A moment over the shoulder

A number of years ago I had the privilege of attending a workshop with a great inspiration of mine: David Alan Harvey. I came away from that week with a ton of important and subtle insight. One bit of wisdom was “Shoot everything”. This was not in the context of an assignment but in general life. If you see a beautiful scene or moment capture it! Even if there is no professional use for the image, especially if there is no monetary value, get the shot. You never know what it’s real, meaning internal, value could be.

I came across this frame in my archives a while ago. I remember turning away from what i was supposed to be photographing for the client, seeing the composition, shooting it and then getting back to work. Those ten seconds took nothing away from the job and added in this little slice of time.

 

 

 

New boundaries

This has been a long time coming. As you may have figured out, I’m all about telling stories. I’m driven to find elements of other peoples experiences and find a visual way to connect the viewer to my subjects. Yet at the same time, I personally get to go interesting places and see interesting things that are not directly part of my assignment work. I began to feel that these experiences, especially my love for adventure motorcycle travel, would be in some way inspirational to people. I thought that maybe I should be sharing these trips using the skills that I have.

So after all this time being behind the lens I’m going to be in front of it. This is odd but I think that it will be cool. I spent quite a while pondering how to pull this off as a one man band, doing all my camera and audio work, while on the road documenting my travels in the manner that I almost could if I was telling the story of someone else. Then I had to practice because having the skill set and mind set to video a subject is different than when the subject is yourself. And I had to start somewhere!

Thus I put together the first piece of an ongoing set of observations based on where my motorcycle takes me both physically as well as internally.

Like you are there

Lately I’ve read a lot of articles and videos talking about lenses in the context of “interesting” and “boring”. I noticed that all of the lenses in the “interesting/beautiful” category were either very wide/very long or very wide aperture, i.e. F/1.4 or wider. Ok, I get it. Lenses like that create a perspective that is different than what we see with our eyes and as a result produce a perspective that unto itself gets notice either through the separation of the subject from the environment or the huge inclusion thereof. However to me many people use lenses like those more as an effect than as a way to better tell the story.

I’m sure that you know what I’m talking about. The huge sweeping vista shot with a 17mm super wide to show the expanse of something but unfortunately doesn’t have a composition that leads your eye through the frame to anything other than the thought of “wow, that’s a big space with a lot of stuff in it”. On the other end is the super shallow depth of field image usually shot close up with an F/1.4 or so lens. Now I dig this sort of thing when it’s done well but I usually just think “Yeah, she has lovely eye lashes but she’d be prettier if her ears weren’t just fuzzy blobs.” Yes using a shallow depth of field can make your eye go straight to that one thing in focus and hold you there but making it an interesting composition is tricky. It can often just be a lazy way of not making a completely boring shot not that boring but little else. Sigh!

Another thing that I noticed about these articles/videos is their almost universal disdain for middle range zoom lenses. The F/2.8 24-70mm was treated like something that you would scrape off your shoe. Boring. Uninteresting. Mundane. Lacks magic. I would never use this lens. Blah, blah. But I got insulted. “Hey, that’s my jam that you are dissing! What the heck?” Well, not really but it does make for added drama in the post, right?

I think that I do about 90% of my work with my F/2.8 24-70mm zoom. Why? Well a number of reasons. First off, that range of focal lengths doesn’t have an obvious “look”. It’s not that wide and it’s not very long. I think of it as, “This is how the world looks standing here with both eyes open or … with just one eye open”. There isn’t a dramatic perspective but rather a realistic one. That’s what I go for. I want the viewer of my images to feel like they are standing there with out effects.

If the first thing that I notice about an image is how it’s shot: the lens, the processing, and not the moment and content then frankly I’m not gonna easily be impressed. If the first thing I notice is the great composition, the lighting, the moment … you know, the content of the art, and then afterwards realize how it was shot then I wanna buy that photog a beer. Great job dude/dude-ette!

The other main reason that I use a 24-70 a whole lot is that I photograph people in non-studio/controlled environments. I have to be at a conversational distance of 3-5 feet and anything wider or longer than that range just isn’t necessary. Don’t get me wrong. I do sometimes grab my trusty 17-35mm or my 70-200 and that does the trick. I always have my 50mm F/1.4 in my bag and that is pretty cool at times. But they are usually reserved for “problem solving” roles.

So the photo to go with this bit of babbling was shot a long time ago at the Colorado State Republican election “victory party” when the results where’s exactly going their way. It was made with my favorite lens, my old Nikon AF-D 28mm F/1.4 shot wide open. I just love the way that it looks by having a wide look at things but not having the normal “everything is in focus” feel that wide lenses bring. (Wait, you just went on and on about …)

Boldly immodest

This was a shoot that I really don’t normally do. Almost all of the people that I photograph I would qualify as normal-ish but in some way exceptional. My subjects tend to live their lives based on what they know/skills or their talents rather than their image. Scientists, artists, maybe the occasional athlete, business people. They are not necessarily uncomfortable hanging out with me and being in front of my lens it’s just that they don’t do that sort of thing very often. Their experience could be a bit off if not handled well on my end. It’s important for me to make them comfortable with me and my goal is to make an image that speaks truly about them as a person while being interesting enough for the average person to want to learn more. “Who is this fellow? … Huh, particle physicist,  … facinating” That sort of thing.

I know from years of experience that asking my subjects to do funny things or to take any sort of direction the way that you would expect to do with say a professional model just isn’t going to work. They don’t know how to interpret my even simple directions such as “turn you shoulder more to me and lift up your chin a bit” will be wildly exaggerated and require me to walk over and physically pose them like a human Gumby Doll. Again making them feel awkward. So, yeah I don’t do that sort of thing very often.

Then I got this assignment and I knew that it would happily be the opposite of my usual procedure. Shinesty makes outrageous clothes for outrageous people. Therefor I knew that their president and founder Chris White would be up for whatever I came up with.  When a subject asks me “what do you want me to wear” and I think that they have a good sense of humor I will reply “Do you have a chicken suit? Ha-ha-ha! Right, just wear what you want” But with Chris I said, go get stupid. He knew what to do.

I got to work: there was a huge American Flag in the waiting room and a crappy couch. I moved some things around and boom! There was my frat house scene, perfect for Chris and his ensemble. The lighting had to be as unsubtle as Chris and Shinesty are so my main light was my 5 foot soft silver parabolic umbrella placed directly behind the camera.

That’s it Chris, more sleeze … more sleeze, make your grandma embarrassed.  Perfect!

The mystery of a moment

Somebody told me once that the real trick to photographing the real world is patience. That if you stand in once place long enough something interesting will happen right at your feet. This is pretty much the basis of all documentary and reportage photography. Only you attempt to figure out where and when that interesting thing is likely to happen then you go there and wait. Street photogs know this too. Same deal. Find a target rich environment and get ready to pounce.

A while ago I was out late and was behind the bar at this cool place talking to their master mixologist about how he comes up with new tastes. That’s “bartender” for you beer-and-a-shot folks. Anyhoo there were a few people seated near me and where apparently good friends from the energy coming off of them. I grabbed this frame:

I almost remember what they were talking about but to me there is so much going on here that I don’t want to.  I want to imagine and let my mind go wild. No knowing in this instance makes the image even more interesting. The gestures, expressions and the oddness of the moment really get me.  This is one of the things that I most love about still images: they hang there forever. We never get to see how this resolves. Come back later on and there is still those two claw like hands, the side-eye and touch of arrogance.

Chickens!

Anyone who spends time with my wife and I know that we have a real, weird, thing for chickens. We totally love the funky little buggers. We think that they are cute, hilarious – especially their odd vocalizations, noble and super tasty when stewed with dumplings.  We can be mid sentence in a very serious conversation but if we find one of those feathered guys in our vision somewhere we will promptly proclaim: “Chicken!” with a huge grin on our stupid faces. Yeah, I warned you about us.

So when I got two assignments lately to photograph chickens I was thrilled. The first was a story about the people at a small farm in Berthoud, not that far from where I live, that teaches people in the burgeoning urban homestead movement how to process their poultry. It’s usually chickens but lots of people are keeping ducks and turkeys too. This day it was just chickens. It was great to see that there was a whole family who was learning how to embrace the circle of life.





It’s been very important to me to know where my food comes from and to respect the sacrifices made for my dinner table. Seeing how the Rameys honor the birds was great to see as was the way that the people taking their class did as well.

Later on in the summer I did work on an article about a family who owns Cottonwood Creek, a pasture chicken farm out on the eastern plains of Colorado. Pasture raised is when the birds have full time access to open land to scratch, peck and eat anything that their little hearts desire. That means lots of bugs, worms and plants: a properly balanced chicken diet the way that nature designed. If you get your eggs at the store and it says “free range” that really is just a marketing term that says that the chickens live in doors but have access to a space outside the huge building for them to walk around in. It doesn’t say how big or wild the space is or much else. “Free range” is essentially the same as “never having seen the sun” chickens only you pay more for the label.

 

Matt Kautz and his family own about 60 acres where their hens roam in rotation so that now mobile roost stays on one plot for more than a week or so and many plots stay fallow to allow the vegetation and bug life to recuperate and be ready for the next roost to roll in.

The children regularly help out taking care of their 5000 hens along with collecting the eggs every day. The kids think that they have 5000 pets to cuddle with.

The hens quickly learn that they roost is where they sleep at night which keeps them safe from predators.

The best part was being able to watch all the hens just being, well, chickens in their natural environment. If you have never seen this you are missing out. Chickens are essentially forest ground dwelling birds and to run around in the grass and brush hunting for bugs is what they are meant to do.

Getting down to chicken level to photograph the hunting hens was amazing. Since they are the descendants of dinosaurs it wasn’t hard to lose sense of scale and see them as tiny dinos making their way through primordial forests. I refer to the above image as “Jurassic Chicken”.

Mise en place

Mise en place (French pronunciation: ​[mi zɑ̃ ˈplas]) is a French culinary phrase which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place.”

There was a discussion over at The Online Photographer where they were talking about their difficulty of losing memory cards. This baffles me how anyone who takes their photography seriously would be so sloppy with things like the management of their memory cards. No offense intended but it makes me wonder how people work/live without having put much thought into how they want to regularly accomplish repetitive and important tasks. I am not the most OCD person by any stretch. I’m pretty loose with most things that frankly aren’t that important. My doG you will never see a photo of my insane desk or you will be certain that I’m a mental case. But when it comes to my photography I have attempted to have methods for everything that I do.

It started with a column that the late great, and hugely inspirational to my budding photographer self, Galen Rowel wrote back in the middle 1980’s about how to work with these newfangled automated cameras. He talked about how different it was to go from his lovely all manual Nikon FM2 bodies to the then space age N8008 and F4. Remember them? All the buttons and functions and information in the viewfinder was confusing and overloading. Being also a pilot he likened the experience to the difference from flying Visual Flight Rules, VFR, to Instrument Flight Rules, IFR. VFR is when you have a nice clear day and you can see for miles and it’s just like, eh, taking walk at 20,000 feet. La-de da! What a nice day for a jaunt. VFR is when you can’t see where you are going and rather than looking out of the window you are watching all of your dials and gauges that tells you where you are, where you are going and what the conditions out there are like. A pilot under VFR can fly in total darkness, fog what have you and safely get to their destination without really seeing anything. But to do that you must learn to trust you instruments.

One of the points in that column was that you need to know what instruments are important and when. Looking at all the information from all the instrument makes things harder. You need to know what to do and when to do it. He ended up saying that much of our new camera technology is lovely but always necessary. That it’s better to be an automated photographer who has important functions internally automated than to rely on external automation, the camera, to do the thinking.

I totally got it. Galen was talking about training yourself to produce systems of thought and behavior to work subconsciously so that your active mind can focus on more important things like framing or anticipating the moment. From that I began on finding everything that I could about my photography, and frankly other elements of my life, that were repeating and find methods of making them efficient and then purely habitual. For instance, I don’t have to think about packing any of my bags when I head to a shoot as I always pack them the same way regardless of what I taking. All situations regardless of load out have a standardized packing scheme. You can give me one of my bags in total darkness and I can quickly find what I’m looking for. That’s 85mm or teleconverter or remote release is always in the same place.

Thus mise en place. A chef spends time before service prepping everything that they need and putting each ingredient in a particular container in a particular place so that when an order comes in everything is ready and at hand. Shallots? Chopped and in this bowl here. Basil? Chiffonaded and right here. Squab? Cleaned, prepped and in the cooler at their knees. If they had to run around looking for stuff and chopping away to get things ready for your steak au poivre, you’d never get fed as the kitchen would be a tangled mess of panicked cooks.

Maintaining my files, used to be film – again remember that?, is no different.  Have a system, always do the same thing and you know what’s going on.

So back to the “where did my memory card go?” problem that started my dissertation. If everyone had the simple method of:

  • Make photos
  • As soon as you get home/office/base of remote operations offload all images to two + locations while applying all relevant ITPC data about the files
  • Only after verifying that all files are safely off the memory cards, format the cards in camera to be ready for the next shoot
  • Put the clean cards back where they are stored

Then you will never lose cards/files so long as you always do that above process.

You should also:

  • Use a labeler so that all of your cards have your contact info on them so that if you drop the card somewhere and it is found it can be connected to you. You should also do this with all your photo gear!
  • With same labeler put a singular and incremental number of the card for reference. This is important in a number of ways. First if you are having issues with a card you can easily know that “card #4 is giving me problems and may need to be replaced”. Also if you have a long shoot that spans multiple cards you know which ones you have used. Always start the shoot with card #1.
  • Accept that you need multiple cards for a host of reasons i.e. you shoot with more than one camera, it’s a long shoot, cards go bad …
  • Keep your cards that are not in the camera in a protective case and that case should not be black. If it is black, as my Pelican card case is, then put a big stripe of brightly colored “Hey dummy! I’m over here!” tape on all sides so that if you drop it you can easily find it. My tape is an obnoxious fluorescent yellow. I put it on all of my caps and small black photo stuff. Never lose them again
  • When cards are empty have the cards in the case with its identifying number label facing up and when they are full that side down. Thus you can easily tell by looking at the card holder the condition of your cards

So my stuff looks like this:

As a working pro I often come back from a days shooting having shot on 2+ bodies and created thousands of files that may span 6 or more cards. I don’t use huge cards because I don’t want to have a card failure and lose files that way. I often travel for multiple days of shooting and that could create files that easily span a dozen cards. If possible use cameras that have two card slots and set the camera to create backups on the second card. That is one less way to lose files but of course more cards to keep track of. But regardless have a method that works well and stick to it.

 

In the details

I think that it was a natural extension of how I learned back in my landscape photography days that I’m much more interested in the small things than big picture. By that I mean that I’m not really one for the all encompassing wide shot. There is just too much information and except for certain compositions that are very wide it is designed in a way to let your eye naturally sweep through the scene to land where the real subject is. I like those but they are hard to get because those situations are either very rare or very specific. Me, I wanna see things that are almost hidden because they are subtle. By simplifying the amount of information you easily understand what I as a visual communicator am trying to tell you. You! Look right here and notice this. Got it? Cool huh?

So when I saw this couple all dressed up and waiting on the street corner it wasn’t the look on her face but what her hands were saying and the strength of the color palette that did the talking. Got it? Cool.

hands

Hot wheels

Well folks meet my 2005 Suzuki DL650 V-Strom.

Strom

I picked her up late last summer with the intent of using her, yes bikes are always female just as ships are, to help get me places that my trusty Honda simply won’t. For those of you not familiar with these things the Strom is what is referred to as an Adventure Touring bike. It’s essentially a street bike with the engine and suspension set up to be able to go off road. Some Adventure bikes are more dirt oriented in their set up and others are more street. The Strom is more street which is fine for me. Think of it as a hot Subaru with a lift kit, skid plates and sorta knobby tires: reliable as heck and rather comfy for long hauls on the interstate but if you need to go down a hundred miles of very rough, muddy, rutted and rocky roads it will also do just dandy. Not gonna take her on tight and highly technical trails though. That’s more “Jeep” territory whereby they are just the ticket for crawling along impossible terrain but are horrible on the highway.  Other bikes are more designed for the seriously rough stuff. The Strom is the right balance for me.

All that stuff on her? Well that’s my trial load out for my big trip up to Montana that I will be doing in a few weeks. The shot above was done about two weeks ago when I was finishing up two days on the bike doing some work in the lower part of the state around Pueblo. The big trip will be two weeks on the road following essentially the spine of the northern Rocky Mountains doing some work but mostly a set of portraits for a project of mine. I needed some way to get me up there into what could be sorta rough territory with ease. Thus the Adventure Bike.

Squashing all my necessary gear into the limited space that a bike gives has been and interesting challenge. I’ll have a whole post on just what I’m taking and how I’m making it all work.

Stay tuned!

People are flowers in the breeze, or … It’s all about timing

I don’t know what it is but I seem to work in the dim a lot. Rarely do my assignments take me to where the light is bright, the sun is full and I have to deal with almost too much illumination.  Rather I’m so often working in less than ideal light from a technical standpoint. This has always been the case it seems.

Back in my early years shooting landscapes and nature everything was shot on slow chrome film there ISO 64 was standard and the high quality ISO 100 films were just coming out. Yeah the stone age huh? With that sort of thing you were shooting at f/11 on ISO 25, Kodachrome baby!, on a tripod and during the golden “hour”, more like golden 20 minutes, your exposures were in the 1/4 to 1/2 second range. Well the tripod kept the camera steady, no problem there, but you were constantly cursing any breeze that might cause that flower in the all important foreground to move just a tiny bit and render it unsharp.

Now with our amazing digital cameras it’s much less of a problem as you just crank the ISO up to 400 or 800 and off ya go! No more problems with softly swaying flowers. Ta-DA! But things are different when you are dealing with not just lowish light and slowly moving things like flowers where you can kinda predict their action and trigger the shutter at the right time. Put a person in place of that flower for a low light portrait and you see what I mean. I do this all the time where the ambient light is ISO400 1/60th @ f/2.8 or lower. Now that’s fine in a reportage state of mind. You just crank the ISO to 1600 and you get nice sharp photos with a 1/250th shutter. Oh wait! I need to light this and make the subject look good because we are indoors and all the light is coming from the ceiling creating that lovely “mask of death” look that’s so popular in Milan this season. UGH! Now what? Yep you gotta bring in the strobes and light your subject in an interesting and largely flattering way. Therein lies the rub.

Now we are going to be in the f8 region if we want the portrait to be environmental, again what I do all the time, or wider if it is much more about the subject than the space around. Both provide technical issues. If we are shooting at say f/5.6 then to blend our ambient light in given the above situation then our shutter speed is going to be a 1/15th. That is well below our threshold for hand holding so out comes our trusty tripod to keep the camera steady but it does nothing for keeping our subject sharp especially if we are trying to get expressions that are fleeting as they tend to be. Now I can just again crank the ISO to get a faster shutter speed but the problem is that my lights have a minimum output and raising the ISO makes the lights essentially even more powerful. Speedlights are often the cure because they have much less output than my monolights but it’s hard to get even illumination from them when in a four foot octabank.

Here is such a situation. I got an assignment to photograph at the Hazel Dell mushroom farm in Fort Collins Colorado. They are one of the few mushroom farms in the region so all the top restaurants in the area use them. The main grow room is very dim, mushrooms like it that way, and very humid. I shot Jim the owner at f/4.0 and 1/15th ISO 400 with one color balanced octa at camera left. Jim is a great guy but at a 1/15th keeping his laughter and expressions sharp was tough. As William Albert Allard said, “There is no such thing as a snapshot with a half second exposure.”

Hazel Dell

What they don’t tell me

I have no problem admitting that I’m a bit of a behind the scenes (BTS) junkie. If you are in my office you will regularly see, if not the news, some sort of tutorial or BTS video playing on my secondary screen while I’m working on something else. This is because I want to not only be learning constantly but about all things possible. What has been really bothering me is that when photographers post BTS videos they so often forget to tell us anything substantial. We get “here’s our location, here we are laughing while the model gets her makeup done, check out my cool shoes, check out this neat motion swoop we did with the video rig which almost shows my lighting setup, here are some artsy frames of stuff that doesn’t really show us anything except for how artsy we are, here’s a clip of me gesturing to the model and fade out to my logo” … all in 93 seconds. I’m sorry folks but what the heck does that tell me, a fellow photographer about how you work, any maybe more importantly: what does it tell a potential client about what you are like to work with? Not a whole lot.

The intent of these sorts of promotion pieces, because that’s what they are, is to inspire people to hire you. Otherwise they are nothing other than frippery to stroke your fragile ego. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some photographers who do it right. However I’m usually having to watch one two second section ninety eleven times to see that one important, to me, thing that is glossed over. BTW it seems that almost always when a BTS is posted by a major magazine, Vogue, or company, name of importance, they post the most meaningless and content less versions of this. I mean if you are going to post a video of Annie Liebovitz on set with Robert DiNiro how is it possible to not show us or tel us anything interesting other than “yeah that’s Annie and Bob”?

What I want to know is: why did you do what you did? More importantly when the subject is a person: how did you interact with the subject? I sometimes get the internal thought process but I never seem to get the photographer/subject communication. I more than anything else want to hear how Annie and Bob chat and what directions she gives him. I never get this! There is never audio from the actual shoot that means anything. Instead we get upbeat music and not the voice of the supposedly important person in the video: the photographer. I even watched a BTS where all the models were briefly interviewed and glowed about how wonderful it was to be shot by “some big name dude” but we never heard a word from the photographer during the entire video. How is this possible?

I will give a nod to Peter Hurley. Since he is a headshot shooter and is a major instructor these days he knows that his interaction is a critical aspect of what he does so he is very good about including his interaction with the subjects. Him aside the rest of you out there need to don a mic and let us in! It’s the subtlety of interaction and your personality that in many cases is going to clinch the deal of you getting that job. Your folio says that you can shoot. You as a person, and a BTS is a great way to show this, says what it is like to work with you.

Just a thought for ya!

Pic o’ the day:

This is why I always have a camera in my hands. I had just arrived at the location and was walking about getting a lay of the land to plan out my shoot. My handler and I stopped and I looked down. There was Ricky standing in this green tape box with green shoes. Click!

Ricky

 

2 in 1, or: my visual Gemini life

My work for the last few years has developed this neat-o split personality. I do portraits and I do reportage. Sometimes I get to do that for the same assignment which is to me very cool.

I do a lot of business profiles and to me it’s important to not only make the head dude/dude-ette look cool but also, if at all possible to show the people who work there who don’t wear the fancy suits. When you realize that the big guy that you are photographing has maybe ten minutes to spend with you, ya need organization and the ability to make a lot happen in no time with no fuss. That’s when I drag in all the cases of lights and stands and impressive looking stuff. I make a plan which usually consists of  2-3 different looks in one general area so that I can be as efficient as possible. I usually figure that I really only have five minutes to get “John Bigbooty, President of Megacorp, with their new SuperWidget XL2”. Once that is done I pack up all the gee-whiz stuff and go light and mobile: one body and usually just my 24-70 which which to head back to the engineering lab where they are hard at work developing the SuperWidget XL2 PLUS.

I love these assignments as they very clearly represent my two selves: the lighting it just right meticulous me and the freewheeling “screw the technicals – this is neat-o!” me.

Case in point: I did photos at a Denver company called MMLocal who is making waves with their small batch and rather artisan pickles. It’s run by two friends who are super dudes and they were a lot of fun to shoot for the five or so minutes that I could pry them away from running their quickly growing company. BTW I really lucked out here. They look a bit a like, dressed alike that day so I make the shot sorta monochromatic by shooting them against the side of their big galvanized cooler where they ferment their sauerkraut. Made their brightly colored product stand out.

MMLocal1

Then I headed to the production facility and got this shot of one of their guys putting in a batch of pickles into the steamer for canning. Moody!

MMLocal2

Case #2. It’s a small world and I was sent to shoot my buddies at Renegade Brewing once again. Brian O’Connor their founder and head brewmeister is a heck of-a guy but with a big expansion under way is the “one armed paper hanger”.

Renegade 1

Then it was back to shoot the pirates in the brewhouse making the end result of Brian’s master plans.

Renegade 2

I love these gigs. It works all of my brain and forces me to be as creative as possible in the shortest amount of time. My head often hurts at the end of the day but I like it that way.

Bounce House

I’m gonna tell ya, someone needs to make bounce houses large and tough enough so that us big kids can go nuts inside. Bounce houses are the perfect padded room to let your inner nut case out of his cage and let that freak go wild. I’m so jealous of those little fellas who get to play in them.

Was at a place with one the other day and got this shot of Ruth, what a perfect grandma name, waiting for her grandson to get properly worn out while safely inside the inflatable color riot. I mean the insane colors, graphics and those two different moments going on: the quiet one that Ruth is having and the behind her that little dude clearly intent on mayhem. Love it.

This was a classic case of: find the rough composition where you know that something is going to happen and then wait for the pieces to fall into place.

Spook

The end of summer

Wha? It’s the end of fall you dolt! True enough but let’s be nostalgic for a bit. I mean that’s all the rage innit? Here’s a frame that I got at the local end of summer fair. Not much to say here: I just like the framing and moment. The tool of choice here is my Fuji X100s. The perfect camera for invisible in plain sight work.

Fair

It’s all about having a perspective

It’s not because I’m used to it, though I am after all these years, but the world is just so boring when seen from where my eyes are normally at. It’s painful really. As a result I constantly strive to find a different way of seeing things. Getting my camera away from my usual eye level is pretty much a given with me. Is it more interesting from the perspective of a five year old? A dog, a bug? Maybe if I took the shot from a Shaquille O’Neal level would that be neat-o? Would it be even cooler if I took the shot while standing on Shaq’s shoulders? Ah, now we are getting somewhere!

I wear out all my shoes and jeans at a stupefying rate because I’m always kneeling, crawling and climbing to get a new angle. If there is a chair, ladder or overlook position available, I’ll be up there at some time to get a high angle. If there is anything on the ground, it will most likely end up in my hair or on my shirt because I’ll be down doing “the worm” to get a super swell look at things from the eye level of a cocker spaniel.

One of the reasons that it took some people a while to find the exact angle that Ansel Adams got for some of his famous images was that he didn’t shoot them from remotely eye level but from a platform on his car:

When we got the whole “live view” option on our cameras back in 2009 it made for much more precision when shooting overhead shots. It was no longer a “hail Mary” shot but a “Well looky there!” shot. If I can shoot tethered I can use live view when my camera in a position that couldn’t possibly include my head to get, say, perspective of being inside something. Perspective! I try to do my best to see things from 360 degrees around my subject to the best of my ability because somewhere in there is a perspective that is, well, interesting. Inclusion, exclusion … options and opportunities.

A while ago I was commissioned to do photos of Renegade Brewing here in Denver. If you have ever been in a working microbrewery you know that they are kinda cramped and getting perspectives can be tricky. I was up on the deck with Brian O’Connell the owner and head brewer while he was making a batch and after working a bunch of things I went really wide and high to get this:

Renegade

It was my fave frame of the day because it’s just different. And different, hopefully in a thought provoking way, is what I live for.

More with a little light

My last post where I brought out my handy flashlight to illuminate my subjects face during a long exposure made me remember this shot that I did a while ago. It was for a commercial client of mine Wild Goose Canning who makes canning lines for craft breweries. They needed something cool for advertising but the problem is that the machines are designed for function and not at all for appearance. The problem was: how to make a bunch of stainless steel bars and boxes look interesting especially when they are always seen in locations that are mostly stainless steel. Answer? Light paint that sucker!

So off I went to San Diego in December to shoot the install of a new system showing the set up of the system in both stills and video. The plan was that once the system was installed to do some photos for future advertising. We did a bunch of stuff that worked fine but my big idea was to light paint the system because it would give a look that 1) would be neat-o and 2) would show their canning line in a way that was half sci-fi and half “playboy centerfold”.

The method is simple. Set up the camera on the tripd and line up your shot. Turn out the lights and leave the shutter open while you run around like squirrel on crack with a flashlight adding in the light with brush strokes of your flashlight or in my case three different ones for different effects. It’s a trial and “ooo, THAT didn’t work” process but once you get the hang of it it goes pretty easily. I’ve often said that photography is very much a performance art as you are constantly “in the now” and learning as you go: improvising like any good jazz musician does. Well let me tell ya folks light painting a big bunch of steel is very much like dancing while doing arithmetic at the same time.

Wha?

Yeah. Because you are trying to make interesting sweeps of light with your light “brush” but you are counting constantly in your head. “Slowly up the right side, one-two-three, now arch around to the display panel, one-two, open up the underside for a count of seven … ” like that. If you are really good you are keeping a total count for your total exposure that you’ve programmed into your camera. Most cameras only allow you to dial in 30 seconds of exposure and after that you need and external release or even better one that is programmable so that you can set it for whatever time that you need. In this case I was shooting tethered to my laptop using Nikon Camera Control Pro 2 so that my client rep could see on the bigger screen what we were getting. But that still doesn’t give me more than 30 seconds so I used my ancient Nikon MC-20 remote which allows me to program in a long exposure time. We found that about 1 minute 45 seconds gave me enough time to paint things in while not overly burning in the lights on the machine.

The end result is just what I had hoped for and the great thing is that this is straight out of the camera even though it looks “shopped” to heck.

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