Category: Seminars

Lehigh River with Bethlehem Steel Factory at Sunset


The Invision conference in Bethlehem has evolved into that rarest of opportunities for photographers –  a confab combining inspiring presentations by photographers, well curated exhibitions of work, and a chance to interact with local photographers in a friendly, unpressured way. It started four years ago as special event sponsored by ArtsQuest, a local group that sponsors several festivals, notably MusicQuest, and hundreds of events across the arts from film to music to pottery, catering to all ages and interests. The festival largely took place at the SteelStacks, ArtsQuest’s marvelous facility on the grounds of the abandoned Bethlehem Steel factory. Olympus, in an encouraging move, has taken on co-sponsorship of the festival, which takes place just a few miles from their US headquarters.

I had a Sunday obligation, so I arrived in the Lehigh Valley, a quick drive from Philadelphia, on Friday. The weekend kicked off with a reception at the Banana Factory, a combination galley and arts workspace in South Bethlehem. Winning work from the student and Pennsylvania photographer contests occupied galleries and hallways, and artist in residence Gene Richards’ photos were displayed in marvelous 20×30 black and white prints in an exhibition. One room was dedicated to Olympus Visionaries and Trailblazers, and I saw local portrait Victor Rodriquez, who will be appearing at my club next year. The Santa Bannon gallery, located in the same building, hosted talks by several of her photographers.

I had always wanted to meet Richards. I used to sell Aperture books to bookstores, so I spent a lot of time during the early nineties introducing book buyers to challenging work like Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue and Americans We.  Richards was cordial and available at the reception, and I was able to introduce myself as someone who peddled his work, which delighted him.

The publishing model for expensive books has changed over the past few years, with online sales producing a huge differential between what a bricks and mortar retailer can charge and what a consumer pays online. Contrary to what the talking heads will tell you, the lower prices have not created greater sales, as many illustrated books must be seen and handled to be fully appreciated. Richards and his engaging wife and creative partner, Janine Altongy, have used a crowd-sourcing strategy for his latest works, which include books and some short videos.

Having talked about his books for years, I was anxious to hear what he had to say. His talk the next day did not disappoint. Full of warmth and zeal, illustrated by striking photos and short form videos, the low key photographer’s presentation created a high profile impression. His experiences with African villagers, drug addicts, mental patients produced photographs with an unmediated, intimate viewpoint that illuminates not just their plight but their manifest virtues. Right after I got home from Bethlehem, I read a shallow editorial that dismissed most documentary photography as “white guy photography,” incapable of rising above its makers’ privilege and inherently condescending. While purporting to deride projects that lack context or social value, such an article serves little purpose, somewhat like attacking photos of children and cats because they exploit sentimentality and cuteness without being artful or advancing a cause. Turn the page, buddy. Five minutes with Eugene Richards will convince anyone that probing communities and people under stress is a situation where “privilege” vanishes. The currency becomes not status or cash but rather conviction and trust. Creating moving photographs in those places and times requires perseverance, empathy, vision – humanity.

The other talk I attended was Chase Jarvis. I have become a big fan of his pet project, CreativeLive, a free stream of webinars and demonstrations he founded in Seattle. Jarvis makes an interesting contrast with Richards. Jarvis exudes a high energy persona, and he revels in having built a successful commercial photography business and having access to big names in entertainment. He strikes me as more a director than a pure artist; he knows instinctively how to assemble talent and get results, but I doubt anyone will mount a retrospective of his photography in 50 years. He started by reading a short bio of Ansel Adams, who surprisingly practiced the same sort of active photographic life – playing at parties, assembling talent, distributing his work widely for cheap – even though we know him now primarily as an artist. Jarvis’ diverse projects involve photographing movers and shakers in Seattle, assembling musicians and poets for dinners, and of course CreativeLive. Like Richards, he was very generous with his time. His ability to catalyze artists and promote photography among arts is unmatched. His social commitment was very different from Richards but equally valuable.

Next year, I will stay the whole weekend. As an Olympus shooter, I enjoyed seeing the new gear and speaking to the techs, the marketing people, and of course, the top pros who use Oly. The folks I stayed with bed and breakfast were marvelous hosts, and I find a Bethlehem a congenial and photogenic venue – more shots below.

Change and no change

Change and no change in the historic district north of the river.

Bethlehem mixes a beautiful setting with a fading industrial economy

South Bethlehem blends a lovely setting with hard edged modern infrastructure.

The fading sun gives color to fading industry

 Dizzying and rusty stacks
A closer look reveals an intricate system more beautiful as it becomes less useful.
The geometry of industry provides opportunity for silhouettes

The geometry of factories provided opportunity for silhouettes


Expo Floor (image courtesy PDN PhotoPlus Expo)

I made my annual trek to that dismal tinkertoy creation Javits Center for the biggest annual gathering of photographers and suppliers on the East Coast, PhotoPlus Expo.

The trade show portion is not quite as big as it used to be, probably due to the recent spike in lodging costs in Manhattan and airfare costs in general. However, the number of photographers and their enthusiasm has not diminished. PhotoPlus allows you the rare opportunity to handle all the merchandise, see all the software demonstrated, and check out the newest publications and services, with people on hand who can comprehensively answer questions and gather feedback. Some of the most personal gear decisions, such as what bag to carry and which tripod is right for your purpose, can best be made by actually trying out all the options in person, and no bricks and mortar camera store stocks everything. Innovators can get your attention without having to compete with all the white noise on the internet and the biases of retailers heavily invested in the status quo, figuratively and literally.

I visited Olympus immediately to put my hands on the new EM1. The mood in the booth was electric; Olympus took the risk of announcing the camera in advance of the show, and it paid off, as uniformly positive reviews pushed traffic to the booth. I overheard one woman saying “I didn’t feel like my Canon M was up to shooting that assignment in Paris, but I would have taken this one in a heartbeat.” I met the head of the Olympus Visionary program, and she introduced me to my “local” visionary, Victor Rodriguez, who will be presenting to our camera club later in the year, I hope. (I also ran into visionary David Wells, whom I met in Amherst last year, at SNYC.)  I did handle the EM1, a very pocketbook-endangering experience. The camera balances solidly in the hand, and the new pro lens (12-40mm f/2.8, to be joined by a 40-150 f/2.8 next year) has that wonderful machined feel as well. I am no fan of electronic viewfinders, but the Epson unit on the EM-1 is acceptable for most uses.

I also stopped by c’t digital photography, who publish the best technically oriented photo magazine out there and the comprehensive and attractive Rocky Nook books. The folks from Santa Barbara were, as usual, friendly and engaging. I also stopped by Focal Press to catch up with Sloane Stinson and thank them for their generous club programs. I looked at the books on display that I had not noticed on the

In the past few years, ink jet printing has progressed to the point where gallery class printing is available to photographers who print themselves. To that end, I approached several vendors including Moab, Hahnemühle, Red River, and Carson, who all agreed to contribute sample papers if I created a printing education program for our local clubs. Epson said their local dealer network would likely be interested in helping us run it.

I no longer take the seminars offered by PDN at the Expo. Now that ample instruction is available via Lynda, Kelby and Creative Live for a cost ranging from free to reasonable, I find it silly to spend for two hours as much as I would spend for a downloaded three day course from CL or three months of Kelby or Lynda. The PDN seminars are not intimate enough to earn the premium. There was even a free alternative just down the street.

Interactive Shoot-NYC Demo Area

Interactive Shoot-NYC Demo Area

Intimate seminars

Intimate seminars (photos courtesy Broncolor Shoot-NYC)

That was Shoot-NYC, two free days of seminars and demos sponsored by Hasselblad and Broncolor. It’s not for everyone – the emphasis fell on studio, location, and corporate photography. and its promotion of a very expensive camera and high end studio lighting gear was unabashed. The purpose is to introduce emerging photographers to their gear and to solid studio and business practices. Serious professionals know that it is the archer not the arrows that matters, but HasselBron realizes that your job is easier if you have a reliable bow on your shoulder and straight arrows in your quiver. Photography is problem-solving, and the more you can concentrate on solving photographic quandaries, not dealing with technical shortcomings, the better.

The Shoot-NYC seminars feature dynamic presenters, and the converted warehouse building and its cramped rooms, is more intimate that what you find at a Javits seminar. With only two classrooms and a small trade floor sandwiched in between, you get to spend a lot of time with the teachers and seasoned pros. The gear is pretty intimidating, but it is nice to see what is available and what it is capable of producing. I left with loads of ideas.

I had a great two days in New York with minimal damage to my wallet, though the knock-on effect of my visit to the Olympus booth has yet to materialize.

Amherst 2013


Every year, I make the five hour trek to Amherst, MA for the NECCC (New England Council of Camera Clubs) convention, a weekend affair where over 1000 photographers, ranging from beginners to enthusiasts to seasoned pros, gather for seminars and fellowship. And of course to look at the excellent selection of money-sucking gear and tours on the excellent trade floor put together by Hunt’s and the suppliers. The campus is the least photogenic on Earth, but the photography on display makes you forget where you are.

Not scenic UMass campus.

Not scenic UMass campus. Photo by D. Gould.

As I will be shooting wildlife for the first time this October, I paid special attention to travel and outdoor offerings. The excellent Roman Kurywczak gave the best one hour introduction on shooting wildlife imaginable, and David Wells (finally, an Olympus shooter) mixed inspirational photos with practical advice. Dave uses mirrorless cameras, which sets him apart from the crowd, and Olympus was there in force, offering rentals for the first time, right alongside Canikon.

The weekend also featured the excellent Dave Cross from NAPP/Kelby, conference favorite Janice Wendt, who is now working for Perfectly Clear, Jim DiVatale, who always has something new to teach, conference regulars Joe LeFevre and Mark Bowie with their challenging night and time lapse work, and Truman Holtzclaw, who might be the funniest photographer on the planet. Keynote speaker Nevada Weir told interesting tales of risky photography and showed fascinating documentary photos, though her presentation oddly failed to hold the audience for an hour and a half. I don’t blame her – because of remodeling, the keynote had to be delivered twice (Friday and Saturday) in an uncomfortable hall, after dinner, and following a half hour of awards and raffles. Once the Fine Arts Center renovation is finished, we should be moving back to a suitable venue for this sort of presentation.


Phenomenal instructors. Photo from Mike Moats.

On the technical side, Brenda Hipsher from X-Rite (color management) and Cemal Ekin (printing) clarified issues and techniques that puzzle a lot of photographers who are taking the leap and managing their own workflow from capture to output.

There were a few clunkers, as expected, though I did not expect the normally superb Shiv Verma to look so completely lost demonstrating selections.

As always, one of the highlights was Antoinette Gombeda’s Camera Club session, where I got to meet other club officers and exchange ideas. This year the topic was finding programs and speakers, and I learned a lot about that often frustrating endeavor.

As for trends, which are always apparent at these gatherings:

1. The RAW vs JPG war is over. With today’s fast cards and cheap storage, there is no reason not to shoot RAW exclusively.

2. More photographers are managing their own workflow. “Calibrate and profile your monitor” has become as pronounced a mantra as “Shoot RAW.” It has even extended to profiling individual cameras. Color Checkers and iOne/Munki machines were flying out the door.


3. Despite the refinement of global adjustment software like Lightroom, and slider and preset driven plugins from OnOne, Nik, Topaz, and Perfectly Clear, etc., shooters are taking more control over adjustments and learning to make selections and use layers. The tablet has become the latest must have peripheral, touted by virtually every speaker. As Jane Conner-Ziser memorably said at an event I once attended, “Using a mouse to do retouching is like using a potato to wash your car.”

PTH650_1 as Smart Object-1800px-russet_potato_cultivar_with_sprouts1 as Smart Object-1

Time to start making plans for next year’s trip to this marvelously run, informative, inspiring conference. I definitely want to avoid those lousy dorm beds by finding a hotel, so I am booking now.

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