A Photographic Growth Spurt

Someone once told me, a photographer, not to take a photo of them but a video instead. This statement was not to be taken literally; it was more of a metaphor for how we look at people and form opinions. The idea is we all change. What she was trying to say was she is not the same person she was ten years back as she is today, don’t view her by her past. Take a video, because we all change. If someone was to form an opinion of who she is, view her for who she is today, not a static image of her from 10 years ago. Continue reading

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.

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

 

What is your Un-Suck Filter?

Un-suckfilters, everybody has one. Oh sure, you might not want to admit it, but you have one. Everyone does.

Back and white conversion or for the more creative duo-toned conversion has got to be the number one un-suck filter. We have all be tempted, but we must resist the evil that is known as duo-tone – at least when it is used to convert a bad image to a…bad image in two tones.

As a photographer based in an exotic location and one who travels to even more exotic locations I often get people emailing me to look at their travel galleries. I have seen some of the most appalling imagery exhibited as their strongest work only because it was shot in an amazing place. A bad image shot in India is still a bad image. A bad image shot in London is still a bad image.

I have come up with a partial list of popular Un-Suck Filters. Maybe you have know some others?

  • B&W conversion
  • Color and color grads effects
  • General over processing in PS or LR
  • Heavy vignette
  • Highlight slider in LR (has to be mine)

Here’s the skinny: If a photo is out of focus no amount of detail in the shadows will change that. If an image is compositionally bad, it will be compositionally bad in back and white as well. As a growing photographer, you need to spend less time working on Photoshop and Lightroom tricks and more time working on composition and craft. Do you know what a well-composed photo looks like? Are you familiar with your kit enough to quickly capture an image in focus with the exposure you want and in a compelling composition? Forget correcting it in Photoshop. Truthfully – you might be able to correct a bad image a bit. But what does that say about your vision and your craft. It just tells me you’re lucky!

By the way, drop by ProPhoto Coalition for more articles on photography.

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!

What’s all this talk about vision?

I don’t even know where this post is going. Partly, I’m posting out of discipline. Partly, I’m posting because I know there’s something in my brain that needs to be said; I just can’t put my finger on it.

Vision, vision, vision, all this talk about vision. Very few people actually define what they mean when they speak of vision and when they do, it’s often so esoteric you walk away not knowing if you just heard an artist or politician. So let me give you my take on what vision is. I’m sure I’m going to get all kinds of folks chiming in to tell me I’m either wrong or I’m limiting things. And maybe that I just don’t get it.

The way I see it, we use the word vision because it has to do with what we see. As photographers what we see is everything. Simply put, vision is the way we view our subject. But here is the rub, as Shakespeare would say:  two people can stand side-by-side viewing the same subject and see something completely different. I could stand next to someone while looking at the Taj Mahal and we could see two different things. Really. Oh sure, we both will see a big domed white marble building, but what is it communicating? I might see it as a beautiful monument to love. And the person next to me sees it as a cruel king’s enslavement of the masses. Maybe someone else might see it as architecturally edgy for the time, paving a new direction in design. So what is it that you see when you walk the streets of Old Delhi? Do you see people struggling to make a living? Masses of poor people? Do you see ancient architecture rich with history? Maybe you see the underbelly of industry in India. It’s like this whether you’re in India or walking the streets of Dallas, Texas. What you see is unique to you.

So you have to find a way to communicate what you see through the images you take. What makes this hard, and I’ll confess that I’m right here with you, is oftentimes we aren’t in touch with what we are seeing. When I go to a new place to photograph, I find it very difficult the first few days to capture any images that say anything about the way I feel about the place. Mainly because I know very little about the place and my vision is not developed. Oh sure, I’ve done my research (hopefully). Research can inform your vision, influence it, but it shouldn’t dictate your vision. You need to get out and smell, touch, look (best done without a camera IMHO) and most importantly talk to people. What are the stories they are living? What are their dreams? What’s important to them? This is very hard to do. And quite frankly, not done very often.

What happens is, we do our research and we come predisposed with ideas and opinions. We listened to people that maybe have only a fraction more experience in the environment that were photographing than we do and we let them help form our vision. This is unfair, both to the people, the place we are shooting and to ourselves.

Here’s another added wrinkle to finding your vision:  your vision is almost always influenced by your worldview. If your worldview at the core is selfish and suspicious, then you will view the world through those eyes and your photographic vision will reflect it. I’ll make this even harder. Your vision will be influenced even by something as small as the amount of sleep you’ve gotten the night before. Really. There have been several times, that I have not had a good night’s rest and woke up frustrated and grumpy. I walk the streets of the place I’m photographing with the heart of a curmudgeon. Later, I look at my images and I wonder why I shot what I shot. My worldview and my general attitude influences the way I view the people around me and that defines my photographic vision. Why would I see the Taj Mahal as a monument to love if I was feeling unloved or didn’t feel there was love in the world? Humbug! Of course, it works the other way as well, if my general attitude is that of rainbows and daisies, this will also influence the way that I see things.

I remember when I first moved to Kashmir and met the shepherd people called the Gujjars. I thought they were amazing, incredibly romantic with their long flowing shalwar kameez and beautifully wrapped turbans walking the trails of the Himalaya. They could do no wrong. How could they, they were the stuff of fairytales and adventures. Then many years later, after living with them and among them, I saw them for who they were:  people, just people—but with really cool clothes. People made up of good and bad. Indeed, they could do wrong, I found that out after one young Gujjar boy stole a backpack from my camp. My point here is not that Gujjars are good or bad people. It’s that I viewed them as something they were not and it took years for me to understand that. We cannot hope to think that our vision will be unbiased and just. I don’t care whether you’re a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, you are influenced by your surroundings, by what you know (and what you don’t know) and by who told you those things, where you got that information. We can only be as unbiased and fair as our information will allow us to be. Our vision will then have to be flawed, but it will be ours.

I’m going to end this here, because I fear I’m starting to ramble. Think about what you’re shooting; take time to ask why you’re even raising your camera at a certain subject. What is the subject saying to you and are you comfortable with what you’re hearing? Then, if your images communicate this, your vision may have just found you.