Category Archives: Film

Bob Shell: The Loss of a Fine Photographer

In Memorium: David Bogen Brooks

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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THE LOSS OF A FINE PHOTOGRAPHER

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When we get older there comes a time when we have to update your address book regularly because friends have died. I’m seventy-rwo now, and I’m having to do this more often than I like.

The world of photography lost a shining stars recently, and I’d like to tell you about him..

My first interaction with David Bogen Brooks was in the early 1970s, when he rejected an article I’d sent to Petersen’s PhotoGraphic, one of the best of the photography magazines of the day. I was running a photo shop in Salem, Virginia, called Camera, Inc., in those days, and decided I wanted to write for photo magazines.

I’d written an article on closeup photography with bellows illustrated with some of my photographs, and hopefully mailed it off to PhotoGraphic. A month or so later it came back, but not with a form letter saying it was rejected. Instead there was a personal letter from Brooks, complementing me on my photographs, but saying the article just wasn’t right for them at that time, and encouraging me to try again with other articles in the future. For some reason I never did, though.

Run the clock forward to the 1980s and I’d succeeded in getting my foot in the door at Shutterbug, and was their Technical Editor, but acting more like the Editor, since the rest of the staff, although very good at their jobs, were not photographers, so they relied on me to select and assign articles. I bumped into David at one of the photographic trade shows, maybe the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) show in Las Vegas or Photo+ in New York. He was between jobs at the time and looking for work. That was an opportunity not to be missed, so I brought him aboard to write for us, and over the years of working together, we became close friends. If I assigned David a product review, I could rely on getting not only a good article, but excellent photos to illustrate it. David had gone to college studying design in California after serving in the Air Force. Even though he was Canadian, he was able to join the U. S. Air Force and later become a U.S. citizen. After college he got a job working for Elektra Records and went on tour doing photography of The Doors and other Elektra artists. He told me once that he didn’t like working with Jim Morrison and considered him a dangerous sociopath.

David had what I call the “photographer’s eye.”. He could find the right angle and cropping to turn an ordinary scene into an extraordinary image. He worked with 35 mm cameras up to large format, mastering all, becoming an early adopter and expert on digital imaging.

Once, in the early 1990s, David and I met up with photographer Wayne Collins in Las Vegas for a photo shoot with model Roxanne, a featured Playboy model, and took her to the Valley of Fire State Park. We spent a day photographing lovely Roxanne nude among the orange-red rocks, which cast a warm glow on the skin of our model.. No question, David’s photos from that day were the best. Not only was he a master of composition, he had a manner that put models at ease and got the most out of them.

Another time we turned a hotel room at the Rio into an impromptu studio. David was also a master of lighting (and wrote a book about it), and we both brought studio flash for the session. I have some large prints he gave me from that session that are among my most prized possessions.

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Shell was recently moved from Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia to River North Correctional Center 329 Dellbrook Lane Independence, VA 24348.  Mr. Shell continues to claim his innocence. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: http://tonyward.com/bob-shell-learning-photography/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.

Also posted in Blog, Cameras

Bob Shell: Learning Photography

Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 1977

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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Learning Photography

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Many aspiring photographers want to learn more about the art and craft of photography. There are lots of ways to do this, ranging from reading books, watching videos, taking classes, attending lectures, and attending photography workshops.

If you’re the type who learns by reading, there are many excellent books available that will teach you all the basics. When I was getting started I bought every photography how-to book I could afford and devoured them. I think I learned something from every one of them. For those just getting started in digital photography I’ll recommend the book I wrote with Steven Greenberg; The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Digital Photography Like a Pro (4th edition). It’s a little bit dated by now, but is still one of the best books for beginners. My favorite photography book of all time is Nude Photography The French Way by Laurent Biancani. It’s probably out of print, but I’m sure Amazon can find copies. It’s great, not so much for photographing nudes, but because it contains the best primar I’ve ever seen on photographic lighting. I learned a hell of a lot about lighting from that book. There was also a very good book on lighting by my friend David B. Brooks. Beyond those basics, there are many good books. The photographic lighting series of books from Rotovision are all good. They use a simple formula, a photo on one page and a lighting diagram and brief text on the facing page. The National Geographic photo guides are excellent, well written and illustrated with great photos.

It used to be that you could learn a lot about photography by reading the many photography magazines, but these days they’re pretty much extinct. The only two I read anymore are Rangefinder (rangefinderonline.com) and Photo District News (pdnonline.com). Rangefinder is directed primarily at portrait and wedding photographers (I used to write for them) and PDN is directed at high-end commercial shooters and photojournalists. My other favorite photo magazines are Vogue, National Geographic, and Rolling Stone, for the exclence of their photography.

I used to have instructional videos sent to me for review all the time when I was at Shutterbug. They ranged from exceptionally good to garbage. There was one set from a really well known portrait photographer on lighting that was completely wrong! Light is basic to photography (the word photography means writing with light), and behaves very predictably. Some of the best produced videos are those from my friend Ken Marcus. I really enjoyed watching them. Ken is a master of using multiple lights for glamour and nudes. I haven’t seen them, but I’m told there are some good instructional videos on Youtube.

If you’re the type who learns best in a classroom setting, then check out adult education photography classes. Local community colleges often conduct photography classes that don’t cost very much to take. Here in my area I used to teach an adult ed photography class through Virginia Tech and the local YMCA. We met once a week in the evenings for a couple of hours for classroom lectures, at my studio for demos, and also did some “field trips.”. Everyone who took those classes seemed to enjoy and learn from them. They didn’t cost much, and the money went to support programs at the Y.

Another possible source of learning is photography schools. The Washington School of Photography in DC offered some excellent programs. I conducted lecture/demonstrations for tbem. These were done in hotel ballrooms, and consisted of a lecture portion illustrated with medium format slides projected on a big screen, followed by a live lighting and posing demo with nude models. These were fun to conduct and I think the audience learned. My sponsor for those was Mamiya America Corp. who provided the special projectors for my 6 X 6 and 6 X 7 slides. Medium format slides are eye-popping on a big cinema screen.

Once a year in October the Photo Plus Expo is held in NYC. It can be a great learning experience, with lectures, photo shoots, portfolio reviews, and a big trade show where you can see and touch all the latest new gear. Info at photoplusexpo.com . They’re affiliated with WPPI, Wedding and Portrait Photographers International, but you don’t have to be a member to attend. I’ve given lectures there.

Of course, the best way to learn is by doing. That’s where the hands-on workshops come in. What exactly are these workshops? It depends; depends on who is conducting them. Some have a lot of classroom instruction as well as actual photography on location. The best of these that I’m aware of were those conducted by the Disney Institute at Walt Disney World in Orlando. I don’t know if they still have their photography workshops. You’ll have to check on their website. When I was there the program was a mix of traditional classroom and photo shoots at Epcot, Animal Kingdom and a Disney wildlife preserve. The photo sessions at the theme parks were conducted in the mornings before the parks opened. Walking around Epcot taking pictures with no one around except a few maintenance workers was a once in a lifetime experience. I got some great photos and I’m sure the students did as well. That year Pete Turner was one of the lecturers. If you do a Google search on photography workshops, you’re sure to find a bunch in various places on a variety of topics.

I used to conduct two-day glamour and nude workshops several times a year. Some were held in my large studio in Radford. Others in my nearby forest land. And still others at St. Petersburg Beach in Florida, the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, on St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, in London, and other locations here and abroad. I’ve had as many as 60 students attend these from as far away as Hong Kong and Japan, with a ratio of one model for every five photographers, so everyone got plenty of opportunity to work with each model.

I also conducted one and two day one-on-one workshops in my studio. These were one student, one or more models depending on the student’s desires and budget, and me. These were intense photo shoots, real learning experiences in lighting and posing plus the technical aspects of studio shoots. I charged for my time plus the model’s fee and two hour film processing. After digital came along, most of my students were shooting digital, so no film processing fees. They just had to remember to bring enough storage cards, since we tended to work fast and shoot a lot of photos. I had several repeat customers who came over and over for these.

I conducted my first photo workshops in the 80s, initially with Tampa Bay photographer Wayne Collins to get my feet wet and learn the ropes, and before I had my big studio I rented a ballroom in town so I could have multiple sets active at the same time. Those were a lot of work because I had to haul all of my equipment and props there from storage and back again afterwards. I was really happy when I found the big studio space, since I could leave everything there and ready to go. I usually had a couple assistants for the group workshops, one of them, Herb, a very big man, former football player, who acted as my “enforcer” when very occasionally one of the workshop participants got out of line with a model, either verbally or with straying hands. Believe me, no one did it twice! Herb wouldn’t have hurt a fly, but his 400 pound size was intimidation enough. Thankfully he wasn’t needed often, and he was a photographer as well, so he got to take pictures for himself.

Before each workshop I sent each person who had signed up a sheet with the workshop rules. These were pretty simple: don’t touch the models, no alcohol during the workshop, no off color jokes, know how to operate your camera beforehand. I wanted to keep the tone professional and respectful. While most workshop students were men, I did get some female participants. I never had any serious problems at a workshop, although one model did get sick one time and spent a good part of a day in the dressing room throwing up in a bucket! For my outdoor workshops I had a portable dressing room I designed that Lastolite made for me. We were going to sell them, but the price turned out to be too high when you could just buy a cheap tent and accomplish the same thing. I kept the two prototypes for use at my workshops. Even when a woman is modeling nude, she needs privacy to get ready. I always provided a catered lunch at my workshops, and the lunch break was time to ask questions and discuss photography. I wanted everyone to have a good time, learn things, and come away with some great photos. I never had a dissatisfied attendee.

One special treat that set my workshops apart from others was a prize giveaway at the end. My photo industry sponsors contributed items to be given away, ranging from camera bags, tripods, flash units, lenses, to gift certificates. Each workshop attendee wrote their name on an envelope and put a tip for the models in it. The envelopes were put into a box and as each prize was shown one of the models pulled out an envelope and that attendee got the prize. The money was divided evenly among the models. Everyone loved this, and everyone got a nice prize worth much more than the money they’d tipped. Sponsors were glad to do it for the good will it generated. I had many different sponsors over the years, including Canon, Mamiya, Vivitar, Adorama, Beseler (camera bags), Fuji, Tiffen, Kodak, Photoflex, Plume, Chimera, Paul C. Buff, Sekonic, 3M, and others. Canon used to bring loaner cameras and most of their lenses for attendees to try out. Tiffen sent a bunch of filters in 72mm size with stepping rings to fit them to most lenses. Kodak, 3M and Fuji sent free film. Adorama sent a variety of photo gadgets.

I wanted my workshops to be fun, as well as learning experiences.

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Shell was recently moved from Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia to River North Correctional Center 329 Dellbrook Lane Independence, VA 24348.  Mr. Shell continues to claim his innocence. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/bob-shell/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.

Also posted in Art, Blog, Cameras, Documentary, Early Work, lifestyle, Photography, Popular Culture, Portraiture, Travel

Mikala Mikrut: Romance With Horror

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Text by Mikala Mikrut, Copyright 2019

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Photography by Sabrina Galaviz and Alexandria Romain, Copyright 2019

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ROMANCE WITH HORROR

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  I, among many others, absolutely love horror movies. In fact, that is my genre of choice. I once screamed in a theater and had a 7 year old girl in front of me, no parents insight, turn around and give the most judgemental look. No shame. Many people I know claim to like it because they “like being scared,” but then when I jump out from behind a partially closed door on their way to the bathroom, I’m met with profanity rather than laughter of delight. So what is it really that draws us to watch gore and jump scares while also never venturing further from modern suburbia?

    Perhaps the answer is more obvious than we think. Søren Birkvad, film scholar of Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, says it’s simply an activity to avoid boredom. There is a trait called “sensation seeking” in which people with personalities that get bored easily score high on. Those are the types of people that typically like horror films. So if you find yourself easily bored and happen to enjoy scary movies, there you go. You can now add sensation seeker to your resume, with caution of course. The term could take an interesting turn.

    Another possible explanation can be found in the elements that make up the films themselves. Dr. Glenn Walters has defined the ingredients as: tension, relevance, and unrealism. I think this is the case for most exciting life situations. Horror films need tension to build, relevance to captivate an audience, and unrealism so said audience can fall asleep without salt lines or cuddling up next to their bedside handgun. In parallel, romance needs tension for heat, relevance for conversation, and unrealism to keep you wanting more. The same could be said for many more experiences, but I think for intensity purposes those three things make up only the best of situations.

    The most common answer found as to why we crave scary movies is to satisfy the “beast within.” It’s easy to say that we all have some measure of sicko. Maybe you like watching peoples’ heads getting bashed in, or the jump scare is what reminds you what it feels like to truly be alive, or maybe you don’t button and iron the back pockets on your khaki shorts. No matter how disgusting you are, horror films will always be there to comfort and remind you that there are freaks worse off than you. That’s all we long to know, right? That we aren’t the ones at rock bottom.

    I like scary movies. To others they may seem cliché or niche, but to me they are a reminder of how truly pleasant my life is. I have the privilege to not go about my day wondering if I’ll stay alive despite of a masked man or being held captive in a foreign country without the comfort of my family. The truth is that our world already has the scariest realities. Those happy endings in flicks aren’t conclusions. They are reminders that if we take action against our monsters from personal health to daunting tasks of speaking up and acting for those who are living their nightmares, then there is still hope. 

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Mikala Mikrut 2019

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About The Author: Mikala Mikrut is a junior enrolled at Southern Utah University. To access additional articles by Mikala Mikrut, click here: http://tonyward.com/mikala-mikrut-minimalism-a-modern-luxury/

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, Documentary, Exhibits, Models, Photography, Popular Culture, Portraiture, women

Bob Shell: Female Nudes

Portrait of Marion Franklin by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

 

Photography and Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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Female Nudes

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Why did I choose to specialize in photographing female nudes? That’s a question I was often asked at my lectures and workshops. My answer is that I know of nothing in nature more beautiful than the human body, particularly lithe young bodies unashamed to be naked for my camera. That’s why Marion appealed to me so much as a model; she was a natural nudist. Whenever we were in private places, off would come her clothes!

Some of my best models were referred to me by my late friend Ed Harper. Ed and his wife were both regulars at a nudest retreat near Richmond, and Ed was an avid photographer who often photographed women he met there. He’d refer the best of them to me, sometimes coming to my studio to photograph them with me. These young women were all completely comfortable posing nude, and since they were nudists, they didn’t have tan lines. Tan lines are the bane of photographers. Yes, they can be Photoshopped out, but that’s a lot of work. I once had a policewoman who wanted to model for me, The only problem was that she spent a lot of time outdoors directing traffic, so her arms where they weren’t covered by her short sleeves were much darker than the rest of her, which was relatively pale. I had to give up on her, because my Photoshop skills just weren’t up to fixing that!

Tattoos can also cause problems. One of my favorite models, who modeled under the name Elkie Cooper, had a bunch of tattoos, and I don’t know how many hours I spent in Photoshop when I wanted them out of a particular picture. In most cases I would not have gone to all that trouble, but Elkie had a magnificent body, and a wonderful personality, and brought my photos of her to life. Of course, when they fit the mood of the photo I’d leave the tattoos alone.

Skin blemishes are also a problem for photography as are scars. And I once had a model show up for a shoot with a real shiner of a black eye. She gave me the old “walked into a door” line, but I didn’t believe a word of it. We did what we could with makeup, and I posed her with her good eye toward the camera, and I don’t think any of the magazine’s readers saw anything amiss. When you’re on deadline you make things work.

My biggest peeve was when a model would make some drastic change in her look and not tell me when I contacted her to set up a shoot. I’ve had models cut off all their hair, change it to a weird color, put it in dreadlocks, get breast enlargement, gain a lot of weight, and so on, so that the person who showed up at my door looked nothing like the person I thought I was booking.

Why I chose to photograph women is simply that I don’t do well photographing men. Oh, I’ve tried, but I find the angularity of the male body much harder to pose. Of course, when I was running a portrait and wedding studio I photographed anyone who came in and wanted their picture taken (very few wanted nude photos!) I realized pretty quickly that I really didn’t like that type of photography, so I cut way down on the amount of this work by raising my prices until I was the most expensive photographer in the area. I worked a lot less but ended up taking in about the same amount of money. By the end of the 80s I was making more money from magazine work and the books I was writing than from photography, so I sold the business and moved on, only photographing things I wanted to photograph. I never looked back.

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Shell was recently moved from Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia to River North Correctional Center 329 Dellbrook Lane Independence, VA 24348.  Mr. Shell continues to claim his innocence. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: http://tonywarderotica.com/bob-shell-meditations-on-cameras-and-the-state-of-the-photo-industry-today/

Also posted in Art, Blog, Cameras, Documentary, Erotica, Fetish, Models, Photography, Popular Culture, Portraiture, women

Bob Shell: Meditations on Cameras and the State of the Photo Industry Today

tony ward cameras meditations industry photography

Tony Ward. Self Portrait. Copyright 2019

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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Meditations on Cameras and the State of the Photo Industry Today

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The first professional level camera that I ever used was my father’s Exakta VX1000. It was an odd beast, obviously designed for a left-handed user, with the film advance lever and shutter release button on the left of its angular body. It had shutter speeds, as i recall, down to 16 seconds, and an internal film knife that let you cut off part of a roll of film if you wanted to develop just a few frames without sacrificing the rest of the roll. That camera was my father’s pride and joy, and he’d saved money for some time to afford it. In those immediate postwar years Japanese cameras were considered junk, and the German photo industry was top dog. The Exakta cameras were made by Ihagee in Dresden, Germany, I have that Exakta now at my house in Radford, just waiting for my release. It came to me on my dad’s death in 2000, along with the rest of his photo equipment. It has the 50mm Steinheil lens, a lens that will focus very close; almost a macro lens, and is super sharp. The Exakta VX cameras were mechanical masterpieces. The VX1000 had a top shutter speed of 1/1000 second, while the less expensive VX500 only went to 1/500. My father got some great photos with that camera. It had no built-in light meter, so you used a separate hand meter or guessed exposure. I got to be pretty good at guessing, plus the black and white films we used were very forgiving. You could miss by quite a bit and still be able to pull off a good print in the darkroom. Of course, we developed our own film and printed the photos in our basement darkroom. For a while my father was the photographer for the Easter Seal Society in Roanoke, and the job came with the privilege of using their very nice darkroom so we would do our developing and printing there.

I must have been 12 or 13 when I “souped” my first film, and printed the pictures. Wow, that was a miracle, watching the images appear in the developing tray under the red safelight! I was hooked but good. And the pleasant addiction never went away. That sense of wonder has been lost in today’s digital world. Not that I’m down on digital, I’m not. I was an early adopter of digital, but never thought of how disruptive it would be to the business I love. Suddenly, almost overnight, major photography companies found themselves in the buggy business while automobiles took over the roads. Some companies made the transition and survived, but some didn’t.

A prime example of corporate head-in-sand blindness is Kodak. Essentially they invented the digital camera, and their electronic sensor division made, and may still make, some of the best digital sensors. But did they build cameras to house those sensors? No, they just sold those sensors to camera companies and gave away that market sector. Yes, there were Kodak professional digital cameras, but Kodak just bought Nikon and Sigma film cameras and modified them with their digital sensors and electronics. They shut down this operation some time ago. You can buy a Kodak branded point-and-shoot digital camera today, but it’s not made by Kodak. It comes from a manufacturer in Asia. So far as I know, the last cameras actually made by Kodak were some APS film cameras made at a Kodak factory in Mexico, where they wrestled with serious quality control issues. The last Kodak black and white photographic paper was made at a Kodak facility in Brazil. Rochester, NY, once “Kodak City” has seen the Kodak workforce drop radically, and people there can no longer look to Kodak for lifetime employment. It’s really sad to see this great American company go down, victim of bad management decisions. The same thing happened to Polaroid, another victim of the digital revolution. Both Kodak and Polaroid were instrumental in getting average Americans to make photographs. None of us in the photographic press anticipated the rapidity of the digital revolution, I’m sorry to say.

And now, there is another digital revolution going on, this one moving faster than anyone could have predicted. It is being driven by the cameras built into cellphones. These tiny cameras keep getting better and better. Last year saw the front covers of Rolling Stone and Conde Nast Traveler shot with iPhones! With cell phone cameras so good, many are asking, “What’s the point of carrying around a camera?”. This is a good question for the vast majority of people. And it’s sending ripples throughout the photo industry. You probably didn’t know that those compact point-and-shoot cameras were the bread and butter of the camera companies, and sales of those cameras provided the R&D money for advanced SLR development. Some companies saw those simple cameras making up 85% of their revenue. Where will that money come from now? I foresee a few camera companies going bust, unable to stay in business from SLR, high end mirrorless cameras, and lens sales alone. I’d say that Sony and Canon have the best chances of survival, as both companies are very diversified, with many other product lines to provide income. Fuji has a good probability of survival, too. I wouldn’t bet serious money on the survival of the others. At the very high end, where digital cameras sell for $ 30,000 and up, companies don’t need to sell many to survive, so it’s likely that Hasselblad, Leica, and Phase One will hang on. At least right now you can’t shoot a Times Square billboard with a cellphone, and there are other applications which require more pixels than even the digital SLRs can produce. Serious photographers will want more image control than phone cameras allow, and for things like wildlife photography only a long lens will work, so cellphone limitations will keep up a demand for more capability. To see beyond about ten years my crystal ball becomes hopelessly clouded.

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Shell was recently moved from Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia to River North Correctional Center 329 Dellbrook Lane Independence, VA 24348.  Mr. Shell continues to claim his innocence. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/bob-shell-music-photography/

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, Cameras, Documentary, Men, News, Photography, Popular Culture, Portraiture, Travel