Tuesday, December 4, 2012
I've been debating the consolidation of my portfolio and blog to the 500px platform for some time. I've had an account out there for a while but had done very little with it. When I went to write up a new blog post this evening, I realized that my disk space quota is full on Google where this blog is hosted. I need to either do some cleanup or give Google some money to make more room for me. That was enough to convince me to go ahead and give 500px stories a try. I'm not sure if I'll resume posting on this blog in the future. Anything is possible. For now, please find my new blog (stories in 500px speak) here. Thanks for reading!
Sunday, November 18, 2012
I attended the Waxahachie WWII Weekend recently. I enjoy attending war reenactments because it is always exciting to see living history in action. The actors who participate in these events go to great lengths to provide a historically accurate depiction of the war. The battle reenactment is only a small part of a day long event. I like to spend the majority of my time at these events mingling about among the actors, looking to capture those surreal moments where their faces reflect thoughts of their role in the reenactment. I strive to come away with images that look like they could plausibly be from a bygone era. I call these images "war faces".
My approach to taking these images is keep at a bit of a distance by using a telephoto lens. I used my Canon 70-200mm f/4 at this event. The idea is to be in the midst of the actors without influencing their actions if I can help it. It's human nature for expressions to change or artificial looking poses to be assumed when someone is aware of a lens pointing at them. Typically, I'll take a few shots as inconspicuously as I can until I'm noticed. Since I enjoy talking to the actors at these events, I'll then chat a bit before moving on. For characters whom I find particularly interesting, I may linger about a bit longer and ask them to just carry on and be themselves while I hang out and grab a few candids. "Don't mind me!"
The last time I shot a WWII reenactment event, I processed a lot of the images in color. This time around I chose to process in black and white. I set my camera to black and white mode for the purpose of seeing images close to what I envisioned for the final post processed files. I processed my black and white images from the raw files for maximum control over the conversion. All of the images were processed entirely in Lightroom using the black and white control panel to manipulate the gray levels of the individual colors. I kept contrast at a controlled level for a more period look.
I added some grain to the images to add some resemblance to film. Some photographers who shoot such events go to great lengths to replicate the look of old images, complete with scratches and stains. I considered that but opted to keep things looking clean. I look at it as a compromise of modern and period photography.
In addition to soldiers, there were quite a few characters such as nurses and USO personnel at the event. I made sure to grab some shots of these folks as well. The variety of characters made for a great visual story.
The actors gathered around for a safety briefing and a rousing speech by "General Patton". This gave me a great opportunity to pull some faces from the crowd.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
Those who follow my Flickr photostream have probably noticed my gravitation toward B&W images lately. I have been dabbling with predominantly B&W images of urban landscapes, including some work with B&W film. Shooting in B&W primarily is teaching me to visualize things in B&W (not a huge stretch for my mostly color blind eyes) and I'm figuring out when it works for a subject and when it is less than optimal.
It was the bright orange color of the above building's facade that grabbed my attention. Orange is a weird color to me. I have trouble discerning it from red a lot of times. Orange seems to "glow" more. The color really jumped out here in the late afternoon sun. My Fuji X100 was set to record a raw file and a B&W JPG. The JPG immediately looked flat upon reviewing the image on the LCD. Without the punch of the vivid color, only a flat gray remained.
Since I had the raw file, I cooked up a color and B&W version in Lightroom. The B&W version isn't bad. There is too much of one shade of gray for my tastes though. I think it would worked better if the windows hadn't been boarded up and painted the same color as the bricks. While I would have liked to have used B&W to match up with the other shots I took in Smithville, TX that day, the subject just didn't seem to work as well in monochrome. Which do you prefer?
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
The Austin SMUG group held its October meeting on Thursday, October 25. Our speaker this month was John Langford, a successful commercial, advertising and editorial photographer in Austin. Two years ago he decided he wanted to travel the world with a camera. He sold everything he owned and embarked on a journey around the globe that he dubbed "The Rompin' Stompin' Circus of Love Extended World Tour". His travels have taken through over 20 countries and the Austin SMUG was lucky enough to have him speak during a brief layover in Austin before he heads out for another year of world travel. There was so much interest in this SMUG event that our meeting had to be moved to a larger facility. Even then, it was almost standing room only at the First Universalist Unitarian Church in Austin with over 225 people in attendance.
|John Langford - Photo courtesy of Matthew Lemke|
John's story is intriguing and exciting. He literally sold all of his possessions and was down to whatever necessities he could pack in a modestly sized bag when he started his journey. Even his camera equipment is rather downsized for a professional photographer. He chose to travel with only a Canon G12. Not only does this small camera make for light travel, it is also less intimidating when photographing people. An energetic and engaging speaker, John dove right in with a long slide show of images he captured around the globe, accompanied by interesting back stories. He showed some amazing shots of the places he explored and the people he met along the way. His shots are not your run of the mill snapshots. His images captured the personalities of people and the small details of their environments. A common theme in John's images are creative captures of the small mundane details (he especially has a thing for brooms) that he said likes because they illustrate commonality in the world.
|Everything John owns fits in this bag.|
Averaging about a country per month, John has visited places such as Australia, Fiji, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Burma…and the list goes on. This was more than a sight seeing trip. John sought to actively engage with people along the way. He talked about saying "yes" to people and being open to opportunity. In Fiji, he ended up working with a marine biologist for a while, photographing fish in pristine waters with his G12 in an underwater housing. While in Cambodia, he landed a job teaching photography to children. On another leg of his journey, he was befriended by a monk who accompanied him as a passenger on a rented motorcycle!
Though he interacts with many interesting people along the way, John is a solo traveler. Of course, he misses his friends and a sense of community while traveling and he has to contend with the loneliness of solitude at times. He developed a mantra of empowering words that he speaks to himself in the lonely times. These words include "gratitude", "peace", "openness", "creativity", "joy", "compassion", "acceptance", "humility", "willingness", "clarity", "playfulness", "expansiveness", and "courage". John also shared a number of quotes that he finds inspirational. The most powerful in my opinion was that of Storm Jameson:
"Only one person in a thousand knows the trick of really living in the present. Most of us spend fifty-nine minutes an hour living in the past, with regret for lost joys or shame for things badly done (both utterly useless and weakening) or in a future which we either long for or dread. . . .There is only one minute in which you are alive, this minute, here and now. The only way to live is by accepting each minute as an unrepeatable miracle. Which is exactly what it is—a miracle and unrepeatable."
At the conclusion of John's presentation, the audience erupted in a 2 minute long standing ovation. His words and images struck a chord with our group. Not everyone is in a position to take on an adventure like John. In truth, most of us can only vicariously live the adventure through his images and stories. Regardless, I believe everyone in attendance left inspired to live life a little more fully - maybe take a few more chances, maybe say "yes" when opportunity presents itself.
John's images and the chronicle of his journey can be found on his site, Cosmic Candid Camera. Prints of his images may be purchased from his site.
Monday, October 22, 2012
I've been in somewhat of a photography funk lately. Don't get me wrong, I love taking pictures. I love getting out and exploring with my camera. Something has been troubling me about the whole thing though. You see, I work with computers at my day job. I stare at their screens and interface with them all day. I take pictures of stuff I like to get away from all that. Sort of. Shooting with digital cameras, I'm still interfacing with a computer. I have to tell the computer in my cameras what I want to do. I have to navigate menus. I have to look at an LCD. When I'm done taking pictures, I have to take the memory cards home and feed them to my home computer. Then, I stare at the screen for hours on end post processing the digital data I gathered. Oh, to spend less time staring at a blasted screen!
I've been shooting for some time now with a Canon 5D and a Fujifilm X100. I like both cameras. Actually, I love the X100. I shoot with it more often than the 5D. I'll make the fixed 35mm equivalent lens on that X100 work for everything from portraits to landscapes. The only time I haul the 5D out anymore is when I absolutely need another focal length or to demonstrate to someone that I have a "Pro" camera. I like a lot of things about the X100, image quality being at the top of the list. Lately though, I've realized that there is something else that really endears that camera to me: the "analog" feel.
The X100 has dedicated shutter and aperture dials. The aperture dial is on the lens where it belongs. Yeah, the dials operate by wire to tell the camera's processor what to do. They feel like analog controls though. When I'm shooting with the X100, it feels a little less like I'm interfacing with another computer system. It has a bit of soul. Just a bit.
Recently, a friend of mine asked me if I'd like to borrow his Canon AE-1, a circa 1976 35mm film camera. It was the shit in its day, at least as far as consumer oriented 35mm cameras were concerned. Yeah, I was down with trying it. Apart from a bit of experience in my youth with a Polaroid camera and some Instamatic 110 and disk film (remember those?) cameras, my film experience is almost nil. I was ready to give it a go. I needed a bit of analog in my process!
I started with a roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 Black and White film and hit the road. The AE-1 felt great in my hands. A bit heftier than my X100, a bit smaller than my 5D. The controls felt great. The AE-1 has an auto exposure mode, basically a shutter priority program mode. I turned that crap off and shot full manual. The slap of the mirror and that old shutter curtain snapping open and shut were music to my ears. I trusted the camera's meter for the most part, making educated guesses as I tweaked the exposure for some of the more extreme dynamic range scenes. No LCD to review, only instinct to get me through a 24 exposure roll.
Enough talk, here are some first shots.
I had my film developed and scanned through Precision Camera. After waiting a couple of days, I felt like a kid at Christmas, eager with anticipation and a little nervous that I'd get back a roll of crappy exposures! I got back my developed film and a CD of high-res TIFFs scanned from the negatives. The negatives themselves looked good, at least to my untrained eye. Back at home, I fed the CD to my iMac. I had to smile; the images looked fine, although a bit flat. With plenty of room on both sides of the histogram, I used Lightroom to boost the blacks and highlights. Some images got a little dodge and burn with the adjustment brush in Lightroom. Maybe a little vignette on one or two. I removed some dust spots. Time to process was a fraction of what I usually spend on my digital files. Apart from what amounts to simple contrast adjustment, I was OK with letting the scanned files be what they were. Quick and relatively easy. Yes, I did a little post processing on a computer but at least some of the photographic process was analog and that felt good. I may be on to something here.
I'm pleased to report that out of that first roll of 35mm film I did not have any shots that I would throw away. That probably speaks more to the exposure latitude of film than my own skill with the media. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that my exposures were limited. I picked my subjects and compositions more carefully. Without an LCD for instant feedback, I was more thoughtful in determining my exposure. No firing off frames to see if I under or over exposed. One shot, one exposure, one image. Digital cameras and a pocket full of memory cards tend to make us snap happy. That is not always a good thing.
Most of my photog buddies think I'm nuts. My good friend Mark said I was regressing. He may be right. Whatever it is, it's a good thing - at least it feels that way now. Am I abandoning digital? No, I don't think that will happen. I do plan to experiment more, try different films, and get a better feel for this analog stuff. No idea how deep I'll delve into it. Doing my own developing? Printing from negatives? Too early to say. One thing is for sure, I want my own film camera now. Got to get me one o' these!
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
My pal Mikey from Lighten Up and Shoot was in Austin recently to teach a "tag along" workshop where he takes students around on an interactive photo walk taking flash pictures of total strangers on the streets. It's a cool concept and while I'm not much of a street shooter myself I've admired Mikey's style and techniques. I offered to lend a hand and play photographer's assistant for Mikey and his students. He shares so much information on his website, which helped me greatly when I was first learning flash photography. This was a great chance to give something back.
I've had a few opportunities to assist other photographers and it's something I enjoy doing from time to time. I always get a lot out of it and it's fun to contribute to the making of great images whether I'm snapping the shutter or just being a voice activated light stand. While I am usually invited to snap a few shots on assistant gigs, I leave my camera at home. What?! Yes, you read right. Why go to the trouble of lugging gear around and adjusting lights for someone else without bringing a camera to grab some images for myself? There are a number of reasons.
|That's me on the right holding the Apollo Orb. Photo by ATMTX.|
- Assisting others lets me think about the creative process of making a photo without any pressure. I'm not the one delivering the shots. I can be relaxed about the situation and provide objective feedback and suggestions to the photographer or model as appropriate.
- The photographer is free to work without feeling any obligation to let me shoot. He or she can concentrate on the job at hand. No pressure, no competition.
- When my camera is not with me, I'm focused on the job at hand. If my camera is there, I guarantee I'll be thinking at least half the time what I'd do for my shot. Admit it, you would be too! Leave your camera and your ego at home. Be the best damn assistant you can be.
- The photographer is counting on me to keep track of his or her equipment. Carrying it around, making sure things don't get knocked over or stolen, etc. I don't want to have to keep track of my gear too.
- I can help give the model and the photographer a break. Instead of jumping in to grab shots while the main photographer makes changes, chimps shots, or whatever, the model can take a break. Sometimes it helps to engage in small talk with the model to keep boredom from setting in during down times. It helps improve my rapport with models and keeps the model engaged.
- When I engage completely in a shoot and concentrate on helping another photographer get shots, I never fail to learn something. Genuinely helping someone else work through a shot will get me thinking in ways that I sometimes miss when I'm under pressure to deliver something.
There's nothing wrong with doing collaborative shoots with other photographers but once in a while I highly recommend serving as a dedicated assistant. It'll do you some good. Make sure you get the other photographer to return the favor sometime.
Here are a few of the shots I had the privilege of helping folks get during Mikey's workshop.
|Photo by Jay Guilloty|
|Photo by Rudy Ximenez|
|Photo by Sebastian Hernandez|
|Mr. Lighten Up, Photo by Jay Guilloty|