I love it when a shot comes together…

Last week Shari DeAngelo and I got together with model extraordinaire Maureen Haley for a faux “bridal shoot” for some portfolio building. The shoot was great, and when we finished up on location we went back to my studio to recoup/start packing up… we were supposed to finish around 6:30, and it was almost 9pm at this point. Now I had this idea kicking around in my head for a while… The first floor landing of the exit stairs in my building has this great grungy look – crumbling brick, peeling paint – the whole 9 yards. I had this vision of just tons of light streaming out the cracked door, and a model peering around, maybe a little curious or a little scared at what might be on the other side… kind of an “Alice in Wonderland meets Poltergeist” kinda vibe.

Of course Maureen, being the champ she is, was up for it!  Luckily I had tried out a few lighting setups a while ago when I first had the idea, so I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted to light it – I need one big light for behind the door to make the light pouring out, then a 2nd snooted light to illuminate the face , and a 3rd for just a touch of foreground light (the cast shadows were an extra benefit).

We got everything set up and started shooting. Of course about 20 frames into the shot I realized I had flipped my camera into MF mode, and they were all out of focus (it was too dark to tell through the VF but I was wondering why my focus confirmation points weren’t lighting up). Luckily I realized early enough and was able to get a couple of good frames. Of course, about 3 frames after getting the shot the Vagabond powering the AB800 behind the door gave up the ghost!

Some processing in lightroom and the final result was just as I pictured it. Like I said, I love it when it all just comes together in the end 🙂 (link goes to larger image on flickr)

The Other Side...

The black-and-white project…

I have to admit, I love black and white photography.   Either film or digital coversions, there is just something about the rich tonality and simplicity of a well-executed black and white photo that speaks to me.  Not that I’m a “purist” or anything, I just like the aesthetic 🙂

However, for some reason I’ve done almost *no* black and white work recently… Why? I have no idea… but almost everything out of my camera for the past 6 months or so has been color (not that there’s anything wrong with that!)   So… to “break out of my rut” as it were, I’ve decided to do a month of exclusively black and white shooting.  Starting sept 1, I’m setting my default import preferences in Lightroom to apply a b/w conversion on import.  I’m not going to change my normal shooting habits, keep on working as I always do only it will all be b/w.    It’s always good to shake things up a bit to get the creative juices flowing 🙂  Pictures from the project will be posted here in the coming weeks…

Photography and Encaustic painting

Recently I’ve been playing with a new way of combining my mediums of photography and painting. Basically I am taking photos, printing them on rice paper, and collaging them into encaustic paintings – the rice papers is thin, so when it is covered with wax, it disappears, leaving only the lines of the image showing through.

Here are the first two pieces, just as “proof of concept” I will now be starting a series I am tenatively titling “Stories in Wax and Pictures” as a collection of portraits incorporated into encaustic works. Should be an interesting project!

(click the images for larger versions)

On Photography and The Phantom Tollbooth

This is a story about why I take pictures. (one of the many reasons!)

At some point in our evolutions as photographers, I’m sure we have all said to ourselves “Why am I doing this?” What drives us to grab our cameras in the morning along with our jacket and shoes and make photographs?

What drives us to attempt to transcend the realm of the “snapshot” and to create “art” with our cameras?

The answer to this is as individual and unique as all of us – we each have our own answer(s), so allow me to share one of mine.

Whenever I ask myself that question (or someone else asks me!) the first thing that pops into my head is “The Phantom Tollbooth”

To explain: “The Phantom Tollbooth” is a book by Norton Juster, one of my favorite books when I was a child. It is ostensibly about a discontent young boy who one day discovers a mysterious tollbooth in his room, driving through which takes him into a strange “Alice-in-Wonderland” style alternate reality. All of his adventures however are rich with allegory, social commentary, satire and even philosophical and mathematical discussions on the nature of life and the universe. It is one of those childrens books that can still be appreciated by adults for it’s depth of meaning and richness of language and concept.

In particular when I think about why I photograph, I recall a particular chapter in the book that made a profound impact on me when I was young.

The passage begins with Milo (the protagonist) coming upon what appears to be a bustling metropolis – people running here and there, going to work, going home – busy busy busy. The strange thing is that there doesn’t seem to be any “city” visible – no buildings, no parks, no cars, nothing – they people are just running around in seemingly empty space. And this is what Milo learns about the city (quoted):

The City of Reality

“…the most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that. Then one day someone discovered that if you walked as fast as possible and looked at nothing but your shoes you would arrive at your destination much more quickly. Soon everyone was doing it. They all rushed down the avenues and hurried along the boulevards seeing nothing of the wonders and beauties of their city as they went.

No one paid any attention to how things looked, and as they moved faster and faster everything grew uglier and dirtier, and as everything grew uglier and dirtier they moved faster and faster, and at last a very strange thing began to happen. Because nobody cared, the city slowly began to disappear. Day by day the buildings grew fainter and fainter, and the streets faded away, until at last it was entirely invisible. There was nothing to see at all.”

Now when I read the book as a child, I thought that was just about the most awfully tragic thing I had ever heard, and it still stuck with me as a I grew older. I think too often we find ourselves in the positions of “racing from place to place, looking at our shoes” The hackneyed old “stop and smell the roses” cliche rings more true than ever in our increasingly hectic, fast paced lives. You can open any paper and find articles on how we are overworked, over-stressed, over-stimulated, over-everything-ed.

For me, photography is a way of “reframing” that state – of forcing me to slow down and actually *look* at the world around – not just with the eyes, but with the mind – with the heart. Whether I am looking at a flower, a beautiful landscape a model or whatever I want to make sure I *see* it. I refuse to let the city around me disappear.

The act of creating a photograph becomes a meditation on our true perception of life.

And that is why I photograph.

I take better pictures with primes.

As I mentioned in my previous article I am a devotee of the humble fixed focal length lens, AKA “prime”

As a predominantly fine art/street photographer, I have spent most of my photographic career not really “needing” zooms, but as I move more into the realm of commercial/assignment photography, I recently picked up a fast standard zoom (16-50/2.8) for when I need the flexibility over a prime.

so for the past few months while I play with my new toy, learning it particular quirks and characteristics my primes have sat on a shelf while my 16-50 has been attached to the camera.

And you know what? My pictures have gotten worse. Continue reading I take better pictures with primes.

2007 in recap…

with the new year upon us, a new folder begins in lightroom.  (I arrange my images primarily by date, hierarchically – exceptions are for images of my paintings, and special projects/scanned images)

According to lightroom, I have 4322 images from 2007.  I know this is not a lot for some, but I do cull my images fairly aggressively.  Even so, looking through a years worth of pictures I can say I really only have probably 30-40 (or less depending on how picky I am being)”good” pictures (good meaning something I would make a large print of or show as an example of my work) 

And actually I’m quite happy about this.  For one thing it means that I am becoming more critical of my own work, which motivates me to do better work. 
Also, a 1/100 “good” shot ratio is not that bad when you consider that probably at least 60% of those 4000 photos are family event/party/social snapshots – never intended to be “artistic”, simply recording memories. 

Right now I am compiling a “top 10” of 07.  My 10 “best” images from the year.  I’ll round them up, analyze them, and try and learn from them.  Why did they work, and how can I build upon them to do even better in ’08. 

Stay tuned!

99 sources of inspiration

I always find the work of great photographers very inspiring, both creatively and technically.  I think studying the work of masters of the craft helps us to hone our own skills and our own eyes.  To that end, I think it’s awesome that DPS (digital-photography-school.com) has posted a list of links to 99 incredible photographers and their portfolios.  These are some really talented folks, some of the best and brightest contemporary photographers. 

Definitely worth a look

LINK

Are you a saver or a culler?

I am always refining my Photographic workflow. I tend to be a compulsive “organizer” and keep tweaking/changing/updating how I organize/store/process my photos

I’ve found it interesting when reading about other photographer’s workflows that they tend to be divided into 2 main camps – the “Savers” and the “Cullers”

Continue reading Are you a saver or a culler?

Do you revisit old photos?

I was reading THIS ARTICLE over at The Online Photographer, and it made me curious – I wonder how many photographers keep revisiting old photos, updating and re-processing them.

 

I know I do – I love going back to an old image with “fresh eyes”. Often I will see exactly what it needs, or even just something I want to tweak. With lightroom, this process becomes super-easy, as I just go into the history panel, save the current settings as a snapshot and then tweak away to my hearts content. If I am not happy with the outcome I know I can instantly revert back to the previous settings.

 

Try it – you might find an unpolished photographic gem among your old shots!

Why I love primes.

Hi, my name is Ed, and I’m a Prime-a-holic.

Not that I have anything against zooms.  I have one, in fact – and may even buy another (a 2.8 standard zoom is very useful in many situations)

I’m also not obsessed with “ultimate image quality” – my attitude is that if it’s good enough to get the results I want (namely a print up to my standards) it’s good enough to use.  In the end, it’s the image, not the equipment.

So what is it I love so much about primes?  Yes, I like the fact that my primes are high quality, and yes all the standard arguments for primes apply – they are generally optically better than zooms, are usually faster, and can be much more compact… however to me the appeal goes beyond that.

Consider the following analogy:

I often compare using a prime lens to riding a singlespeed mountain bike.  (for those who don’t know a singlespeed bike is a bike with only 1 gear – no shifters, no nothing – just a single gear)

Now most folks scoff at the idea of riding a bike – espeically a mountian bike without shifters – “you need gears” they cry.  “You need to be able to downshift on hills and upshift on flats”

And yes, it’s true – riding without gears is certainly less convenient than having 18 or 27 or 30 gears at your disposal.

However, there is a certain beauty, a certain “zen” to riding singlespeed.  You aren’t thinkking about shifting or worrying about what gear you are in – you just ride.   You also develop a heightened awareness of the area around you, since without the benifits of gears you must use the terraain to your advantage.  You learn how to conserve momentum through descents to carry you up hills, you learn to mold yourself to the terrain – customizing your effort to the obstacles ahead.

instead of forcing the situation to adapt to you, you must adapt yourself to the situation.

Many of these same ideas apply to photographing with a prime lens.  You don’t have the luxury of changing focal length (read:shifting) when there is a “hill” – you have to adapt yourself in order to frame your shot.   And just like with cycling, there is a certain “zen-like” appeal to this.  Instead of seeing this as a limitation, think of it as a creative opportunity.

Having a single focal length forces you to think more carefully about composition.  It forces you to “plan” your shots more, to pre-visualize them.

After using a particular prime lens for awhile you begin to “think” in it’s focal length – you begin to “see” the way the lens “sees”.   I know how a picture will be framed before I even bring the camera to my eye when using a familiar prime.   This is also a very “zen” experience while shooting – you develop a kind of “rythm” to your shots – the equipment disapears, and you “become one” with the scene – not worrying about zooming, not worrying about framing – just seeing, and recording.   Not to mention this is a great “creative exercise” – for all the reasons mentioned, using primes will definitely improve your compositional skills.  Why not try it – if you don’t have primes, just leave your zoom on one setting for a day (I suggest either 35 or 50mm equivalent – that’s ~23 and 33mm on an aps-c camera).  It may be an eye opening experience!

That being said – I don’t particularly do event or sport photography (or any other kind of “rapidly changing” photography).  If I did, it’s zooms all the way!  Sometimes convenience *does* take precedence!