October 11, 2016
So let me tell you a little story about how this picture came to be… and why it has someone else’s copyright attributed to it, with permission.
Those of us in the photography circle know all-to-well the plethora of equipment reviews that exist on the Internet, magazines, books, ebooks, YouTube channels, podcasts, webcasts, rumor sites, et cetera et cetera… Some of these review sites are painfully obvious clickbait sites that are written in a manner that caters to the itch-to-buy that many consumers have. In other words, they are written for the consumer that seeks justification to buy by overloading him or her with supporting evidence and no counter claims. The purveyor of these click-bait sites makes their money by always suggesting it is a good idea to buy the equipment, and an even better idea to purchase it directly from them, or through their website. These are the bad ones, and if they existed in real life they would look a heck of a lot like the guy selling sunglasses on
some every corner in Midtown Manhattan.
Then, there are those who have somehow found a way to make a career out of what I imagine started as a hobby. I’ll explain it through an analogy that I believe we can all understand, since WordPress’ statistics page for this site shows well over sixty percent of you are looking at this page on an Apple iOS device.
Do you remember that first time when your iWhatever was placed in your hand or arrived at your doorstep? It wasn’t just the device that was simply amazing, was it? It was the packaging. Everything about the packaging was… art. The quality of the cardboard, the perfect edges, the razor sharp print, even the covering of the cardboard was velvety smooth.
Then there was the way the device was secured inside. Not covered in blisterpack-plastic, but perfectly cradled. The cables and charger were not thrown in the box, were they? No, they were also cradled in a manner so as to remind us that presentation is at least as important as the product. This is why French Patisserie earn five times the money as Dunkin Donuts when they both sell the same thing. For an artist or anyone that appreciates art, the presentation, form, and function are at least equal to the specification of a product.
So imagine you were so taken back by that sense of awe that you continuously sought to find other products within that genre and have the chance to put them through their paces and then takes notes comparing and contrasting them. For example, if you bought a Samsung maybe it arrived loose, or thrown in a plastic shopping bag from the food store? Or with a fire extinguisher? I don’t know, I never bought a Samsung product so I’m just guessing here. : )
There are a number of camera equipment reviewers that I regularly follow because they all seem to share this innate desire to study craftsmanship, form, and function as well as the expected list of specifications. I form my own opinions in the end, but it is nice having some trusted help along the way.
But can they be trusted? Are they really the same as the sunglasses guy, but just better writers? Is this all salesmanship?
Well I certainly cannot speak for all of them, but it sure is nice that when you meet someone in person they instantly present themselves as the genuine article and exceed expectations. Such was the case this week when Matil and I had the great opportunity to spend some time with “The Official” Gordon Laing, from CameraLabs.com.
Regarding his business model, my estimation is Gordon can be defined in three ways: First, he is an artist. Second, he is a scientist. Lastly, he is a journalist. My opinion is the hierarchy of importance works in that order, but he would not exist without any single part of that list- and it is the final member (journalism) that allows him to explore, test, and comment on the equipment (science), which helps us all to find that single perfect photograph that we all constantly chase (art).
But that is just the business model for Camera Labs. What is more important to me is that he is a small business that adds to the world dynamic. He is not a paid sponsor of any corporation or media conglomerate. The reason the manufacturers speak to him is because as a legitimate member of the press, he has the ability to reach thousands of people with news of a new product. That reach is very valuable to the manufacturer; however, Gordon has made it clear through his reviews that the merits of the product must stand on their own and they will not be influenced through compensation or fine dining.
What is easily forgotten while we chase the Internet for all the answers to all of our first-world problems is that in the end he is a person, just like the rest of us. Behind that web page sits a guy painstakingly reviewing equipment to the best standards he knows how, without guaranteed promise of a return for his investment. He compiles data, writes pages and pages of text, and manually loads it all to his website. He is his whole staff. You will easily see it is a daunting task after spending just a few moments looking through his website.
The person matters more than the product, in my opinion. I’m already keenly aware of the product, so if we had purely a question and answer session where I asked him to cite facts and statistics about camera gear all afternoon, we never would have had an opportunity to get this picture:
Capturing the Flat Iron building square on, above street level, is not a photograph that is easily captured. Most city photographs involve tilting the camera upwards to get the shot, so when we have the opportunity to keep the camera square and level and still capture the image… that is a nice feeling and the resulting image is always impressive.
I later learned that he has tried to get this picture on three other visits to NYC, but was unsuccessful. That might not seem like a big deal to those of us who are fortunate enough to have NYC’s skyline in view from our kitchen window, but for Gordon it is somewhat more difficult. Did I mention he lives in England?
The first afternoon we met was very time-limited, so after about five minutes of failure we gave up on it but I told him I’d work on it and let him know if I had any luck.
Luck came the next morning. In the form of an old Italian man.
I spent the next morning scouting out the location and trying to find a way to capture this historic monument in a way that looked perfect. And if you look on the viewfinder of that guy’s camera in the series above, you’ll notice I was not the only one.
At some point around 9:27am, that very luck I was talking about struck. This old Italian guy comes up to me looking gruff as anything and says, “You wanna take a picture of this building?” He then points to a seven story building one block north and says, “You go in there to the third floor and you take a nice picture.”
I asked about door security and his instant reply was, “It’s a showroom!” And with that, he was off. He was not off to talk to anyone else, he was off to wherever old Italians are always off to. I took a closer look at the building and then it hit me. As my gaze went steadily upward they met with the gigantic letters that were assembled in a manner that read, “PORCELANOSA”
Of COURSE! Porcelanosa is a very high end tile, marble, kitchen and bath shopping experience. I went in to one of their showrooms in New Jersey some time ago and instantly realized our home was… well, have a look at their site and see if you catch my drift. I couldn’t believe I did not notice it the day before.
But that still does not mean we have an in. Stores of this caliber are not your neighborhood Target. You don’t just walk in and dirty up their floors. And, frankly, it has to be that way because if the hundreds of tourists on the street knew that this building was the perfect spot for the perfect picture… they would have a real problem.
So we formed a plan and Gordon worked the receptionist with ease with his grand plans to rehabilitate his bathroom. He didn’t mention his bathroom was a thousand miles away or more, but then, she didn’t ask. After a short chat, we were off to the elevators to “take a look at their bath and tile offerings on floors six and seven.” It was nice of her to mention that the sales staff were on the third and fourth floor, should we need any assistance. That tip kept us away from the third and fourth floor.
In the end, perfect success. Gordon used my camera to grab the shot he was seeking, I learned a few things about photography over the course of a couple days, I learned a lot about coffee, and made a friend from “across the pond.” It is nice when chance meetings become mutually beneficial.