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|| News Item: Posted 2005-01-31

Leading Off: Oh Baby, Baby
By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by David A. Cantor

Photo by David A. Cantor

Hens' LHP Andy Van Hekken's new and improved high kick. Lensbaby on FM-2 set on AE with the f/5.6 aperture disc on C-41 color negative film. Image cropped from full frame.
Is it a real lens? Is it a toy? Is it a cool new tool? Is it a gimmick?

Whatever it is, the Lensbaby certainly created a stir on the message board recently, provoking an ethical debate as interesting as any I've read in the past several months.

For those who don't know, the Lensbaby is the brainchild of Oregon-based photographer Craig Strong, a small lens on a flexible tube that enables a photographer to create a tilt - shift effect which he calls "the sweet spot" of focus.

By pushing, pulling and bending the flexible tube you can create images that before could only be done with an expensive tilt-shift lens or a large format camera. And all of this for under a $100!

I saw my first Lensbaby at the beginning of the college football season last year when Peter Miller showed up to a USC game with one. I was immediately intrigued and ordered my own on-line that night.

In a couple of days I was shooting what I thought was interesting portraits of my daughter and turning my roasted chicken dinner at my favorite Cuban restaurant into a food shot that took me hours to shoot in the studio with a 4 x 5 view camera.

So what's not to like?

Plenty judging from the response to a thread started on the message board.

New Jersey photographer Brad Penner wrote: " ... what ever happened to the days where (and I'm not that old!) a "specialty lens" was a fisheye or a macro. The Lensbabies aren't specialty lenses, they're gimmicks. Big difference. I would never use one in any sort of editorial situation, feature or not. In fact, I would never use one ever. They're crap.

Penner added " ... as I've just said, a waste of money, and a lousy substitute for creativity. What ever happened to making good photographs? I guess everyone is looking for a shortcut to something these days."

Writing that "specialty lens" are forbidden at his publication, Matthew Apgar from Bridgewater, NJ wrote that he sees both sides of the argument on their uses but pointed out the ethical concerns that is the crux of this debate: "While I think that our jobs as photojournalists are to record interesting photos of newsworthy events and such, I think it's important to keep in mind aesthetic objectivity.

"Our job is to record images in a fair, truthful, and unaltered way so that readers can quickly get a visual idea of what's going on--even if it's not hard news. We, as photographers, can't help but think vignetting and soft focus are interesting and fun to play with. Readers, however, might not have that same artistic eye and could be confused or mislead by the visual information given. When you saw that feature photo op, did you see it all vignetted and warped? Probably not (or I'd say it's time to clean our eyeglasses)."


I guess as I settle into my twilight years I've started to explore a bit more, recently shooting portraits on large format cameras on Polaroid black & white film and finding something like the Lensbaby intriguing.

What the crux of this debate, judging from these and other comments is: What is the line that we (or our publications) set for use of various tools to capture images and report the story?

We are journalists, but are we not also artists using our creative skills ... and yes tools ... to sometimes interpret a story and show a side that the reader doesn't or can't see?

Photo by David A. Cantor

Photo by David A. Cantor

More Lens Baby fun around the Hen batting cage in Toledo.
• Burning down a background to near black
• Long telephoto lenses used expressly to compress distance
• Multiple strobe heads to add depth to a portrait; express -Wide angles to emphasize size
• Color gels on background lights
• Alternative processing (like cross processing film)
• Alternative (or toy) cameras (panorama, Holga, Lomo, 4x5, et al)
• High key
• Low key
• Converting what was shot in color to black & white purely for effect
• Photo illustrations
• And yes, digital manipulation

The list can go on and on ... and we ALL use some of these techniques every day.

I'm not sure this is as much a discussion of ethical boundaries as much as it is an examination of an individual's or publication's "tastes".

We have all realized that magazines (even news mags like TIME, Newsweek and SI) have more latitude than newspapers. Cross-processing a portrait of director Tim Burton produces an eerie, odd look that is fitting for a magazine story, while a newspaper shooter may play it more conservative and use grid spots to achieve a similar mood with lighting.

Forbidden in the Washington Post but a cover on Rolling Stone ... that is the reality of this situation. Standards and rules are established (or sometimes not) but they're different from place to place and from photographer to photographer.

While I was growing up, W. Eugene Smith was my idol (as he should be for most students in journalism schools). I read everything I could about him, bought every book and magazine with his photographs.

I stained up plenty of shirts while at Fresno State trying to emulate (ok ... copy) Smith's printing technique using potassium ferricyanide. Dark and moody was my middle name for a while I think.

Then I read that Smith used strobes to achieve "the look" in many of his photos. He also posed some of his photographs. And a famous Albert Schweitzer photograph has tools from another frame to mask out some lens flare in the corner.

Photo by

Book: 'Let the Truth be the Prejudice' by W. Eugene Smith with the famous Albert Schweitzer photograph on the cover.
Was I devastated? Disappointed?

At first.

But I went through my stack of Smith books one night studying the images and the power of the story telling in each of them. And I concluded that Smith used everything he had to tell the story he was reporting. Sure the "Nurse Midwife" story was mostly strobed, but did it take away from the photographs or the story?

Was the touching image of the mother bathing her crippled daughter Tomoko in the Minamata book set up? Did it matter to Smith? Does it take away anything from the story that single image tells about this tragedy?

It doesn't to me. But to some who participated in this thread it probably does.

Now that I think about this time in my life, I realize that maybe it taught me to explore new and interesting techniques and learn when they can be used to help tell a story.

Certainly the publication you're shooting for sets the ground rules on what's acceptable and what is not. But also I would hope that we realize there are no absolutes.

"I showed my Lensbaby baseball stuff to my photo editor ... hey, wait a minute ... that's me!" wrote David Cantor (the Obi-Won Kenobi of photography in my book) "So I ran an image of Hens' LHP Andy Van Hekken's new and improved high kick on my annual end-of-season feature baseball page, published on 09/12/04 ... the image is here.... (this is a weekly feature page).

"I should add that the theme of the page was bringing together images made with both traditional and non-traditional cameras (i.e. - XPan, Graphchek, Polaroid SLR680, Nikon 8mm fisheye).

Cantor wrapped up this debate in the final line of his post: "Just asked the resident, and still giddy, Red Sox fan on the copy desk and he offered that while he liked it he could see where other people who make page decisions might not. So I asked him, newsroom concerns aside, if effects like this can be used in feature assignments and he answered with that truly profound axiom, "Why not?"

Why not indeed.

'Nuff said.

* * *

This issue of Sports Shooter features a story by Trent Nelson that is also a hot topic on the message board ... shooting pro sports.

Brian Davies recently contributed an "In The Bag" column, writing about the film cameras and assorted gear he carried around on assignment for the Eugene Register Guard. This month he and colleague Chris Pietsch write about ... gasp! ... their conversion to digital cameras.

We also have Super Bowl thoughts and predictions from members of the Sports Shooter Family. And we have a brief conversation with Doug Murdoch, a partner in the new start up company Think Tank about their new and exciting products and what drove them to enter the competitive market for equipment bags and cases.

So sit back, adjust the brightness on your monitor, turn up the volume of those downloads of the Vue (not, it's not Mick Jagger, just sounds like him!) and enjoy Sports Shooter v. 75.


As always, thanks to Special Advisors & Contributors: Deanna & Emma Hanashiro, Brad Mangin, Anne Ryan, Rick Rickman, Joe Gosen, Peter Read Miller, Rod Mar, Vincent Laforet, Trent Nelson, Jason Burfield, Grover Sanschagrin, Photodude, Scott Sommerdorf, Reed Hoffmann, Bob Deutsch and Mongo Johnson.

Thanks this month to: Brian Davies, Chris Pietsch, David Cantor and Doug Murdoch.

I welcome any comments, corrections, suggestions and contributions. Please e-mail me at

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