Introducing The Craft & Vision Community

I am tickled pink to be able to announce the new Craft and Vision Community that David duChemin and the fine folks at Craft and Vision have been inspired to create.  I am excited, partly because I am intimately involved in one particular aspect of the Craft and Vision Community and that is the podcast. Every month David and I will be hosting a podcast that will be filled with discussions and interviews as well as an image critique. Each month we create an assignment asked listeners to submit an image from that assignment for critique. David and I will pick an image and will discuss it using principles from his upcoming book Photographically Speaking.

This is a community that will develop over time and deepen. Till Sept 30th you can join the community for a yearly subscription of only $89. After that the price will go up. There really isn’t a price you can put for inspiration and creativity that will last a lifetime.  I hope to see you in the Craft and Vision Community.

Going into depth

f/1.2, 1/320 sec, at 85mm, 100 ISO, on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II

I am what some people call an intuitive photographer. By that I mean, I take photographs often by what feels right. Many times people that are intuitive at any craft or talent make bad instructors. When asked why they do something they simply reply, “I don’t know, it just feels right.” As an instructor, I find this a challenging aspect of my teaching – to take those things that are intuitive for me and make them methodical. By methodical I mean, make it into a method or a system that others can use. I face the challenge to understand why I do something so that I can put it into words for others. Many times it is in talking with other people or reading articles about why people do things, is when the light comes on and I realize this is why I do something.

A light came on for me this past week. Over the last couple weeks I’ve had several people ask me what lenses I keep on my camera? The answer to this is pretty straightforward, on one camera body I keep my 16–35mm f/2.8, and on my other camera I keep either my 50mm f/1.2 or my 85mm f/1.2. When thinking about this, I realized that I am a creature of extremes. When I use my 16–35mm I almost always use it around the 16mm focal length. When I use my 50mm or my 85mm lens I’m almost always shooting at an f-stop of 1.2. But why?

It dawned on me recently while speaking with David DuChemin about dynamic balance and the rule/principal/suggestion of thirds that this really has almost everything to do with my use of extremes. Let me try to explain. I used the 16mm because I like a wide vista that allows me to frame my subject to one side of the image, yet still giving me plenty of room to play out the rest of the story in the frame. Not only does this add to the storytelling element, it is a compositional technique that gives a balance between your subject and often negative space. It allows the viewer to move there eye around the frame taking in information and returning to the main subject. Of course, this is based on the ever popular “Rule of Thirds”. This rule or principle states basically that by framing a subject on one of the four “power points” within the frame, the photographer creates a sense of tension or dynamic balance. It keeps your subject from being static and thus boring. Of course, you can do this with any lens, but a super wide-angle lens allows you to do this with ease and can include so much more information.

But why do I seem to fall back to  f/1.2? Certainly, I love the look. But why does this appeal to me? While talking with Jarod Foster on Skype the other day it dawned on me, it’s not that much different than why I use a 16mm lens. It has to do with composition –  only it’s more composition of depth. Most of us know a photograph should have a foreground, a mid-ground and a background. Often a photograph can be cluttered with detail that is extraneous to the image – or we can say, to the story. This information can actually distract a viewer’s eye away from the subject. By using an extremely shallow depth of field, your subject becomes isolated by the soft blurred background that often becomes negative space and can draw the viewer’s eye to your subject. Humans naturally view the world with varying depth of fields. Even now as I look at my computer monitor, behind it, through my window I see a roll of condominiums that stretch along the beach. Yet when I focus my eyes on what I’m writing, in my peripheral vision those condominiums are blurred and this allows my brain to maintain focus on what I am writing. I’m pretty sure that this sense of depth that we see in the real world is transferred into a photograph when we use the shallow depth of field. I think intuitively, I was shooting a narrow depth of field to create a sense of that depth. In the past, I have only described using a shallow depth of field as a tool to isolate my subject. But now, as I think about it, it’s more than just isolating the subject,  it’s creating a sense of depth within the image.

I know this sounds extremely elementary for many of you. In fact, at this point you may have even felt you have wasted another 10 minutes by reading this post.  But before you run off let me ask you a few simple questions. Are you able to articulate why you shoot the way you do?  Can you tell me why you use the lenses you use? Why do you choose the f-stop you do? Are the choices you make intentional?  If you can’t answer these simple questions, then maybe it’s time for you to sit down and think through the choices you make when you go to photograph a subject.  Once you get to the point that you can articulate these choices, you will have much more depth to your images.

 

Depth of Field: David duChemin

This is the third Depth of Field I have done with David duChemin. David is always an interesting and challenging interview and of course entertaining. But this interview is slightly different. I say slightly different because it’s still interesting, challenging and entertaining but this one is full of emotion. In this interview, David and I speak about his fall. Some say “fall from grace”. I would argue that he fell with grace and mercy. Because, as he describes this fall it was only mercy that kept him alive and is grace that keeps him going.

I have known David for many years. We first met online like so many of my friends these days, but it wasn’t long before we decided we needed to meet in person and the chance came. He came to India and we met in Delhi. It was only months later that we led our first workshop together; Lumen Dei. If you’ve ever read even one of David’s posts, he writes on the thepixelatedimage you know David is passionate about the “why” of photography and how it influences all the other aspects of image making. In this interview not only do we talk about his fall we also talked about a couple of his rants and pet peeves. I know you will enjoy and be challenged by this interview with David duChemin.

Please visit:

David’s blog
David’s portfolio

and

The Craft&Vision eBook store.

Past interviews with David: HERE and HERE.

You can listen to more Depth of Field podcasts HERE.

Singapore: Just a snap.

 

Limitations almost always lead to creativity. I’ve blogged about this in the past. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true. Whenever we limit our resources we force ourselves to be creative. I can recall in the early 90s my first computer was a Mac SE. I needed to do what today is called a presentation. In those days there was no presentation software or at least I could not afford it. But my Mac did have something called HyperCard. HyperCard was one of the very first hypermedia applications made and came free with my Mac. It was a very simple “stack” of virtual “cards”. I pushed it’s abilities to create a complex and engaging game that led players through all kinds of questions that I wanted them to address and explore. I used this later at a kiosk and let visitors play it. My budget and technology forced limitations on me and yet I did things that the software was not even designed to do.

The same principle applies to photography. When we limit our camera, the lens or even the subject matter we force ourselves to be creative and explore new options. We force ourselves to see things in new and different ways.

Last week I wrote a post called, A Black Box about how I was trying to encourage my daughter in photography using an iPhone and a simple application called Hipstamatic. I talked in that blog about how we put too much emphasis on gear when photography is done in large part through the eye of the shooter. A few days later I read Chase Jarvis’ blog about his new project called “Dasein: an Invitation To Hang” a project about the importance of the “snap shot” in photography. Then, only a day or two later David duChemin talked about the creative freedom a point & shoot can give in his post Point & Shoot, My A**.  Between David, Chase and I, it seems many of us are coming to the same conclusion one way or another. I would say it is a longing for a simpler time, except shooting film and processing it was never simple. This is not an issue of film versus digital. It goes beyond that to something more basic. It goes back to the image itself. The simple visual structure of what makes an interesting photograph. What is visually compelling? Where things like subject, angles and composition are everything. I think we get seduced by technology, I know I do. I love gadgets and I love “messing” with an image for hours in Lightroom. But at the core, isn’t it about the moment? Different moments than are time spent in Lightroom. Those second between when you see what you think might be a photograph and when the camera comes to the eye and you move to position yourself for the shot and then of course the… snap! There in that 15 to 20 seconds you have the bulk of the creative process. Limited options forcing you to do something to, dare I say, be creative. It is there where the photographer longs to live. In those moments we find joy.

Last week I took my family to Singapore for the Broadway (can you say Broadway when it is in Singapore?) show The Lion King. I wanted this to be  a family time so I left my 1Ds MK III and 5D MK II and all my lenses at home. I took nothing more than my iPhone and my favorite camera app Hipstamatic. I wanted to practice what I was preaching to Jessie and the world. Singapore is one of my favorite cities in the world. It is alive and vibrant. The city is made up of three main cultures, Chinese, Tamil and Malay with a heavy Colonial influence. So whether walking Arab Street, shopping on Orchard Street or eating at one of the many wonderful cafes I took my phone to share with you what I saw. I put together a slide show and I hope this might inspire some of you to use what you have and get creative.

You can find a html version suitable for iPads and iPhones HERE.

A Black Box

Fast as lightning.

All photos in this post taken by Jessie Brandon. Click on an image to view full size.

© Jessie Brandon, 2011

The debate over what is the best camera, best format of camera or even what is the best lens has been going on long before digital media ever was even conceived. I really had no plan to address this issue, but then something happened last night.

 

Mom on the beach

Last night my daughter got excited, again, about taking and making creative images. Here is the back story; we decided to go for a family walk on the beach. My wife loves to pick up driftwood and bring it back to the garden. But, last night there was no driftwood in sight. So we sat on some rocks on the edge of the ocean and watched a storm moved through. I pulled out my iPhone and opened up my Hipstamatic app and started snapping shots of my wife and the storm. Jessie, my daughter, soon grabbed my iPhone from my hands and started playing with it. In fact she got obsessed with it. I joked with her and suggested she should try to take a picture of the lightening lighting up the horizon, knowing there was no chance she would catch it with an iPhone. I showed her that if you hold the shutter button down how you can have it “triggered” and ready to go off as soon as you lift up your finger. It wasn’t a minute later that a lightning bolt struck, then one struck immediately afterward. Jessie lifted her finger off the shutter and shot her picture. She tried to catch the first, obviously not knowing there would be a second. But she captured the second bolt. I was amazed!

She got so excited that she started taking pictures of everything, our feet, us walking down the beach – everything. I’m always amazed at how good of a compositional eye my daughter has. What she doesn’t have is patients, at this point in life, to fiddle with f-stops and shutter speeds. I wish she did, but she doesn’t. And so, I’ve wrestled with how to keep her interested in something she’s obviously very talented at. Sometimes, I think to be a photographer you have to have a fancy camera with buttons and dials. But I’m seeing that the true photographer is the person who has the joy and excitement of creating moving artwork even if it is with an inexpensive app and an iPhone. The phone might be the way to keep Jessie’s interest in the medium. I bought her a Canon Rebel but it stays most of the time in my dry box. I guess it is a lot of effort for a 14 year old to get the camera out, shoot, then download the images to Lightroom or even iPhoto. But the iPhone seems to have that immediate gratification that she needs. Hipstamatic helps with that, giving her creative options with different lenses and film effects.

So what’s my point? The point is, fancy gear and tons of money is not necessary to make beautiful, artistic images. For fulfilling art, it doesn’t matter the camera or the lens. A camera is nothing more than a black box with glass. What matters is your vision. Can you express it in a creative and communicative way? For me, my expensive gear gives me a creative control. For Jess, for now, maybe the iPhone and this app is all she needs. Certainly, these pictures talk. They tell a story. They are the voice of a 14-year-old. And I think they speak loudly.

 

Dad and Mom

Mom

 

Dad

 

A Developed Instinct

 

New Delhi, India

Henri Cartier-Bresson said “In photography, visual organization can stem only from a developed instinct.”  I think what he meant here by visual organization is basic design principles and composition. These are things that can definitely be developed over time and yet he still uses that word “instinct”. Continue reading

New to Me 1Ds MK III

If you are an avid reader of the pixelatedimage.com you know that David sold off most of his Canon gear when he switched to Nikon. I bought his Canon 1Ds Mark III and it just arrived in my mailbox a few days back. This is an amazing camera and one that I have dreamed of owning. So when David offered it to me along with some other gear at a “friends rate” I couldn’t resist. The 1Ds Mark III differs itself from my Canon 5D Mark II in several ways. Even though the cameras are shaped very similar, the 1Ds seems to have a better fit in my hand. Frankly, I was surprised that there would be any difference in the way it felt. The 1Ds Mark III also sports several other differences that are much more significant than just the touchy-feely. The camera is completely environmentally sealed, giving me a bit more peace of mind in nasty weather. When I say completely, I mean that there are rubber O-rings around the controls and compartment doors. In total the camera has no less than 90 environmental seal points! Honestly, I haven’t given weather a lot of thought in the past. The 1Ds Mark III has enhanced auto focus capability with 45-Point TTL focusing points. It also sports 63-zone exposure metering, 19 cross-type auto focus system. But my favorite feature is the multi-spot metering (up to 8 readings). I haven’t used a camera with built-in multi-spot metering since my old OM-4Ti in 1986, that was 25 years ago.

The day after I got the Mark III I had a photo shoot scheduled with a client. It was a simple shoot, just a few shots for their website. We went to the historic Eastern & Orient Hotel (aka E&O. Eastern & Orient sounds so much more romantic than the initials E&O.) here in Georgetown. The light was soft and beautiful and the camera did it’s magic. Could the 5D have handled it? Of course, without a doubt. But I had just removed the bubble wrap from this thing and I had to use it. After the way it felt in my hand, the first thing I noticed was that he Mark III has a distinct shutter sound, unlike the 5D. The 5D’s shutter sounds clunky, almost tinny. The Mark III is loud and solid. I literally felt giddy every time I took a shot.

This is not a camera review, this camera is far to old for that and I risk embarrassing myself by talking about shutter sounds and feeling giddy. (Geez what a geek!)  If you want to read a comprehensive review of the 1Ds Mark III you can go HERE. People are already asking me would I buy another or would I sell either or both of my 5D Mark IIs? My answer is… maybe and I doubt it, and in that order. I might buy another Mark III if it was priced like this one and I had the money and I doubt I would sell my Mark IIs, they have too much going for them as well. There are rumors bouncing around that a new 5D Mark III and a 1Ds Mark IV both are in the works. So there is no way I would buy a brand new camera at this point. But the value this camera adds for the price I paid was well worth it.

Good to Great

There are people in this world that spend their entire life trying to get better at something they’re plainly mediocre at or even things they’re bad at doing. In fact, society has built institutions around the concept of “be better at what you are bad at; work on your weaknesses”. Haven’t we have all heard this sermon before?

I am here to say, baloney!

I used to live this way. I remember growing up and hearing voices, teachers, and other significant people in my life telling me to focus on my weaknesses and become a well-rounded person. What I’m advocating now is not a sweeping concept that applies across the board. Certainly there are areas we need to work on in our lives. For instance, when it comes to personality and disposition, I think we all need to work on our weak areas and become better people. If you are a bad father or mother, then you need to work at being a better one. My point is that when it comes to talent and shall we say “gifts” and in this case photography, I think we need to look at things in a different way.

The good Lord has numbered my days here on this earth and I don’t have the time to spend working on areas of weakness. Sounds bizarre I know, almost heretical. I truly believe my time is better spent on focusing on my strengths. That’s not to say I cannot learn something new, but at some point I need to decide if that new thing is worth pursuing or should be put aside. I want to be truly great at a few things. I have no desire to be mediocre at many–a “jack of all trades, but a master of none.”

In a world full of “not quite” and “almost”, there is a cry of “No! We want more than that”–a demand for people who stand out and who excel. People and organizations that spend a lot of money on an idea or project, call out for those who are the best. I want to answer that call. In the short time I have on this earth, I want to spend it bringing my really good up to really great and my really great up to awesome.

The world only needs one Steve McCurry or David duChemin. Be the best you can be at being you and in whatever you can excel. Be great at expressing your vision and your voice.

It’s hard enough for me to just be really great at being me. I know I’ll never be a great writer and I wouldn’t want to become one at the expense of being a really great photographer. Recently I started to build in support for my writing by hiring a proofreader and editor. I know my limits. I know what I am good at and that’s where I want to put my efforts. To borrow a phrase, I want to spend my time going from good to great!

Dear Santa, Here are my top 5.

I thought about calling this post my Black Friday Lust List. Ok, I admit it – neither title is great.  Anyway…Here is my holiday wish list. Some photographic and some travel related. Not in any particular order but here goes:

Tissot T-Touch II – This is one of those watches that should never be called a watch. You know what I mean, it is like when folks say I take “snaps”. I take photographs, make images, but snaps? Just like this, this watch is a timepiece, or a multi-functional chronometer. In all seriousness, this is an amazing watch and it is no stretch to say that this could be a real asset to a photographer like me. The T-Touch series of watches has everything a professional travel photographer would want in a timepiece. It boasts duel time zones, an altimeter, a thermometer, a barometer, a compass, an alarm and a stopwatch.  The altimeter is to give you your height at the Mt. Everest Base Camp, the compass is to help you determine where the sunrise and sunsets are for great light, the thermometer and barometer are to aid in weather forecasting in remote of locations. The alarm is to get you up so you don’t miss your flight to Ladakh at 6am. It was like they made these watches just for us. Then, right when you thought it could not get any more boy toy-ish, you activate each one of these functions by touching the sapphire crystal on the face of the watch. The hands come to life and swing to the mode or as in the compass mode, turn into the compass dial. This watch is listed as a mid-range watch. I find it most places retailing between $600 to $700 depending on the model of T-Touch.

 

Phottix’s wireless TTL Trigger – This one is 100% photography related and sweet. Shooting with off camera TTL flash has been made incredibly easy. Goodbye to manual mode or proprietary flash-based triggering  and hello to reliable wireless radio-based TTL triggering. What can the Phottix TTL Trigger do?

* Wireless 2.4GHz. TTL and Manual Flash Triggering
* High speed sync – shutter speeds up to 1/8000 sec.
* Second curtain sync functions
* Remote power control in A:B, A:B C ratio modes with +/- EV …adjustments
* Remote power control of groups in TTL mode with +/- EV …adjustments (3 stops in 1/3 stops)
* Remote manual mode flash power control
* Remote flash head zoom adjustments – auto or manual
* On-camera AF Assist Light

This product has yet to be release. So no price as of yet. Keep watching Phottix’s blog for news of its coming release.

 

Panama Hat You don’t have to have be around me long before you come to know I love hats. I recently bought a beautiful Akubra Stylemaster Fedora. I love it, but it is way too hot,  in most of the places I live, to wear a fur felt hat like that. Enter the Panama. Legend has it that President Teddy Roosevelt wore this hat at the inauguration of the Panama Canal and the name stuck. But the funny thing about Panamas is that they are not even from Panama, they are from Ecuador. There are two basic types; the Montecristi, the more costly and finer woven hat and the Cuenca. Both named for the Ecuadorian city the are woven in. These hats make a hot day enjoyable. They are light weight and very breathable (the makers of these hats  knew what breathable was long before Goretex!)To top it off -sometimes they are packable. You roll it up and stick it in your bag. Their price on a Panama hat can run from $35 for a hand made Cuenca to well over $1,000 for a Montecristi Superfino.

 

Think Tank Photo Retrospective 30 – Pinestone In a word-classic. This camera bag is a throwback to the classic photojournalist bags of the past. Here is what Think Tank says about the Retrospection. “Created for the professional photographer that wants to blend in with the crowd and remain inconspicuous in any situation.  Our product designers have blended the look and feel of  ‘old-school’ camera bags and infused it with ‘new-school’ features and technology for the digital imaging age. ” That pretty much says it all. I saw David duChemin’s black Retrospection on the last Lumen Dei we led and I fell in love with it. It is the best of function and class. Another home run  hit by my friends at Think Tank Photo.

 

iPad Not a unique gift idea, but one I hope to see in my carry-on next year. No need to go into any details. Everyone knows what these are. On the last Lumen Dei, I think I was the odd man out, seemed like everyone had one of these. As far as workshops go, it sure made passing around photos in the field easy peasy lemon squeezy! So, I figure I will wait for the next generation to be released and grab it at that time.