Depth of Field: Chris Orwig


Today I speak with Chris Orwig, an instructor at the Brooks Institute of Photography, about what prompted him to write Visual Poetry, his approach to teaching students, why we need to “slow down,” and what we can do to become better photographers. Chris is one of the wisest guys I know. The guy has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. He also has an amazing memory for quotes. Sounds silly, till you spend time with him and you get, “That reminds me of a quote by…” a few dozen time. I think this fits well with his gift of wisdom and thirst for knowledge. Chris is yet another gentleman photographer. Enjoy.

Please visit his website HERE and his blog HERE.

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James Nachtwey: An Opportunist or An Opportunity

nachtweyThis weekend I became somewhat frustrated with the photographic community. To be more precise; I became frustrated with a small, vocal, fraction of the photographic community. Attention was drawn to a blog post by an associate of James Nachtwey. Nachtwey, if you don’t know, is one of today’s premier war photographers. He is a turn-of-this-century version of Robert Cappa. The man is a virtual legend in photojournalism spheres. This past weekend Jamie Rose an international freelance photographer based in Washington, D.C wrote a blog post stating that James Nachtwey was looking for an intern. Now you would think, young wannabes photojournalist would jump at this opportunity. The requirements for this position were short but detailed. At first read the list seemed intimidating. But after reading it over again I realized the list was specialized, but not that difficult to find in today’s photographic world. Here is what he asked for:

“Typically we ask for a 2-3 day, 3 month commitment. Tasks vary from day-to-day, and while some might be menial, all are vital to the running of very busy and small studio. The candidate should be well versed in Photoshop (non-destructive editing, layer masks, spotting) and the ability to use a Wacom tablet would be a big asset. Some knowledge of digital asset management and basic office skills would be valuable as well. School credit is available if applicable.”

Here is the catch: it is an unpaid internship. Now what could be wrong with an internship like this? In my mind nothing. I remember in university looking through the posted journalism internships and wishing for a paid internship. They were few and far between. But, the fact that it is unpaid seem to bother a whole host of photographers and blog readers. They seem to think an unpaid internship was tantamount to slavery. Seriously, one person actually wrote, “at one time slavery was common & legal. Doesn’t make it right. We’re judged by what we do in spite of what is common.” Please, give me a break.

Let’s put this in perspective. James Nachtwey could actually put an ad in any photographic magazine or any publication, for that matter, and tell people he’s charging X-thousand dollars to allow someone to come and work with him three days a week for three months. A workshop of sorts. He would get it in a heart beat. But here, he’s offering to allow some young upstart to work with him in his studio for three days a week for several months and to soak up his knowledge and experience and people are griping and complaining that it should be a paid internship and that he is some sort of slave master. This is ridiculous.

I remember years ago during my father complained that these “young people today” expect things to be handed to them right out of college. I remember when there was a big fuss how graduates could not get jobs that paid them enough money to buy a new house right out of university. My dad told me how long it took him to buy a nice home. His point: people don’t want to work anymore. I think this may be what’s happening here. I don’t think these photographers are hungry. I mean really hungry to learn and to sit at the feet of masters of the craft. This I think, is where the democratization of photography through the digital medium has hurt us. We’re all equal. Well I got news for you, we’re not. There are good photographers out there and there are great photographers out there and there are crappy ones. The 5D MKII in everyone’s hands doesn’t make anyone a great photojournalist or even a good photographer. There are hungry photographers out there that will work for nothing for a time and then there are others that will sit back and wait for opportunity to come to them. I put my money on the hungry ones.

Yes, it would be nice if it was a paid internship. But give me a big fat stinking brake break, it’s three stinking days a week with one of the worlds best photojournalists and people want to turn that down because they want 15 bucks an hour. It’s time, to wake up and smell the developer. It’s a cold cruel world out there; you want to get good at your craft ? You better take everything that comes your way and stop your complaining and start packing your lunch and tightening your belt.

Multimedia: The Cheese Man of Kashmir

I have been quiet lately for several reasons. First, in the most responsible for my lack of communication is I have been working frantically at redesigning a whole new blog site. A brand-new theme that will eventually integrate with Photo Shelter. At this point, there still a few bugs, but I hope to be live over this weekend. Hold your breath. The second reason, is I been working on a rather large and complicated multimedia presentation. You can find the link below.

Chris and Kamala Zandee are amazing people. They live, as the expression goes, simply so that others may simply live. Their concern is for the Gujjars, the shepherd people of Kashmir. These people, as you know are close to my heart (visit my gallery to see more photos of them). In fact, in the area where this story takes place, the Gujjars call me their “official” photographer. Their words not mine.

I met Chris and Kam years back while I was still living in Kashmir. Even then, they had a desire to give back and bless the Kashmiri and Gujjar people. Earlier this year, you will recall I went to Kashmir and while there I learned of the Zandee’s cheese factory. It sounded a little bit odd to me. So I investigated and what I found was an amazing adventure that has started to make and impact on many people in the region. I hope you enjoy this multimedia presentation I call “The Cheese Man.”

If reading the captions and listening to the narration at the same time is too confusing, there is an option to turn off the captions while viewing. You can also view the images manually, simply hit the advanced button and it stops the narration. One more thing, if you increase the type on your browser, for some reason the player does not increase proportionally and you might lose part of the image behind the player’s frame. If you want to view it larger you can either view it full screen, or follow this link. In closing, if you want to learn more about Chris and Kamala’s cheese business in Kashmir. Please visit their website

Depth of Field: Ami Vitale

AmiVThis past September we where fortunate to have Ami Vitale as a guest instructor on our Ladakh Lumen Dei photo workshop. It was a great experience and I deepened a friendship. Hear me when I say, Ami Vitale is the real deal. She is a true, in the trench, get dirty photojournalist; And she’s one of the best out there. She’s tough, street smart and incredibly talented. But she’s also sensitive and very caring about the people she’s around. I don’t mean other photographers, though she is that as well. I mean, to the people she’s in and among photographing. I learned a lot from her over those two weeks. Ami taught me to slow down, and not just photograph the moment but to enjoy and savor.

Our paths first crossed many years at a Any Thing Mac, a local Mac repair shop in New Delhi.  Ami was covering Kashmir and I was living there and we both had Mac issues. I had no idea who she was. I thought to myself, this little lady is going to get her self blown up if she’s not careful. I think she was thinking something similar about me. This last September was the first time we actually got to shoot together. I certainly hope we get to do it again.

Ami’s work has appeared in all the top magazines; National Geographic, Newsweek, Time and more. She was named Magazine Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association, and Photo District News recognized her as one of 30 image makers of the future.

Visit her website and gallery HERE.

I hope you enjoy this interview with photographer Ami Vitale.

December’s Wallpaper

f/2.8, 1/80 sec, at 70mm, 500 ISO, on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II

f/2.8, 1/80 sec, at 70mm, 500 ISO, on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II



I don’t have any current snowy images that I can use to make the December Wallpaper for you. No icicles hanging from the eaves or people huddled around a fire. Sorry,  I live in the tropics. So, I decided to at least give you a high key desktop image. This is an image of a woman praying at the Nizamuddin Dargah, a Muslim shrine in New Delhi. The image was shot through the marble lattice from the inside of the shrine looking out at the ladies.  In  a Muslim shrine,  ladies are not allowed inside the tomb area, so they congregate around the latticework barrier. They petition and pray to the dead saint to intercede on their behalf for what ever is troubling them and their families. There’s a certain stillness about this image, a quiet pensive moment that might help you calm yourself during these hectic holidays.

To load  your wallpaper, you should know the drill by now – click on the download button and it will take you to the full size version. Then simply drag it to your desktop or do whatever it is you Windows folks do. I hope you’ll enjoy it.  Oh! and Merry Christmas.

Depth of Field: David duChemin

DavidDIf you are in the USA, let me be the first to wish you a happy Thanksgiving. I got an early start here in Malaysia with a wonderful breakfast from my wife and waking up to the new Depth of Field podcast posted on You can also find all the old episodes there as well. Don’t worry, they’ll be soon available on iTunes for download to your iPod as well.

I have so much to be thankful for this year. I am thankful for so many new friends here in Malaysia; the loads of new friends I made at Photoshop World in Las Vegas; a wonderful Lumen Dei this past September; a whole host of fine images throughout the year and some new clients. I’m also thankful that this next year is booked to capacity. But, in the midst of all this I am most thankful for my wonderful family who supports this crazy lifestyle we live. I could not continue this work without the love and support my wife, Alou and my daughter Jessie.

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By now many of you have seen that the new depth of field podcast series is up and live on Peachpit’s website. You can access all the old broadcast as well as a brand-new episode with my good friend and Lumen Dei co-host David duChemin …or… you can listen to them right here. David’s interview is an hour-long and he was quite enjoyable to interview. It’s another frank discussion, yet filled with light moments that only David can deliver. David and I talked about gear, technique, social media as well as about the life of the photographer and the struggles. I hope you take your time to listen to and maybe pick up a few tips and  inspiration along the way. By the way, feel free to embed this podcast in your blog, website or even Facebook. Happy Thanksgiving wherever you are in the world.

Playing Favorites

f/3.5, 1/500 sec, at 85mm, 400 ISO, on a Canon EOS 5D

One of my favorites.

Recently I was interviewed and was asked which image of mine was my favorite. I stared at the question for a longtime before it realized I honestly couldn’t answer it.  I felt like the question was akin to asking a father to choose a favorite child. It just was not fair. I’m sure you’re like me and that each image that you shoot has value for different reasons and appeals to different emotions. Many of your images are favorites for the day or the week, maybe longer. But then a new one comes along and speaks louder. But there is a few images that reach out, grab you and holds you.  It does more than just appeal to you, it mesmerizes or it holds you. It becomes a part of you.  But even that image has a life and one day may have to take a backseat to a new image. So what are my favorite images today may not have been what it was last week.

Even among my favorites there rarely is just one image at any single time. And those images speak to different emotions and for different reasons. My guess is that Steve McCurry loves the Afghan girl image. I bet it’s not his favorite photo ever taken. Now, I don’t know this, I’m just guessing. My guess is, he loves that shot for the story behind it and what it has done for his career. There is no doubt that this image hold a special place for him.  But I’ll wager, there is some photo in his portfolio that the rest of us would look at and go, “Yeah, it’s great. But it’s no Afghan girl” But to him it means something special.

I think, this is one of the core reasons why editing our own work is so difficult. We have emotions and feelings tied up with an image that transcends and go beyond what everyone else sees. Let’s face it, it’s almost all subjective. Sure, there are rules and image can be technically right or wrong, but the real question is does it move us? When we take an image we see something in the shot that moves us to want to capture it. But sometimes those elements are so subtle and they were only a part of something bigger going on outside the frame. As the photographer, we remember that, we saw and experienced the whole scene. But the viewer didn’t, and they are left wondering what we see in this image. All of this can be very subtle. So an image may be a fine image, a moving image, but how do we as an editor of our own work distance ourselves from it and keep within the frame.

I’m not sure there’s one answer for this. I find it extremely hard. I try to look at an image, somewhat dispassionately and see it for all of its parts.  I ask myself so what is it in this images that is drawing me? What are the emotions that are coming out? Does it speak to me? Does it talk to me? I ask myself is this a part of a series or can it stand alone? There are certain things that move everyone, conflict, struggle, compassion, love, hate and more. Does the image have any of these elements in it? The image that can communicate any of these things will often be a good image even though it may not be technically sound.  But a technically sound image, one that follows the rule of thirds, one that has all the parts were supposed to be, but lacks emotion will fall flat.

I guess I’m rambling a bit today. But to bring this back to which is my favorite.  I will admit to you, Jessie is my favorite child. But, as far as the favorite image? I can choose from among them. Maybe you have an all-time favorite image of yours. That’s wonderful. But to be honest I have to say I don’t. I have several favorites but not one stands above the rest… at least not yet. Not today.  Oh, by the way- Jessie is my only daughter.

Voices, So Many Voices!!

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been pushing you to push yourself. To step out of your comfort zones and try new things. The truth is, we have all kinds of voices in our heads telling us things. Some of these are intuitive voices and feelings that we should listen to, others are lies that limit us and pull us down. I’m not sure where these voices come from, but they haunt us, they follow us around. At times these voices are so loud we swear others should be able to hear them. They block out everything else in our mind. We freeze, like a deer in the headlights, unable to move.

The voices are confusing. They sound like good advice. Who can argue with a voice that says, “Don’t be foolish!”  That sounds like good advice. But who says? Why do we have to be dignified all the time?  Why can’t we be foolish?   Of course there’s a time and a place to be dignified. But, there is also often a time and a place to be foolish, silly and uninhibited. It takes a foolish person, or an uninhibited person to walk up to a complete stranger and to say, “May I take your picture?” Why is it so difficult to do this? Are we afraid of rejection? What’s the worst that can happen? They say, “no.” That’s it! Nothing else. They’re not going to hit you. They’re probably not going to call the police on you, they’re just going to simply say, “No.” Fine, they said no,  and you feel foolish. But you also just had a small victory, you have a power over that voice in your head. You won. Now go to the next person and try again.

Another message is, “You’re going to make a mistake.” Okay, so it might make a mistake. I don’t know of anyone who learns without making mistakes. The problem is somewhere along the line we learn to fear mistakes instead of looking at them as steps for success. George Bernard Shaw said, “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”  So the choices seems to be, sit around and wonder what could have been or risk it and perhaps make a mistake but learn from it and grow. In his book Visual Poetry, Chris Orwig tells how he had a music teacher give him some of his best advice about learning his cello and how he has applied it to life. He told Chris to make “bold” mistakes. Not just mistakes, but bold mistakes. Mistakes are what we learn from. If we’re not making mistakes were not growing. The famous film director Garry Marshall once said, “It’s always helpful to learn from your mistakes because then your mistakes seem worthwhile.”

Then there’s the voice that’s always telling you to be practical. This voice wants you to do it like everybody else. I guess, being practical is often a good thing. We certainly don’t want to be impractical with our money or waste our time away. But being practical when you’re trying to be creative is a death blow to creativity. Pablo Picasso may have said it best when he said, “The chief enemy of creativity is common sense.”

This past Saturday my daughter and I decided not to listen to the voices in our heads. Jessie and I went out in the morning to a local market. Once there, I gave Jessie and myself an assignment. The assignment was this: We must make four portraits in one hour of four strangers without showing their faces. This flew in the face of all the voices. This was foolish, not practical and I’m sure we would  make plenty of mistakes. But we needed it. We needed to be pushed and Jessie needed to see her dad pushes creative boundaries as well. I needed to model what I was preaching. Below, you will see the images we took. I use my iPhone and Jess used my 5D. You will see a couple of the images are almost the same even though we split up and shot separately.  You know what they say about great minds.