Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Vibrant Mode

I don't work with color as much as I used to. Some time last September I stopped shooting for punchy colors and started hunting down textures and muted scenes (at which point I'd process them to the point of depressingly colorless). This image here was a happy accident. Who knew magenta was good for anything but color fringing.

It's silly to say, but I'm horribly scared of blues and the cool end of the color spectrum overall. Not simply because of the fringing color artifacts but because I'm so sensitive to cold. Literally. Unless there's an 82A warming filter on the lens the images make me shiver. Even at night, when the visage tends to naturally be cooler (not to mention the weather) I simply can't stand a cold scene.

That never used to be an issue for me, but it's quite frustrating. Some images look better with cool tones so this phobia of blue shift is as detrimental as it is unreasonable. I think it began when I started photographing people more than places/scenes. People look better warmed up a tad, obviously (nobody likes to appear pale). A scene should be treated differently, though.

Color is hard to shoot and, frankly, if color itself is not in some part the strong point of the image then there's no reason for it to be shown in color to begin with. Everything in our world carries texture, tone, shape and contrast, but color introduces an entirely new level of complexity because human beings react differently to different colors (ie. my aversion to blues). I have enough trouble perfecting perspective and line in my images, introducing another complicating factor in a horribly unaccommodating environment (abandoned buildings aren't necessarily known for their bright colors and cozy perches) would result in images as confused as the photographer.

 Anyway, I had all intentions of sweeping onto the scene with a broad span of new images with a model I've worked with before, but the weekend instead spiraled into a mess of alcohol, debauchery and climbing over fences, breaking into closed pool offices, stealing a roll of toilet paper and throwing it into the pool in drunken fury. Alas, no new images. I've heard of other photogs loosening up a model shoot with a bit of the juice but apparently it doesn't work so hot when both parties are closet alcoholics. Oops!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Low Key Curiosity

This image perplexes me. Seriously, it really does. Of the entirety of my gallery on Flickr ( this image has been visited and revisited more than most. In fact, the only image that beats it has a story of police overreach involved and everybody starts drooling over a good police brutality story so that hardly counts. No, this image has been met with inordinate amounts of popularity on its own merits and I can't for the life of me figure out why.

Back in 2008 I was working for a security firm serving as the overnight babysitter of contractor facilities. It was a great job with a light workload and good pay, but being on a night schedule committed murder to my social life. About the only person in my circle of friends who was ever awake at the ungodly hours I was happened to be an old buddy from high school by the name of Milt. Both of us were night owls, neither by our choice. As such, we spent every mutual night off work in his above-garage bachelor pad, a den of video games, nostalgia and general nerdom. Out in the middle of the woods and well away from neighbors we would rock out without a care. They were good times.

Christmas had just passed 3 months back and the treasure of a gift I received was my first DSLR, a Nikon D40x. I was ecstatic, thrilled, giddy... and terrified. For years prior I had only worked with the WYSIWYG styles of point-and-shoot style cameras. I was used to seeing the effects of white balance, exposure and image processing directly before an image was taken. With a prism my safety blanket was gone. The confidence I'd built was shattered because I didn't see what I was capturing beforehand. Such a simple, nonsense worry, but it was there nonetheless. This new tool was amazingly powerful but I was too insecure to use it.

One particular night at Milt's I brought the new baby Nikon to try and exercise it. Milt had just purchased a new bass guitar to jam on, a crisp mahogany colored piece with a rich sound that would shake your gut until butterflies fluttered. With generally not a damn clue as to what I was doing I set the camera to black and white, opened the aperture wide and started snapping. It was my first time making any real use of the glass cannon, so I experimented, moving physically in and out, trying to find some sweet spot as Milt's hands tickled the strings and swung the neck about in trance. The light was abysmal, a single fluorescent lamp on the ceiling resulting in shots that were either half lit, not lit at all or grossly overexposed depending on the luck of the draw (damn all 60hz lighting). The dance of musician and photographer lasted all of maybe 20 minutes before I grew bored with the lightbox and moved on to the six string.

At work the next day I sifted through the small assortment of images I'd collected the night prior. For a twist of luck several came out more than simply decent. At the time I was a whore for DeviantArt and uploaded several but over time that image above was the only one that ever held enough impact for me to keep around once I'd moved on. It is among the very first truly strong images I made with an SLR, and as such, I mark it as the beginning of my adoption of photography as more than simply a hobby. Not long after this image a surge of confidence saw me investing in new, faster lenses, flashguns and real image editing software. I developed an actual post process, more than simple contrast/brightness adjustments. I began booking weddings and band shoots. Money was exchanged. Photo contests were won. I slipped down the slippery slope. And all because of 20 minutes and a bass guitar.

It's a good image. Personally I don't feel that it's particularly great, but apparently that opinion isn't shared among the general populace, at least on Flickr. The image has a story, yes, but it doesn't tell it. I will forever wonder what attracts people to that photo.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sketching for Photographers

You know, I've gotten a bit of crap for picking the name "Kneejerk" for my studio. I'm either told it sounds outright stupid or just plain unprofessional. And a week ago that would've mattered to me but today I could not give less of a f***. It is the perfect name because it is the way I practice photography.

Last week I made a trip up to Philly to enjoy my birthday and St. Paddy's in good company. I forgot how inspirational a long drive can be, especially when taken in the late morning in sunny weather, everything lit up with midday sun and contrasting against a solid blue gradient of sky. The 2 hour trip from Baltimore to Philly may as well have been a vacation on its own, with good music and barren roads serving as some modern cowboy backdrop. By the time I'd actually made it into the city the feel-good vibe was so strong I couldn't wait to snatch up my camera and be obnoxious to strangers.

Not all images have to be "art" to be good. Photographers sketch in much the same way as illustrators and painters and other traditional artists. We wander around not knowing what we want to draw so instead of drawing nothing we draw everything. There is at least as much to be gained from random, indirect shooting as there is from the premeditated. It hones that instinct that recognizes a strong image.

The photo above is a knee-jerk image.

I was wandering aimlessly up and down South Street, Philadelphia with camera in hand and no subject in mind. I was simply looking. One of the nice things about street shooting in the city, especially such a busy district such as South Street, is the manner in which the life and activity changes so rapidly. Minute to minute the people changed and that in turned changed the place. When the sketching began I was passing out cigarettes to homeless in return for a headshot. By the middle of the afternoon I was enthralled by steep shadows creeping longer and longer as the sun made its daily retreat. Greenpeace petitioners to store clerks to street vendors to power lines, pedestrians and street signage, all had a place on my camera.

Once the clock hands were looking more vertical I received the call I'd been waiting for from the person I was rendezvousing with. I cut through a side street to meet up with him and noticed the shadow of a pole down the alley. Most haphazardly I snapped the camera back to a tilt and snapped a frame. It was a knee-jerk motion, a knee-jerk reaction. And the image it produced was, certainly to me, beautiful. Strong shadows, rich texture, natural vignette. It was the image to be my icon for the day.

Now, a photographer cannot depend on such chance reaction alone to propel his work into legend, but it's a crucial skill to master nonetheless. Snap-to recognition of opportunity is essential - to know what impacts you immediately and to immediately act upon it. Knee-jerk imagery. Sketching for photographers. As any first grade art teacher would impress upon you, "Practice makes perfect". The "perfect" part might be a bit of a stretch but it is certainly a step in the right direction.