Buying knowledge…

I’ve been a big fan of the “Strobist” flickr forum, been following it pretty much since David Hobby started up his little blog 🙂 It was always a great place to pick the brains of some great photographers about lighting concepts, techniques, and yes even gear (although the slogan used to be “*less* gear, *more* brain…” hmmm). Recently though, it seems the focus of the group has shifted from discussions on controlling speculars and bright field lighting to “hey I have an xti and a 430ex and I want to do strobist stuff (whatever *that* means) what should I buy?”

To opine on the topic in a more general fashion, I would like to propose the following answer to most any “what should I buy” question.

Buy Knowledge.

when I look back at the evolution of my own skills as a photographer I cannot think of *any* instance were a particular piece of gear made a quantifiable difference in the quality of my photos. I can, however, directly attribute each and every improvement in my photography to *learning* or *understanding* something new.

To that end, the money I have spent on photo classes/seminars or even just having out watching more experienced photographers work has been exponentially more beneficial to me than any piece of gear. Sure the whole “it’s not the camera it’s the photographer” is cliched, but just look through flickr at the amount of absolute crap coming out of cameras like the d3 or 1ds… Folks are dropping 10k on gear who would make exponentially better images with an xti and spending the other 9k on a semester of photography classes at uni.

The bottom line is if you have a camera, you can make a picture. if you have a light you can light it (whether it’s a 20 year old vivitar or a profoto 7b). But you have to *know what* you want to make and *know how* to light it first. Once you do that, you will *know* what gear you need. Believe me, spending a weekend at a seminar with a serious photographer will improve you images so far beyond buying a 1D or set of profotos, it’s amazing.  It may not be as sexy as the latest toy, but when it comes down to it you just have to ask yourself – is it the gadgets, or is it the images? (and don’t get me wrong, I’m as much of a gadget-head as the next guy!)

If you *think* you need more gear to make better images, you don’t – you need more knowledge.  If you *know* you need a specific piece of gear for a specific application, well then by all means go crazy 🙂

end rant.

Movie? Photography? Art?

This is a semi-oldie but a goodie… for those who haven’t seen it:

A fascinating and surreal piece of art… Paintings on walls/public spaces photographed and stitched together into a stop motion piece that really plays with the whole concept of photography in and of itself.

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

New portfolios!

Since I’ve been doing a *ton* of work recently, I decided it was about time to update my portfolio on f/1.0

Kinda streamlined things a bit, lots of new work in the “people” section.

Check it out here or click on the “portfolio” link on the right

I’ve also decided to separate a lot of my personal work/projects onto flickr, rather than cluttering up the portfolio per-se – check out MY FLICKR STREAM here, and look for more updates in the weeks to come…

Joe McNally speaks at google

This is part of the “authors@google” series – Joe McNally, speaking at google.

Not only humorous and inspirational for aspiring photographers, but there are some real pearls of wisdom there. Definitely worth watching – over an hour, and I honestly wish it were longer.

Printing – Digital vs. Film and a paradigm shift.

I love prints, especially large prints.

one of the downsides
to me of digital imaging is that it lends itself to *not* printing your
work. Back in the “olden days” of film negatives, you *had* to print –
there was no image other than the print (I’m not counting slides) This
of course had downsides of it’s own – prints take up space, and are
harder to catalogue

but with the advent of digital, I feel like
more and more people are simply chosing not to print their images,
sharing them electronically via the internet and photosharing sites

And in some ways this is great. it is convenient, it
is quick, it is easy and it doesn’t cost anything. Prints are somewhat
more time consuming (if you do them yourself), require physical storage
space, and cost money.

but there is something wonderful about
the experience of looking at a rich 16″x20″ print, nicely matted and
framed that simply cannot be replicated by staring at a computer

Another advantage to printing is that digital noise and grain is not
*nearly* as offensive in prints as it is viewed 100% on a computer
screen. I hate it when someone will rant on and on about minute
differences in noise performance between x camera and y camera and iso
settings etc… and when I ask them how it looks in prints they admit
that they never actually *print* these images. Arrrrgh.

So do it! make some prints! there is no reason not too, it’s as easy
as uploading a file to mpix or such and ordering. Photobooks are good
too. it is simply amazing to me that I can get a nicely printed and
bound book of my photograhs for < $20. (I’ve been pretty impressed
with blurb) I feel like it’s pretty much made the old-school 4×6 print
album obsolete.

With so many options available, making printing easier than ever it is really a shame not to print your work!

IMPORTANT: for all photographers!

In case you haven’t heard there are 2 bills in congress right now dealing with the issues of rights of “orphaned works” meaning the rights to works of art and photographs for which the copyright holder cannot be located.

Now I am not one of those die hard “protect copyright at all costs” – I think that the internet and digital distribution is changing the business model of selling photography much in the same way that it changed the business model of selling music. Those who adapted and embraced the new model and the new media profited, those who cling to the “old ways” (cough – RIAA -cough) are doomed to fail.

HOWEVER, this bill has *serious* ramifications for copyright and fair use for photography. It is absolutely *ripe* for abuse.

John Harrington, of “Photo Business News & Forum” has written about it far better than I ever could. I agree with his assessment entirely.

check out his article here:

and email/mail your representative!

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.