I love this article on communication, photography and the distractions of gear and platforms.
Photographer Jon Stanmeyer hits the nail smack on the head with this post on the distraction of the medium over the substance of the image itself.
“Now here is what’s key regarding Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and whatnot; Some of these images we publish, the text we write on various social media outlets, etc, they can be pieces of a far greater, even deeper, more richly layered project which has a commodity element behind it. These images can, for a lack of a better way of putting it, be glimpses, headlines, instant breaking information of a much larger project waiting to be presented. Like seeds, images can be sent out to one or millions, dropping seeds of information into the consciousness of others, nurturing a project to grow, both in marketing and funding. The final product, brought to the consciousness via meaningful bits and pieces, is the entity to be leveraged both as information to an event, as product or as a printed photo essay, as a commodity. This is, until the next leveraging aspect of social media is attained, the greater purpose and potential.”
You absolutely must read the whole thing.
I think that there wil always be ‘cameras’ in the way we think of them, but we are a tiny, teeny sliver of the genre of “photographers” these days.
There is a lot of angst in the camera makers worlds out there. They see the handwriting on the wall.
Enter the $2000 full frame.
Enter the kit lenses that make exceptional images.
Enter automatic exposure that makes PERFECT shots under all situations.
Enter video in the camera.
This fellow is a photojournalist. His job is to get the picture.
It will most likely be fine enough at 4MP for news and web. An 8 or 12 MP image is more than enough for the reason the shot exists.
Young people coming into the digital age will never have known what a camera was ‘supposed’ to look like. And that was a HUGE influence over camera manufacturers deciding to make digital cameras look like film cameras. The damn things even have ‘film chamber’ build to them.
“Professional Photographers” would have it no other way.
Well, I gave my kid my old Rebel digital. She gave it back to me… she is totally happy with her Android phone and the P&S Canon she got for Xmas.
Just finished a nice trip to Maine. We had some very flat and boring light in mid-day. Charles would pull out his iPhone and make some simply stunning images. I like to make straight images on my iPhone, then manipulate them later in Snapseed or a myriad of other APPs I have.
There is a tendency for me to think the larger images are somehow ‘better’ or of higher ‘quality’ because they were shot on a big chip with expensive glass.
Problem is no one can tell the difference in the print.
So I start to sound like a ‘gearhead’ and I am NOT.
I am all about the image, and couldn’t care less how it was made. The traps we make when thinking about our work are more dangerous than listening to a blistering critique of your work from a ‘kitty shooter’ on some forum.
I am holding out for a Samsung Galaxy III – (October) as I have seen the images that thing produces. I have not seen a 16×20 from one, but I have seen an 11×17… argh. I don’t care what anyone says, I was totally knocked out by both the sharpness and the overall transitions in shadows.
I was just asked on twitter about what I thought of the new Nikon D600. My answer was that I don’t have anything to say about it that has any value. I don’t think much about cameras these days.
I am struggling mightily with photography, its place in my world, its power to heal or inspire or reflect or reveal or destroy.
Photography is more important now than ever before, and yet we are consistently bombarded with distractions of devices. I think it takes a toll on all of us.
And we forget what it really is about, this whole capturing a moment in time to preserve, enlighten, entertain or simply to see what it looks like captured. I don’t want to forget that in my work.
Below are a few of my shots from the trip done with Hipstagram and the default camera. I like these images for similar and disparate reasons. And some of these I also shot on the big camera, but they are far different in tone and emotional impact than these are. Different, not better or worse… different.
To me that is the power of these little cameras and the apps that are so much fun to shoot with. I get different approaches to the subjects. Kinda like having a new lens to work with. One that has its own quirks and qualities.
It was a bit foggy, a bit dark from deep overcast. I wanted to say something about the dreary, almost mysterious feeling of this entrance. I chose the Hipstagram app to enhance the emotion of the subject.
I loved the texture qualities, and the Hipstagram image supplied a slight vignette and muted tone that enhanced the feeling of the shell isolated on the rocks.
It was cold and overcast (I loved it… heh) and this straight camera shot captured a bit of the reality of that day and moment. I had already packed the cameras, but the trusty iPhone delivered the shot I wanted to get at that moment.
Sometimes an image just wants to be made and it reveals itself. I loved this little vignette of vine and old board wall. A straight shot on my Canon is not as interesting as this little Hipstagram photo. The image needs the context of the frame and the muted colors to make it really look like what I saw in my head.
Flat midday sun, and the Hipstagram delivers. The shapes and textures were so interesting, and a couple of my big camera shots make me happy… but this little vignetted, non-perfect capture that fit the mood I wanted.
This image is about the frame and the ‘space between’ – part of my vision mantra. I like the spatial play and the contrast of textures and colors. Camera phone and big camera – big camera is far different feeling than this one. Not better or worse, just different.
Light leaks and crusty edges makes the retro sign even more retro. Fun images are what the small cameras are about.
A grab shot with the iPhone and Hipstamatic reveals how I was seeing the trip we were on. I would have loved to have more time to shoot the area, but we migrated from point to point and shot what we liked… Maine through a car window – yeah, that is what it was like. Sorta.
In the end it is whether you like the image or not. And if not, no matter. Photography is not about every image communicating to every person. These are my little images. I share them here and there.
Photography is still fun for me. It still answers my desire to make something lasting. How long is that?
I dunno. I don’t care. I just want to make the images I see in my head. The iPhone and Androids seem like they offer me more tools with which to find and make those images.
This line from Jon’s article is dead on for me:
“Don’t waste your time nor mine on any bit of that dinosaur debate.”
Yes, Jon. I wholeheartedly agree.
The good folks at UDEMY.com asked me to create a course for them.
Portrait Photography with Simple Gear
I chose doing a sort of overview for portraiture. Not your typical headshot stuff, although we do look at traditional beauty. In this course we look at using strobes, natural light, modified natural light and more. It is about 5.5 hours of video now, and will grow by at least another hour over the next few months.
I wanted to take a complete look at the simple way I do portraits, and how I think about both the taking and the making of the image.
We show the setup, talk about what I am thinking about, show how we set the lighting up, look through the camera to see the shots happening, and then do the Photoshop work that is planned for.
These are simple to do exercises, with solid training.
And while I will win no awards for awesome epicness in making videos, there is plenty to learn there.
Who is it for?
Beginners who want to make their portraits better… fast – with real world examples, lighting setups that can be reproduced easily and inexpensively and those who may want to add a few tricks and tips to their fledgling arsenal.
It is not an advanced portrait course (in the works as we type this), but instead a basic course with non-basic portrait situations.
If you follow along, you will be able to do the work as you see it here.
I have a free LoRes version of the current workbook (Sept 4, 2012) for you to download. The class workbook will be updated quite a bit over the next 4 months but it will only be available to the students who are enrolled.
Take a look at the workbook and decide if it is worth it for you to take the course.
We have hours and hours of video for you to follow along with, the Photoshop movies of how we achieved the look, and the layered Photoshop files for further study.
Below are a few images we cover in the workshop.
Mixing strobe and natural light for a “Faux Sun” look.
Natural Light or Large Strobe Bank? Find out when you take the course?
Create stunning fashion like headshots with minimal gear
Work with full strength back light with confidence – even in natural light situations.
Use the sun to advantage – as well as the surrounding landscape – for portraits that bring the viewer in.
Blend the light from outdoors into your strobe lit shots easily – and decide where you want to “place” that exposure.
High contrast locations can be made better with efficient use of strobes.
Sometimes we have to create interest by adding contrast in low contrast scenes.
Creating our own reality for a more mysterious and intriguing portrait.
Thanks for taking a look at this workshop.
Remember to use the code “Lighting Essentials” to get the course for an introductory price of $30. For a limited time.
Thanks for stopping by.
I don’t have a photograph to run with this article.
I wouldn’t want to even think about what photograph I would run here.
And, by the way, this is me being pissed off again. So if that sort of thing makes you uneasy, and you are all fine with an industry leader calling you out as being incompetent in order to sell his latest book, I bid you head on over to a Flickr forum and take in all the wonderful kitty photographs there.
I have something to say in defense of photographers from one of the most offensive articles I have ever read.
And I have read my share.
Hey, bigtime photography guy…
I will address a few things that particularly bug me.
“Recently, an investment banker from New York hired a photographer over the Internet.”
Really. From LA? The photographer he found was in LA?
Is that because of the dearth of good photographers in New York? Was no one available in the five Burroughs? Was he dumb as a stump but still able to look up stuff on the internet?
Look, this may be true, but it really seems far fetched to me… and really, it seems as though the investment banker did very little due diligence. Something that investment bankers generally are pretty good about… ya know.
“Meanwhile, across the country, the young photographer was thrilled about her new “Rockstar” assignment. Imagine being hired to fly to New York City to shoot an engagement proposal!”
Wow. That’s pretty cool.
How do you know that? Did this come from an interview? Did said young lady confess that she was grossly negligent in her work and was fine with opening herself up to liability issues that an investment banker could take advantage of?
Now the investment banker would have to get an attorney… probably have to go to Tongo or Singapore for one of those. There being so few lawyers and photographers in New York City and all.
But I digress.
Sounds like someone is making shit up… but, I will concede that it is possibly true.
“She felt that her career had hit a new level, so, to prepare for the shoot, she invested in a workshop by a well-known, established photographer. At “shooting workshops” like this, the lecturer provides professional models and stylists, chooses the locations, and sets up all of the lighting.”
“Typically, neophyte professional photographers go to these events not to learn, but to capture images for use in their own portfolios.”
Many go to learn. They save up to go and learn.
Are there bad workshops out there? Sure.
But throwing them all under the bus is pretty lame, doncha think?
(Wow, I am starting to get the impression he doesn’t like photographers very much… they are stupid, self-interested and totally unable to grasp concepts…)
“But this young woman wanted to learn. She did her best to absorb the techno-babble being shouted, rapid-fire, by the instructor.”
How offensive is this shit? Really? Were you there? Technobabble?
“Terms like “selective focusing,” “open aperture,” and “2:1 ratio.”"
Oh… thanks for clearing that up. Photographer stuff.
“She wanted the best results for her Central Park shoot, so when she got there, she simply clicked the top dial of her camera from P to M. And changed nothing else.”
She admitted that to you?
Hell, this investment banker guy may only have to go to Cleveland to find an attorney to handle this atrocity. This is a no brainer… she admits gross negligence and an admitted lack of knowledge. I imagine even a Cleveland lawyer could go for fraud… or manslaughter. (It’s Cleveland…)
“During the shoot, she saw all-white images on the LCD display, but didn’t see the danger that was lurking. You see, there is a belief that almost any error can be fixed in post-production if the images are shot in RAW mode. Not so. The shoot was a total loss. The client paid a huge fee and wound up with nothing.”
Well, soon he will own her car, house, and most of what she will make over the next 10 years.
And – wait a minute… she had a book good enough to be hired by a New York investment banker who was not able to find anyone in Manhattan capable of doing the amazing shit she had on her website?
That had to be a pretty good book.
But she didn’t know what an overexposed image looks like?
“Professional photography lacks this type of governing body. And because of this, it’s a world of chaos, where there is no perceptible divide between a true professional and an amateur posing as one.”
And here it comes…
Wait for it…
We need protection.
“To become a real professional photographer requires at least a one-to two-year apprenticeship period of just carrying bags for another photographer and observing.”
Well, that would be great, but really… carrying bags and observing?
“What bothers me the most is this new crop of “You can do it!” evangelists appearing on YouTube, offering effusive challenges to “Face your fears and just do it!” That is, go pro. As a result, cautious (and rightfully so) photographers are quitting their day jobs and going full-time as shooters, before they are ready.”
Ahh… stupid people. We really cannot legislate against stupid people. Anyone who watches a YouTube video and quits their job to become a photographer with no experience is… well… a stupid people.
And after mentoring photographers for over 5 years, I can honestly say I have never really experienced someone that stupid. Is this really a problem?
Note… If YOU have quit your job because of a YouTube video telling you to “Go Go Go” for it, PLEASE write me with your story. I will send you some goodies and help in any way I can.)
“I know of two photographers who have faced jail sentences because of their wedding photography mess-ups (there are many more).”
And yet Google only lists the wedding photographers who went to jail for FRAUD, THEFT and Malicious behaviors. Not mess-ups. Not accidents, or even bad service.
We do not throw people in jail for bad service or bad photographs.
“… and there are many more…”
“I think this is only the first wave of many such cautionary tales until a governing body like the Yoga Alliance enters into professional photography. Photographers who work for paid assignments absolutely must have a minimum level of experience – to protect the consumer and to protect themselves.”
There it is. A call for protectionism. We have to “protect” the consumers. Poor stupid investment bankers who get fleeced from terrible girls from California.
NO. NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO.
These governing boards or licensing groups are simply gatekeepers to KEEP OUT younger, more creative people. They don’t exist to HELP anyone but the founders and the cronies.
Look around… we are being told we NEED this with the most outrageously stupid tale of ignorance imaginable.
I am truly sorry for the Investment Banker from NY, but he bears some responsibility.
And the photographer from CA (if she exists) bears responsibility as well.
But the vast majority of hard working, decent, customer oriented photographers do not need to be codified and certified before being unleashed on the poor, ignorant masses.
Because they are NOT ignorant masses. They are totally capable of hiring decent photographers.
“In California, in order to be a nail technologist in a spa, you have to be certified. This protects consumers from a bad nail experience. Shouldn’t professional photographers (who are entrusted with preserving the most important moments in their clients’ lives) be subject to the same standard?”
Ummm… I am going to go with NOOOOOOOO.
There is a vast difference between a ‘bad nail experience’ which could have health threatening consequences and a photograph.
And just WHO is going to tell us what is a “good” photograph? Who will set those standards.
I remember reading about how hard it was for composers in Stalinist Russia. The people who decided what was “good” music had very, lets’s say SPECIFIC qualifications for the work to be deemed suitable for the public to hear.
Wanna guess how many composers tried new stuff, or went avant garde?
Gatekeepers are last century thinking. Politburos for photography is not this century thinking. Do you want Dick Cheney telling you what is good? Do you want Joe Biden making creative decisions on your vision?
Cause no matter what side of the aisle you are on, that is what you get with guilds. No talent hacks with authority.
That is NOT a good plan for this industry. Reaching back to the early 20th century for solutions is not the right thing to do.
And it never will be. The markets are too wide, the needs to diverse.
Someone may want their wedding shot with a P&S or iPhone?
The “guild” says NO. Only 24 MP cameras with 2.8 lenses are allowed. Maybe they’ll get that idiot Judge Joe Brown to investigate if the photographer has a Pelican case or not.
Now see this wonderful juxtaposition:
“What is the motive for these “go pro” evangelists? Profit. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll see these cheerleaders are selling products targeted directly at the new photographer, including educational materials and template websites.”
“Until then, one modest proposal I offer in my book, “So You Want To Be A Rockstar Photographer” is an interview disclosure form.”
(NOTE… I have discussed this what I consider a poorly conceived form before… here)
Fear. Fear is a great motivator. It creates panic. It creates a need for protection.
It sells books.
Look… there are bad experiences with photographers all the time. But I dare say they are a tiny, tiny percentage. How many wonderful weddings were shot this past Saturday? How many incredible editorial images were created last week? How many senior sessions and family sessions and model portfolios and maternity shots and kid portraits and portraits of those in need were shot last week?
And how many news reports of fraud and abuse?
None. None that I know of.
In the world of discourse there is something called the “Straw Man” argument.
It goes like this: First I CREATE a problem… a “Straw Man” and then I knock it down. It falls easily as it is made of straw, and I know how to take it down… I created it.
This is classic straw man argument.
First the nearly non-existant problem illustrated by something that borders on absurd. Does this sort of problem – idiot investment bankers hiring untried photographers from across the continent and having it totally fail – happen a lot?
I say it does not. It may happen occasionally, but not a lot.
Straw Man #1. Fear for the consumer.
Then the fear of being thrown in the hoosegow if you inadvertently format a card wrong. Or your images are a little overexposed. I hope it doesn’t come as a shock to you that you will NOT GO TO JAIL unless you commit fraud or abuse your client.
Yes, you can be sued. And they can take your stuff. But JAIL and IMPRISONMENT are NOT what happens in this country. We have no debtors prisons. (Something all the twenty somethings are sighing in relief over as they contemplate their student loans.)
But if that happens all the time, why does it make the news?
It makes the news precisely because it DOESN’T happen all the time.
Straw Man #2. Fear for the photographers.
Then the solution is offered. Buy the book.
I love photographers. I love photography. I love being knocked out when looking at some new photographer’s work, or when a Project 52 member hits one out of the park. I love the whimsical, serendipitous nature of the creative process.
I don’t want creativity to be turned into something akin to building inspectors and government byoorokrats. Old, tired, washed up losers with badges and authority to claim that this photographer is not living up to the code, not thinking ‘right’… we must strip them of their livelihood until they get with the program.
Didn’t work in Russia, wont work here.
The photographers I know are conscientious, hard working, creative vision driven people with an honest to God need to want to do well. The vast majority of professional photographers ARE professional in each and everything they do. The examples in the article are NOT professionals, they are wannabees. Excitable and over-enthusiastic and in many cases NOT ready for prime time.
But keeping them away with “credentials” and “papers” and “tests” and hoops and more tests and fees and renewables and fingerprinting and DNA samples…
Is that what you really want for photographers?
I reject the fear mongering and gatekeeper frenzy of those who want to man those gates so tightly.
It is wrong. it is cowardice. It is protectionism and fear mongering.
And… it is bullshit.
Recently an article caught my attention over at TIME. “Last Launch: Dan Winters and the Shuttle Program. TIME had commissioned Winters to photograph the final launch of the Space Shuttle and they showed a few of the images that will soon be in the book.
The images are outstanding, and exactly what you would expect from a photographer like Winters, but it also got me thinking about gear.
And yeah, he used a lot of gear.
The work begins the day before launch, when he positions up to nine cameras as little as 700 ft. (213 m) away from the pad. Each camera is manually focused and set for the particular shot it is meant to capture, and the wheels of the lens are then taped into position so that they can’t be shaken out of focus when the engines are lit. Electronic triggers—of Winters’ own devising—that do react to the vibrations are attached to the cameras so that the shutter will start snapping the instant ignition occurs.
To prevent the cameras from tipping over on their tripods, Winters drills anchoring posts deep into the soil and attaches the tripods to them with the same tie-down straps truckers use to secure their loads. He also braces each leg of the tripod with 50-lb. (23 kg) sandbags to minimize vibration. Waterproof tarps protect the whole assembly until launch day, when they are removed and the cameras are armed.
That is a lot of seriously expensive gear.
But I also suspect that many other photographers have access to that kind of gear. I don’t know for sure, but would expect that Winter’s rented a lot of that gear, or it was furnished through a Pro Shooter service of the camera manufacturers.
But I also suspect that gear is not what Dan was hired to bring.
He was hired to shoot this unique moment in American history because of the vision he brings to the shoot. Having the gear is cool, but KNOWING where to put it to get dramatic, amazing, story telling shots… that is the vision thing.
And yeah, it takes a long time to develop that.
Depends on the photographer. Depends on the quest. Depends on how much filtering and listening to critiques and forcing through places walls of doubt he/she is willing to do.
Having gear without the vision is like having a Steinway without knowing how to play piano. Will the Steinway help a young player become better? Will it help a composer create ‘better’ sonatas? Will a floundering jazz pianist with limited talent suddenly become gifted with unlimited improvisational skills just after acquiring a Steinway?
Of course not.
Nor will a writer create better fiction on a new version of Word, or a dancer with a shiny new barre.
Does good or great gear help the performance? Of course! But it doesn’t mean that performances on lesser gear would be bad. The photographer/musician/writer would have to be so sure of their vision, that the less than perfect tools would be used to their best level to present THE best level of art from the artist.
An writer may take 3 times longer to ‘type’ out the story on an old typewriter, but the story itself will still be the story that was in the mind of the author. The composer may be limited to working with a battery powered keyboard with a limited range, but the sonata produced would still be the same piece as she had imagined in her mind.
And a photographer with vision will be able to create images with nearly any camera or gear given him. It may not have the resolution that he is used to. It may be a different crop factor than he is used to. It may make only a small file, or be incapable of flash, or have ergonomics that are strange…
But the vision is within the photographer who then takes the limitations of the gear and works within those limitations to make the image. The image they see in their head. The image they see in their head with the restrictions of the gear they have, that is.
I often hear photographers complain about people who say to them “Wow, your camera takes really good pictures.” They want to insist that it is the photographer, they themselves, that made the photograph.
But then turn around and make similar, although more technically fluent, statements about having this lens or that lens. “Kit” lenses are reviled. Fast glass is the quest. Bigger sensors, more FPS, ISO’s in the millions…
Meh. I am gonna go with “Photographers make the photograph.” A solid photographer could take a good Point and Shoot on vacation and blow people’s minds with the images.
And a photographer with no ideas, no vision and no craft will NOT be able to make ‘better’ photographs with the new gear. They will be bigger file sizes and take up more HD space, but still, well… suck.
Ask yourself this… if a shooter with no vision had been given the exact same gear as Winters, would they have brought back the same or equal quality of imagery? I know my answer would be no.
Stop using lack of having a ____(gear)____ as an excuse for not shooting. Or not shooting well.
Or not knocking it out of the park and blowing people’s minds with your work.
That’s the truly difficult and terrifying part of photography… the part where we have to admit that it really does come down to us. Our vision. Or lack of.
But that is something we can work on no matter what gear we use.
Shoot, shoot, shoot. Critique. Repeat.
Yes, there are times when the gear itself is PART of the vision. You cannot fake a Tilt/Shift lens. And if you want to shoot underwater you MUST have good waterproof gear. But we aren’t talking about this subject that granularly.
Photography at its best can be a reflection of the world in ways that we have never been seen before. It is the photographer’s vision that makes the image become more than it could have been.
But at the heart of the photographer’s vision, there is a deep foundation of the art and the technology that is required to create images that transcend the normal.
Photography is one of the most incredible art forms known.
It combines composition, and color, and tonality, and aesthetic sensibilities with technology that is as precise as it is deliberate.
Many art forms can lay claim to that set of parameters – or at least many of them.
But only photography has the element of time. Time frozen in the vision of the photographer. Time that was captured in an instant of the photographers choosing.
That choice made by determining the nature of the subject unfolding in front of them… in a heartbeat or faster, the shutter captures something that was seen, but only in that moment.
Dance can be seen live, and on video or film, but the moments of the dance are blurred to create an entire piece meant to be savored from the beginning to the end.
A painter can paint the dancer again and again and again to get it just right.
But a photographer has no second chances, no video to show a totality.
A photographer has a single moment.
A single photograph of a dancer, caught in that never to be seen again moment is all up to the one who makes the decision. The decision to activate a shutter that reveals the light.
At that exact moment in time.
Precisely at the moment the photographer has been waiting for, planning for, working for… that “moment” when it all comes together and makes something extraordinary.
And then it is gone. Forever.
But for the image that was caught, that moment is lost.
Time is the vessel of photography. The print is its legacy.
Imagine the skill involved in making that choice. Imagine the depth of sheer knowledge that is brought to bear on that ‘click’… that moment that the photographer has chosen to capture. Imagine photography without the limitations of time.
Skills that develop slowly give way to a comfort in the making of images. A comfort that will inevitably give way to a deeper push for better skills and understanding of the process.
Like the tall trees on the beach, photography is seen on the surface, but buoyed by the deeper roots of the artist.
And like the trees, artists with deep roots whether the toughest of storms, the heat of summer and the frost of winters. The roots keep them anchored even as they are thrown about on the surface by storms of indifference and self doubt.
At least long enough for them to stalk that moment in time when all come together whether from deliberateness or whimsy, and that tiny sliver of a moment is caught and rendered as a photograph.
Keith was a photographer in Atlanta, Georgia. A dedicated artist and all around fun guy, he nonetheless harbored a deep and unrelenting anger toward the Kudzu that grew all around his studio.
(For those unenlightened souls, Kudzu is an Asian plant brought to Georgia by really stupid people who thought they were smart. It now covers over 7 million acres in Georgia, and may soon choke off all life forms on this planet. OK, that may not happen… but after you read this story you may have to change your perspective.)
On occasions when we would Skype he would sometimes have heated and angry words off microphone with the Kudzu that was trying to get inside his apartment.
“I just don’t know what they want with me,” he once confessed over beers at a little BBQ place near downtown. The band was so loud I could hardly hear him shouting, but his eyes said he was seriously concerned.
“The damn Kudzu is trying to kill me… I know it,” he shouted. I smiled and told him that was all in his head and that Kudzu, although a terribly aggressive plant, was not out to kill him.
“Dude,” I shouted back at him, “it’s only a weed.”
Keith smiled a bit and shook his head, took a long swig of the Corona and shouted back… “I hope you are right.
When we left the BBQ joint, his car had three strands of Kudzu wrapped around the front wheels.
He looked at me and just shook his head.
“They are gonna get me, I know it.”
I didn’t know how to comfort a person being stalked by an Asian transplanted weed. Comfort them? Build up their self esteem? Naww… I had a better idea.
Give them a 40 Gallon Drum of “Weed-Be=Gone?
His eyes were a little misty when he grabbed the pump handle and started spraying the Kudzu that had grown in the window in his kitchen while we were outside dragging the herbicide in to his living room.
There was about 12 feet of Kudzu wrapped around the dining room table. It kinda gave me the creeps… I heard it was fast, but 12 feet in 20 minutes? Maybe Keith had a point.
Keith started pumping and spraying, pumping and spraying. The Kudzu was dying right before our eyes and he began laughing just a little bit. A giggle of sorts erupted in spurts as he was yelling and spraying the Kudzu outside the window.
“Die, you rotten green bastards… die” He was shouting and spraying and laughing like a madman. I was sure the neighbors would complain, but then what do you say to a crazed weed killing machine with 40 gallons of liquid death strapped to a shopping cart?
The carnage continued unabated for nearly 10 minutes.
I felt a little uncomfortable… like that last scene in ‘Taxi Driver’ when DeNiro shoots up the whorehouse looking for that chick who made that weird guy want to shoot President Reagan. You want to look away, but the carnage is just too interesting to stop.
After the smoke had cleared (actually there wasn’t any smoke, it was a misted liquid herbicide and as such did not create heat but that is boring so I chose to use the ‘smoke had cleared’ as a metaphor), we sat down for a couple of beers and a cigar.
We laughed and told stories all through the night. Every once in a while Keith would glance toward the window, which was open for the first time in about 3 years. He would get this big ol’ Atlanta grin when there was no Kudzu coming in at the edges.
We called it a night about 3 in the morning and I headed back to the Rodeway Inn for a few hours sleep.
We met the next day to do some photographing and I asked to get a shot of him standing outside in the bare yard. He agreed and wanted to show his buds a Kudzu free yard.
“They are never gonna believe this,” he laughed. “Damn, I did it.”
He turned and smiled at me. A real thankful kinda smile.
“Thank you buddy, I appreciate your help.”
I laughed and told him no problem as I brought the viewfinder of the old Nikon F2 to my eye.
There was a sudden wind and a rushing sound like I had never heard and I simply jerked from the the unexpected crash around me. I clicked the shutter out of sheer response as I fell to the ground and when I looked up… Keith was gone.
Cops searched high and low for him, and I had a lot of explaining to do, but eventually they believed me to be innocent and let me go.
It shook me to the bone, and when I left the cops I wished I had had the guts to tell them that the Kudzu overgrown lawn was totally bare when Keith stepped out onto it. That the jungle of vines had simply swept in from nowhere.
But I was a little afraid of what that meant, so I high tailed it back to Arizona where Kudzu isn’t.
A few weeks later, the film came back from Kodak and there on frame 27, the last pic I took when I was knocked to the ground by the racket was the image above.
I know what happened to Keith but no one is gonna believe me.
And there is Kudzu growing all around my house in Phoenix.
Thanks to my real life bud Keith Taylor for being the man in the Kudzu. He is very much alive and a great photographer. Check his stuff out.
My Deardorff is still one my favorite cameras. Starting to shoot Tintype with it, but it is a bit slow going. I don’t have the time I need to devote to the learning curve of tintype exposure.
I shoot some black and white with it as well, and will be taking a box of Ilford with me to Santa Cruz later this week.
These days, like many photographers, digital is the first medium… it is far less expensive and it is very fast. We like that, and with the way the pace of today is going, fast is necessary.
These cameras are not fast. These large format cameras are slow and deliberate, like many things that have not changed with the times. From a 350MM lens with the fastest shutter speed of 1/50th to a maximum aperture of f-8, this big ol’ wooden camera demands careful, and measured engagement.
The day this camera came into my studio was a turning point in my photography. I think I needed this thing to slow myself down and really learn what I was doing. The studio was rocking and we were shooting nearly every day. From JC Penny to Diamonds to products from a half dozen companies, the pace was fast – and getting faster.
We were pumping out shoots at a rate that was nearly dizzying. The cameras were 35MM for fashion and 6×7 for fashion and corporate. A lot of 4×5 for product, and the amount of Polaroid we burned through was staggering.
I wanted to slow down on my personal projects and when I saw this beautiful old camera, I simply couldn’t resist.
The style of Deardorff is a flat bed camera that folds in on itself and becomes a very compact unit. However, that design also means that the back tilt is on the base instead of on the axis.
And that is a big change from rail cameras which are mainly tilted from the axis of the film. On axis swing and tilt means that the film does not change distance from the lens.
But when you tilt from the base, even the slightest change means the film is no longer in the focus plane… and reaching around to the front of that lens to tilt it a bit more or less was an adventure.
The lens is a 14 inch lens (350mm) which means it focuses at infinity when it is 14 inches from the film plane. In other words, the smallest this camera could be was 14 inches long. Focusing down to tighter and closer compositions means pulling the bellows out… sometimes way out. It was common to have the lens 24-30″ from the back… and that takes a long reach.
It was pretty beat up when I got it. It had a “working stiff” look to it. A real down to earth show up and ger er done kinda camera. I put some more dings and scratches on it for the next ten years.
One day I refurbished it a bit. Not too much, just enough to keep the look of the classic workhorse, but smoothed out some of the more egregious scratches and marks.
The thing about this camera was it took some effort to shoot it. A lot of effort actually.
The lens, a 350MM lens, is the same focal length on your 35MM… a 350. And when it is focused on something 10 feet away, even at f-8 it has the same DOF that your 350MM on a 35Mm has.
Not too much!
Depth of Field issues were also compounded by the shutter speed / aperture. This camera had to be shut down to small apertures to get even a modicum of DOF and that meant slow shutter speeds.
I mentioned that it is a deliberate camera to use, didn’t I?
Now we add in “Bellows Draw” which is the same as the Inverse Square Law in that the farther the lens is from the film, the more time you must give it for compensation. The light of the lens moves farther away from the back of the camera, and the ISL kicks in.
The lens is a 14″ lens. At 28″ it is twice the distance from the back… and two stops are added to the exposure.
Exposures of f-8 at 1/10 or 1/25 in full sun was not unfamiliar.
Oh, and I should mention that the image is backwards AND upside down. At the same time. Backwards and upside down.
This makes one slow down, take deep breaths, move gently and with consideration when composing. I would spend quite a bit of time under the dark cloth making sure the field of focus was exactly what I wanted. I would stop it down waiting for my eyes to get accustomed to the dark to check the DOF and focus.
With loupe to eye, there was such an amazing amount of detail to be looked at on the ground glass.
I think it somewhat Zen like when using this camera.
The images are so unique – think a normal lens shot at f2 for most subjects. And in close, the lens would simply devastate the DOF of almost any image.
Loved doing portraits on it. Getting the eyes in focus meant that the ears and tip of the nose weren’t.
As I got better at shooting the 8×10, my other work improved as well. Spend a weekend with this thing and when you come back the eye is sharp and the composition comes faster.
The big camera became a partner in the old days, and now we just hang at the studio together listening to Coltrane and kickin’ back.
I miss shooting with this behemoth, and hope to get the tin type thing down this summer so I can take it on a road trip to shoot portraits up north.
(NOTE: All images taken with my Android phone)
My dad passed in 2000.
He lingered on in a kind of a funk for so long, and got a little… well… uncharitable toward the end. When we finally talked him into hospice, he was so thankful for their kindness and really enjoyed his time there.
After he passed I was charged with cleaning out the house where he had lived for nearly 50 years. It was an adventure.
Lots of small boxes were packed with stuff we had to save, but also had to move out before we could clean it up for sale. We did the best we could in the time we had, but a lot of stuff ended up in messy boxes.
I was cleaning up the office today while awaiting a client, and in the back of a set of shelves I found a small, heavy, messy box. Better go through it, I thought and dug into the middle.
Out came my dad’s wallet.
It got very still in the office. No one saw inside my dad’s wallet.
It was his sacrosanct place of forbidden entry and all who tried to peer inside were sure to be struck with some sort of heinous pain that would inexorably lead to death.
Or so we were told.
We were always in awe of dad’s wallet when we were kids and we were told to NEVER even think about thinking about getting into it… EVER.
After a while, it was simply the way it was and we never thought about it again.
But here it was… right here in my hand.
I carefully opened it to get a glimpse of what mysteries it held.
It held none.
But it gave me a glimpse into my dad I hadn’t known – or at least hadn’t seen too often.
Dad wasn’t the warmest, most gentle man, although I found his bluntness and off handed wit to be pretty interesting as I grew older. Behind that quiet anger was indeed a loving and caring man… but he must have felt that it would be somehow less ‘manly’ to show it.
My dad had my mom’s drivers license tucked into the front flap so he could see it every time he opened the wallet. She had passed about three years earlier, and he had taken it hard.
On the outside he took it hard… I can only imagine how hard it was for him inside.
He also had two old black and white photographs of her that had been in his wallet since the day they were married. I had seen these images before in my mom’s scrapbook, but I didn’t know he had them in his wallet too.
I highly suspect my mom did not know they were there either.
At this point in life my folks were… combative… heh, and there didn’t seem to be much between them toward the end of their lives.
I know now that there was.
Also included were photographs of each of his grandchildren… three to four deep.
My dad also still carried his draft card, his social security card, a certificate from flight school (1948 – he was a crop duster for few years after the Army) and his military ID.
Nothing too fancy… no mysteries revealed.
But I now have a couple of tiny photographs of my mom in my wallet.
And I made sure my photograph of the wife was up to date and intact.
I am a photographer… and I have so few photographs of the people who mean the most to me. Starting today, I will change that. Starting today I want to carry photographs that have that much meaning to me. Starting today I want to make photographs that an 85 year old man would want to carry in his wallet for his entire life.
My dad used those photographs to remind him of something. Those photographs in his wallet are most assuredly the most important photographs to him that ever existed.
He kept them safe. He kept them secret.
In his wallet.
And hey… mom was indeed a looker, eh?
When I was in my early teens I happened upon some photographs by Weston, Cunningham and Adams. I had been making photographs for a few years. Just casually, no real intent in the work other than to have a keepsake of the place.
Many of us start out taking images that have no real purpose. Some times it is simply the action of ‘snapping’ the moment. Almost like it was supposed to happen. Stand on the side of the Grand Canyon and snap away.
But that day I saw photographs that were unlike images I had seen in person. Yes, I loved photography from earlier than that, preferring sitting on the floor and reading LIFE or LOOK to about anything else.
I just never put it together that those photographs were made with intent, and with strong meaning behind them.
After that art gallery awakening, I was simply obsessed with all things photographic. I wanted to know about the ways that photographers thought and saw and put their images to paper. I wanted to BE a photographer.
Not in the professional make money for shooting photographs kind of photographer, but in the I take images that are deliberate and have meaning photographer.
I had begun reading books by great photographers. The first of Weston’s “Daybooks” had just been published and I was able to get it from the library. I immersed myself in what he wrote… thoughts on the nature of photography and its relationship to the world. A few years later circumstances brought me into contact with more and more photography books: Strand and Cunningham and Kertesz and Steiglitz and Brassai. Each more intriguing than the previous. I was simply hooked.
It was, however, a most difficult venture. My dad had a darkroom, but by this time he had pretty much lost the interest in it that I was just forming. The darkroom had become a sort of store room and, since we had no air conditioning, was only usable for about 5 months a year.
So I shot color.
And I tried to like it. I did.
But it was so uncontrolled and the skies would be too light and the foreground too dark and they weren’t at all what I saw in my head.
And to top it off they were in blah, boring color. No heart to a drugstore color print, believe me.
I wanted to see what I saw when I clicked the shutter. I wanted to FEEL that image as it was taken when I looked at the print.
Yeah… I was disappointed a lot.
Control of the image and its presentation was what I wanted, but at the time I didn’t really know how to articulate it. The struggle with the disappointment and the harsh reality of not having the money to buy good equipment eventually wore me to a thin point and one day the camera was put in its case and not opened again for a long, long time.
Today I use manual everything. I control my lights and my presentation and I get what I want from all the gear at my disposal.
My roots of struggling with the lack of control led me to a place where the control is possible.
And now I am working hard to not let the control get in the way of the image making experience. Yes, I still want the photographs to come out the way I see them, but I am letting them be themselves a bit more.
My roots have taken hold how, and are so deep that there has to be some growth at the top. I want a new and fresh look for my work. With the deep understanding and obsession with control comes a conflict when trying to break out a bit. The habits die hard, and they can overwhelm with extraneous information that is no longer of value.
Roots are one of the greatest assets an artist can have. Letting them take hold and build a new growth above is sometimes an equally powerful asset. But it is an asset that can be hard won. The depths of our past can make the vision of our future more inhibited than it should be.
Enjoy the roots, but celebrate the growth at the top… it is where the sun shines.
I recently finished a new show on creativeLIVE – a workshop on Table Top Product Photography. You can see more at their site.
I was recently on creativeLIVE and have received some rave reviews of the workshop. If you are interested in taking a look at the workshop, you can find it on creativeLIVE’s web site here. I think it is a tremendous value and if you are unable to attend any of my workshops, this may give you a ton of information you will want to have to push your photography to the next level.
I am not a camera geek. I don’t get into all the machinations of new this and new that.
Not a part of my DNA it seems.
I tend to find something I like and stick to it as long as it works for me. I watch other cameras with shiny this and awesome that and think “wow, that could be pretty cool…”. But usually I go back to my standby’s and keep shooting what I shoot.
I know some photographers who buy and sell cameras like some folks trade stamps. Hey, that’s cool. Sounds like fun too.
But I don’t.
This Nikon was my first REAL camera, and it has been with me for quite a while. How old is it? Look it up online. It is a Nikon F2 Photomic and I got it when it was brand new.
Nikon F2 Photomic camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The guy at the camera store was doing a demonstration of photography and was presented by Nikon.
I had originally gone to the store to see the show and buy my first Canon. But the presenter was so smooth in not slamming the other lines of cameras, but talking up what this baby would do that it was a no brainer.
I left with my first Nikon, and a 43-86MM lens. Wonderful camera.
Soon went all in for three primes and was off to the races.
I tend to be pretty pragmatic about my tools. There is a cool factor, but there is also the usability factor.
And the emotional factor.
In fact the emotional factor probably wins out (after the usability and quality issues are passed).
The camera felt (feels) good in my hands. It became an extension of my eyes, and there were fewer hours without it in my grip than there were with it.
I photographed everything.
I was poor from the film and processing costs (and of course the enlarger, lenses, developing stuff, chemistry and paper. Lots of paper.)
And I loved the camera. The shot you see is the camera with one of my favorite lenses attached. The amazing f2 35MM. My other favorite lens is the Nikkor f2.8 180MM. These two lenses put food on the table and paid the mortgage more than any other pairings. Wide for environmental, telefoto for fashion/beauty.
I shot with this beauty for about 8 years. My next camera was the Nikon f3 and man oh man do I love that camera… but there will be time for that later.
I do become attached to things. I know that is ‘bad’ in some folks eyes, but it is a way I work. It helps me understand the context of my life and work and how the tools I use become a part of the entire process.
There was something familiar when the eyepiece found my right eye, and I looked through the lens and saw the little floating needle… begging me to trust it this time for a great exposure. Occasionally I would, and it rarely ever failed me, but most of the time I used the Luna Pro for finding out what to set on the Nikon.
The camera is sitting on my shelf now, and inside it is a roll of Kodacolor that I started shooting a couple of weeks ago. It will be there in a few weeks when I head to the coast to do some lifestyle. Yep, it will join its brother F3 for some film shooting.
Your first love is always one you remember, and the day I bought this Nikon is a day I can still see clearly.
It changed my view of photography.
It changed my view of myself as a photographer.
And it made/makes some incredible photographs.
Over the years I have purchased a lot of cameras and lenses. But this little camera will always be one that I remember the most.
(Essay Two of 30 Essays in 30 Days.)
I was recently on creativeLIVE and have received some rave reviews of the workshop. If you are interested in taking a look at the workshop, you can find it on creativeLIVE’s web site here. I think it is a tremendous value and if you are unable to attend any of my workshops, this may give you a ton of information you will want to have to push your photography to the next level.