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I don’t usually go the negative Nellie with anything photo related, sometimes it’s best to keep your mouth firmly shut. But I’m not going to take it anymore, I’m as mad as hell, and I’m going to lean right out the window and shout it to the world, enough, I’m done with rubbish samples of film technology on the Web.
The samples I have in this article are not what I’d class as fine art, but I hope they demonstrate a few points along the way.
Backstory For These Pics
A few years ago I decided to take a series of photos of locations around my hometown which I believed would disappear or be radically changed within the next few years, there were around a hundred pics in the set. Indeed it was more of a historical record, something I encourage my students to do in their own hometowns. I decided for artistic reasons that I wanted to shoot the set on color neg film, I was particularly after the subtle color and granularity for printing purposes and also for posterity it meant I had a collection of negatives as well as digital files.
In the interim period pretty much all the things I shot are now gone, sadly so are quite a few other locations I hadn’t the foresight to record.
The film was 35mm Fujicolor X-Tra 400, so nothing special at all, probably not a film ever regarded for its ultra-fine grain. The scans were done with a custom rig I built using my Sony A900 and a Nikkor Micro 55mm f2.8. I use modern mirrorless cameras now as I can get better focus and overall results, so these results are nowhere near the limit. The A900 Sony’ 12-bit files were always an issue for this task having a tendency to posterize in some situations when working the neg inversions.
Before I launch into my rant, I need to make some things really clear. I don’t want to be taken out of context, though I’m sure the trolls will charge headlong from beneath whatever bridges they’re living under to flog me mercilessly with their wisdom and wit (probably not much wit, but if you do want to lash me, do with a smile and joke).
So before you launch back, bear in mind these six things.
Thing number 1. I think color neg film is lovely stuff, I shot with it professionally for 25 yrs, I’ve nothing at all against the stuff.
Thing number 2. Film does have a charm of its own, especially color negative film and it’s a beautiful option for artistic expression. Slide film really doesn’t float my boat, it lacks dynamic range and looks too much like, ah, digital.
Thing Number 3. I know intimately what great prints and enlargements should and will look like when shot on neg film, and I know how to create them, I spent years processing and printing color neg professionally both for my work and other photographers.
Thing number 4. The film stocks we have on offer today are somewhat more limited than in the past, but the quality of them is as good as it’s ever been, if there’s a quality issue it’s not the film.
Thing number 5 This rant has nothing to do with peoples’ choice of subject, artistic merit or any of that stuff, I’m talking about the technical aspect of processing/scanning/editing/printing. Its got nothing to do with who makes the prettiest pictures or the best doco shots etc.
Thing number 6. No, I am not about to give you a lesson in how to do all this stuff, I just want folks to be aware that things are currently a bit crook yet can be so much better, I guess I want to spurn you onto to better results. However, you may pick up some tips from this, and I have added some choice links at the end.
So Why Am I So Flipping Aggravated?
Well, every now and then for entertainment sake, and just because I get a little nostalgic, I like to have a look at what happening in the film sphere. I should know better because when I do, I just come away feeling all grumpy and out of sorts.
What’s the Problem
Almost every time I view at a film review, test, insight, samples shots etc, (Including those on some of the better-known sites, and no, I will not name names) I am absolutely dumbstruck and disappointed by the lack of any decent skills regarding scanning and post-editing film images.
Now I know that color neg film is hard, it’s much more challenging to work with than digital, there’s much to know. I could sit down with you for a year of coffees and shoot the breeze on film and its intricacies, so I understand that it may well prove challenging for many shooters to get reliable results, especially those who are digital natives.
Notice that exclamation mark….
Neg Film is not meant to be “color shifted, golf ball size grain infested, shadow-blocked, highlight-clipped, out of whack crap”! And I bet I’m not the only old codger that feels this way.
Seriously guys, if I or any of my professional contemporaries of the film era had produced the sort of technical results that are often passed off on the interweb today as examples of the “wonderful visual healing power of film” we would have been forced into the darkroom to drink a pint of bleach-fix as punishment, and then had film clips clamped on our nipples while we were flogged with an enlarger cord.
Guys, guys, you’re giving neg film a lousy wrap, seriously, many of you need to lift your game. It can be so much better and honestly, and if you do it right, you will LOVE color neg film.
The images I see all over the Web, on reviews, Flickr, etc are almost all examples of how color neg film looked when we seriously f-ed up! Color neg is impressive stuff, and the actual prints are lovely, and just in case you had forgotten it’s intended to be printed, hell we used to call it “color print film”.
If you had a color shift problem, it might mean you hadn’t nailed the filter pack on the enlarger, but more likely you processed the film at the wrong temp or for too long, maybe you used depleted chemicals or contaminated your print developer.
Yes, much could, and did go wrong.
But here’s a little factoid for you, when something went wrong, we didn’t pass it off as “the finished product” to our clients and then call it art as a subterfuge. Nope, we sorted the chemicals or whatever the issue was and re-did it, which sometimes meant re-shooting, unfortunately.
Oh and by the way, with color neg film, “if your highlights ain’t singin, your technique’s gone swinging”, I just needed to get that in there, grrrrr.
So just why is it that almost all these so-called test shots are technically compromised?
No, no, no, I don’t want to hear that, “but Brad, I did it that way cause I wanted a certain filmy look” stuff. I’m onto you.
Basically, most latter-day filmies just don’t know how to work with this material. And sadly perhaps those of us that do or at least did, just don’t care enough to tell you “youngsters” how. After all, we wouldn’t now shoot neg film on a commercial job at all, it’s just too bothersome and expensive. Yes, yes I know some of you souls do, which is fine if you’re into making your commercial life harder than it needs to be.
So it’s one thing to rant, but let me try to be at least a little bit helpful, here are 12 home truths about color neg film for those of you who think you might like to try it or do a better job with it.
1.) First and foremost, yes, it is hard stuff to work within the digital realm, that color mask is a pain in the rectum and neg film is seriously low in contrast, and that’s before we start talking about dealing with aged negatives and processing anomalies. You need extra effort to work around these issues.
2.) It was always meant to printed, the paper and the negative are two peas in the same pod, one compensates for the other, and when it’s all in balance, we get magic. Sadly it’s very hard these days to get high-end optical images made, on the other hand, most of the newer films do scan better than the older ones as the film producers know there will now be a digital step in the middle.
3.) Contrary to popular belief, color neg film is not monstrously grainy, in most cases if you have “runaway grain” you messed up the exposure/processing or more likely the scanning method and or settings.
4.) Color neg film does not inherently create images that are blurry and lacking resolution, again the scanning process has a significant impact on this. In fact, color neg film can be very sharp and detailed.
5.) Correctly exposed and printed color neg images do not produce prints that have a cyan color cast, red shadows, bleached highlights and muddy mid-tones, (I realize some of you new age hipsters might find that hard to believe) but poor scanning and editing certainly can.
6.) You absolutely must edit your neg files after scanning. It’s possible with excellent scanning software such as Silverfast to get results that look quite reasonable straight up. However, excellent results will always require a wide array of curves, levels, HSB, selective color, noise control and output sharpening adjustments to make the most of what’s on offer. If you want a simple workflow, shoot JPEGs on a decent digital camera.
7.) If you want to use film to get cross-processed, fogged, bleached, high contrast transparency looks and other so-called “artistic filmic” renderings, you’d be far better starting with a digital original and filtering.
8.) On the other hand, if you really want a lo-fi look (and I well understand why you might) then go for Holga style camera options, in this case, it’s the camera more so than the film that defines the look.
9.) Even 35mm 400-800 ISO color neg is capable of holding good levels of detail, the scanning is more often the limit.
10.) Scan resolution is a topic of great and often uninformed debate. Usually, the resolution used is wrong! To control grain, you either have to go low or very high on the resolution. There’s no middle ground, most scanning resolutions alias the grain, making it look far more pronounced than it really is. Low res scans can smooth over the grain, very high res scans can reproduce the granularity but in a very accurate, tight and inevitably beautiful way. Few home scanners even approach having enough resolution to do the latter. But, a high res digital camera like the Nikon D850 working in 14 bit will.
11.) Lots of film toting digital natives seem to get uneven results due to camera movement and poor focus. Take this to the bank, modern digital shutters and their flipping mirrors, IS and focus systems are far better than anything on your old Pentax SP etc. We old farts struggled with technical aspects every day and you will too, basically if you want reliable results, you’ll need to pay a lot more attention to your shooting techniques than you would be used to with your modern digital camera. Fluffing the technique end of things does not automatically make it art!
12.) Finally, the advantages of film are genuinely only realized in prints. Screen resolution/pixel pitch and a bunch of other things make the digital display of neg film images always less than ideal. If all you want to do is display your film images in low res on Facebook, Instagram or on your smartphone, you’d be far better off shooting digital and applying filter effects such as those super cool ones from VSCO.
But, yes, yes, I get it that some of you just want to have the experience of shooting with a film camera, I sometimes do so myself. And if you want top shoot any real medium or large format you won’t have any choice. NO, I don’t think that the digital version of medium format is medium format, it’s just a slightly emancipated version of full frame, 6×7 and 6×9 cm is what I consider the real deal.
Delving Just a Little Deeper
It is quite hard to accurately edit color neg images, and the problems you’ll face are entirely different to what you’ll find with digital capture. What you’re editing is a digital file, but the image characteristics are a long, long way removed from those you get with a regular digital camera.
Ponder this, color neg film has a lovely low saturation, low contrast look, it lives and breathes by its grain, it potentially renders highlights in the most attractive way, it looks beautifully, wonderfully organic in print if well done, it has a sort of 3D feel to it.
In other words, there’s a lot to love, but if you treat it like a native digital file, you’ll probably kill all that analog goodness stone dead. For example, executing the grain with blur tools will instantly defeat the whole point of color neg, though it might well look better on your iPad etc.
You just don’t apply tone curves and levels in quite the same way with color neg edits, you need to be very subtle with HSB adjustments, you definitely don’t sharpen the image in the same way and treating grain as you’d treat noise is sure to court potential image quality disaster.
Film is meant to look like film, not some half-baked digital rendering and certainly not like some poorly processed analog abomination either.
Guys, we can do better, way better. Sadly, there are very few articles that I’ve come across which offer reliable and useful insights; however, the ones below are well worth the clicking. I encourage you to accept that there’s no smooth pathway to excellent results from color negs, you’ll need to work at it, but I urge you to do so, the final print results can be really rather fantastic.
Color Correcting Color Negatives. An old article on color correcting negatives in Photoshop, the program has changed a bit but much of this info still holds true, and the insights are excellent.
Film grain and Aliasing. One of the very few articles on the Web on grain aliasing, few folks even appreciate this happens at all, many tests I have done confirm the complete truth of this matter, at least for me.
How to ‘Scan’ Film with a Camera—Well. Part 1 of a series on scanning film with a camera by Ctein. He ultimately feels it is a bit too tricky to do well but acknowledges the quality. That said with dedication you can create an excellent rig to do this, which is precisely what I have done and used for the scans in this article.
About the author: Brad Nichol was an early digital adopter. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Nichol’s not quite yet into his dotage, teaches photography in rural NSW and the ACT, is the author of “Ultimate iPhone DNG”, and is a regular photo blogger and addicted tinkerer of pixels. You can also check out his Instagram pages @bradnichol9186 and @zerooneimaging (the latter is iPhoneography). This article was also published here.
Using Diffusion Filters: A Comparison of LEE Soft Filters 1 to 5
I’ve used diffusion filters for years but rarely for their intended purpose. If you haven’t heard of them before, diffusion filters are transparent glass or plastic sheets that go in front of the lens and diffuse the light as it enters the camera. The resulting images taken with a diffusion filter have an appearance of reduced contrast that ultimately looks hazy, offering a slightly dream-like effect.
This soft-focus, hazy looking image was a more popular style many years ago and it was a way of making skin look soft and more flattering in a time before Photoshop and skin retouching. Now diffusion filters rarely get used as we prefer to take a clean looking image and retouch the skin ourselves later on in post-pro but I use them for creative lighting effects rather than to soften features and the effect is growing in popularity as we look for ways to introduce some interest into our shots via in-camera effects.
Why would you use a diffusion filter?
Well, of course you can still use diffusion filters for their originally intended look and those photographers who love the old black and white Hollywood portraits of the 1950’s love using diffusion filters to mimic that style. But I personally use them for a different reason and that is to create lens flare, and a lot of it.
Take a look at the quick side by side shots below to see how much a diffusion filter actually does compared to not using one when they’re used in conjunction with studio strobes.
There’s still a few diffusion filters on the market but like I said, they’re not as popular as they once were so they can be a little tricky to come by. As a result, I must receive at least 3 or 4 messages a week asking which one I use, where I got it, why do I use it etc, etc. So I thought I’d put this quick article together to answer some of those questions.
Which diffusion filters do I use?
I have tried several over the years but the one that I’m currently using is by LEE Filters and their diffusion filters are actually called ‘Softs’. Here’s the link to their site: LEE Soft Set.
LEE doesn’t distribute directly so you’ll have to find them via your preferred seller but that’s the set I use so just search that name on Amazon, WEX or B&H etc.
As you may have also noticed, these filters come in varying powers and the LEE Softs come in a pack of 5; Soft 1 providing the weakest diffusion effect all the way up to Soft 5 providing the strongest diffusion effect.
I personally find the LEE Softs provide the best flare effect for what I do but another key reason for me using them is that they come in those 100mm square panels. That means I can use any of them with all of my lenses compared to buying a set of screw-on lens filters for each of my lenses.
What’s the difference between Soft 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5?
The pack offers you 5 different options of varying powers so let’s take a look at the difference between them all.
In the shots below I took six images; the first without any diffusion filter and then one shot with each of the various ‘Soft’ filters in front of the lens. Take a look at the images below to see the varying effect that the filters have.
It should be pretty clear to see what the filter actually does but it’s also worth mentioning that I only use this diffusion filter in certain situations, specifically and only when there is a light behind the model. It’s this light behind the model that is creating the hazy effect you see here. The light is wrapping around the subject and then diffusing as it enters the filter on the front of the lens.
Without the light behind the subject, you can barely notice any difference to the shot. So much so that when I used to have screw-fit diffusion filters, I forgot I still had it on my lens and shot an entirely new setup without noticing the effect.
Do diffusion filters blur the image?
This is a question I always get asked and I understand why because in the current digital age we’re wired up to think that this effect can only be achieved through blurring. My response to that question is ‘no, it doesn’t blur the image’ but ultimately you need to decide what you consider ‘blur’. I’m not trying to be purposefully obtuse here as I feel the common definition of bur has shifted in recent years.
The diffusion filter works by allowing light to enter the shadow areas of a shot, it has nothing to do with de-focusing or anything else like that. The reduction in contrast you see is often mistaken for soft focus because that is how software ‘sharpens’ an image after it’s been taken, it adds contrast to adjacent shadows and highlights.
Conversely, a reduction in contrast appears to soften an image and is often misinterpreted as blurred. But don’t take my word for it, have a look at the zoom crops for the exact same shots below and you decide as to whether the image is being blurred or not by your own definition.
You should be able to see from the shots above that there is actually a very sharp image underneath all of that haze so it does open up a lot of creative options in post-production to really push and pull saturation and contrast without clipping detail in either the highlights or the shadows.
I personally really only use the numbers 1, 2 and 3 but primarily the Soft No.2. This seems to be a good midpoint for the portrait work that I do. The others will have their uses but number 1 is rarely strong enough to warrant a diffusion filter and number 5 is just crazy hazy. You’ll probably also notice that 2, 3, 4 are very similar and then it jumps in effect on number 5. It could be argued that a pack of 3 filters is actually all that’s going here but you’ll have to test them out for yourself.
Like I mentioned before, I prefer the LEE Soft 100mm square filters as you can just hold them in front of the lens quickly, take a few shots, check how it looks and move on. This is far faster than screwing on the screw-fit filters only to find out that you don’t like the effect with your particular setup.
Plus, the large square filters can be used with all of my lenses so I can switch from my 50mm to my 105mm instantly and still use the diffusion filter with both of them.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to try your diffusion filter in a variety of setups, yes I recommend having a light behind the subject for best results but I’ve also set up lights to specifically shine into the filter and not onto the subject at all. Combine this with colored gels and you have a very creative and visually engaging shot on your hands.
About the author: Jake Hicks is an editorial and fashion photographer based in Reading, UK. He specializes in keeping the skill in the camera and not just on the screen. If you’d like to learn more about his incredibly popular gelled lighting and post-pro techniques, visit this link for more info. You can find more of his work and writing on his website, Facebook, 500px, Instagram, Twitter, and Flickr. This article was also published here.
The New York Times reports that the FAA is scrutinizing on the harnesses used in “doors-off” flights, as they attach passengers to the rear of the cabin and do not have any way to be removed quickly in the event of an emergency.
FAA Statement 1/3: #Helicopter operators, #pilots & consumers should be aware of the hazard from supplemental restraint devices during an emergency evacuation during “doors off” flights. The FAA will order operators & pilots to take immediate action to control/mitigate this risk.
FAA Statement 3/3: Additionally, the #FAA will conduct a top to bottom review of its rules governing these #flights to examine any potential misapplication that could create #safety gaps for #passengers.
And among doors-off helicopter flights available across the US, many use harnesses that are difficult for passengers to remove themselves. The passengers in the doomed NYC flight were given small blades to cut through the tethers in the event of an emergency, but it’s reported that many passengers may not even be aware of where the blades were located in the cabin.
Supermodel Showdown: Elsa Hosk
Stockholm, Sweden native Elsa Hosk once balanced a professional basketball career with modeling before eventually leaving the court to pursue fashion full-time. Her towering, lither frame quickly won her admiration and she secured a successful, breakout runway season and subsequently walked for the Victoria’s Secret annual fashion show.
Elsa has sat for the most famed lens men and women and also previously served as muse to Guy Aroch for a 2012 art exhibition dedicated solely to the blonde …
Tinashe’s Album ‘Joyride’ is Coming
Tinashe is finally releasing her new album! The artist has been teasing her sophomore album Joyride for the last few years, giving us teasers with various visuals and releasing several singles. She first announced the album back in September 2015, but when fans pushed for a release date on Instagram a few days ago, she replied slyly, saying “next month” with several tongue out emojis. Now, we have a new date and an album cover.
Joyride will be available for your listening pleasure on…
RIP, Chuck Westfall: The Photo Industry Just Lost a Legend
Chuck Westfall has died. A legend in the camera industry, Westfall was a photographer who served as a technical representative and advisor at Canon for decades.
Nancy Winnings, Westfall’s sister, announced the news today in a Facebook post, sharing the above photo and writing: “This gentle man passed away today. He was a loving son, husband, father, brother, and friend. Service details to follow.”
Canon writes that Westfall earned a photography degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology and spent 10 years doing commercial photography and photo retail work before he joined Canon in 1982 as a Technical Representative.
Over the years, he climbed the corporate ladder and eventually became Canon USA’s Technical Advisor for the Consumer Imaging Group. In this position, Westfall regularly connected with photographers, journalists, companies, and retail outlets, become well known for his technical expertise regarding Canon’s camera equipment.
Westfall had a hand in the development of some of the camera industry’s best-known digital cameras. In 1994, he helped Canon and Kodak develop the pioneering EOS-DCS line of digital SLRs. He would later go on to help Canon in developing its market-leading digital cameras for both consumers and professionals.
From Facebook, minutes ago: This is Chuck’s sister, Nancy Winings. This gentle man passed away today. He was a loving son, husband, father, brother, and friend. Service details to follow. RIP Chuck Westfall pic.twitter.com/p69n9yg2hW
So sad to hear about the loss – all our loss – of Canon's Chuck Westfall. We all learned a ton from Chuck – and loved him. Every time I hear Jethro Tull, I think of Chuck. That will continue…. 😪 pic.twitter.com/OKmE6SRxjn
“Chuck was also unusual for the exceptionally high regard in which Canon’s headquarters management held him,” writes Dave Etchells of The Imaging Resource. “Japanese and American culture and management styles are very different from each other, and it’s rare to see someone so thoroughly bridge that divide, earning the deep respect of Japanese management in the way Chuck most certainly did.”
RIP, Chuck Westfall, and thank you for your service to the world of photography.
Image credits: Header illustration based on photo by Nancy Winnings
Photography Contributes .2B to US Economy: Govt Report
Ever wonder how much the arts and photography contribute towards the United States economy? Wonder no more. According to a newly-published government report, the arts contribute over $763 billion to the economy, and photography represents over $10 billion of that total.
Those numbers come from new data released earlier this month by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The findings were based on information collected in 2015.
“The arts contribute $763.6 billion to the U.S. economy, more than agriculture, transportation, or warehousing,” the NEA reports. “The arts employ 4.9 million workers across the country with earnings of more than $370 billion. Furthermore, the arts exported $20 billion more than imported, providing a positive trade balance.”
In fact, the arts were found to add four times as much to the US economy than agriculture.
And of the $763.6 billion generated by the arts, “photography and photo-finishing services” accounted for $10.2 billion, with a 2.9% annual growth between 2012 and 2015. By comparison, the motion picture industry contributed $99.3 billion.
“The data confirm that the arts play a meaningful role in our daily lives, including through the jobs we have, the products we purchase, and the experiences we share,” says NEA Chairman Jane Chu.
Samsung Ramping Up Image Sensor Output to Overtake Sony for #1
Sony is the 800-pound gorilla of camera sensors these days, boasting a global market share of around 50% in late 2017, but increased competition may be looming on the horizon. Samsung is reportedly ramping up its image sensor production capacity with a goal of overtaking Sony for the #1 spot.
South Korea’s ETNews reports that Samsung is making the move in response to exploding demand for image sensors, especially for use in the cameras (and dual cameras) found in smartphones. It’s also reportedly confident that its image sensors can match Sony’s in technology.
“It is expected that Samsung Electronics will become a clear-cut top comprehensive semiconductor manufacturer in the world,” ETNews writes.
Samsung has reportedly been working to convert manufacturing lines that were used to produce computer memory into additional lines that make camera image sensors. An industry representative tells ETNews that these conversions will increase Samsung’s image sensor output from 45,000 units to 120,000 units per month. Sony reportedly has an output capacity of ~100,000 sensors per month.
“Even if Sony’s plan of extension of its plants is considered, Samsung Electronics will be able to have equal or greater amount of production capacity than Sony once its conversion processes are finished,” ETNews writes.
Syrian photographer Mohamed Alragheb has won the $120,000 Grand Prize in the seventh annual Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Awards (HIPA). The photographer was unable to attend the awards due to the ongoing hostilities in Syria. However, one of the subjects of the photograph, fellow photojournalist Abd Alkader Habak, received the prize on his behalf, and was given a special merit award for an extraordinary act of bravery.
The events that lead to the photograph unfolded April 2017, in the Rashideen neighborhood in Western Aleppo. Both Habak and Alragheb were documenting a people exchange down a peace corridor that had been allowed under ceasefire, when a massive explosion occurred near the two photojournalists. Habak returned four times to the scene of the explosion to remove injured parties as a result of this car bomb. In the winning image, Habak is seen running away from a recently exploded car carrying a severely injured child, his camera still hanging about his neck.
Communicating directly to PDN from Syria, Alragheb had this reaction to winning the Grand Prize. “First of all, I would like to thank the patrons of HIPA for the chance to showcase my photograph as a winner of this competition to the rest of the world. This award can be considered one of the biggest milestones in my life, despite my young age.”
On the impact of the award he said: “I hope that my win will afford me more chances and opportunities in photography and that I will continue to seek success in all avenues of the artform. On asking about his brave colleague he said “I would like to say that Alkader Habak represents a true Syrian revolutionary with his strong touch of humanity and his determination and drive to help others in need.”
Asked how the prize will affect him personally day to day, the winner stated that, “It will drive me to capture more powerful photographs and improve my skills as a photographer in the difficult circumstances we are currently experiencing in Syria”.
The Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Award was established by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, in 2011. The theme of the 2019 Awards will be “Hope”.
Judges for this year’s competition included Khalil Hamra, AP photographer; Randy Olson, Documentary Photographer; Ami Vitale, photographer, writer and filmmaker; David Alan Harvey, photographer and editor; Ed Kashi, photojournalist and filmmaker; Gunther Wegner, founder of LRTimelapse; Jean-Francois Leroy, photojournalist; Peter Bill, time-lapse creator.