Tuesday, August 30, 2011
One day I fell. I stumbled like a brazen fool, and then I fell asleep. And when I woke up, I could not hear the music anymore. The house was hollow, it gave off the uncomfortably empty silence of a forgotten memory. I looked for the muse, my dear, my love, but the muse no longer wanted to be found. I even found the piano, the music maker, where we hypnotized one another with our songs. But the muse was not there. Only me, quietly sitting at the piano, tired, alone, lost. So want of a memory, I played the piano. A new, somber song. It began with the deep, low notes of disappointment, disaster, regret and loss. The notes were so low and so deep I could have fallen into them and heard their tone forever. Then my fingers traversed the keys, ventured up the scale if for no other reason than to not be trapped by those tempting low notes. A different tone, higher, less weighty and thick, notes through which it was easier to breathe. I took to humming along to the sound, conjuring the tune from the prior emptiness I felt obliged to reserve for the muse should it return. Without my conscious action, that emptiness was filling up. Not with the muse, not with the otherworldly motivation and drive I felt deprived of. It was something else, something as yet not defined. My playing grew louder, filling the house with rich sound, a sonic wonder to hear such jollity erupt from my yet weathered husk of a self. My humming became quiet words, and my quiet words became song - "Don't be sad that it's over, be happy because it happened."
And I could swear I heard someone walking just outside the room, looking for where from the sound was coming..
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Monday I took the time to hang out with Autumn and Erika, a duo I've taken the company of for years now and thus photographed a great deal. We met at our usual haunt, the Starbucks right next to my apartment. The shenanigans were typical, idle chat and amusing recounting of stories. They've gotten used to my camera after so many years of it being fused with my hand whenever we're together. Much as I enjoy their company on its own merits, it's also nice that I can practice and experiment with my portrait style when hanging around them. For the most part they don't see the camera anymore, and thus I can snap away and capture the occasional high-class candid.
Monday also saw me taking after the likes of Ken Rockwell with the bathroom self-portrait. I've actually taken a few of those... but in my defense I was drunk all those other times. Don't judge me!
Monday, August 22, 2011
Todd (in the photo) and I just ran over to Subway to grab a sandwich, and on the way back home to our apartment I called his name to grab his attention, thus creating the opportunity for this photo. Odd that people still don't entirely get the whole Kneejerk name. I would've thought by now people would realize that the name is a descriptor of the manner in which I photograph, not just a "catchy" monicker. One can over think image composition all day, the best results still seem to come from those moments of clarity when instinctual autopilot kicks in to assist.
Some time last week I tried the Lumix 14mm f/2.5 on the E-P3 body and rather fell in love with the wide-prime combo (still wish it was the 12mm f/2.0, though). It enabled me to capture portraits with just a little more context, something I'd never dabbled in much before. I was also enamored with the flexibility of in-camera B&W processing, with digital selection of yellow, orange, green and red filters changing the way the image renders in JPG. To believe I ever needed to waste time cleaning up RAW noise in the past doing the same thing (the red channel is the noisiest to work in, after all).
Really makes me hunger for that 45mm f/1.8 due to come out next month, though. If for no other reason than simple curiosity. It's fun shooting people again.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
While shuffling through old images in the process of assembling yesterday's blog post, I couldn't help but notice a few elements that piqued my interest enough to merit comment on this forum. Diving even so much as a year back into days since passed, it quickly became apparent that some of the subjects used in the old images were the subjects of new visual constructs of the past few months. Of course certain subjects are apt to beg for re-visitation, but a pleasant discovery is what I perceive as the clear and marked improvement I've managed to make in my visual styling between then and now.
All this nostalgia and looking back on my roots and the progress I've made really does make me far more excited about the future. I look forward to getting to review my own improvement again.
All this nostalgia and looking back on my roots and the progress I've made really does make me far more excited about the future. I look forward to getting to review my own improvement again.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
This first shot to the right was taken in the Spring of 2010. Dennis was my roommate for a good while, and we shared a common group of friends that stuck together well after High School. Often times we'd meet up at Starbucks, catch up on our exploits since the last gathering, have some fun, drink some coffee... a good time. And, being the group shutterbug, I always had a camera in hand to snap away during the meeting. It just seemed like the right thing to be doing at such a low-key, friendly rendezvous. This shot in particular was made with the 35mm f/1.8 on my old Nikon D40x. I liked how the sun bled over the back of his hat with how this image was metered... man, do I miss that lens.
Have I mentioned I'm in love with the E-P3 + fast prime + XZ-1 combo yet?
Anyway, the above image was snapped while having breakfast with the other volunteers. I mentioned that the sunglasses on this gentleman's face made him look like the Unibomber, at which point I moved in to snap a shot as the person sitting beside me saw an opportunity to play keep-away with his glasses.
While exploring a certain hospital, a partially spherical mirror caught our attention. It was the kind used to see around corners, an asset to avoid collision. Whereas most had been smashed to sharp daggers of glass, this one remained quite in tact. It called for a photo. Still a Nikon guy at this point.
This image, the last I can seem to find from the past year's hall of mirrors, bears a hint of my past foolishness. Though perhaps not a focal point, focused or all that clear, I can see the indent and bloody scab of a rusted metal pipe to the head I endured just hours earlier. A sendoff from the power station I had been photographing that day. It required me to make a panicked trip to the hospital for a tetanus shot I'd neglected to get prior. Coincidentally enough, my grandfather was taken to the same hospital that very day, and instead of directly leaving I spent some time with family, some of which had already been there for quite some time. Though the general sum of focus was duly placed on my grandfather, the stained bandage on my forehead demanded explanation, and not one to lie I retold my earlier adventure in detail. That may be the point at which family began questioning my exceptionally fringe lifestyle.
On the way home hunger struck, and so I pulled into the Taco Bell of my hometown to pick up food for myself and my partner at home. The light was nice, a good blend of twilight and colors as they were projected from the drive-through signage. It begged a snap.
Something wonderful about photographs, no matter the medium and no matter the format, single still moments captured conjure a wealth of memories.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Last week it was requested that I provide my photographic skills at work. On occasion it's necessary to photo-document various tasks and procedures, some of which involve VERY delicate macro work that requires a bit more technical knowledge and skill than the average Joe with the mode dial switched to "Auto". Part of the task to be documented also called for the use of some personally owned camera equipment, which fed me more than ample excuse to bring a change of clothes, the full bag of my camera equipment and a full tank of gas to turn the evening into a photo expedition after my workplace photographic duties were completed. The sun just seems to be at that perfect point in the sky during Summer months just as soon as work is over...
... Anyway, my day was well planned and laid out before I ever made it into the office. It's always a good day when my workplace calls upon me to employ my knowledge of photographic techniques. Although my title is certainly far from "Official Office Photographer", it's nice to be recognized as bearing that very specific skill set and thus be the go-to guy for any tasks that involve intensive imaging. If nothing else, it certainly makes the day more pleasant when it can be spent exercising the skills you already enjoy exercising.
My equipment roster started off rather lengthy at the beginning of the day but an instinct of purpose in my shooting drove the list to diminish. The Lumix 14mm f/2.5 sat comfortably on the E-P3 (oh, how I wish it was the 12mm f/2.0, though) with the kit 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 in one roomy cargo pocket and the XZ-1 occupying the other. Looking back on the day, the 14-42mm could have even stayed behind. Something about primes, any shooting just seems to comfortably conform to the perspective they provide, nullifying any original interest in other focal lengths that may have existed. If ever such a curiosity about perspective struck hard enough, it seemed far more prudent to reach for the XZ-1 and snap an image than it did to swap lenses on the E-P3 (another reason I may very well be in love with that brilliant pairing). In keeping with the laziness/minimalist preparation, the tripod also stayed in the car.
The entire experience was rather awesome, actually. Granted, the locale itself is considered "easy mode" in the circles in which I meddle, but after so much time "out of the fight", so much time spent longing to return to the muse... it finally happened. And much to my pleasure it doesn't seem to have been cheapened at all by any sense of unfamiliarity or even too much familiarity. I wasn't disappointed by boredom in the return to old subjects, nor was I stifled by an unfamiliar tool whose learning curve I still hadn't overcome. The tool, in both the standpoint of direct handling and of the ultimate image created, excelled to degrees I hadn't expected at all, and now leaves me with a marked confidence in regards to my future endeavors. And as for my stones to travel forgotten lands far less traveled by the typical passerby, I am elated to discover they are, in fact, still in tact.
Once again, I embrace the future.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
This weekend I went out with my mother, grandmother and little sister to visit my late grandfather's grave. Being that our intent was to straighten up the plot and lay down fresh flowers, it seemed prudent to bring a camera. Some people find the concept of photographing a funeral or grave site profane or taboo, but my family is intuitive enough to understand my method of grieving involves the lens. Photographs of the gravestone and arrangement were certainly taken, but those are private.
Not private, however, are the photos I can't help but take of my little sister. Like most kids her age, she's a spitfire, a well of drama and overflowing personality, and she makes for some awesome photographs. I took a few of her at random points, some in the car, some over dinner. Some strange thought crossed my mind earlier that day and possessed me into bringing both the XZ-1 and E-P3. While snapping pictures of my sister in the back of the car with the E-P3, I realized she was reticent to hold still for a photo and thus switched to the XZ-1 for sake of its faster lens. Once home and able to review the images in greater detail, something stunned me. I couldn't tell the damn difference from one photo to the other.
I'm sure such a discovery would offend some consumers, feeling that the E-P3 is a rip-off of a tool if a tiny, boxy little point-and-shoot could rival it in any capacity. Personally, this realization that my compact can give me comparable quality to my EVIL tool has me elated. What working photographer is ever satisfied without a backup system of some kind to fill the gaps present when the primary tool isn't up to the task at hand? When time is a critical element of a shoot and there's no time to switch between a telephoto prime to a wide-angle lens, what does one reach for? And if the tragic scenario should occur in which the primary tool, for whatever reason, becomes an expensive paperweight, what does that working man reach for?
Although the photos have yet to be processed and posted, I put this XZ-1/E-P3 duo to the test yesterday to put it to working practice. Understanding the nature of the images I'd be capturing beforehand, I simply attached the Lumix 14mm f/2.5 to the E-P3 and pocketed the XZ-1, a very light load. While I found myself shooting the E-P3 mostly for the wide-angle and edge on image quality at higher ISOs, I much more than once slung it over my shoulder, palmed the XZ-1 and fired off some incredibly clean macro shots of various items around my locale. Both tools saw nearly equal use, and the ease of switching between cameras made the transition almost transparent. It was a powerful combo, and a very enjoyable one to work with.
Can't wait to review the images (hopefully today) and share them, as well as yesterday's adventure.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
There is a test I have not subjected it to, however.
Around this time last year I was with a good friend and fellow photographer, Ted, carving rubber tracks into the asphalt of Blue Ridge Parkway and the general area around Shenandoah. It would be my last month utilizing my old workhorse, the D40x. The year before yielded a plethora of amazing candid portraiture crafted from the view of a sharp, fast prime (my first, the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX). As stated before, my sense of satisfaction with the skill I'd acquired candidly snapping portrait after portrait after portrait left me hungry for a new beast to conquer. And by god I found that beast, but by no means feel it has yet been conquered.
A bit over 3 months since the Great Accident (which wasn't nearly as "great" as the capitals might indicate but certainly a matter of "great" personal impact), I've yet to really enter the violent, flagrantly consequence-disregarding sprint at which I pursued my muse before. To this day, despite every verse building momentum to my hopeful re-entry into this fringe photographic discipline, it just hasn't happened. At this point I'm becoming concerned that I may have lost more nerve than I'm letting onto, especially to myself.
For every locale into which I managed to infiltrate there was a glorious rush of satisfaction so strong and invasive it has lasted to this day, this very minute. As static and inanimate the subject matter, behind the images were stories, memories, novels worth of adventure and thought and emotion packed into still triggers that dared called themselves photographs. Unlike the legions of casual memories recorded by casually captured candids, these images spoke volumes, grand, masterfully woven tales of past, present and future of the locale itself, the people who once inhabited it and the photographer behind the lens. Like no other photographic focus, they spoke with meaning. This from the rough images I'd managed to spin without ever having even identified and perfected my technique. A monster still to be tackled.
Excuses have poured from my rationalization centers but any time spent intently pondering them leads to almost immediate dismissal. Blame has been applied from the weather to my camera, but none of it holds up. It is Summer, a hot and humid season for sure, but even during the bitter days of Winter I managed to pursue the images I wanted as there are always measures that can be taken to counter a spell, be it hot or cold. The right-tool-for-the-job camera argument has been slightly more anal. Somehow I've managed to talk myself out of on-location shooting under the premise that Olympus cameras are built specifically for people shooting, as if they are tools unworthy of anything but. To myself I say "What a crock of shit". It has never, NEVER been the camera that made the photographer. Hand an artist a Polaroid and damnit he will produce ART. Physical limitations once had credence but I am once again able to move about with minimal, if any, pain. Legal complications technically always have merit, but my risk has always been measured and I am once again in a position of minimal risk given the right locale. Put simply, I am being a sissy. And I have no idea why.
I am currently taking baby steps toward my ultimate return to the practice of urban decay photography. It is too alluring to ignore and too invigorating, too life altering to forget. But no amount of tip-toeing will ever satisfy the hunger of a muse once fed to extremes. My capabilities are more than apparent to me. At the moment I am simply handicapping myself to placate a survival mechanism. When, oh when, will I reassert my authority over my own reluctance and take that plunge back into my potential. My capability. Myself, as if there was never a hiatus at all.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Okay, so clearly it did none of that REALLY, but nonetheless, an extra few hours of anticipation really made my giddiness skyrocket for when I came home to unbox my brand new and utterly lovely E-P3.
First impression upon getting the awful cardboard and peanut packaging out of the way... complete surprise. It's one thing to read about a camera body online, hear how its construction is methodically dissected and its size/handling relate to the average man-hands, but having the body physically in front of me and the tactile nature of my introduction to it had me very much taken aback. My GF1 was solid, but clearly built of flexible plastic. Same goes for my old D40x. Both of which were fairly light cameras, not nearly so weighty as to really be noticeable over the shoulder unless mounted with a particularly large lens. Completely different story with the E-P3. I'd read about its solid metal construction, but didn't grasp what kind of confidence that inspires when held in the hand. I've had metal film SLR cameras with faux leather gripping but nothing that was quite as elegantly incorporated as in this little digital camera. And it was very little compared to my expectations. Whereas my mental concept of the camera had it being significantly larger than the GF1 that preceded it, I was shocked to find the camera in my hands occupy nearly the exact same amount of space. It was small like the GF1 but deeper to the point at which it was recognizably easier to hold, especially in the two-handed manner that provides the steadiest shots (I never knew where to cradle the GF1 with my second hand, an issue not too dissimilar than that which I have with the XZ-1 compact). I could ramble on and on and on, but the bottom line is that the body alone left the impression that I had invested in a far more professionally minded camera than I ever have before, both in terms of construction and meticulous attention to the most important aspect of any photographic instrument, ergonomics.
By the time I'd unpackaged and assembled the camera the sun was setting in front of a dramatic, stormy sky. Perfect conditions under which to test out such an aesthetically appealing tool. I set my tablet to stream the inspirational sounds of various Post-Rock artists, popped in the earbuds and began a little photo walk. Most of the camera's settings I kept as default as possible, adjusting one thing at a time as I saw necessary. The interface was very intuitive, not too dissimilar from that of the XZ-1 but with a bit more depth available for greater image adjustment in-camera. Immediately I was able to find and adjust image options with limited hassle, the greatest hick-up being the difference in when the scroll wheel was utilized in comparison to the 4-way directional buttons underneath. For the walk I kept the camera in auto ISO (which surprisingly took liberties all the way to ISO 1600, something I will have to change in the future as that is not an ISO I am comfortable with using), used the iEnhance color mode which very intelligently pumped specific depths of color while leaving other, less appealing ones alone, left it in Program shooting mode and stuck with fine JPG files. Although I failed to reduce the noise reduction algorithm's intensity (which is to say turn NR off completely) and didn't notice how broad the spectrum of auto ISO was (just a tad higher than I was comfortable with from an image quality standpoint), the resultant images did not disappoint.
I have yet to push the limits and test the RAW capabilities of the camera but find myself much less eager to do so. My interest is far more focused in perfecting the manual adjustments available for JPG rendering. It's been a very long time since I've worked with any camera able to produce such lovely images out-of-camera and I'm more than eager to lock in the settings that are most appropriate for stills and people shooting respectively. Before I feel comfortable with any attempt at RAW editing I would certainly need to calibrate my laptop screen as well, preferably to match the calibration of the camera's OLED screen for consistency across the board. Somehow, I suspect RAW simply won't see much use anymore.
Given the praiseworthy first impressions this camera has left me with, my anticipation for the future additions I have planned for the system have grown ten-fold. The VF-2 viewfinder and 85mm f/1.8 lens are especially high on the list of anticipated items. Having tested the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 on the E-P3, the 12mm f/2.0 has somewhat fallen by the wayside as something that would certainly be nice to have but isn't nearly as crucial as originally thought as the E-P3 accommodates that lens surprisingly well (distortion is relatively high, but shot in RAW the distortion is corrected automatically in ACR). Some manner of normal-to-long fast prime is definitely an eager addition to the bag, though. Portraits will be able to sing with this tool at my disposal.
In the months to come I finally feel a sense of jollity at the future of my pursuit of photography. Limited to the XZ-1 I felt encumbered and weighed down by both poor perception and inability to adapt to different shooting conditions. This E-P3, however, re-opens doors that were never entirely shut, simply closed to the point of only a crack being left between door and frame. I never fell off the horse, and my acquisition of this new camera is an empowering testament to my sense of dedication to the art of photography. Amazing I ever doubted it to begin with.
Monday, August 1, 2011
For a couple months after my recovery I've been using the XZ-1 and I've had some decent success with it. As a tool, the compact has proven itself to be competent and pro-minded, with extensive controls I appreciate and a lens second to none I've ever seen in a compact. It is a fantastic camera, plain and simple. But fantastic as it is, there has always been a strong pang deep down for something a little more... substantial.
The XZ-1 is small. Diminutive. Easy enough for my hands to hold, but very difficult to hold steadily unless cradled in a frankly retarded manner with two hands. Its shutter barely exists, making a nearly mute click-click when triggered that doesn't ever jostle the hands. Shooting it feels like playing with a toy, a tiny mock-up that doesn't hold strong in situations where a more professional demeanor is desired. Misguided as the perception may be, it's very difficult to be taken seriously as a photographer when the only tool at your disposal is a point and shoot. The camera will still have a place in my bag of tricks, but with a much more casual (and therefore limited) capacity. It is a camera for nights out at the mall with friends, at restaurants, at events where you'd rather not be noticed as "that guy with the camera".
It took time, but my patience and brand loyalties wore down enough to where I much more readily jumped ship, this time redirecting my system investments into yet another brand - Olympus. I've spoken plenty on the impressive JPG output of Olympus cameras, a strong need for the event shooting I am often tasked to do. RAW does not disappoint either, with much better support in ACR for Olympus lenses making my lens correction process as simple as selecting the utilized lens from a drop-down list. Despite owning and frequently using the LVF-1 viewfinder on my old GF1, I'd be lying if I didn't admit the unit was piss poor at its job, with utterly low resolution and color reproduction, whereas Olympus is nearly famous for the VF-2 viewfinder it managed to produce for use with its PEN line. And that is a rather important difference that influenced the shift - the presence of a compatible and VERY competent viewfinder. Something I've missed ever since I dropped the Nikon branding (and DSLRs in general) was the intimate feeling of composing through a clear eyepiece. Especially when candidly photographing people, I would constantly have one eye to the cup of the viewfinder and the other still open, one ensuring the proper composition of the image and the other keenly trained on the subject unobscured and ready to trigger a mental reaction to coax my finger down on the shutter. With the LVF-1 on the Panasonic this was much more difficult to achieve as the image in one eye did not even remotely match the other. Having tested the VF-2 on an Olympus, I already know the unit will more than exceed my expectations, necessities, hopes, dreams, etc.
E-P3, can't wait to meet you!