discovering an Asahel Curtis image from 1935, of a young woman picking berries, was, perhaps, better than a snapshot of my own. She looks elegant. But I know she is also tired. She looks happy (from the berries one consumes throughout the day, I like to imagine). But she was probably also pleased for the small income she derived from this delicate task in the years of the Depression. The facts of this photograph are limited—there is a woman, in a berry field, in Puyallup. The stories I can tell myself and you from those three simple facts could go on for hours. That is the subjective, enthralling power of photography. And the challenge with any single approach to history.

Bob & Ira Spring, a mountaineer rappels, 1950s. Sourced from Washington State Archives.

When your days begin in the shadow of Mount Rainier, you all too quickly settle into the ultimate, succinct phrase to describe Northwest perfection: “the mountain is out.” My challenge in appreciating landscape photography stems from my eager exposure to the occasional view of that peak. I have seen many photographs of Mount Rainier. I know without a doubt that the person making the photograph felt the gut-wrenching beauty and mystery of a momentary encounter in nature, but rarely does the photograph take me to the dizzy heights I feel seeing the mountain myself. Perhaps I place too much expectation on the photograph? But many other subjects, photographed, resonate with me for years, often moreso than the lived moment documented. Landscape as a genre is, for me, harder. And yet once in a while an image will come along (Mary Randlett’s Island Wave is one such photograph) that is undoubtedly a landscape view, and yet achieves in the print the transcendence I find in experiencing nature here firsthand. I was more familiar with Randlett’s portraits, so was truly delighted to absorb her simple, graphic approach to treelines, shadows, and water—essential components of this place.

My education in photography increased exponentially in my years at Bard College, and after, and through that exposure from across the country I continued to learn volumes about the histories and future of this region. Book projects have introduced me to Merce Cunningham, who came from Centralia, WA to Cornish College of the Arts and went on to transform modern dance; to members of the Black Panther Party, whose second chapter was in Seattle, and who left a legacy of free breakfasts and lunches for children, community food banks and health care clinics that still function on Capitol Hill today. A portrait of Morris Graves by Imogen Cunningham took me to the Northwest School of painting, and then to Cunningham herself, who I had only associated with the Bay area zeitgeist of twentieth-century photography. But no, her life and work began here—she picked up her first 4×5 at the University of Washington, and she always found a way to make significant work, regardless of the simultaneous demands of being a wife, a mother, a daughter, an assistant, a friend. Decades later I still struggle with finding time, as she did. And yet I am still compelled by the creative process to keep producing (books of photographs—I leave the hard work of the photographs themselves to others).

Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Makeup), from the Kitchen Table Series, 1990/2010. Courtesy the artist

Like Cunningham, Minor White also found his way from the Northwest to the Bay. He originally left Minnesota to head to Seattle, but ran out of money in Portland, discovered the camera club there, and stayed until his service in WWII. His affection for the region brought him back to workshops in Oregon until the last years of his life. From White’s history in Oregon I stumbled into the present, toward Carrie Mae Weems, who I worked with in New York but who grew up in Portland; Chris Rauschenberg, a pillar of the contemporary Portland scene, and Robert Adams, a sage of my photographic journey, who inspires me to do more for humanity, for the earth, and for photography simply through the quiet determination with which he lives his life. A shared affection for Adams and his work was obvious when I met Eirik Johnson (who, though from Seattle, also logged time in San Francisco—noting a pattern here?). After years away he and his family have returned to the Puget Sound. His Sawdust Mountain project is an authentic exploration of the complexity and beauty of this place. Eirik graduated from University of Washington, also the alma mater of my friend and colleague Isaac Layman. Both were taught by Paul Berger, who in his own studies was inspired by his one-time interaction with Minor White at a lecture in Rochester, NY. We often think of history as the past, but these intersections make it ever-present for me.

Jim Marshall, Jimi Hendrix, Winterland, San Francisco, 1968. Courtesy Jim Marshall Photography LLC

Legendary Bay-area music photographer Jim Marshall came to Seattle in 2010 for an exhibition at EMP that included his photographs of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Janis Joplin, and yes—our very own Jimi Hendrix. Though I knew some of the local legends featured in the exhibit including Alice Wheeler and Charles Peterson, I met Jini Dellacio through that exhibit, and more recently made the acquaintance of Lance Mercer and Dave Belisle, who have had longstanding relationships to Photo Center NW.

David Belisle, R.E.M. Vote For Change Tour, 2004. Courtesy the artist

There is more. Photography and glass. Photography and industry. Photography because it is a modern medium, the language by which we speak today. Always more. But a photograph I will hold in my mind’s eye in the busy days and weeks ahead is Burt Glinn’s Seattle Tubing Society, 1953. We as viewers can sometimes immerse ourselves so completely in a frame that we cease to consider the photographer. I looked at this image many times, taking in the joy, the community, the experience of sun and trees and water (yes, I read those as sun hats, because they would be highly ineffective in the rain. Interpretation again). I laugh when I see this photograph, and laugh again realizing that the photographer must also have been in an inner tube, on the water, to achieve that particular angle. If that image reflects the spirit of the Northwest, then count me in. It’s good to be home.

Many thanks to the one and only Chase Jarvis for offering us an opportunity to share with you some of the photographs on our minds these days at Photo Center NW; most of the images referenced will be on view in our gallery beginning today, September 20, and up for auction at our annual fundraiser October 18. Learn more here.

—Michelle Dunn Marsh

Burt Glinn, Members of the Seattle Tubing Society, Seattle, WA, 1953. Courtesy the estate of Burt Glinn and Magnum Photos

Eirik Johnson, Tola, Lower Hoh River, Washington, 2007. Courtesy the artist and G. Gibson Gallery, Seattle

Mary Randlett, Island Wave, 1990. Courtesy Martin-Zambito Fine Art

Christopher Rauschenberg, Gunderson, 2012. Courtesy the artist and Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Isaac Layman, Hand on Pool Table, 2008. Courtesy the artist and Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Asahel Curtis, Picking raspberries in Puyallup, c. 1935. Sourced from Seattle Municipal Archives

What Sustains Creativity? [Plus a 24-hour Photo Marathon]


My friends at the Photo Center NW are always showcasing new work and ideas that help progress the craft of photography. I’m a huge fan (and an honorary board member) of PCNW and this is a cool event they are putting on that I wanted y’all to know about… and it’s happening THIS WEEK. A 24-hour photo marathon going down on the longest day of the year June 21 (that’s in 3 days). Rafael Soldi from the PCNW explains more and interviews two wildly creative photographers about what sustains their creativity. Take it away Rafael.

Thanks Chase. There is an oft-quoted line, supposedly from Pablo Picasso: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” In two recent lectures hosted at Photo Center NW, we heard from two very different photographers who shared commanding stories about finding their creative force. And sometimes, as we learned, a creative force needs to be defended from external pressures to follow a prescribed route.

What sustains creativity? What are the forces that keep artists creating, and photographers inspired to share their work? We were compelled to learn more about what experiences had shaped the creative work of these two artists: Diana Markosian is a documentary photographer who at age 22 earned the Reuters photo of the year award; Grace Weston is an accomplished artist who creates constructed narrative images in elaborate studio scenes. Their stories of “un-learning” traditional modes of producing artwork, or rejecting values associated with their field demonstrated that creative hurdles are ever-present, and that they can come from personal choices and external forces alike.

As the Photo Center embarks on Long Shot, a 24-hour photo marathon, we share these stories of personal growth, in hopes that other photographers will join us and share their perspective with the world. Long Shot invites hundreds of photographers to participate by photographing anywhere they are in the world on June 21, the longest day of the year.

Tell us more about how you evolved your work beyond what was “expected” from a photographic project to what you really were passionate about?

Grace Weston: It was not a fast transition. I got to a point where my more formal, out in the field, black & white work was no longer fulfilling me. I felt uninspired and had no idea what to do next. Suddenly embarking on studio work turned everything upside down and put me back at square one. I had a lot to learn, and STILL had no idea what I wanted to shoot. I headed into still life, and made some “romantic” looking pieces, which were sort of “in style” at the time. But beauty has never been enough for me in a piece. I wanted to tell something, and found myself drawn to narrative. Magritte inspired my first successful narrative piece. I always loved the narrative found in surrealism, with its nod to dream life and the subconscious. That first piece excited me and I knew I was on the right path.

Diana Markosian: I isolate myself by traveling to some of the most remote corners of the world, immersing myself in a world that is often foreign to me. I stay in these regions for long enough to become almost invisible to my subjects. I try to push myself to find projects, which I can follow through different stages. On a personal level, I try to surround myself by other photographers, artists and people who I admire creatively. This has been the best thing for growth, just always looking for smarter and more creative people to spend time with.

Could you address the kind of “re-education” that you underwent about your process?

Grace Weston: After years of more formal black and white photography in the field I had the opportunity to assist a studio photographer. It was daunting, but also thrilling to start with a “blank canvas” instead of the “treasure hunting” of my previous work in the field.

I didn’t really know if my work would fit in the fine art arena or the commercial arena. I greatly admired the work I saw in Communication Arts Photography Annuals and often I saw no reason why the work (especially the “personal work”) was not considered fine art. I found the rhetoric around the divisions between fine art and commercial work confusing, and unhelpful. I decided to ignore it, and do what I felt drawn to, what felt authentic to me, and see where it fit later.



Do you have advice for photographers who are struggling with the pressures of how to create work that resonates, and that is fulfilling artistically?

Diana Markosian: You have to photograph things you really care about, things that really interest you, not things you feel you ought to do. I don’t believe in waiting for assignments. Most of my work has been self-assigned. If you want to see the world, do it. When rejection happens (which is inevitable), don’t be turned off by it. There are editors out there who will love your work. Your job is to find them. In the end, everything has a purpose. Trust your life and believe in the work you do.
Grace Weston: Forget about the end result while in the creative phase. Please yourself. Do work that satisfies you, and addresses your own questions about the world, life, and expresses your viewpoint. At that point don’t worry about how it will be received, or if it resonates with others. If you are making work that is authentic to who you are, it’s likely it will strike chords with others. The LAST thing you should be doing while in the creative mode is thinking about others’ approval. Later on, you can reflect on what the work is about, where does it fit, who is your target audience. These are two different parts of the brain. The creative, right side of the brain does not need interference from the analytical left side while you are trying to cultivate your own voice.

Join Grace and Diana this summer for the Long Shot photo marathon on June 21. Anyone anywhere can participate, and at least one image from every participant will be exhibited online and at the Photo Center gallery on July 27. This marathon raises funds for our non-profit programs, including lectures and presentations from today’s photographers like Grace and Diana. Registration and participation is free (and so is creativity).

ChaseJarvis_DianaMarkosian

Photo: Diana Markosian

ChaseJarvis_GraceWeston

Photo: Grace Weston

ChaseJarvis_DianaMarkosian

Photo: DianaMarkosian

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Photo: GraceWeston

Camera Geek Alert – Sony RX1 Hands-On Review

Small cameras with big sensors are clearly an important part of the future. From the shockingly affordable cinema cameras from Blackmagic Designs to my beloved Olympus E-M5, it’s clear to see that camera manufacturers are responding to a demand for compact camera systems. Sony is up there toward the front of the “big sensor/small camera” charge and seem to be pushing the technology forward, with last years Cybershot RX100, and now this years Cybershot RX1, which packs a full-frame 35mm sensor into a camera body that could almost fit in your pocket.  

All that goodness comes at a price though. When the camera was first announced, my studio geeked out a little since we often get advanced or first run versions. Such was the case with the RX-1. Being camera nerdy we dug into the thing as soon as it arrived via pals at BorrowLenses

My first comment? “Interesting form factor.”

Erik’s first comment? “I just can’t see myself dropping nearly $3,000 for a fixed-lens camera, no matter what kinda guts it has.”

Norton’s first comment? “Gotta give this a chance since its got 24 MegaPixels, ISO 100-25600, dedicated focus, iris and macro rings, and 5 fps burst mode”

Fair ’nuff. We were heading into an intense month of work and travel ahead, so Erik carted this thing around for a few weeks (Thanks E)… Initially it arrived just in time for our Chase Jarvis LIVE broadcast with Julien Smith and the badass band My Goodness.  During our setup/soundcheck day, between directing duties, we snagged a few of our first shots with the RX1.

James Franco (or Norton. I can't remember) standing in for lighting before the band arrived.

My Goodness

Erik’s Notes. The RX1 feels great in use.  It’s much smaller than I expected it to be, but the sizable lens, with it’s manual focus and aperture controls built-in, give it just the right amount of grip.  The layout of the rest of the controls are great too.  Just about every function I care about has a dedicated button, and I love the exposure compensation dial on the top.  My only problem with the build of the camera is the lack of a viewfinder, which can be purchased separately for a billion dollars.  Quick personal note to camera manufacturers… Stop skimping on built-in viewfinders.  I’d MUCH rather have even a POS viewfinder than the nicest pop-up flash you can make.  The Olympus EM-5 got it right by building the viewfinder into the body and including an add-on flash with the kit.  I use that viewfinder every time I shoot with the camera and I have never once used the flash.  Sorry, back to the RX1…

My thoughts: The fixed 35mm Zeiss Sonnar f/2 lens is pretty dope, though for the price of the camera it would have been nice to seen that lens be able to come off the body.  It’s a tasty beast, but the inability to swap lenses is going to be a big turn off for people. Concession: luckily Sony picked a sweet-spot of a focal length to stick us with.  So while the camera has no zoom, I’ve got legs – the best zoom in the business. So shooting both wide shots and closeups isn’t that big of a problem.

My Goodness

Joel from My Goodness

After the Chase Jarvis LIVE broadcast, we tidied up the studio and packed our camera bags for a commercial shoot in Belize.  Since Erik would be shooting video primarily with a main kit consisted of a couple of Canon 5D mkiii’s with a handful of lenses (ie a handful) any other cameras would pretty much only be used for casual snapshots while we weren’t working.  It would be a perfect setting to test the RX1. Erik’s confession: “I still brought my Olympus E-M5 kit.”  Seemed he just couldn’t fully commit to being stuck with one lens in such a beautiful place.  That plain ol’ 35mm lens just couldn’t keep him covered, and here’s a good example:

Blue Hole Belize

Flying over the Great Blue Hole, E had to time my shots just right to get the composition I wanted.  I was focused on hanging out of the helicopter and directing the pilot, so it was catch and catch can for Erik’s personal photos. His gripe: ”This shot would have been exactly what I wanted if I could have zoomed out just a little bit.

Back to Erik for some more details: When the days calmed down and the mood was more casual, the RX1 became a delight to shoot with. The camera is really small and unobtrusive, yet still totally sweet looking.  It’s a great conversation starter, and you feel like a Rockefeller when the inevitable “so how much does that cost?” question rolls around.

Let’s talk about the leaf shutter, which is built into the lens, thus saving space inside the camera body and aiding the RX1 in retaining its slender girlish figure.  It’s also slightly quieter than a butterfly hiccup, and I hate it.  I’m genuinely curious to know if anyone agrees with me that a quiet shutter is super unsatisfying.  I know this is entirely superficial, but I like my camera to make a little noise when I take the shot.  I wanna feel something mechanical move.  It should be a point of praise for the smooth functionality of the camera, and it must be great for those weirdos who want to discreetly take pictures of strangers, but I can’t get behind it.  I want motor-driving to sound like a motor driving.



My overall reaction (chase):
The image quality is all fine and good.  The above image was shot by Erik at ISO 2500 and still looks pretty clean.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a relatively spendy camera that doesn’t produce a nice image at high ISO’s, so image quality in new cameras isn’t nearly as much of a concern to me – especially since it’s not my “pro” camera.  I’m much more interested these days in the experience of using a camera.  Is the camera fun to shoot with?  The RX1 is pretty cool, but the lack of a built-in viewfinder (ala Erik’s point earlier) made me miss it. Also like E I found myself reaching for my Olympus E-M5 instead of the RX1 on several occasions.  I will say that I am interested to see what the future holds for this camera line and I hope Sony continues to push the compact camera envelope. We all win when that happens, regardless of camera choice.

Erik’s roundup. So is it worth the nearly $3,000 price tag?  For my money, no, but here’s my recommendation; everyone who’s reading this should go buy it.  Create a huge market for compact full-frame cameras and give Sony the motivation to develop an upgraded version of the RX1 with interchangeable lenses.  Now THAT’S something I’d buy.

ISO 1600 - f/2.0 - 1/100 sec

ISO 800 - f/2.8 - 13 second exposure

The Fuji X100s Review: Brutally Simple & Highly Effective (Even If You Didn’t Want to Admit It)

I was onto the rush of mirrorless cameras pretty early – mostly from manufacturers sharing with me what was “coming soon”, but I admit that I didn’t really “get” it, until I started receiving early versions, prototypes and demos from the marketing folks at all your fav manufactures. Only then did I truly understand the punch that these little cameras pack – because they’re good. I loved the concept, but hated the tiny sensors and the poor performance. Well, those days are gone, and now these cameras are really good. I’ve highlighted mirrorless a bunch in the past, but those were just my initial impressions… In this post, I tapped my tech homie Sohail to sound off on a proper camera review for the Fuji X100s. He’s tackled the Nikon D7100 in a past review that received high marks from this community, so we’re gonna keep it rolling. The dominant view is that this camera is pretty hot. So hot in fact it’s a wonder Fuji kept the name X100 name because it’s so amped up from it’s predecessors. You’ll find a better autofocus, improved manual focus, and a number of other upgrades that suggest Fuji is intent on keeping the pace. But alas, I’ll let Sohail take it from here.

Thanks, Chase.

The Fuji X100s has been my main carry-around camera for almost a month now, during which time I’ve used it for a number of shoots, ranging from a test with studio lights to simply pointing it out of my car window and hitting the shutter release. Truth is, it’s brutally simple and highly effective.

During this time, I’ve had the opportunity to put this little thing through its paces, and I’ve come out quite impressed. Fuji has come a very, very long way from the days when it produced cheap point-and-shoot cameras from the consumer crowd. Chase’s pal, photographer and educator Zack Arias sees Fuji gunning for the Leica crown, although that may be a little far reaching. But certainly Fuji are giving them a run for their money at a fraction of the cost.

In the beginning

Fuji’s first attempt at a large-sensor compact was the X100, a camera that received glowing reviews that were punctuated by incessant complaints about the camera’s quirks. Slow autofocus, an almost unusable manual focus system, and other quirks made it a difficult camera to wield. Despite those quirks, it gained a die-hard following of photographers who loved the images coming out of it.

The X100, the camera that started it all for Fuji.

The X100, the camera that started it all for Fuji.

Fuji followed the X100 up with the X-Pro and X-E1, both of which shared some of the quirks of the X100, but have upgraded sensors that, to be perfectly honest, are flat-out amazing. Those sensors did away with the Optical Low-Pass Filter most digital cameras come with these days and they featured a new array of the pixels on the sensor that randomizes the location of the red, green, and blue pixels.

The result is that images are sharper since there’s no low-pass filter in front of the sensor, and moiré is minimized thanks to the random array. Fuji says this arrangement is inspired by the natural random arrangement of the fine grains of silver halide film which is a nice bit of marketing-speak. To their credit, whatever they’ve done to this sensor was definitely cool. When the X-Pro1 was released, it had the best low-light performance of any crop-sensor camera I’d ever seen. That camera had incredibly clean images at ISO 3200, and the noise present at that and at higher ISOs was gorgeous and film-like.

Fast-forward to today

When they came up with the X100s, Fuji basically took the sensor and graphics processor from the X-Pro1, vastly — by an order of magnitude, actually — improved the autofocus, added in a few key features to aid in manual focusing, changed a few other things and put out an update that is far, far more usable and powerful than its predecessor.

The Fuji X100s. Better, Faster, Stronger.

The Fuji X100s. Better, Faster, Stronger.

Where the X100 was a quirky camera that took a number of firmware updates to get to a point where it was reasonably reliable, the X100s was a well-oiled machine right out of the box. The difference between versions is surprisingly vast, and that’s to Fuji’s credit as well.

Appearance and Form Factor

Looked at from a distance, the X100s is almost indistinguishable from its predecessor. It has the same look and feel, right down to its dimpled faux leather wrapping.

Close up, there are a few things that set it apart, and one of those things is a long-requested feature: The “Q” button.

This button is a carryover from the X-Pro1, and pops up a quick menu screen where you can adjust a number of things, from ISO to Dynamic Range, to film emulation choice, and more. X100 users have been pretty envious of this feature, and speaking as one, I’m really glad to have it.

There are other small improvements, too. The button to activate the Auto Focus point selector mode has now been moved from the left of the LCD to the 4-way rocker/scroll wheel, making it easier to shoot one-handed with this camera. Also, the knob to set exposure compensation is a lot stiffer, and therefore harder to move accidentally.

X100 on the left, X100s on the right.

X100 on the left, X100s on the right.

Handling

The X100 takes a very manual/mechanical approach to shooting. Aperture, shutter speed, focus mode, viewfinder mode, and exposure compensation are all adjusted via hardware dials and switches. In this regard, the retro design draws heavily from film rangefinders of the past, and that’s a really, really good thing.

In my hands, the X100s (and this is true for the X100 as well) has the feel of a rangefinder. It’s solidly-built; no squeaks or creaks in the manufacturing are evident. The dials have been somewhat reinforced and are therefore (thankfully) stiffer than those on the X100, and the slightly changed layout of the buttons makes it easier to get to the some of the most important functions one-handed.

The X100s, like its predecessor, is also equipped with a threaded shutter release that takes an old plunger-style release cable. This is both good and bad — good, because those releases are ridiculously cheap, and bad because that precludes using the X100s for time-lapse photography (if anyone knows of electronic cable releases for the X100s, please sound off in the comments).

One slightly major quibble I have is about the location of the screw for tripod plates. Mounting a tripod plate on the X100s still partially blocks the battery and SD card slot door, which is a pain. I have to take the tripod plate off every time I need to dump the card, which is, to say the least, not ideal.

Performance

Autofocus

The one bit of performance information that everyone is looking for with this camera is this: How fast is the autofocus?

The thing that everyone who got the X100 complained about so darn much was the terrible autofocus performance of that camera. Sure, it took great pictures, but only if the autofocus worked. Which it didn’t more often than it did. And forget about achieving focus in dark areas; it would hunt and hunt for several seconds before it would just fail to lock on.

Worse was the fact that manual focus on the X100 was simply unusable. The flat, pancake nature of of the 23mm f/2 lens meant that the focusing right was pretty thin to begin with. Manually focusing that lens would involve spinning that ring through what seemed like an eternity of revolutions before you could get it in the ballpark of your subject.

Subsequent firmware updates improved focusing on the X100 a lot, to where it’s actually usable now. Manual focusing is still a pain, but at least the AF is far better than it was at launch.

So how good is the AF on the X100s? Much, much, much better than the X100’s AF. On par with most mirorless/Compact System Cameras out there, in fact. The only one that I’d confidently say is way better is the Olympus OM-D E-M5’s AF, which is just plain scary-fast.

The X100s' AF had no problems keeping up with dark situations. DNG processed with VSCO Film. © Sohail Mamdani

The X100s' AF had no problems keeping up with dark situations. DNG processed with VSCO Film. © Sohail Mamdani

Even better is the fact that the X100s will achieve focus in some pretty dark conditions. I haven’t yet found a reasonable situation where it wouldn’t lock on at all, though sometimes it does take a second try in some really dark and low-contrast areas.

Manual focusing is a pleasure as well. The X100s includes two focus-assist modes for manual focusing, a “peaking” mode, which outlines areas in focus with a white highlight, as well as a digital “split image” mode, which is reminiscent of the old split-image focusing screens used in film SLRs.

I didn’t spend a lot of time doing manual focus with the X100s, as the AF was dead-on for me almost all the time. In the few minutes I spent in manual focus, I noticed two things: the focus ring has a much shorter throw (i.e., you don’t have to spin it as much) and the focus peaking highlights could be a bit stronger. Sometimes, they’re a hair too subtle.

Image Quality

The X-Trans sensor from the X-Pro1 is an awesome bit of technology, and in combination with the X100s’ gorgeous 23mm f/2 lens, produces some impressive shots with deep detail.

Flesh tones and colors are rendered beautifully, with no nasty color casts or any other such problems. The camera does have a tendency to over-expose images, so I normally shoot with the exposure compensation dialed in at about −1/3 to −2/3rd’s of a stop. This tends to still keep shadow detail while preventing highlights from blowing out.

The camera just kills it when it comes to high-ISO performance. Like the X-Pro1, this thing will give you more-than-usable shots at ISO 6400 (see below). Noise reduction for in-camera JPEGs can be a bit overdone, but the RAW files hold a surprising amount of detail at ISO 6400. I’m confident enough of the X100s’ capability in that regard that my camera is set to Auto ISO with an upper limit of 6400 all the time.

Transamerica Pyramid Building. JPG shot in B&W straight out of camera at ISO 6400. © Sohail Mamdani

Transamerica Pyramid Building. JPG shot in B&W straight out of camera at ISO 6400. © Sohail Mamdani

Dynamic range is also better than I expected. I was, in a crunch, able to push my exposure by as much as 3 stops to retrieve detail in shadows. There was some loss of detail as well as some luminance noise when I did that, but it was more than I had thought I’d get out of a compact camera.

Highlights retained detail and color pretty well too; I think there’s a latitude of about 3–4 stops in the highlights. In the image below, the sky totally blown out (as shown by the red clipping warning) till I did a global adjustment of about −2 stops to pull some blue out of it; at −4, the blue is a nice, deep color that I can bring back selectively with a brush later on.

The X100s holds details in the highlights pretty well. Image on the right has a global exposure adjustment of -4 in Lightroom.

The X100s holds details in the highlights pretty well. Image on the right has a global exposure adjustment of -4 in Lightroom.

All said and done, there’s really nothing to complain about with this camera’s image quality. I don’t even feel like quibbling over its tendency towards overexposure, as most of that highlight detail is retrievable in post.

Conclusion

I’m off to Hawaii in June for a vacation, and the X100s is the only camera I’m taking with me. With all the gear at my disposal, this is the only thing I feel like I need. I will, no doubt, occasionally wish for a telephoto lens, or a super-wide, or some other bit of kit, but despite that, this is the camera I’m taking.

What the X100s excels at doing is helping me distill the process and experience of photography down to its barest essentials. For someone used to lugging three bags worth of gear to every other shoot, moving and shooting with the Fuji is like shedding several pounds of dead weight; it’s just you, the camera, and your subject. I won’t be shucking my DSLR and assortment of lenses, mind you, but I also won’t be carrying them around with me all the time.

The X100s is all the camera I need for everyday shooting.

PS from Chase: There’s a gallery of cityscape shots Sohail has taken with his X100s on his 500px page. Some are straight out-of-camera B&W others were treated with VSCO Film.

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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.

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.

Insider Interview with Macklemore — Staying Independent, Humble + Going Quadruple Platinum

As many of you who are regular readers know, I am longtime friend (and fan of course) of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Ben (Macklemore) and I get coffee at the same joint. He has played dinner parties at my studio and he and Ryan deployed a magical performance on chasejarvisLIVE among other things over the years. But it is with a special appreciation that I’ve been attuned their meteoric rise to the top of the musical charts in the last six months. Quadruple MF’ing platinum, that is. For those who are counting, that’s 4 million copies of “Thrift Shop” alone… all without a label. Not only do these guys represent a great new era of conscious hip hop, but they represent the opportunity of the future for independant artists everywhere And I can say these guys are hard working, humble and dedicated to their craft.. unabashedly this success couldn’t have happened to better people. Well, last weekend those cats achieved their dream of being the musical guest on Saturday Night Live (video above). A few weeks ago, just a couple hours before a sold out Red Rocks show in Denver, my homie and manager Jerard sat down with Ben and his manager Zach Quillen (also a stellar gent) for an interview. Enjoy. -Chase

[Interview has been edited and shortened for print]

CJ: Can you tell us a little bit about this time in your life right now? This album’s only been out for five months and has sold hundreds of thousands of downloads. Thriftshop is double-platinum. You’re blowing up. (chase’s note… this was a month ago, and it’s already quadruple platinum now…)

Macklemore: It has completely exceeded my expectations of what I thought the project would do and what I hoped it would do. We sold 78,000 our first week. We were expecting to sell around 25,000 to 30,000.  It was a lot bigger than any of us anticipated.  Coming in at number two on Billboard independently is something that we are all really proud of. We decided to put out the album ourselves. And it kind-of worked. And we didn’t know if it was gonna work; we didn’t know what the, you know, what the reaction was gonna be.

I think that you have, on one side you have things like numbers that mark how far you’re going up, like, the hierarchical ladder of success. And you also have something which is the art. And wanting your art to resonate with the people that are hearing your art. The people, the fans that were there, the people that are hearing you for the first time, you hope that you have an album that garners critical acclaim as well as selling units. And you hope that you have both. And I think that, with The Heist, it turns out that, you know, we’ve had success in both of those areas. But the most important, for me, is the art. And that’s something that I am very proud of on The Heist. And I’m not saying that to be like, “Look what we’ve done. Ha!” I’m saying that because I’m still really fucking surprised that has happened. And you know, when we made “Thrift Shop”, we made the album, I didn’t think there was any chance that we would have a shot at commercial radio whatsoever. Like, if we didn’t sign a major label deal, literally in my head I didn’t think there was a percentage of a chance that it would take off at radio.  It’s weird to be recognized in public as kind-of like the “Thrift Shop Guy” right now.  I didn’t anticipate that. And once the record kind-of takes off to the level where it has, to where you’ve sold, you know, you’ve gone double platinum and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down… it’s very exciting but at the same time it’s a little bit scary. Like, “What the hell did I sign up for?”  “I can’t turn back now.” It’s a transitional period. And also life feels completely the same as it did a month ago or as it did three months ago. But in terms of where I’m at in my life…everything’s the same. And yet, the attention is such a different level and you’re still the same person. And yet you have the number one record in America. That’s bizarre and strange. So I’m adapting to that.

CJ: I like what you said about underneath all that recognition, for you, is really the art. And you first came to my attention through Chase. Back in 2009 or so you were on his show Songs for Eating and Drinking and you did a song that, at that point, was called “Air Jordans” and that’s actually on The Heist as –“Wings”.  You put your heart and soul into this album. Starting way back then, really busting this song out for, what I assume was, one of the first times.

Macklemore: It was THE first time. [I recall] I had forgotten about the event and I woke up from a nap and it was like fifteen minutes until it started. And I printed off the last thing that I had written which was “Wings”, which was then titled “Air Jordans” ‘cause I had just woken up from a nap and had no idea what to call it. Yeah that was the first time.

CJ: At that point, you had turned the corner in your career. You were a professional musician. You’re…

Macklemore: Nah, I was fresh out of rehab, living in my parent’s basement.

CJ: Okay, we’ll go back to that, but you had made a choice to be a musician. You were pursuing your craft full time.

Macklemore: Drugs and then art. [laughs] Nah, I at that point, yes, I had… you know, stopped smoking and drinking and I was just trying to get kinda get back on my feet.

CJ: The transition from that point to today is… is rather dramatic. Today you are double platinum (see earlier note) and then you were waking up from a nap. But underneath it is really your art and your craft. And I think that’s important for you know people who are interested in you and pursuing their own work That here’s Ben saying, Macklemore is saying, “Hey, even when you’re at the top you still have perspective on that.” Now lets take it back to your parents basement and how your work pulled you out of that time period in your life as well.

Macklemore:  To go back even further, I think I was then, and always have been the type of person that would have no moderation with drugs and alcohol.  Ever since I first started at fifteen years old. I also wasn’t the type of person that could create while being, you know, high on weed and drinking alcohol. And I smoked weed, once I was smoking weed it was like a wake-up-in-the-morning-’til-go-to-bed-and-pass-out thing. Wake up the next morning, smoke the roach, call the drug dealer and wake him up at nine o’clock. It was just that type of cycle. And so I wasn’t making music, and it continued to get worse. And I went to treatment, got out, and it was really kind-of a rebirth for me. I got another shot at this. And I thought, if this doesn’t work now, I’m gonna have to go and pursue something else. That’s a scary place for an artist to be. I always had this faith.

Somebody asked me recently, “What was it that kept you going when it wasn’t popping off, when you were broke? What was it that kept that artistic spirit going?” And for me it was this thing that if I did get sober, if I could get sober, that I knew I would have a career making music. I didn’t know that it would look like this; I didn’t know that it would look like what it looked like two years ago. But I felt like I could sustain myself off of my art. But getting out of treatment that was gruesome, dark. That  was a very dark and depressing time.year. It was very much, “If this doesn’t work I’m gonna go get a nine to five and do something that I probably am gonna hate doing and resent a good portion of my early twenties for not handling my shit.” And, very blessed the fact that it worked out.  And that’s when Ryan [Lewis] and I were making the verses to EP.

CJ: The guys here at The Business of Fun have this analogy that’s called the aircraft carrier analogy.  That there are five thousand guys that run an aircraft carrier. There only a  hundred pilots. But there’s this huge support system behind any of the things that are out front, the people that are out front. So you and Ryan are out front but your manager Zach is sort-of in the boiler room sometimes. It’s relevant because when you have a passion for something, you don’t necessarily have to be the MC; you don’t necessarily have to be the double platinum artist. There are people behind the people.

Zach Quillen: What Ben and I have in common there is that I was never gonna be satisfied or happy with a nine to five–a traditional nine to five. I got fired from like every job I had in high school for having an attitude problem. And it ultimately was that I didn’t wanna work for anybody but me. And always had a passion for music but not, you know, not necessarily the other things that you need talent-wise to be out front, be up at center. So this was as close as I could get. I wanted to stand as close as I could to people like Ben and use the talents that I had developed over the years to help them achieve what they want to achieve. And ultimately achieve what I wanted to achieve alongside.  I never saw any other option. And if you know anything about getting into the music business it’s, especially at first, there’s nothing glamorous about it. While Ben was performing in front of eight people in Omaha I was making like $22,000 a year living in New York City, barely coming up with money to buy groceries. It’s a similar path in that way – where you just have to love it. It has to be everything for you. I was totally fine to be broke in New York as long as I got to stand next to these super talented people that were making music, that were changing people’s lives. I didn’t care about really anything else.

CJ: There’s this perception of the glamour of it, but really there’s a grind. Whether it’s sport, or art, music, photography, how are you gonna be committed to it when the work  is really kicking you in the balls everyday?  And you guys both went through that.

Macklemore: That process it doesn’t stop. It… that never lets up.  I’m off like an hour of sleep right now coming from New York. And we do Red Rocks tonight, fly out at six o’clock in the morning which means that we’re back at the airport at four o’clock in the morning to catch the flight. It’s more of a grind than it ever has been. A lot of it isn’t fun. Still. But it is my life’s work. This is what I’ve always wanted. And you need to constantly be reminding yourself that as you evolve because, if you’re not grateful in those moments, like, sure I might’ve got an hour of sleep last night but I was on David Letterman. And I never thought in my life I would be on David Letterman.

CJ:  Can you share with us some of those influences today, and some of the things that helped bring you up, that you really paid attention to?

Macklemore:  I try to pay attention to art outside of hip-hop. I don’t do a very good job of doing that. But when I am paying attention to art that’s not just hip-hop, I am often times inspired in a way that I can’t get if I just go to like the same like four hip-hop blogs that I go to everyday. Yesterday I watched a concert film from David Byrne of The Talking Heads. And it’s this show that he did probably like in the eighties.  I didn’t know anything about David Byrne of The Talking Heads. Like I recognized some songs as I was watching this film, but… You know, he comes on stage with just like a boombox and presses play. And it’s just him with the boombox. And as the show goes on, you know, he adds a bass player, and a guitar player, and some dancers, and a drummer. And it turns into this whole, huge set–a huge production. And it’s watching things like that. Like great, great minds–people that are thinkers–that wanna challenge what a show looks like, wanna challenge the audience to really be engaged with them, with what they’re performing. And thinking about it in a different way. Like I think that, you know, I’ve been thinking about our show and not really happy with the show that we put on. I’m really happy with what we can deliver but I think we can do better. And I don’t know that I could do better if I’m only watching, if I’m only checking out hip-hop blogs. ‘Cause for the most part, like, rap concerts suck. You need to be inspired by other mediums. When I was writing The Heist I was taking walks in graveyards and trying to write at the art museum. Buying books and reading a couple chapters and putting it down and picking up a different book. Just trying to constantly be inspired by culture and just trying to get that spark that can lead to a new song. ‘Cause if I’m only listening to hip-hop music, if I’m only living my day-to-day life the same every single day, constantly, there’s no fuel to create something brand new. And that’s how I stay inspired.

You have to be able to experience life to have something new to write about. I don’t wanna write The Heist again. Like The Heist was a moment in time. I am a very conceptual writer. I can’t write those same songs again. I need to have new experiences to draw from to be able to put into my art.

CJ: [Question from live studio audience] If you could choose one song out of any of the songs that you have written for the world to hear, what would that song be and why?

Macklemore: I’d probably say, right now–and hopefully it will change ‘cause I write new songs and it evolves–but in 2013 it would probably be “Same Love”. THat song carries a message that I want to be heard around the world. And I think it’s an important message. It’s a message of tolerance, of equality, of compassion, of understanding, of pushing ourselves and our own bias and our own stereotypes. And I think that that’s my highest potential as an artist is to write songs–anyone’s highest potential–is to write songs that have an impact on society, have an impact on people’s lives, that can create dialogue within other people. You know “Same Love” is not a song that’s like you listen to it and I want you to immediately agree with everything that I say in the song. I don’t want you to feel that way out of any of the songs that I write. Everyone interprets music differently and messages differently. But what I hope is that it facilitates dialogue, that people listen to “Same Love” and then have a conversation. Or re-evaluate the words that they use, the language that they use. Or their, potentially their own, um, their own set of beliefs and retrace the lineage of why they are the way that they are. That’s essentially the greatest tool of music, is to… for us to examine who we are, find our truth, and evolve. And I think that “Same Love” falls into that category.

CJ: [Audience Question]Malcolm Gladwell talks about how if you really dedicate yourself to something and invest 10,000 hours you cmaster your craft. But he also really connects that blood, sweat, and tears, the passion, with kind-of this serendipitous opportunity, if you will, like a moment, a magical moment where the universe aligns and allows you commit to that craft.  Was there a moment or a period in your life that holds true to that ideal for you?.

Macklemore: Woah, yeah, That’s a great question. It kind-of gave me like a, uh… it brought up some emotion actually. There was a moment. I was, um, I was in treatment. I tried, as I said before, I tried my whole life to get sober. And I didn’t know how to do it. And always felt that I had  words to share with people. I didn’t know on what scale that would be. I didn’t know if that was like a hundred people or a hundred thousand. I didn’t know what that meant but I felt in my heart that I had something to share.  There was a monk And in treatment I had this moment. I was accumulating these tools to stay sober and part of the guy that was kind-of leading me through the steps in treatment was a practicing Buddhist monk. And we went to a monastery. And we were doing this kind-of this chanting and walking in a circle, walking in some figure eight circle. And you know earlier in my life I, when I got out of high school I couldn’t get into any colleges. No one would accept me. I cheated in school on math from sixth grade on. So I, when it came down to like the SAT’s, it’s a lot harder to cheat on the SAT’s. Looking over your friend’s shoulder doesn’t exactly work the same. I don’t recommend anybody doing that. I couldn’t get into  any schools. So I went to I went to India for a couple months when I graduated from high school. And I had this experience there of, I was like meditating on top of–this all sounds like really “Losty” and like very hippie but it’s just the truth. So I was meditating on top of a hill and I had this very serene peaceful moment. I meditated. And it was the first time I had ever done it where there was like no thoughts in my mind. It probably lasted for like two seconds, but I did it. And I’d been trying for a while. Mostly through hallucinogenics I was trying and that didn’t work.

So I finally like hit this point naturally and the first, thing that kind-of brought me out of this state of, you know, two seconds of kind-of just serene peace was this thought of, like, “This is so incredible. This is so amazing. What I’m feeling right now is the truth. This is my highest potential…” And then, “but you’re gonna go back to using drugs and alcohol.” And I was eighteen years old at the time. And it was a very depressing way to kind-of exit out of this moment. And I knew it. I was sober at that moment, but I knew I was eventually gonna go back to Seattle. Or it was gonna be a couple days later or whatever and I was going to go back. And when I was doing this chanting, you know, some, you know, probably eight years later, I had that exact same kind-of moment. And it brought me back to that place. And I was like, “I don’t need to go back anymore.” And then, “That’s it.” I didn’t come out of that like meditation space as I did before.  “I’m gonna go back. I’m gonna fuck up again. I’m gonna be a drug addict.” My thought was, “You don’t have to do that. And it’s your choice.”

That was my moment that I turned around. You know, since then it hasn’t been perfect. If you’ve heard the song “Starting Over” that’s obvious. But, my life changed in that treatment center. You know, I really have my life and my craft, and my art, everything that is good in my life, my relationships with my girlfriend and my family and my manager, and being present in this moment right here is all do to the fact that I’m sober.

So that was that moment.

CJ: Great question, awesome answer. I think we actually have to take you guys back. I think you’ve got something to do tonight. Thank you so much for making the time to come and talk to us.

Macklemore: Thank you. This is fantastic. I appreciate everyone for coming out.

ZQ: Thank you.

++++
[To see the video of the above interview go here]
And check out the folks who made this interview possible (doing some very cool things) at The Business of Fun

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