Another terrific California Photo Festival ended on Friday. Victoria Schmitt, who owns Light Photographic Workshops, with her husband, Hal, is the guiding hand behind this event. This is one of the best photo festivals I have ever been a part of or even attended on my own. It is not just the caliber of the instructors (and there are some amazing folks here). It is also the atmosphere of learning, support and good-natured people that makes this very special (I give a lot of credit for this to Victoria, as well as the wonderful attendees). I always learn a bit from the event, the participants and unique things that happen. The wonderful photo on their website seen above is by David Wells.
Juan Pons and I have been doing the photographing critters sessions (three sessions that cover most of a day) for two years now. Dennis Sheridan is the critter man and has this amazing collection of animals he brings in every year: geckos, a true chameleon (which will catch crickets in front of the camera), frogs, a host of amazing insects from walking sticks to a Hercules beetle, tarantulas and more. It is a popular and fun set of sessions.
This year we added a station with light from below and above, offering the chance to shoot critters in a "studio" setting like the Meet Your Neighbors folks. That was very cool and something anyone can do for a unique look at close-ups. We were using LED lights provided by Samy's Camera in Santa Barbara for all of the stations with the different critters. This was a terrific option because it allowed us to have continuous light that everyone could work with, plus these lights did not overheat the animals or the room!
I know a lot of people learned from the critter shooting is how much fun it can be to do close-up work with animals that are not the big, charismatic animals with fur! These critters are pretty remarkable. Also, the LED lights required people to shoot with high ISOs. The light was not strong enough to get fast shutter speeds needed for handheld photos otherwise (tripods were possible, but not at all stations because there were too many people; plus shooting handheld for these critters was fun!).
A lot of folks discovered how very good cameras are today with high ISOs. If you have not shot high ISOs because you have been told for so long that they aren't very good, give them a try. I am not talking about the crazy ISOs of many thousands, just the ones from 400-1600. All cameras today really do a nice job with such ISOs, but regardless, getting a sharp, engaging photo is more important than some arbitrary ISO rule.
It rained on Wednesday. I had a group sunrise shoot. Well before sunrise, we checked and found heavy clouds, cool temps but no rain, so we went anyway. The location we went to overlooked the San Luis Obispo valley and I thought we might get some city glow on the clouds. We did indeed. We got cold and a little wet (the location was exposed, the temperature had dropped and it started to drizzle), but the colors and light from the city gave a fascinating look to the clouds and the hills, even when you did not point the camera at the city (most of it was blocked by hills anyway). The best light was well before sunrise. Shortly after sunrise, the whole scene got gray and ugly.
We had some great sunrises and sunsets on other days.
One thing that really hit home was a very significant change in interest in the mirrorless cameras. I have seen this before in digital, including as digital became established. Photographers first ignored digital, then said it wasn't for them, then got curious, then started to switch, then were passionate digital shooters. It is hard to say if this will happen to mirrorless, but I saw a huge interest in these cameras at the festival. I was always mobbed with questions at every presentation I did as soon as people knew I was shooting a mirrorless camera.
Ray Avecedo from Olympus was there and he and his gear was always several people deep (the new EM-1, by the way, looks to be phenomenal camera). I am not sure all of the mirrorless camera manufacturers understand what is happening now. Some are convinced that you cannot change baby boomers who have Nikon or Canon. From what I saw at the festival, that is definitely not true. I talked with Ray and he says they definitely feel they can make an inroad into the baby boomer market.
It was very obvious that so many people are tired of dragging big cameras and lenses around. More than one person has told me that they do not shoot as much with their big camera because of that and actually prefer just using their iPhone. That is kind of sad, but I think that really shows how a convenient, small camera can benefit photographers. Olympus had some loaner gear and it was always checked out. The people using it had some of the same experiences as shooting with the iPhone. They found it was fun to not be burdened with a big camera!
(By the way, I tried a few of the lenses with my GH3 – Olympus really has some great lenses and one thing that is very nice about the Micro Four Thirds or MFT format is that you have a huge range of lenses to choose from because both Olympus and Panasonic lenses fit both camera bodies. This choice is not about being able to own tons of lenses, but about having the choice to get the most appropriate lens for your needs. I found this was very difficult to do when I was shooting Sony NEX cameras because the selection is much more limited and because there is a very small selection of top-level lenses.)
I actually had some interesting discussions about mirrorless cameras with quite a few people, including some pros who are seriously looking into them now. The size affects both what you carry and cost. My GH3 is every bit a pro camera as the 5D Mark III, for example, plus lenses such as the 12-35mm f/2.8 and 35-100mm f/2.8 are every bit as good as Canon L-series lenses (maybe better in some ways). The lenses and body are also dust and splashproof at least as good as the 5D Mark III (maybe better). But you can buy the GH3 plus those two lenses for about the price of a 5D Mark III body only, and I will guarantee the smaller camera/lens package will change and free the photographer to be more creative (because they are not weighed down by gear) far more than just buying another "latest" Canon or Nikon body. You simply do not pay for the size, the mirror (and all the related stuff), the sensor (bigger sensors come at a big premium for price), and the high markups that Canon and Nikon put on their high end cameras (you probably won't see that in the photo magazines!).
Because of this growing interest in mirrorless cameras, I am going to start a blog just about mirrorless cameras and nature photography, hopefully this week. That way I use this blog in a more general nature photography way. I will let you know what happens.