September 2, 2014

SFPW Staff Picks: Favorite Photo Apps

Apps. Love 'em, hate 'em, or don't understand 'em, apps are here to stay. More become available everyday and, as photographers, they can be useful tools for photographing, exposing, processing, or sharing. We were curious what our staff uses, so we asked our full-time team, recent instructors and seasonal support staff: "Do you have a favorite photo app?" While we discovered that some staff members are decidedly old school others definitely have a blast checking out all the latest digital toys, from the extremely practical to the just plain fun. See what we use and why below:

Reid Callanan

I don't do a lot of apps, but I do use Instagram. Their new picture processing features are pretty cool, and I also use Hipstamatic. That's what I've got on my phone.

Carrie McCarthy
Marketing Creative Director

I definitely have a favorite. It's called Retro Camera. It's sort of like Hipstamatic but I like it because not everyone has it. It has all these fun retro camera options, like the Pinhole, the FudgeCan, the Barbl, the Xolaroid 2000, and my personal favorite, Little Orange Box.

Melyssa Holik
Marketing Assistant

I just started using The Photographer's Ephemeris, and I'm finding it useful because I shoot in some pretty remote areas and it helps me plan, even weeks or months in advance, what the light will be like at different times of day and night. Maybe there are people out there that have a really good sense of direction and can just visualize how the moonlight will fall on a specific rock formation in Utah in October... but I am definitely not one of them!

Renie Haiduk
Director of Operations           

I love Hipstamatic, because I have found the perfect lens and film combination that renders images the way I would photograph with film.

Cotton Miller
AV Coordinator            

Snapsy and Slow Shutter CamSnapsy is like Nik software, and Slow Shutter allows you to take a longer exposure than the camera would normally allow, it uses the video function to record for a long time and then compresses that into one image.”

Abigail Moore
Digital Lab Assistant

Pocket Light MeterSince my film camera doesn't have an internal meter, it's important. The app lets you select whether to meter for shadows or highlight, from anywhere in the scene, and it lets you preview what your image will look like at different exposures. My exposures are perfect every single time I use it.

Brandon Johnson
Operations Assistant 

I don't have any apps, other than what my daughter downloads!

Will Van Beckum
Digital Lab Coordinator

I have a lot, but which one is my favorite? If I have to choose, I'd say VSCO Cam, a better retro filters app than Instagram. It allows you to be very subtle, so I can use it without it looking like I used an app. I process with that and then send my images to Instagram—I'm an avid Instagrammer, too.”

Instructor: The Portrait Essay

My enlarger is my photo app, I'm a darkroom worker!

Instructor, The Intimate Portrait: Connect With Your Subjects

For now I'm anti-app!

Instructor, Basics of Digital Photography

“The one that I've been playing with recently is called Miniatures. It's a tilt-shift time-lapse combo. It lets you set the interval for your time lapse, the duration, and the amount of tilt-shift effect you want. I just got it and it's my favorite right now!

Instructor, Visual Storytelling with Audio

My favorite photo app is actually as video app called MoviePro. I love it is because it shows an audio level on your phone. There are also a lot of adjustments for the camera. For example, you can lock your focus, white balance, and exposure, and that's especially important for video.

Mark Woodward
Course Coordinator

Instagram is my favorite, and only, photo app. A lot of the photographers I follow travel a lot, and Instagram gives me updates every day, instead of a blog where there's a delay.

Leah Woodruff
Studio Coordinator

My favorite app is Afterlight; it's the easiest way to edit.

Emily Mason
Work Study

I use Instagram, and Negative Me. Negative Me inverts negatives, so if you shoot film it's great for previewing what your negatives will look like.

Alicia Turbitt
Course Coordinator

“I use Instagram, and that's about it.

Stefan Wachs
Assistant Studio Coordinator

I don't use any. It's not that I don't want to. I just haven't learned to use my phone well enough yet!

Jeremy Wade Shockley
Course Coordinator

Instagram is the app I use the most.

Morgan Cadigan
Work Study

VSCO Cam, because the filters mimic different film types, and I like the look of film. I feel like VSCO Cam does a better job of creating those effects than a lot of other apps.” 

What are your favorite photo apps? Share them in the comments, or when you join us in Santa Fe or On The Road for a workshop this fall!

Read more of our SFPW Staff Picks here.

August 22, 2014

The Nikon D810: Tony Bonanno's First Impression

Nikon D810 - First Impression

Reblogged with permission from Tony Bonanno's blog, tbphotonews. The original post can be found here.

© Karen Herman

The Bottom Line: The Nikon D810 camera is probably the best pro quality DSLR that I've ever used. It's not quite the solid build of the Nikon D4s or the Canon 1D series, but the overall performance is very refined and sets a new standard for resolution, dynamic range, and functionality. Previously, I was using a Nikon D800 and D800E. When the D810 was announced I intended to replace my D800 and keep the D800E as the second body for backup and client shoots. I was so impressed with the new D810 after a few days of shooting that I decided to replace the D800E with a D810 also. Admittedly, I had not anticipated such enthusiasm for this new camera. The D810 was described on many websites as a "minor" upgrade, but I would call it a "substantial" upgrade (depending on your intended use of course). There are many improvements, but two in particular apply to my work and they are "major" improvements for me. The first is the AF system from the D4s (very fast and accurate) with the Group Area Autofocus. The second is the much quieter low vibration shutter mechanism. The D810 is not the frames per second speed demon or high ISO king that the D4s is (although it does a commendable job in these areas), but it has many other qualities (including the superb 36 MP sensor) that combine to make it an impressive tool for almost any application or assignment. The only criticism I have is the lack of user interchangeable focusing screens. I'm old school and I miss that feature. Regarding video; Supposedly the video performance is significantly improved, but I'm not a video shooter, so I haven't any experience with the video function. The high resolution 36 MP sensor does demand the best glass. Do not skimp on your lenses. Would I recommend this cameras to my colleagues, serious enthusiasts, and pros? Absolutely.

 Some of the changes/improvements compared to D800/D800E:

  • 36 MP sensor with the highest rating and dynamic range ever tested by DXO Labs. It is very similar to the D800E sensor as far as image quality in my preliminary tests.
  • Addition of Nikon D4s AF system with Group Area AF is a HUGE improvement.
  • Electronic front curtain shutter option during mirror up mode and live view offers a visible improvement for landscape photographers due to very low vibration.
  • Very quiet shutter mechanism compared to 800/800E.
  • Very low vibration shutter mechanism.
  • Improved viewfinder and viewfinder display.
  • Improved LCD screen.
  • Base ISO 64.
  • 5 frames per second high speed mode (6 in DX mode and 7 with optional grip/battery).
  • Faster overall operation with Expeed 4 processor.
  • Longer battery life (1200 vs 900 frames). Same battery as D800/D800E.
  • Somewhat improved ergonomics (handgrip, AF control button, etc.). Slightly less weight.
  • Larger and faster buffer for continuous shooting.
  • Provision for a "small" RAW file.
  • Option for in camera TIFF file in addition to the normal RAW, JPEG, etc.
  • Improved Live View Mode.
  • Improved Video.
There are a number of other minor changes and refinements. I can't over-emphasize how significant the new autofocus and shutter mechanisms are though. Those two items alone have transformed the shooting experience dramatically compared to the previous models.

Hummingbird photo taken with D810 using Group Area Autofocus and Nikon 300mm f/4 lens. Click on photo to see detail. (Image will open in a new window) 

To get more of Tony's expertise in person, join him on a photo adventure down the Rio Chama this August: Rio Chama: Capture to Print, August 22–26, 2014.

August 18, 2014

Flying High with Alexander Heilner

This fall, we're excited to be offering a range of brand new workshops. One of the most interesting new additions is our Aerial Photography intensive with Alexander Heilner. We recently talked with Alex to discuss the inspiration, creative perspectives, benefits, and challenges of photographing from high above the earth.

© Alexander Heilner

How did you get started in aerial photography?
"Well, from the day I was born all the way through high school, my dad worked for TWA, so one of the constants in my childhood was a lot of travel, and a lot of looking out airplane windows. I also started in photography very young; I did it all the way through high school and college. So I think these two interests were bound to collide at some point. The first time I hired a small plane, I did it almost as a lark. I was visiting a friend in North Carolina, and we basically just looked in the phone book, found a pilot and decided to give it a try that afternoon. I was really surprised by the fact that it's not as outrageously difficult or expensive as people might think. I dabbled in it for a while, and started doing it more frequently, and more seriously, from about 2006 on."

What do you find fascinating or intriguing about photographing from the sky?
© Alexander Heilner
"What's most interesting to me is the relationship between artificial infrastructure and the natural environment. It's conceptually interesting because of the economic and environmental issues, and I often examine how humans impact our natural environment, and vice-versa. But it's not only conceptual; many of these human-built structures are also visually striking. Sometimes that's intentional, like the artificial islands in Dubai that have been built to look like palm fronds. Other times it's unintentional, and it's fascinating how something quite pedestrian can become really intriguing when it's abstracted. For example, a single highway winding through a remote landscape becomes about the geometry of that line, or rows of canals dug into the land turn into shapes and patterns. I'm really drawn to the fringes—the edges where urban and natural environments meet."

Why should terrestrial photographers give this a try?
© Alexander Heilner
"Viewing the world from above really changes how we see things, and makes ordinary sights more interesting. We may know rationally what something is, but when we see it from above, we see it in a new way; we may even be amazed by it, and start to ask questions about it. That awareness and interest in looking at things differently continues once you're back on the ground, and for me that's a big part of what's exciting about aerial photography."

Why do you want to teach this workshop?
"I love, love, love teaching! I've taught for a living for many years and I really enjoy being in the classroom with people. For me, teaching and making art are born of the same impulse. It's about recognizing something I find interesting and exciting and wanting to share it with other people. Hopefully, they will find it interesting and exciting too. With art, it's seeing something intriguing and creating an image for people to look at. With teaching, it's sharing a method, or a way of seeing. Both are ways of giving, and sharing my experience with other people. 

For aerial photography specifically, I want to show that it's easier and more accessible than people think. I mean, people are sometimes in awe that I'm doing this, and they really shouldn't be. It's not rocket science! And for the parts of it that are challenging... I can help them get the practice they need and set them up with the skills to do it on their own."

© Alexander Heilner

Why photograph over Santa Fe?
"Santa Fe has a variety of landscapes: remote highways, railroads, mountains, forests, arroyos, rivers, the desert, and of course the city itself. A lot of what we photograph will depend on what participants are interested in. I'm really looking forward to different people's aesthetics leading us in different directions. 

Also, for people who are coming from a place that's visually very different, at first it can be overwhelming to find yourself in this endless desert. But it's a great opportunity to practice narrowing and focusing your attention to see what's really there. Again, it's all about changing your perspective and how you see."

What can people expect from this workshop?
"This workshop will really be a combination of practical skills and aesthetic exploration. There's the logistics of doing this kind of work—getting up there, how you need to adjust your technique, how you photograph from a moving vehicle, how you work in additional dimensions you're not used to, and so on. Then there are the creative aspects—considering what you're saying with your images; whether you shoot straight down or at an angle with the horizon; and what makes a beautiful or interesting aerial photograph. Honestly, the real skill in this work is learning to engage the logistical opportunities and limits in order to serve your conceptual goals. As far as where we'll go and what we photograph, that's going to be determined at least in part by the participants and what they are interested in photographing."

Is there anything else you want to tell people that are considering your Aerial Photography intensive?
I hope participants come into this with a sense of adventure and ready to explore together. I expect we'll learn as much from each other as everyone learns from me. 

Interested in taking your photography higher? Join Alex for his Intensive: Aerial Photography in Santa Fe, October 16-18, 2014.

August 8, 2014

Reid Callanan Shares Seven Tips for Better Travel Photography

Reid Callanan's Tips from the Top

As an experienced traveler with more than 25 years of photographic expertise, Reid Callanan has spent many years traveling and photographing in unfamiliar places. As Director of Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, he's also worked with, and learned from, hundreds of talented photo instructors. Reid recently shared seven easy-to-follow tips for improving your travel photography.

1) Give Yourself a Theme for a Morning or Afternoon
Exploring a new destination to make interesting pictures can be very overwhelming. So it is often easier to make photographs when one narrows down the options.  

Where to begin? One way is to start is to give yourself a theme to focus on during your wanderings. Simple themes are best. A few favorites are reflections, doors, flowers, or just photograph the light of the location. You will be surprised how easy it is to make interesting photographs in a new place with this simple self-assignment.

2) Get an Insider’s Perspective by Blending into Your Surroundings 
If you look like a photographer with a camera vest, several cameras hanging around your neck, and a big camera bag, people tend to get nervous and wonder where the photos you are taking will end up. 

Take one camera, one lens, use a backpack as a camera bag, try to be invisible and don’t call attention to yourself. If you stand on the corner for long enough, or show up at the same places multiple days of your trip in a low-key manner, people will get used to seeing you and not feel so intimidated.

3) Wait for a Picture in an Interesting Place
Find an interesting scene with beautiful architecture, light, murals, a unique background or backdrop, or anything unusual and park yourself there. 

Wait for it. Wait for that great photo to happen. It could be a horse passing by, a wedding party, a man carrying a cello, or a child with a goat. 

Trust me, if you wait long enough, an interesting photograph will reveal itself.

4) Eye Contact in Portraiture is Critical
The old saying that eyes are the windows to the soul is especially true in good portrait photography. 

Capturing your subjects eyes adds another dimension to the photograph, makes it more compelling, and better illustrates the essence of the person.

5) Deliver Pictures Back to Your Subject
You can purchase a travel printer for under $100. The size of a small notebook, they connect directly to your camera or laptop. 

When you have the opportunity to do portraits of local people, print a picture of them in your hotel room at the end of the day, then make a beeline back to them the next day to give them their photograph. Often this helps open doors for an additional round of portraits and for meeting other family members. These portraits are always more intimate and insightful because of the trust you have built by offering a print as a gift.

6) Take Advantage of Bad Weather
Travelers often take a stormy day as a sign that they should stay in their hotel room and read a book or visit a museum. Often, dicey weather creates beautiful scenery, great clouds and dramatic light. 

Find reflections in puddles, and experience your destination in unusual, unique ways with the weather playing a leading character in your photographs.
7) Get up Early or Skip Dinner
Great light makes great photographs, and the best light is often found early in the morning or right around dinnertime.

Visit to check out all the inspiring workshops Reid has planned for SFPW, including his 2014 plans for fall in San Miguel de Allende. And d
on’t forget to follow Reid on Instagram!

August 5, 2014

Sean McGann Discusses Myanmar: The Cusp of Globalization

This fall, Santa Fe Photographic Workshops is excited to offer a workshop in the exotic locale of Myanmar. The ten-day workshop, The Golden Land: Myanmar Photo Expedition, runs from October 21-31, 2014 and will be led by photographer and travel expert Sean McGann. We sat down with Sean to discuss Myanmar, photography, and his upcoming workshop. For details on the Myanmar workshop, visit out website here.

Hi Sean. Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself, your photographic style, and how you got started in photography.

I think when my brother and I were probably 10 and 8, my dad got us each a Pentax K1000 because he was into photography, so I got started with that. I went to school for something completely unrelated; I thought I wanted to work with the State Department so I studied International Relations and Spanish. But in my third year, I realized I wasn’t going to be happy working for the State Department, so I moved to Santa Fe and started shooting fine art nudes. The Ernesto Mayans Gallery picked up my work and Ernesto really taught me everything I needed to know about finishing a fine art portfolio. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor. Ernesto’s guidance was much like what I’d imagine a couple years of art school would have been like.

I did that for a few years, and I think I started to miss political science, so I applied to the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Then I interned with Steve McCurry in New York and I think everything came together for me. I realized I could be interested in politics and policy and also be interested in images, so I applied to Missouri School of Journalism.

We hear it called Burma and we also hear it called Myanmar. We're confused; which is it?
Both names are derived from the Burmese language, however Burma is the name the British used for its colony, and the name the country was given at the time of independence. Burma is a derivative of Bamar, the largest ethnic group in the country. However, the government officially calls itself the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to indicate that it's a united government inclusive of the many different ethnic groups living in the country.

You’ve been working in Burma since 2007. How did you first become interested in photographing there?

A 92-year-old shaman works the fields.
Right after completing the coursework for graduate school, I worked as Director of Photography Programs for a company that did high school travel. In any given year, they had eight to a dozen programs around the world. It was amazing because I was traveling around the world, photographing all the time, and teaching. I loved teaching and I felt so lucky. I’d wonder ‘How did I fall into this?’

In my role as director, I actually opened up Burma for them. We weren’t going there my first summer, but they sent me in to develop programs. So that was my first time there, for six weeks in 2007, setting up the initial programs. I think I’ve been back a dozen times, and I’ve spent something like 8 months total in country.

You’ve said Burma is your favorite place to photograph in the world. That’s a big statement! What makes Burma such a special place?

Attend the workshop and I’ll show you! It’s just amazing. Burma has been rather inaccessible to the rest of the world since the end of World War II. Up until around 2010, their government was extremely isolationist. So today you have a country that’s pretty much the way it was in the 50’s.

As much of the rest of Asia has modernized to different extents, Burma is still something of a look at pre-globalization Asia. Men are still walking around in the longis, there are ox-drawn carts rolling down the road, buses that look like they fell out of a 1960’s movie, nothing’s really been painted since World War II … the patina of the place alone is unbelievable.

There aren’t Coke cans anywhere, and the little foreign advertising that exists is in the cities. In the rural areas, you have tribes that have hardly been seen in decades. There are Long Neck women who still live the way their parents did, not because tourists pay them. There are indigenous groups that have not traded their traditional clothing for shorts and flip-flops. And the light is spectacular; even at noon you can make a gorgeous photograph.

Really? Even at noon?
Inside a monastery in Myanmar.

Yeah! You go into a monastery, which are generally made of oil stained teak.  They are pitch black, and then you’ve got a window cut out and the noon light spilling in from the side into darkness, so you’ve got these gorgeous pools of light everywhere.

As you’ve said, Myanmar has been isolated until very recently; a lot has changed in the past couple of years. Do you think globalization is on its way?

It’s definitely the type of place that’s not going to be around much longer, or at least it’s not going to be the way it is now. So if you’re going to go, do it in the next few years. All the factories and international companies will be there soon. Right now, it’s just really pristine, and the Burmese are the nicest people in the world. You could stick your head in a total stranger’s door with a camera and within 10 minutes you’d be in there having tea with them. Forget your camera, now you’ve got friends! I’ve been a lot of places in my life and Burma just drips amazing photographs. You pretty much just have to point your camera somewhere and take a picture. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere.

There have been a lot of changes in Burma in the past few years, and you’ve touched on some of the politics of the country. We have to ask: is it safe?

It’s absolutely safe. In 2010-2011, Burma finished a new constitution. They held elections, and they are now considered a constitutional democracy. Ever since this happened, The New York Times and other big papers in London and the U.S. have been touting it as the new Shangri-La. They’re saying, ‘You can finally go to Burma, it’s finally safe.’ But, really, it always has been safe. The last thing any government wants is harm to come to international visitors, and Myanmar is no different.

Do you think the people who are in power now are eager to industrialize and modernize?

I imagine that they only stand to gain from it.

So now that the country has democratized, there probably is a very small window of time before it gets completely globalized, isn’t there?

Exactly, and that's the key reason for this workshop. Now is the time to go. Because there have been trade embargoes for so long they haven’t had access to the tools they need to develop the land. But now that relations with the U.S. have warmed it’s a much more trade-friendly environment. In ten years, I probably won’t even be thinking about going back. The images you might make then, versus what you make now, will appear to be two different worlds.

What can people expect from their workshop experience in Myanmar?

As far as what you’ll see, it’s pretty much the highlights of the country. We’ll start off in Yangon, and go to Shwedagon Pagoda, which is one of the eight holiest sites in the Buddhist world. Then we’ll go up to Mandalay, where we’ll watch 1,000 monks have lunch at the same time. Literally 1,000 monks; it’s amazing.

Teeth stained red from betel nut.
Mandalay is a great city. One of my favorite places to photograph is this street where they carve marble Buddhas for shrines. So you have this entire street of these giant Buddhas in different states of completion. They're carved from white marble, so there’s white dust everywhere. It’s basically the worst place in the world for your camera, but then you see the pictures you’re making and you think, ‘OK, OK, I’ll get it cleaned when I get back to Bangkok,’ because there are white clouds of dust everywhere, and these Burmese guys who are dark, dark skinned are chewing on betel nut, which turns your mouth blood red. So they’re dripping crimson red, with white dust all over their faces and dark eyes peering through … it’s just a great place to shoot.

Sounds fantastic! Where else will you go?

There’s a few stops in Mandalay, then we go to Bagan. The temples there are 1,500 years old, and there’s something like 3,000 of them in 20 square miles—anything from a little stupa to a large pyramid. That may be my favorite place to photograph anywhere. It’s right along the Irrawaddy River, so you’ve got sesame farmers and palm sugar plantations, and people climbing up the palm trees on ropes with knives hanging off their backs. You’ve got people plowing ox carts right around these temples—people live amongst them, around them, and in them. Everything seems to be done in slow motion. An ox cart will go by full of sugar, and kids are running past you in school uniforms with their slingshots, shooting at the goats … there’s something around every corner.

So all the agriculture is done with hand tools?

Oh yeah, it’s all hand done. They use elephants, water buffalo, and oxen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen mechanized farming.  I’m sure somebody’s got one a tractor but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one.

That sounds very peaceful.
Classic fishing scene on Inle Lake.

Bagan really is. After Bagan we go to Inle Lake. That’s where we’ll see the classic scenes of the fishermen who are standing in their boats with the big nets. Everything is done on the water. The houses are built on stilts, so there are entire villages standing above the water. They create what they call floating gardens; the lake is huge, but very shallow, so they take long stakes and stick them in the bottom and they wrap weeds and plants around the stakes at the surface. Then they plant tomatoes and corn right in the water. It’s like standing hydroponics. The roots grow through the mat of weeds and everything grows literally right there on top of the water. Then they go up and down the rows of their garden in their canoes and harvest. They grow everything; eggplants, tomatoes, peas, beans. It’s unbelievable.

Floating gardens in Burma.

So how would you sum up the Myanmar workshop experience?

This is kind of the must-see highlights of the country, and it’s great for first-time visitors to get a sense of the place. I’ve been traveling there for so long that there are a lot of personal connections and little corners I know very well. So it’s the highlights but you’re doing it with someone who really knows the country and has a lot of personal connection to the place.