“Sea Shell” Improvisation: 1 Hour Challenge

“Sea Shell” Improvisation: 1 Hour Challenge

I often say that photography is “Jazz with a camera.” And I say that because I believe it to be absolutely true.

A Jazz performer has to know their instrument so well, that it is second nature for them to simply play it. Jazz requires improvisation (and if it doesn’t, it ain’t jazz…) and photography is all about improvisation. Imagine the mastery it takes to not only play the instrument, but make the music up on the fly with other players accompanying you. Trying new and daring twists and turns while the drummer and bass lay down a sweeeet groove… yeah.

Photographers do the same thing. They get to know their instruments so well, that they can simply start to make stuff up on the fly, while not losing the goal or reason for the photograph. Let’s try this- or that, or change lenses for a different POV. What happens if we get down low and bring a shiny card in from the edge here…? Choices flying by and we have to be able to choose them quickly to keep time.

See – a jazz player is playing a couple of bars ahead in their minds, and they can keep the chord structures and the ‘changes’ fluid. They hear the music to come before it is played. All the while being totally aware of the other musicians and what they are doing.

A photographer does the same thing visually. A photographer ‘sees’ the image as a it will be seen from their camera and lens combination even before they put it together. They begin to ‘play’ the images by composing elements, trying this and trying that. Knowing the final image (or close) before tripping the shutter.

Improvisation.

Jazz, baby.

This is something I used to do a lot. And I mean A LOT. We used to call it ‘testing’, but now it is called “creative”. Shooting creative is like working that axe in the woodshed. Woodshed’n makes you play better because it keeps your mind and instrument in tune.

“Creative” shooting keeps your vision tuned up as well. There is no substitute for shooting… ABS, as Nick Onken says: Always Be Shooting.

So this is my first of the year improvisation. It will not be the last. I plan on doing these at least once per week (next week is a fork… a single fork).

My rule to myself is to not shoot more than one hour, and to shoot within a single set or area. Working the shot out and making as many variations as possible. Hopefully we can keep the setup included in that hour. As a jazz musician too, I expect I will break said rules and do whatever the hell I want – but, we gotta start somewhere.

Today I went outside and noticed my daughters shell collection. She collects them as she visits different beaches when we are on vacation. I think they each have a name… or did when she was younger.

One was filled with gunk and water and it caught my eye.

I decided right then to make those shells the subject of my improv. I set up on the front porch area and decided to use the sun as my source. A 5-in-one reflector kit scrim was the single modifier, and a piece of white fome core was my surface. Clean and graphic. I spent 45 minutes from setup to tear down.

Here are the shots:

I used two basic lighting setups: One with the scrim vertical in back of the set to create more shadow in front of the shells. And one with the scrim over the top of the shells for a broad, soft source. The sun was my main light source today.

Vertical Light Panel creates more shadow to the front of the shells as the light is not seen from that position.


You can see in this shot that the light is not covering the front of the shells, so it creates more shadow.

With the scrim over the top, more light comes to the front part of the shells and eliminates the shadows in front.


The top scrim brings the light to the front of the shells. The sun was fairly high in the south sky and we had moderately scattered clouds. I had to work with the sun, not the clouds ad it made the light too flat. Having a bright, powerful source behind the scrim made the light a bit more punchy.

Thanks for coming out today.

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Portraits: Four Simple Approaches

Portraits: Four Simple Approaches

I had the chance to do some portraits of some of the talent we had at the LE Weekend Meetup. They were Briana’s dance company and all of them were delightful and beautiful dancers. The folks who came had a blast and I was simply stunned that so many people came so far to hang out with us.

We had photographers from NY / FL  / WA / CA / KS / TX and other far flung areas… we covered North America pretty well.

More shots from that weekend coming when I get them all in from the folks… wow, it was fun.

The first portrait was of Briana and done as a demonstration for one of the photographers who wanted to understand the large fill card and main light approach.
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Rediscovering the 50 – Working To Know My Least Favorite Lens Better

I am not a ‘normal’ lens kind of guy. Never have been. My Hasselblad has two lenses – the 250MM and the 50MM. Yeah, I’d like an 80 Planar for it someday, but there are a lot of things ahead of that. My favorite 8×10 lens is my 375MM, and when working with 4×5 you would find a 75MM or a 210MM before a 150MM. Actually, I don’t own a 150 – sold it decades ago.

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The Last Light of the Day

 

I love to shoot in the last light of the day. I try to have my camera and be out as the sun gets to about 30 minutes before the sun goes down and 15 minutes afterward. So many changes happening so fast makes it a very exciting and adrenaline driven few minutes.

BTW, I think thanks are in order for all the great emails and texts and phone calls from all who were so supportive as the site went down for the third time in 2 weeks. I hope we are back up for good, and working toward more lighting and interesting content. We will also be doing some work on the site to help create pages that will deliver some of our existing content in a different way.

Workshop News: I am off to Norfolk (first time ever in that part of the country), then to Houston, Raleigh and Florida at beginning of December. There are some openings in Houston and Raleigh, and only a few for the 3 day Workshop Mania Blowout workshop in Anna Maria, Florida. See Learn to Light for more information on these workshops.

From around the net:
My friend Selina Maitreya has a good post on Observation. Short and to the point, it is something for us to think about.

Bruce DeBoer asks a great question, “Why Do You Photograph?”

A Photo Editor keeps rocking the great “Ask Anything” column and you must check out the newest one, “Ask Anything – No Luck Applying Standard Rates To My Local Business.”

And if you haven’t discovered Elizabeth Avedon’s blog yet, you should take a few minutes to check out a very upscale and interesting site.

And some shooters to check out this week:

Tim Flach
Chris Floyd (as of this post, NSFW)
David Stoker
Ed McCulluch
Jessica Eaton

And a few posts that you may have missed:
Going Pro is a category here on Lighting Essentials. It is aimed at those who are seriously looking at making the leap. Sometimes that leap is a choice and sometimes it is something that is thrust upon us by the situations of life. If you are thinking about turning professional in the commercial world, you will want to check out this category.

If you are working on a new website, check out these articles on web design for photographers.

Oh, and if things are really sucking right now, here are “10 Nifty, Excellent Excuses for Failing at Photography” for ya. (Come on, don’t get down. Change direction, get motivated, and make stuff happen.)
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There are times of the day when I am drawn to shoot, no matter what else I am doing. The last light of the day is one of my favorites. The color goes warmer, the light becomes more on axis to the camera and the subjects can look into the light without squinting.

It is also metaphorical light… the end of the day, the oncoming shadows, the contrast that helps define and refine edges, the way it creates shadows and highlights and turns a mundane facade into a tableaux of color and shadow.

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In Praise of Natural Light: Examples and Discussion.

I guess I missed International Available Light Portrait Day, but then I am wondering when I get to color eggs and hide them in our miserably small back yard. My bud in Texas, Kirk Tuck, did a nice little post on Available Light, and got me thinking about how much I love it as well. I thought I would post a little “Natural Light” post myself.

The shot above is totally natural light from a wide open sky in back of me and a setting sun to camera right giving the shot a little tweak of light. I am loving the way it just adds that wonderful highlight to the jeans and her hair. Taken at the Omaha workshop while waiting for another photographer to get their lens changed.

I would love to discuss some natural light shots with you, but first some housekeeping:

Workshop News:
I have scheduled a few advanced classes and we have had some really great classes. The workshop we did in Baltimore last weekend was a blast for the students. They learned how intricate the lighting used to shoot jewelry can be, and how to prepare a pour shot for liquids. We added some models to the afternoons and they loved the switching of gears from things to people.

Atlanta is my next workshop and it is an advanced. If you are looking for a way to expand your understanding of studio work – still life, product, food and jewelry – take a look at what we are offering. It is designed for the serious photographer, and is still a great workshop for the advanced amateur.

Also coming up is the Greenville and Columbus workshops. Greenville will be a great time. I love going to the smaller towns that many other workshops don’t schedule. I will be doing some work in the area as well, so the month of June is totally full. Columbus is being sponsored by MPEX and will simply rock! Watch for some exciting news about that workshop!

Selina, Jack and I are gearing up bigtime for the Going Pro NOW tour this fall. We kept the pricing low and the value high. We believe in photography and we believe that we can make a difference in the challenges of the emerging photographers out there. Things seem to be picking up out there in ad land, so be ready.

I will be doing some one-on-one consultancies in July. Utilizing the studio I have in Phoenix, there will be some openings for photographers wanting to take some serious lighting instruction. We can arrange for all kinds of amenities for those of you who may want to take a more personal workshop. It will be available for 2 attendees per. If interested, drop me an email. I have only a few open days in July.

Heading for Denver in July and we are trying a workshop in the Flagstaff Area. That workshop will feature working along Old Route 66, Downtown Flagstaff, mountain meadows, pines, deserts and more. A special workshop in a special place. This will be my first Denver area workshop, and I am excited about that.

Recent posts you may have missed:
My workshop and week in NY produced New York, May 2010: Fun in the Big City
You Know That Guy… I Hate That Guy. Am I Somehow More Successful Now? was a post on the tendency to think negatively instead of with inspiration.
Sure You Gotta Logo, But What Is Your Personal Brand? discusses going beyond the surface of brand and gets into your personal branding project.
“The Heart of Portraiture” E-Book: 20 Portraits Discussed. My first freely distributed E-book featuring 20 portraits and discussions on what the thought process was to achieve them. Free to download and enjoy.

Now on to a little post on natural light, and thanks Kirk for getting my brain going on this.
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Just a Camera and a Subject. Simplicity Can Be Fun.

Recently there was a discussion on whether natural light shooters would be able to compete with the strobe-heavy photographers and those deep into the Photoshop illustrative techniques. And before we begin it must be stressed that I love all kinds of photography. This is not ‘against’ any style that you may enjoy, it is only a look at some simple, and entirely wonderful ways of shooting.

Photography embraces all types of imagery. From the heavily illustrated work of Dave Hill and Tim Tadder, to the Photojournalist with a camera in a war zone, to a wedding shooter with a speedlight – and more. We love it all. I hope that when you look at a photograph you don’t measure it by whether it was ‘hard to do’ but whether it speaks to you and makes its way into your inner vision. The image is what is important.

The discussion was at Heather Morton’s excellent blog. Jaimie said:

“The other post I wanted to mention was the ‘To Gear or Not To Gear’ article where there was a discussion about exactly that. I think this was actually the first compliment I think I’ve received from someone in the industry in regards to my natural light stuff. I guess I’m curious to know why it’s seen as such a bad thing. I completely understand that in the advertising world it’s all about control and customization as well as being a little over the top in many cases. What I don’t understand is why working with natural light seems to be frowned upon and/or viewed as being amateur and simplistic, or something that wasn’t thought out. Seriously, I don’t think either Grant or I or any other shooter that uses a lot of available light (Chris Wahl anybody?) are just taking our cameras outside and hoping for the best when we shoot.”

I think that is something that a lot of people who first get interested in photography through the internets think. Unfortunately. And of course the marketers abound with gear gear gear to a point where some would wonder if were even possible to create images without a ton of lights. And of course it is. And shooters like Frank Hoedle use a lot of gear to achieve a look that seems more natural than not. And this is NOT a gear discussion…

This is a possibilities discussion. I have no dog in the hunt as they say. I could care less what anyone shoots with or without… just show me the pictures. Do they move me? Good.

My post today is on simplistic shooting… just a camera and a subject. The images above were taken 25 years ago. (Natural light, Nikon F3, 180MM f2.8 Nikkor @ 2.8, on Tri-X at ISO200 and pushed 15% in D76.) They were taken in Scottsdale, AZ on a bright, sunny day. There are no fill cards or any other lighting gear used. I think they work.

Why? Because it doesn’t matter to the image. The subject connects with you instantly. The light is subtle and soft and inviting. Was it ‘easy’? I don’t remember most anything being ‘easy’. The location has to work, and then there are considerations to be made. Will the light ‘work’ or will it just be exposure light? Can I sculpt the subject a bit and separate her and emphasize the line and shape and flow? What exposure compensations may I have to make to create on the film or capture, the look I see in my head? The only thing that is easy is that I only had to carry my bag to the shoot.

In the shot on the right we were in a closed in patio with a large window facing south. The light coming in that window was shaded from direct sun by an overhang, so the light was soft and wide. Placing the subject into that light and then making sure the walls were lit enough to provide the soft edge lighting was the goal. We had to move some furniture to get it right, but we did. Same location for the shot in the middle, and as the sun went behind a mountain and left us in shade, we did the shot on the little gravel driveway.

I shoot to the right and process to the left. What that means is I would more likely over expose the image and process to the shadows than I would underexpose. I like brighter skin tones and I like a neg or capture that has some contrast to it. Digital is so flat compared to film. So I shot the film to the regular ISO200 that I usually did (Tri-X was rated at ISO 400… yeah, and I am the king of prussia) and pushed the film (over developed it) to get a bit more contrast. Digital to follow after the jump.

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