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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

William Neill - Intimate Nature

World-renowned fine-art nature photographer William Neill has found a fresh direction, thanks to a new digital camera

Digital capture was another matter. “I first started thinking about digital capture when I saw Stephen Johnston's work,” Neill explains. “He was doing these amazing large-format digital captures that interested me. However, his setup was expensive—it was really expensive—and I just didn't think it was viable for me.”

Then, in early 2004, something happened. Neill was given a Canon EOS-1Ds to try out. He knew about the high-resolution image sensor and the fact that it was a full-frame sensor meant he could get the full wide-angle effect out of his wide-angle 35mm lenses. Still, Neill didn't expect that he'd necessarily want to use the camera for the grand landscape. As impressive as the camera was, it wasn't going to replace the 4x5, but when Canon sends you an $8,000 camera and asks you what you think of it, you don't just send it back with a note that says, “I'll stick with my view camera.” So Neill took it out into the field.

“The Canon EOS-1Ds was the first digital camera that I felt was really viable for me,” says Neill. “I had seen prints from it and they looked very good. They still weren't like my 4x5 prints when blown up to 30x40, but they looked very good. While using my 4x5 predominantly, I could see the EOS-1Ds offered a new approach and possibilities.”

When film was the only game in town, professional photographers didn't have a tradition of using a single camera for all of their work. Instead, different subject matter would naturally lend itself to a particular format. When speed is of the essence, a 35mm camera was the ideal choice. For studio portraits, it was the medium-format camera while large-format view cameras were called upon for situations when the subject could be relied on to hold relatively still and maximum resolution was needed.

Things are different with digital capture because digital backs for medium- and large-format cameras are extremely expensive and many pros simply can't afford them in their operations. The 35mm-style digital SLRs have been very popular, thanks to their relatively low cost and the very high quality of the images. As Neill was discovering, though, these cameras aren't the perfect choice for everything, but they're the perfect choice for something. Neill decided to see if he could find subjects that he wanted to photograph for which the Canon EOS-1Ds was the perfect choice.

It has been said that we become slaves to our possessions; that can be especially true for photographers. It's easy to get so caught up in one kind of photography because of the gear that's used that you can easily find yourself embracing the camera's style rather than your own imagination. Large-format shooters are prone to the phenomenon—you get used to the ritual of shooting with a view camera and suddenly you're only thinking about creating images to which the view camera is suited.

A world-renowned photographer and artist, Neill has plenty of experience with a variety of gear. He's comfortable with just about anything. In order to see what he could do with the Canon EOS-1Ds, he sought out its inherent strengths—freedom and expediency.


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