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Sam Garcia: Making Great Photos with a COOLPIX Digital Camera

At a museum on Long Island, Sam saw the wings behind Samantha's head and thought it made an almost surrealistic shot. "It was the only picture I took that day that I posed," he says.

Sam Garcia is a Nikon professional markets technical representative and a former instructor at the Nikon School of Photography as well as a faculty member of the Eddie Adams Workshop and a frequent lecturer at photo education seminars and workshops. He is, in short, one of Nikon's go-to guys when it comes to professional photography.

With all those pro credentials, it might surprise you to learn that Sam also presents a COOLPIX program at various photo shows and events. And he doesn't just talk about COOLPIX cameras, he uses them. A lot.

"For a long time I've been sending out a snap a day to some friends and Nikon people—any shot that interests me at the moment," Sam says. "It's my way of blogging without blogging." Not every one of these photos was taken with a COOLPIX, but enough were that pretty soon people at Nikon began to comment on the excellence of the images. It wasn't long before Sam was asked to put together a program about how he uses the little cameras to make such outstanding photographs. In his presentation, as well as in any conversation about COOLPIX, Sam stresses that he carries the cameras for their size, convenience and capability.

"I go to New York City a lot, and something is always happening there," Sam says, "so I always want to have a camera with me. I thought it would be fun to see if I could get some of the stuff I wanted with a camera that literally fit in my shirt pocket. That's how it started.

"I realize there are things COOLPIX cameras don't do—they don't take interchangeable lenses and don't have the big sensors of the big cameras, but I really don't care about any of that. I started making good pictures, pictures I liked, when I quit worrying about what the little cameras couldn't do and started concentrating on what they could do."

And what a COOLPIX can do, he says, is fit into his pocket and make pictures he often wouldn't have gotten "because I wouldn't have been carrying a camera if it weren't that camera. And a very important part for me: a picture with enough pixel quality to print."

Which is interesting, because Sam doesn't print very much at all. But print quality is a benchmark by which he measures image quality. "The COOLPIX camera gives me high enough quality for any publishable need in the world—that's my catchphrase. From JPEG Fine I can make a 16x20, or even larger if it's been shot properly."

When he's carrying one of the small wonders, he takes on what you might term a COOLPIX state of mind. "It's totally different than a D-SLR," Sam says. "When I'm carrying a D-SLR I'm thinking and seeing one way; when I'm carrying a COOLPIX, I am much more likely to play, in the best sense of the word. And the reason for that is, because it's a little camera, nobody cares what I do with it. Some pros I've talked to feel the same way. I've talked to a National Geo guy and a couple of guys from some of the bigger magazines in the city, and we all have the same experience. When I pull out the D-SLR, no matter where I am, somebody is looking at me. When I pull out a COOLPIX, somebody may look, but then I become invisible, and that's the greatest thing for any photographer. I can photograph almost anything for as long as I want, and because I have this little candy-colored camera—and I love carrying the color ones, they're even more fun—and people don't get intimidated. That's a huge advantage. I've found there are several guys in the photojournalistic world who have started carrying these cameras for some events where they know they can't get in with a D-SLR. These cameras don't attract attention."

A COOLPIX state of mind has an additional advantage. "You start to think differently as far as where the camera can be," Sam says. Recently he visited Jay Maisel's studio while Jay was conducting a workshop. "He's got a bunch of people in front of the computer; the room is cavernous and lit only by the light of the Apple monitor. It's a cool picture, all these faces bathed in that weird kind of glow, and I'm shooting one of the smaller COOLPIX cameras, probably in the eight megapixel range, and I'm thinking I'm not going to get the shot because I can't hand hold it for a long exposure. Then I turn around and see one of Jay's framed prints on the wall behind me. I set the camera to self-timer, rest it on the top of the frame and let the camera take the picture at a long exposure. Now, the picture is grainy because the camera is pulling the highest ISO it can, but I don't care...I got the shot! A shot that was another impossible one."

Then there was the time Sam was in Paris...

"I'm in a weird little shop that's about the size of most people's kitchens, and it's all this strange accumulated stuff, and there are these antique doll heads, all of them meticulously crafted, all on a little shelf, some of them in a cigar box. There is no angle to take the shot, but I realize the COOLPIX can fit in the box. I set the self-timer, put the camera in there after setting macro mode and I got the shot." So is he saying that these little cameras can make you a better picture thinker? Can make you look for out of...or in...the box solutions? You bet he is.

"You can say that it's all about ideas; you see something, you get an idea, you get a picture. If these little cameras spark ideas...well, all the better. It's like Jay Maisel says, if you have a camera with you, you're more likely to get a picture. Without a camera, you're not a photographer."

Sam is just as likely to carry a COOLPIX in the S (Style) line as one in the P (Performance) or L (Lifestyle). It doesn't matter much to him. In fact, most of the time individual features don't matter. "I pretty much use everything in automatic mode," he says, "with the exception of the P6000, which I use the way I would a D-SLR-aperture preferred, set to the largest aperture."

The key, he says, is to recognize the capabilities of whatever COOLPIX you're carrying and take those capabilities to the limit...or beyond. "Recognize what this little COOLPIX can do. There is no negative side; this smaller-than-a-pack-of-playing-cards camera has unbelievable qualities. It's a pack of possibilities...think of something!"

© Sam Garcia