Thursday, January 29, 2009
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Merlin Mann on creativity and common approaches. Also a mini-review of the Twyla Tharp book 'the creative habit' that I've been avidly reading.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Fun day. I ventured out to work this morning, then decided to head home before it gets worse. Still snowing, but not so heavy now. Tomorrow will probably be more fun when it melts and freezes again. Not much snow really but it seems to have shut down most of the area.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
I took a portrait of Paul, in front of the first brightly coloured wall I could find. Didn't want to disappoint him, after all. Also took some pictures of the few animals I saw. I always find myself more interested in seeing how the visitors to the zoo interact with the animals, rather than just trying to take clean pictures of the animals. I'm a bit uncomfortable trying to take images in a zoo that attempt to hide the fact that the animals are in cages. There seems to be something of a deception in doing that, that doesn't appeal to me. So instead, I step back and try to find a different point of view.
I went to the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro today. The weather was on the miserable side; cold, drizzle with occasional sleet and snow. The main reason I went was to meet Paul Lester, who lives near by. We had a good time walking around the mostly empty zoo. The majority of the animals were sensibly ensconced inside, out of the cold. Some more hardy animals were out, such as these red wolves, which were making a lot of noise.
Hit play below to hear the wolves calling. This is one of the first times I've tried sharing audio I've recorded, so please let me know if there are problems with this.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Good collection of portraits from a variety of photographers, in the feature photography exhibit at the National Portrait gallery. The online portion of the exhibit provides some background on many of the portraits and there is also an audio presentation, by a couple of the photographers. I'm continually fascinated both by portraiture, but also hearing the stories behind the portraits.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
We went around to Arun's this weekend to play rock band. Rather than make people suffer my singing, I took pictures and played guitar. Such a fun game! Not bad lighting for in someone's living room, either.
Finally started taking pictures for the triathlon training project I feel I've been planning for a couple of years now. Kicked it all off last weekend. I'm excited to get started. Race day is June 21st, 2009. There are 72 people currently training with the group. Lots of excitement and enthusiasm just now.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
First video of an electron in motion, from a link in Discover magazine. The electron image is basically captured using stroboscopic principles, but the bursts of light are each one attosecond long. That's one quintillionth of a second. 1e-18s. Or, as described in the article, consider that one second contains about twice as many attoseconds as there are seconds in the 14-billion-year life of the universe. That's a fast 'shutter' speed for any camera.
Friday, January 09, 2009
Links worth reading or checking out.
Not here - This quite an approach to street photography. In your face, confident, rude, to me. People there don't seem to mind so much.
Hamilton365 Commitment and persistence leads to a great set of portraits. Either draining or invigorating, depending on the photograher's personality I'd think.
Nick Veasey You've probably seen his work on the cover of Adobe's CS packaging. The airplane X-ray's are particularly compelling.
Thursday, January 08, 2009
Jeff Curto has just finished a good pair of podcasts on the application of gestalt principles of design to photographic composition. I remember the concepts from some of my computer imaging classes but had never really given them much thought in terms of how I use a camera. The podcasts are worth a listen and I don't plan on rehashing the basic definitions of Closure, Continuance, Similarity and Proximity (they are described in the third link above, as well as in the podcasts)
It did stir memories of one flaw I've been trying to work on for a couple of years. I've come to realise my default behaviour when faced with a thing I want to photograph, is to square up to it, frame it tightly, but not too close as to crop in to it and shoot something quite literal. Buildings are the worst - I always feel I'm trying to line up the plane of the front of the building with the camera sensor. I'm front and center, shooting straight on. I don't often get in tight enough to crop something out and leave much to the viewer's imagination.
This is where the idea of closure comes in to play. With the realisation that your brain is really good at filling in the blanks, e.g., recognising the whole implied spiral that exists in part in the image above, you can create compositions that are more engaging to the eye, by leaving something for the imagination to fill in. I tend to do not so badly with this when it comes to portraits, not being afraid to crop in to the head, or body, but I still have to work at that. The realisation is that it isn't just okay to crop in tighter into an object, but it might actually be better to do that, to improve the experience for the viewer and to keep them engaged. The other aspect of this affliction I have is often using very flat, open lighting - again not leaving much to the viewer's eye to fill in. Both of these are things that I'm going to try and work on more this year, using light to shape the subjects rather than simply illuminating them cleanly.
I'd read about the notion of Continuance being used for composition before. Particularly the notion that Western (left to right reading) cultures prefer images that flow from the left to the right. Jeff provides an example of this, where the image that is flipped might seem more abrupt or less comfortable to view because it flows the other way. I'd love to see some justification of this notion and wonder how true it really is. Do peoples who read in other directions really compose their shots differently, in the general case? I know I've experimented with the differences between a left to right and right to left flow - but I don't know if I came to that consciously after reading that it was supposed to be more comfortable, or developed that style, because it really does have a noticeable influence.
I also remember listening to Keith Carter describe the beauty in some imperfections in a shot, where things weren't carefully aligned and that the little imperfections in angles and arrangement made the shots more human; more pleasing. Something my engineering brain really struggles with is trying to find this human poetry in images, particularly when I'm composing them.
One other thing that stood out in Jeff's podcasts was how the principle of similarity of shape neatly encapsulates using visual rhythm as a means of composition. Craig Tanner talks about this approach in many of his podcasts and it is very clear in his work. However, when you consider gestalt similarity, the use of rhythm (with respect to pattern) becomes just one of three types of similiarities that can be considered (the others being size and tone/value).
This post feels a bit all over the place, but there is a lot of fundamental notions buried away in these simple ideas. Composition and design doesn't just start and stop at the rule of thirds...
Got a link to these unusual cameras today. Seems he builds each camera with the express purpose of shooting a particular subject and ties the camera's construction to the subject matter. Not entirely sure what I think about that. Does the instrument really matter or change the images? It is more performance art at that point, or maybe look at me art? Certainly the end result strikes me as being more about the whole process, rather than just the resulting photographs. That strikes me as a common theme I've seen in various contemporary art galleries - the work is all about what the artist did to create it and the end results are of secondary, if any, importance.
Saturday, January 03, 2009
Several years ago, I exchanged emails with Clarke Evans from the Texas Photographic Society, on the topic of projects, getting better and general ways forward with picture taking. One of the discussions centered around the five stages of development of a photographer, as Clarke saw them. He has kindly allowed me to share some of those comments here.
Stage 1: Just got a camera and is happy to be taking pictures and getting anything that works. Doesn't really care what other people think about the photographs, just taking them for the fun of it. Shooting birthday parties, Christmas and snap shots of the family.
Stage 2: Decides to learn a little more and starts paying attention to the camera. Learns about lenses, f/stops and shutter speeds and the like. Begins to take control of the camera settings and gets some better results. Might even read the camera manual. Starts maybe entering competitions or joins a camera club.
Stage 3: Begins paying more attention to subject matter - lighting becomes important. Composition, posing of subjects. Still photographs a wide variety of subjects but the images have improved.
Stage 4: Mixes all of the first three stages and becomes a decent photographer. Can make a pretty good photograph under most situations. Knows and understands lighting, composition and how to use the camera. At this stage, the photographer is competent with a camera and making photographs. Some go on to become professional photographers, others continue as amateurs and take good pictures purely for the love of it.
Stage 5: Photographer hits upon something they want to say. It just happens. They decide to pursue a project and whole heartedly dive into it. In stage 5, the photographer has gone full circle back to Stage 1 and again doesn't care what others think of the images. They are photographing something they want to explore for their own personal reasons. A good example of this is O. Rufus Lovett's book from UT Press, Weeping Mary. Rufus went back to Weeping Mary every weekend and bought gas from one gas station and eventually asked if he could take the owner's picture. Over time he started photographing all of the 200 residents of the town. Eventually that fascination with this one subject became a book. Another example would be Ansel Adams and his persistent photographing of Yosemite.
There's nothing wrong with being at any of these stages, one isn't better than the other, just different points in the development of a point of view. Probably we are also all going back and forth between some of the middle stages at different points in time - there is always plenty to learn. I feel I've been somewhere between 3 and 4 for a while now, never quite hitting on something that really can hold my attention long enough to be something I really wanted to express.
Ted Byrne made a great comment on this post, that I think is attempting to say something similar. Too many choices and too many distractions cause us to flit around between subjects and struggle to settle in on a topic and really explore it to an interesting depth, beyond the superficial surface. I know I'm often guilty of that, jumping between subject matter and new styles, lenses or whatever catches my eye. There is certainly nothing wrong with that if it gives you enjoyment and makes good pictures, but it isn't likely to ever really amount to much. I often see that in coffee shop photography exhibits, lots of good images, with nothing at all connecting them to each other, apart from them being taken by the same person. Usually if you go to an actual gallery show, you see something quite different - a much narrower selection of subject, a common theme or message, connecting all the images to each other. Not such a catholic selection of subjects or styles on display. More concept album, less greatest hits.
The way forward isn't really that hard. Pick a project, any project. Commit to it, even for a weekend and try to make 10 great pictures. Not one, not two, but push that little bit further and explore the subject. The project could be a birthday party. It could be your favourite hobby. Or a building you find fascinating. It doesn't need to be a grand theme. It could just be your lunch. Find something that matters to you and make the pictures of it that try to express why you care about it. Go back a few times, expend some effort to go beyond that obvious first view. I spent a couple of years visiting one garden here in Austin, 2 or 3 times a month for 2 years. I think after the first 6 months I'd actually managed to work my way through all of the cliches and other people's ideas that crowded my head and actually start making my own pictures. It can take me a while to get to something fresh. Or you could be finished with the project in a day. The point is to find something to say.
Friday, January 02, 2009
When did hard drive storage get so cheap? Feels like only a few months ago that 1Tb was pretty expensive. Now you can get a 1Tb external USB for about $110. That's ridiculous. Backing up has never been so affordable or easy. In 2004, a 1Tb Lacie hard drive would have set you back about $1,195 list price. Not bad progress for 5 years.