Oh, man… I’ve got a lot of catching up to do on the blog! There’s been a lot going on with my photography over the last few months that I think are really exciting and fun, but I’ve been really terrible about sharing those things here on the blog where I can elaborate on them more then just posting the images with a caption as I do on Facebook or Google+.
The biggest change I’ve taken on lately I started about 2 months or so ago. I had started to feel like my photography was in a rut. I felt like my lighting, while it was still improving and becoming more subtle, was beginning to become stagnant. I wasn’t trying new things as much. Whenever I did a shoot with someone I was just doing the shoot, and wasn’t really pressing myself to evolve, change, or try new things. So I decided to set aside a scheduled time to play with my gear. Try something new. Force myself out of the box I had put myself in. I call it my Tuesday Night Open Studio, and every Tuesday I settle on a concept or a theme that I want to explore. Maybe it’s a lighting setup I’ve not tried before. Maybe it’s playing with a pose or a new camera technique. The purpose is to get off my duff and schedule some time to experiment. Even if I fail, at least I’ve tried and that’s okay.
So I put out the word on my Facebook page that I was looking for someone to come out and take some photos with me and the wonderful Aviona here volunteered to be my first guinea pig. This first week’s experiment was on gelling flashes. I’ve only vaguely played with gels before (for trying to gel a flash to match the ambient), but I wanted to try something new. Aviona’s a singer and stage performer who’s home from school in New York, and I had recently got my hands on an old vintage microphone, so it seemed like a perfect fit. I had an image similar to this one banging around in my brain for a little while and it was time to let it out and asked her to bring an elegant dress that we could use for an old jazz singer performance. She had this fantastic red gown that fit the bill beautifully and gave her a really classy, elegant look.
The lighting setup was pretty basic. It’s the 3 Vivitar speedlight flashes in the background gelled as you see them combined with a beauty dish on my AlienBees AB800 right between me and Aviona un-gelled to give her a natural look. The beauty dish is just out of the shot, while the speedlights are set back about 8 feet or so behind her. The power is so low on the speed lights that it’s not having a ton of effect on the photo but since the lights are pointed straight at the camera there is a bit of flare that to me really adds authenticity to the shot.
Ultimately my takeawy for this shoot is this; schedule some time to be creative. Don’t wait for creativity to come to you. Work at it, and don’t be afraid to fail. I tried lots of things that night and every Tuesday night since this that failed. But I’ve also found a lot of things that were successful and I’m feeling more energized and creative then ever.
I’ve heard a lot of people asking about creating a unique photographic style. It’s a question that is both insanely simple to answer (in my opinion… everyone has their own) and yet maddeningly complicated.
The short answer is that you don’t. Let me repeat that. In my opinion you don’t create a photographic style any more than you create a personality. To me the analogy is very appropriate as the look of your photographs reflect your vision and how you see the world. You can develop your eye, your ability to create the photo that’s in your minds eye through practice practice practice, but that’s all technical. It’s learning to pre-visualize a scene or just a moment and learning when to hit that shutter release to capture the exact moment in time you want and to set your camera and control your lighting to be what you want. But as I said, ll of that is just something you can develop and control with practice.
I just got back from a vacation at Yellowstone National Park last week with my wife and in-laws. It was my first time visiting the world’s first National Park, and it was a really amazing experience. More on that in a later post.
Having just got back in town yesterday, I started reading Susan Sontag’s On Photography today at lunch and found this wonderful quote:
Most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter. Unsure of other responses, they take a picture. This gives shape to experience: stop, take a photograph, and move on. The method especially appeals to people handicapped by a ruthless work ethic — Germans, Japanese, and Americans. Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun. They have something to do that is like a friendly imitation of work: they can take pictures.
It’s not an analysis that makes me feel happy about my shutterbug-ness. But I can’t say it’s inaccurate . Plus it made me laugh, and made me sound insane to anyone walking past the lunch-room.
Today was the first day that I went out and played with the Calumet 4×5 view camera that I got last year. Part of the problem was that I did not have any film for it, but the bigger problem is that I had never used one of those cameras and did not even know how to load the film into the trays until a friend came over to show me how.
For those of you who don’t know me, I cycle to and from work every day (well… almost every day). Today as I was cycling home I was just exhausted. I had worked a half-day over the weekend, not gotten much sleep last night, and had to go in an hour early today, so I was just pretty drained. I had been cycling the past several miles with lagging energy and sore muscles, slowly shifting to lighter and lighter gears to try and keep momentum.
In short I was lagging badly.
Then suddenly this cyclist whips by me at a good clip. I had passed her on the side of the path as she was chilling a few miles back, and she was chugging along.
I’m a fairly competitive guy, and I make it a personal goal to at least keep pace with people in front of me. I push and push till I just can’t do it anymore, and I thought “I’ve got it in me to go a ways at her pace”, so I switched my grip to the lower bars (I’ve got the “ram’s horn” style of street bike handles where you’ve got several options of grip) and started chugging along. After a fairly short amount of time I had caught up to her and was keeping pace with her quite handily.
Two minutes ago I could barely keep the slow pace I was going and now I was hauling tail and not even feeling it. Why? Because I had someone to push me.
And it’s the same way with photography. Reading blogs and taking classes and reading books is all well and good, but sometimes I need someone to come along and just fly by me to get me jazzed up and motivated. That’s why I love going to photo meetups or doing organized photostrolls. I get to see first-hand the work people are doing and how fast they’re flying past me, and it pushes me to be more creative. Not to be better than them, but to keep up. You see, I’m not competing with them. I’m competing against myself. They’re just the thing that gets me off my butt and gives me a target to shoot for.
So get out there and find someone. A friend, a Meetup group, a student, whatever. Just go out and find someone to shoot with. Someone who will push you to be better than you are.
Next, I read this interesting post on Scott Bourne’s PhotoFocus blog about Who’s Your Audience. There’s somewhat of a dispute about this among photographers. On the one hand, I see what Scott’s saying, and in a certain way, he most definitely is correct. On the other hand, having your own vision and following your own vision rather than your audience’s will often lead to better results because, as Chase Jarvis says, “you’re not a monkey pushing the shutter release”. The client (or audience) is paying you for your vision, so I’d definitely agree with Scott (and Mr. Jarvis says this too) that you have to give the client what they want. Get that in the bag, but then take a little time to step away from what the audience wants and try something new and different.
And lastly, here’s a marvelous piece of advice that I found on David Ziser’s blog that talks not specifically about photography, but about success in a general sense. It’s a little overly-religious for me at the end, but it is very well worth it.
I don’t have many photographs of my mother. Maybe that’s weird for a photographer, but it’s true. Maybe I’m just a sentimental old fool, but this is fast becoming one of my favorite photographs. It’s not flashy, or “cool” or glamourous, but I really feel like I’ve captured the essence of my mother in this shot. (more…)
I grew up with a crazy mother. I think everyone growing up thinks their parents are crazy, but mine actually was. Soon after I was born my mother had a mental breakdown and was actually institutionalized for a short time. Then she was (mis)diagnosed as being paranoid schizophrenic (she’s actually bipolar) and was on the wrong medication for much of my childhood. (more…)
Hey, all. Well… the holidays are just about over (just that big New Years Bash thang left to get out of the way before we continue through the long dark winter up here in the Pacific Northwest), and I realize it’s been a little while since I’ve posted. I personally like to blame the Holidays because they’re a convenient excuse that everyone can pretty much understand. (more…)