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Peter Norvig on dance photography (norvig.com)
151 points by gbog 1949 days ago | hide | past | web | 29 comments | favorite



Interesting article on learning to shoot but....

To me, taking SLRs everywhere turns you from a participant to a documentarian. Additionally, and I say this as a former professional assistant and current serious amateur, SLRs for family stuff are really inconvenient, and often times just collect dust. Lastly, SLRs can take intimacy away (though they can add gravitas).

You know, photographing people is really equal parts psychological and visual. Avedon was a master of the psychological for instance, shooting people repeatedly in the same style, but with wildly different effect. SLRs to me up the psychological stakes taking what you're doing from photography to capital P Photography with a whole raft of associations there between you and your subjects.

Lastly, from a technical perspective, sensors and lenses on cheaper cameras are pretty good these days, and generally when you shooting you don't want full manual. I can shoot using the zone system if I need to (well, if I hadn't sold my light meter years ago), but with digital photography these days, the two controls I really use are Aperture or Shutter Priority and exposure adjust. If I really want to lock the exposure (for a complex strobe setup or super-consistent color) manual's nice, but it's rarely that important for casual photographers.

That said, learning to shoot an SLR is fun, just beware the significant risk that it'll wind up rarely used on a shelf.

Here's some more compact cameras I'd recommend:

Panasonic Lumix LX5

Nikon S95

Canon Powershot G12

Fuji X100 (My baby, but pricey, and it's a camera with some intentional limitations many may not like).


I agree with your last statement. The main reason Cartier-Bresson and others were able to create such powerful images was the fact that their cameras didn't get in the way.

The X100 is a good example of the principle working in the other direction. While the subject can relax more when approached with a more modest device, the photographer is also influenced by camera choice, and the X100 is a perfect example of taking better photos simply by feeling good about the camera.

(edit) Used 'camera' too many times :)


Just want to add one to your list - Nikon P60. It has all sorts of awesome features like a great viewfinder and 8 second exposure time but you can get it for under $200. And uses AA batteries, so your camera will keep on working through the day.

But if you are looking to try a DSLR, go with a Pentax Kx. It is the only entry-level DSLR to use standard AA batteries, which is pretty much invaluable if you only use it once a week or when traveling or if you plan to keep your camera for more than three years.

The whole intimacy/gravitas issue is easily resolved - don't be the only person with an SLR at a family gatherings (if you are, back off 50' or so when shooting, the angle will be better anyway) and don't carry it around your neck the entire time.


Two things to add to this: 1) A way to mitigate the risk of winding up with a camera sitting on the shelf is to start off with a used SLR from a few years ago. If, six months in, you don't like it, you can almost surely get your money back out of it on Craigslist.

2) As to bringing it everywhere, this quote from Jay Maisel jumps to mind: "You should always carry your camera with you because it’s easier to take pictures that way." Just depends on the attitude I guess. That said, I completely agree with the documentarian comment - if you become "that guy" (the photographer), you have to consciously remember to participate in things like family events, and not just shoot them. It sounds ridiculous, but it's true.


There should be a collection of Jay Maisel sayings published as a book. Throw in a couple of Arnold Newman quips, and you've got a bestseller :)

All humor aside, there is much wisdom in these sayings. W.Eugene Smith's "Available light is any damn light that's available!" comes to mind.

I think technological development in photography is both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes it gets in the way of taking really great photos, despite its intentions.


  > Lastly, from a technical perspective, sensors and lenses
  > on cheaper cameras are pretty good these days, and
  > generally when you shooting you don't want full manual.
True, but focus speed and low-light performance are still very lacking compared to SLRs. And I'd say these two are quite important for family stuff: just try to take photo of playing kids with camera which is slow to focus or has substantial shutter lag. Not all family dinners are brightly lit either.


> Nikon S95

Doesn't exist, AFAICT. Do you mean Canon S95? If so, the Canon S95 is excellent.


I think Nikon P7000 is what he meant!


As a dancer and photographer in my spare time, I've thought a lot about this too. I've written a couple of articles about it, though neither is as detailed as this:

http://stevelosh.com/blog/2008/04/shooting-girl-jam/

http://stevelosh.com/blog/2009/02/how-i-shoot-dances/


But, no more do we need these photography tutorials now that we have lytro :P (http://www.lytro.com/).

BTW, is that the Peter Norvig from AI-Stanford!!


I don't really think lytro is that big a deal.

1. The big advantage I see is that there is no need to focus, but auto-focus is becoming really quick these days.

2. I can't find a picture where I feel like changing the focused object after taking the shot. I focused on something because I wanted it that way.

3. Aside of the focusing, an SLR gives you way more control.

Lytro however, is affordable and could still sell well.


It's nice to choose the focal plane like in the demos, but it'll be more useful when I can choose the depth of focus as well.


> BTW, is that the Peter Norvig from AI-Stanford!!

Yes.


The article could be more properly called "Using dancers to illustrate a short photography 101 course".

As to dance-related tips. Unless you're planning to set up an external lighting kit (in which case you probably know what you're doing and don't need much advice):

1. Shot them when they don't move. Most dances have accent points when performers stand still, and it's usually the most visually interesting poses anyway.

2. Use panning (this works well in some dances, like waltz, less so in others).

Other than that it's just basic indoor photography technique.


> photography 101 course

I did not follow any 101 course but if they are anything like French education, then I disagree with you.

A course about photography would be made by someone having this topics as its main focus in life since 10 years or more, it would start with some history, some physic, some chemistry, maybe some mathematics grounds and gather them all in a comprehensive photography topic, etc. Even a short course summary on three pages would reflect this comprehensiveness.

While Peter Norvig's article is a simple exploration path. One start from one simple easy to understand problem (here it is taking good pics of his daughter dancing, in another paper it was solving all sudoku puzzles) and go to its resolution in a few steps. The sequence of steps he chose is interesting in itself, and maybe it is what feels the most "scientific" here: all of them are necessary to attain the goal. But while Norvig guide us on this path, he also and "by-the-way" shows some interesting landscapes in the far. It is not a "I'll explain you all about x", it is more "I walked this path and some other might be interested", and that what's make his article interesting to me.


I fully agree.


Excellent article. The one topic that could use some more emphasis is sensor size. Understanding crop factors is important since it affects what your field of view will be for a given lens. Not to mention the difference in image quality and low light performance between crop and full frame sensors is huge.

Also, I would axe the two examples of photoshop filter/color effects on page three. The article is full of great photos and then it ends with some kind of horrible filter effects.


Having just recently bought a DSLR, and trying to learn as much as possible about photography, this is great stuff. I wish Peter Norvig would write about every topic I ever have a passing interest in.

I'm envious of his ability to distill a complex scenario into simple steps.


Great! Everything Peter does he seems to aim at perfection, using a scientific approach to get there.

After years of photographing my grandchildren using a pocket camera, I finally bought a good rig this year: a Canon T2i with an excellent 25-104mm L-series lens. Amazing how much a good rig helps! Lessons help a lot also: I have a friend who is a professional videographer and photographer and we started doing photo-taking hikes that are also lessons.


That's great that you're really getting into photography, there's nothing like working alongside other photographers to really get good critiques about both technique and aesthetics.

Just remember though, science will only get you a very short distance in photo, it's an art based mostly on intuition, so just try and get the science part to the point where you don't think about it so much, to the point where it's automatic.

Some people take the science part of photography as being 90% of what it is. They shoot beautiful, extremely boring nature and studio photographs that no one really wants to look at. Be careful about overloading your brain with technical stuff, if you learn a bunch of new techniques, be sure to pare them down and keep sizable majority of your mental capacity available to relax and be creative.


Thanks, you are correct about concentrating on the creative side of photography and videography. My friend who is a pro videographer gives me many ideas to work with (different camera angles, composition, using curves in roads in otherwise nature shots, etc.), so I am being scripted, but his advice seems good. I am an amature musician and I am starting to also use my own music for videos and slide shows.


The scientific approach isn't always the best... or even a valid approach.


I think that science and art are compatible.

A few years ago one of my customers sent me the complete works of Leonardo da Vinci for a Christmas gift and this huge book includes all known sketches for paintings (as well as for inventions). da Vinci seems to have had a scientific and methodical approach to his art.

That said, I totally agree that without creativity then "art" is meaningless.


Sure science and art are compatible, and often found together in people or things.

The anti science points in this thread seem to be of the "please don't come in my garden, because I will never be able to go in yours", type.


I was doing some pretty serious photography for a while, and I can't find a single thing I can find fault with that this guy says.

About the only thing I can say for most people is to push the ISO a little higher than he recommends. The D7000 I have has a very usable ISO1600, and even ISO3200 is usable depending on the subject and purpose.

The purpose of course really varies. I caught this shot shown in the NYT Bits Blog (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/roflthing-draws-the...) with a D200, which had much worse high ISO noise handling than even a D3100, but this shot was at ISO3200. Yet, it was good enough in lighting, purpose and composition to have the NYT use it.

The hardest things I've ever shot were live indie concert gigs in small clubs. The lighting is often terrible, quarters are cramped (at a well attended show at least) and there's often no side/back stage to shoot from. What's worse is if someone's running the lighting board, its likely that things are strobing and changing constantly. It becomes super hard to just have your camera on auto, because its often wrong then, and yet its hard to meter yourself if things change nonstop. Consequently, I end up shooting about 100-200 photos for a 1-2 hour set at minimum, but end up getting 5-6 pretty good shots out of it.

The long term solutions here are better glass (prices not moving down, and this is a market that could use some disruption), and also higher ISO sensors on cameras. I think I just saw Canon release some camera that in theory can shoot at a max of ISO 2 million+. After a while this technology trickles down to the consumer level. The iPhone 4S looks as good as many early DSLRs for shooting at night. Some of these 4/3 systems are also pretty amazing for quality/price.


Shame he doesn't talk about flash at all - I understand that he may not be able to use it in the performances he shoots, but learning to use flash effectively is also a worthwhile skill. A good resource is http://neilvn.com/tangents/flash-photography-techniques/


another hacker friendly (off-camera) flash photography resource is strobist at http://strobist.blogspot.com/


I already know why a big sensor (DSLR) is good, and I know all about AV vs speed. I didn't learn anything until part 6, which is on the second page. From there:

- Good hand held technique - tuck your elbows in for stability.

- Exposure - if you don't mind a darker photo, you can dial down both the AV and increase the speed. The way cameras are setup, you usually forget this.

- More stuff about framing. I like his stuff about "room to move" - the subjects next step should be in the frame.

It's good, but only if you read past the first page.


now that we know more about photography, could someone teach that guy something about post 1996 webdesign?




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