By Essdras M Suarez, a two-time Pulitzer prizewinner and a Kennedy award winner for photojournalism.
I feel one cannot tackle this question without first establishing a photography quintessence. As Ansel Adams so eloquently stated: “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it!”
I find the words in this quote to ring the truest and loudest. This is simply because in it, Adams stated one of the ultimate truths about the picture- making process. The photographer will always be the most important element of a photo.
So having set the records straight, what is the best camera in the world?
This is a very common question and one I’ve heard asked repeatedly throughout my years on the field, in the speaker’s circuit and in classrooms. People always want to know what kind of camera, lens, or file was used in the making of a photo.
My answer is always the same: “The best camera in the world is the one you have in your hand at the time you are making the photo.”
This is because that photographic device at that precise moment is the only one you can control. Thus, it’s the only one that matters.
On a recent visit to Cuba I found myself at the biggest cemetery in Havana called Christopher Columbus. It was a perfect Caribbean day with sunny bright sky, puffy white clouds and endless visibility.
I was waiting for my photo- workshop students to return with photos and I was passing the time taking photos with my iPhone. I noticed a couple of brightly colored American classic cars parked side by side. Their placement was in such manner if you stood behind them you could perfectly frame the cemetery’s central chapel. I made a couple of frames with my phone and just I was about to make the same photo with my DSLRs the cars moved away and the moment was gone.
However the end result still worked. Because I took the time to use that photographic device at hand in the best possible way I know how to while making a photo. I took the time to properly compose the image and to lower myself below the normal eye-level perspective.
And so has been the story of photography from the beginnings of time. We photographers work with what we have at hand.
Starting with Thomas Wedgewood’s unsuccessful attempt in the year 1,800 to bring the Greek’s concept of camera obscura and that of exposing a material to light in order to capture an image. To Louis Jacques Mande’s daguerreotypes in the first half of the 1800s, the first successful commercial production of a photographic device. To our current state- of- the art DSLRs with their weather proofing, shock absorbing and 10 frames- per second capacity.
To the latest addition of the mighty mirror-less wonders, with their light weight and impressive sensors. And finally to the most modern and specialized high-speed cameras capable of producing Femto-photography, with its trillion-frames per second capacity that allows scientist not only to be able to see how light particles travel through a room but actually to be able to see around corners.
However the same common denominator runs through all these varied tools of photography: Without the photographer, the camera would just sit there as an inert object, a tool waiting to be used. It is up to us, the humans behind the lens, to make these artifacts the best cameras in the world.
Ever since I left my native country of Panama when I was 18 years old, I’ve always tried to visit at least once a year. Sometimes my travel schedule has gotten to be so crazy that I’ve had to skip a visit here and there. The result of those missing visits becomes painfully obvious to me when I find myself having a hard time recognizing the ever- evolving landscape of modern Panama. This usually happens when driving around with friends or relatives, I happen not to pay attention for a minute or two to and by the time I look around again I find myself a stranger in my own land.
Anyway, I’m heading back home this week to embark on a photographic project of my own design and for some R&R. I can’t quite give out the details now. But suffice it to say, it involves beautiful people, exotic locations and lights. More information to come in an upcoming blog post and of course it’ll be accompanied by the resulting photos.
During this visit, I’ll also be giving a million eyez sponsored slide show presentation on Street Photography to Club Fotografico de Panama. So in honor of this presentation I wanted to share a couple of my images of Panama. The last one is so we don’t forget that Panama’s appeal is not only its modern skyline but also its nature and people. Ciao, ciao.
Leader: Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Essdras M Suarez
Assistant – Cuban Photography Instructor Joel Hernández Marín
Access to artisans and free enterprise
Meet with photographers and artists in Havana to discuss their work and the important role art plays in the lives of Cubans
Learn to improve the artistic and technical aspects of your photography
Experience the new spirit of free enterprise in paladers in a casa particulars
Participants: Min. 8 – Max. 12
Tour Locations: Havana and Trinidad de Cuba
Dates: TBA, 2021
Double Occupancy: TBA
Single Supplement: TBA
Registration: TBA, 2021
Final Payment: TBA, 2021
Join Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Essdras M Suarez, Travel/Cultural Photographer M-J L. Adelman and Cuban Photography Teacher Joel Hernández Marín for an inspiring photographic journey into the heart of Cuba while learning to improve the artistic and technical aspects of your photography.
Capture the architecture and daily life on the streets and in the historic squares in Old Havana. And, of course, photograph the ubiquitous and beautifully restored classic American cars, which are tenderly dubbed by Cubans as “almendrones” because of their big sensuous curves.
Meet and interact with Cuban artists in their studios and enjoy performances by both traditional and Afro-Cuban dancers
Visit Fusterlandia – the home of painter, sculptor José Rodriguez Fuster – and delight at how he has decorated his neighborhood into what is described a fairyland of Gaudiesque mosaic art sprinkled with elements of Picasso and Jean Debuffet.
Stroll Callejón de Hamel where you will marvel at the environment created by painter, muralist and sculptor Salvador Gonzales Escalona.
Shoot side by side with Cuban photographers and share photographic thoughts and perspectives
Return briefly to the 1800s in the most delightful, warm and congenial city of Trinidad de Cuba
Experience the new spirit of free enterprise as we patronize family- owned restaurants and lodge in casas particulars (privately owned accommodations).
And as always, we will keep our eyes open for photographic opportunities as we get to know Cubans through the lens — one-on-one!
7 nights of accommodations
Customary gratuities throughout the program
Included 17 meals
On your own: 1 Lunch and 2 Dinners
Lodging in hotels and Casa Particulars (Privately Owned Accommodations)
Note: Full itinerary and details available upon booking.
“This was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. Our leader Essdras was outstanding and was able to provide an insight into the Cuban culture that was unique and fascinating. If you take this trip, expect to be shoved out of your comfort zone, in a very good way. As I said on the previous page, easily the best group leader I’ve ever traveled with, including those from National Geographic and Smithsonian. In addition, a wonderful photography teacher.” … Ann
A great technique to depict motion is panning because of its ability to combines camera movement and slow shutter it can produce extraordinary results. It is a tool best used to depict motion around a moving subject, which usually is moving horizontally and preferably parallel to the camera.
However, this technique requires practice and a steady hand. Because you have to pick a specific subject to continuously keep in focus as it keeps moving in front of you, and as you follow it with your camera.
It also demands an understanding of the concept of “equivalent exposures,” which are designed to give you the same amount of light for the proper exposure while juggling different aperture and shutter speed combinations. These in term will yield the desired effect when properly used. .
TECH STUFF: Camera #nikonZ6 / lens 14-30 4.0 S / ISO 2,500 / F 13 / Speed’ 1/3th / WB:
Jerusalem, Israel- 12/03/19 Walking around in Tel Aviv. (Essdras M Suarez)
A. For example, in this situation, the camera light meter initially suggested a proper exposure at this ISO of 2500 should’ve been that of F 2.8 at 1/125th.
But that simply did not fulfill my needs at that moment since I wanted to depict the motion of the bus as it took off. If I’d have used the camera suggested speed/ aperture combination then I’d have ended with a static boring image.
So instead, I used an equivalent exposure from all the available combinations available to me:
Equivalents: F4.0 at 1/60th, F 5.6 at 1/30th, F 8.0 at 1/15th, F 11 at 1/8th, F 13th at 1/3rd, etc
This is a pretty good article that further explains this concept: The Basics of Equivalent Exposures published in Peta Pixel.
One of the key points when it comes to silhouettes is the separation between compositional elements.
In other words, you want your silhouettes to be immediately recognized for what they are I.e. a person walking, a couple on a bench, people on the phone, all by a moored boat, etc.
Quick recognition leads to better appreciation.
Another reason why this photo works so well is that it was shot from a slightly lower angle than that of eye level (from a boat). Thusly, the blue sky being reflected off the surface of the water adds a speck of color in an area that otherwise would be without any details.
TECH STUFF: Nikon D5 / ISO 320/ F 4.0 / I/8000th / WB Sunny….
This optical effect refers to the creation of a very defined sunburst with
clearly discernible spikes or rays originating from the source of light i.e.
the sun. As opposed to a blob of light without define borders or edges. This applies to all different sources of light such as the sun or artificial lights.
This is due to an optical phenomenon known as diffraction in which the light diffracts through the blades of the lens creating this effect. Also, it is best achieved when using F apertures above F 11 all the way to 22, or 32 depending on what lens you are using.
However, the same diffraction effect that produces the starburst effect, can actually soften the overall sharpness of the image. So, you have to experiment and find your happy medium between the creation of an appealing sunburst and overall sharpness.
Even though, I’ve always known about this optical phenomenon it wasn’t until I became a social media influencer for Latin America for the Nikon Z7 camera that I started paying attention to the true potential of this technique.
Furthermore, the 14-30 4.0 S lens that I use with this camera produces some of the most eye-catching starbursts I’ve ever seen. I am not a technical guy but it has been explained to me this has to do with the size of the mount on the camera body and the closeness between the back element of the lens and the sensor.
Technical note: All of these images were shot at an aperture of F22 and varying ISOs and speeds depending on the situation. As it turns out, I, personally, haven’t noticed any loss of sharpness at its maximum aperture of 22.
Alexandria, VA 051220 Changing street lamps. (Essdras M Suarez)
No, I don’t believe we should be actively involved in the identifying of perpetrators. Nor should we be expected to voluntarily hand over our images to the authorities. For that is not the job of a photojournalist. Now, if the photos after being published, purchased, or subpoenaed, are then used for such purpose. Well, then that is another story altogether.
But before you make up your mind about my way of thinking allow me to put it within the context of the January 6th events in DC and explain my point of view. One that has been forged by decades of experience on the field as a photojournalist covering all sorts of stories including war/ conflict, and riots.
On this day, I arrived at the US Capitol a bit after confrontations between rioters and US Capitol law enforcement officers had already started. While I photographed some people scaling the side of the building, I had the chance to assess my options.
Now that I am a freelancer, I still live by the belief that as an independent photojournalist my actions should be ruled by the exact same ethical responsibilities as that of a staff photographer for one of the big media outlets. And that is exactly what I did on January 6th the day the US Capitol was attacked and breached. I documented the actions for the sake of documenting history but never with the idea in mind that I was making photos to be used to identify assailants.
I could tell right away it’d be almost impossible to get to the western door where the main clashes were occurring without having to push my way up the stairs and through a mass of unmasked people. So, I made the tactical decision to go up on the scaffolding to the right of these doors. I figured there was a good chance this high vantage viewpoint might offer me a clearer look of what was going on below.
As I made my way through the crowd, I was eyeballed hard by many but only a couple engaged me in conversation. Perhaps this has to do more with the fact I am a 6-foot tall guy who weighs 215lb who also happened to have been wearing a Kevlar helmet with the word “PRESS” stenciled in white letters, a bulletproof vest, a pair of knuckle- worn black tactical gloves, a camera bag, three cameras, and a teargas mask strapped to his leg.
Those whom did approach me mostly wanted to know who I worked for and what were my thoughts on what was going on. My answer was the same all three times, “Whatever the reasons behind what is going on here right now. This is a historic event and I am here to document it and that’s that.” They all seemed satisfied with my answer.
But as I walked through them, and I climbed up the first set of barricades they had placed sideways to use as ladders. The tension level became a palpable thing as I got closer to the area being contended above me.
Instead of going straight up, I veered right towards the scaffolding and proceeded to climb. On the way up the stairs, I saw several people having to stop to catch their breath while on their way up themselves. That alone is one of several reasons I am surprised there were such few casualties among those in the crowd on that day.
I saw people who did not have the physical prowess to attempt any of the things they were attempting on that day, i.e. climb the side of the building. The kind of things they simply had no business even trying to accomplish.
I remember training my camera on an apparent middle-age man wearing jeans and a grey hoodie scooting down the handrail of a set of stairs as others tried to climb straight up from below him. As the stairs were packed with people shoulder to shoulder. I remember thinking, all it’d take for that guy to fall is for someone in the crowd to sneeze and the resulting expanding wave of motion would eventually cause someone to lean out and push this guy down.
Once, I found a perch with a direct line of sight to the chaos below, and after several minutes of photographing the scene, I got to thinking.
I couldn’t believe how brazen some of these unmasked people bashing windows with sticks and bats seemed completely unperturbed by the fact, they were clearly identifiable.
I put on a teleconverter on my telephoto lens so I could get tighter shots and what I saw now a lot closer: the clashes, the pepper spraying, the flash grenades, the bats, the hockey sticks, the guy using a crutch to hit US Capitol police officers over their shields. It all left me in disbelief. I have seen situations like this before in other parts of the world, but never did I think I’d see this in the bosom of the cradle of democracy, the United States Capitol.
Exactly because of such wanton violence is the reason why I believe you should never make a photo for the sole purpose of later helping authorities identify the perpetrators.
When you, a photojournalist, are out there working alone and suddenly finds a hostile situation – anarchy, violence, chaos – people can suddenly turn on you: Who are you? Who do you work for?
In that moment you need to know with 100 percent certainty, you can answer with the purest form of the truth: You are an impartial journalist, there to document. Anything else can become your undoing and put you at risk.
This truth should exist in your mind above anything else without any innuendos or hints where you might even be tempted in the slightest to create material for the use of the identification of attackers.
In that instance of confrontation, you need to be able to know deep in your soul you are simply there to be an eyewitness and recorder of history. And most importantly, you are there to be the representative to the masses in-absentia
The only thing that gives you the certainty of purpose, the gravitas to carry such role is that you do not harbor any doubts of what your purpose is in such scenario.
At no time should the journalist even flirt with the idea of creating a photo for the sole purpose of identifying the wrongdoers. For that would be the equivalent of a journalist deciding to carry a weapon while covering a conflict. In the eyes of the observer, that might simply look as if you’ve decided to pick a side; thus, making you their perceived enemy.
Essdras M Suarez, a two-time Pulitzer Prizewinning photographer, has had a career that spans over a quarter of a century. He has worked in over 60 countries and he is currently based in Alexandria, VA. IG@essdras_001 / Twitter @essdrasmsuarez