Tuesday, November 22, 2011
This is a frequent problem, really. I want to write, want to bash the keyboard in true neanderthal fashion spouting fancy lyrical verse about the wonderment of events before they become stale and cumbersome installments of my fragmented memory. And naturally, that is exactly what happens every time. But damnit, it's hard to go from one intense experience to the other, from the zen of a photographic high to the frustrating grunt work of post-processing and then somehow segue into vivid recollection and retelling. By the time I can recoup, sit down with intent to post, it's already 2 days later and the weekend is a smeared finger painting. It could also be because I usually only ever take the time to sit down and write while sitting at work, which presents its own issues entirely. But hey, you're not going to tell on me, right?
Friday, Saturday and Sunday were three amazingly charged days chock full of the kind of out-in-the-sun activity I needed to recover from a week-and-a-half of getting maybe 30 total minutes of vitamin D exposure per day. Winter is a cursed season, the sun all too willing to drop under the horizon before standard business hours are even over. Should the daylight savings tradition ever be abolished, I will celebrate with brash public drunkenness and a camera in hand. In the mean time, I will simply have to take advantage of the weekends, and the aforementioned 3 day spread were very much taken advantage of.
My shift on Friday was short, as it is most Fridays. Despite a steady, week-long period of rain preceding the weekend, Friday saw the sun punching through an all but clear sky, a kind of temptation I was in absolutely no way going to pass up. The muse was rusty, though, and marked by the creative low period prior, so to ensure I exercised my eye I managed to entice a new friend (and photogenic to boot) into an afternoon romp through a low key locale followed by coffee at Starbucks (the latter sealing the deal... works every time).
Needless to say it was a good time. The feeling was akin to what athletes must feel when first returning to a punishing routine after a period out-of-commission. Inspiration was scattered, no single arrangement of lines, no poignant sources of light leaving strong impact. I resorted to snap shooting, damn near pressing the shutter button for no sake other than that of the pressing. To hear the sound, the slap of the mechanism. The images themselves meant nothing. I was building up, doing jumping jacks, stretching, exciting the heart rate in preparation for a sprint. A slumbering beast, the muse stood and shook itself of dust and grime. It's appetite awakened, its vision attaining pointed focus. It stirred, restless and hungry, and sank its venomous teeth into my lethargy. It demanded satisfaction, and the rise of creative excitement was more than willing to oblige.
After so much time spent stagnant and miserably resigned to depressive seasonal darkness, the afternoon spent shooting aimlessly was like a revival. Once our time spent exploring the well-trodden dank regions of the valley lost its luster, we spent even more time casually conversing (and yours truly snapping) at Starbucks. Simply put, it was a nice day, the kind of nice day one wishes every day would turn out to be but unfortunately so rarely ever does. It reset my disposition from disquieted and cynical to chipper and floaty. A weight dissolved in my brain and again my dreamy nature was permitted to coax my perspective into benign, curious childhood naivety. Which happened not a moment too soon, I might add, seeing as the following morning I was expected to participate with a local troupe of photographers on a photo walk through a territory of subject matter that never seems to stop calling out to me for attention.
Many times in the past I've used the XZ-1 as a snaps camera, rarely if ever using it in calculated, intent driven image recording. The E-P3 has simply been too tempting, a veritable bar in the way of my realizing the capabilities of the tiny pocket rocket. Now that it has seen its test, I am far more inclined to approach a location with only Olympus' bastion compact. True, it may be in no way suited for the high demands of bokeh in subject isolation shooting, but it may very well be my new go-to tool for all things wide. Complain about the 10 megapixel resolution all you want, I've managed terrific prints with far less not so many years back.
Saturday night, I dreamed of rot and decay. All things beautiful.
Having spent the entire previous day doting on the XZ-1, I felt I needed to counteract the neglect of the E-P3 by bringing it as my only camera (odd how I assign very human emotions to simple tools). A vast majority of my shooting was handled by the 45mm f/1.8, and in an act of the most incredible laziness, I disregarded the tripod entirely while exploring this new locale. Not that it much mattered - with the 45mm my intent and my approach suffered an enormous shift. No longer was I accommodating an entire room and wide dynamic range in my images. With 90mm being my point of view, there was only one proper way to utilize the presented perspective. Subject isolation.
I've yet to sort through most images from this weekend. For three days, I was more productive than I'd been in over a week, and the activity has built up a reserve. For at least one more week of rainy weather, I can be satisfied.
Unless the sun comes out before this weekend, anyway.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Yesterday, in my maddening and stir crazy loathing of the daily 5pm blackout, I set up a shoddy excuse of a studio to practice with some simple lighting. The setup was rudimentary and grossly amateur, a wrinkled black bedsheet, two 100 watt halogen bulbs in cheap Walmart shop light tins and a half-broken old stool (since I'm so tall that the bedsheet would need to reach the ceiling to leave room for my head). Simple and straightforward.
Out of laziness (since the tripod mount was already screwed in) I locked my XZ-1 onto the tripod and set it up right against the bed. Working distance did not exist - the space between the stool and the camera amounted to maybe 3 feet at best. Even with the massive depth of field offered by the smaller sensor, f/1.8 still proved a challenge to nail crisp focus without being behind the camera. Plainly put, the entire effort was both half assed and a royal pain because of it. There really is a reason photographers are supposed to stay behind the camera in these situations.
In the wake of that horrid act of futility, I've been pricing the needs associated with a competent portrait/studio setup. Much to my surprise, it's not nearly as expensive a pursuit as I originally thought it would be, but it is still money to be spent and money is something of a scarce resource to me still (although it is a situation constantly improving). For about $125 there is a solid studio backdrop set available that comes complete with a solid black and solid white background. Lord knows a flat, not-wrinkle-ridden background would do my studio efforts wonders. More importantly, the backs of the backdrops are rugged, permitting outdoor setup of the unit and use of a light I've always been more comfortable with using, natural light. At that point, the only possible future purchase interest would maybe be a beauty dish or some other kind of reflector to bounce light as I see appropriate in any given circumstance. Win win. But, from the financial standpoint, requiring patience.
Truth be told, I have the equipment at my disposal that largely completes my gearing wishlist. But I am a brand loyalist. Shameful, I know. My 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 outshines Olympus' own 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens in sharpness, but it is of a different brand, an antique piece for an extinct camera system, and so I will side with my Olympus lens with subdued reservation. The case for my 14mm f/2.5 isn't nearly as clear. It is my choice fast wide prime, but it is not THAT fast and it is not THAT wide. More so, Olympus' offering in the 12mm f/2.0 is far sharper and far less distorted and just generally much more appealing than the pancake I have, up till now, suffered with. As such, I predict in the future I will sell off my 14-45mm and 14mm lenses, perhaps to a friend who can put them to good use. From that point, I have 2 pieces of glass in mind to construct the kind of system I feel I can stand behind. Two systems, actually. For the casual, the family candid shooting and documentarian approach to events, the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R paired with the acquisition of the 40-150mm f/4-5.6 R is ideal. It is a kit lens system, much like the Nikkor 18-55mm and 55-200mm combo I packed for years. For the art, my 45mm f/1.8 lens has already stood in competently for a normal prime (which I'm still not sure about needing/wanting), but for the wide interior shooting I'm prone to do, the 12mm f/2.0 is a very clear front runner. Two lens systems for 2 very different kinds of shooting. The final complement to the camera system in total is in speedlights, and with the remote capabilities built into the E-P3, a pair of FL-300R flashguns seems more than perfect for bounce, direct and remote, creative flash use. $1600 in acquisitions total. Not as bad as it could be, but wow do I find places for my money to go.
Maybe I'll manage to build such an ideal system up before the end of next year. We'll see.
Today, however, I think I'll go home, iron that black bedsheet, push-pin it to the ceiling and try my faux studio setup one more time.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Myself, I was wandering the large campus of a very recently vacated and left to rot mental health hospital campus not far South from where I live. I remember the day pretty clearly, actually, despite the shoot itself being rather uneventful. November of last year still saw my appetite for exploring the abandoned both voracious and insatiable, and much as I did most weekend mornings I hopped in my car with camera gear in tow and pursued the next spot on the list. It was a Sunday, as I recall, and I parked at a nearby church still flooded with cars and people attending morning mass. Bundled up in my typical jacket and scarf and gloves, my main interest was less direct infiltration and more... scouting.
My gear list was short back then. Short, simple, sweet and complete. A Panasonic GF1 with 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 lens and LVF-1 viewfinder attached (the primary and most important bastions of my daylight artistic photography) and a bag concealing a shutter remote, 20mm f/1.7 pancake and the necessary spacers and step-up rings to allow for use of the circular-polarizer tucked in my pocket. No need for a tripod this time, the sun was shining high, maybe an hour from its noon-time peak. Diminutive as the gear was, the petal lens hood on the barrel of the zoom really gave off the air of Professional Photographer, so when security and police both inevitably stopped me to ask what I was up to it wasn't hard at all to write off my shenanigans as the musings of a wandering artist. Not at all far from the truth, really.
Anyway, pardon my abrupt subject change.
It's been a solid 7 days since I've taken a single photograph, and this fact is supremely depressing. Granted, I was also sick enough to stay home from work both Monday and Tuesday, a rarity to say the least. Even today, a full week later, I'm still on my way out of a state of being sickly, but that's still no excuse to my personal high standards. To boot, the onset of illness was paired with that most woeful time of year, Daylight Savings Time, which most people embrace for getting an extra hour of sleep before work but then progressively learn to despise because it often means coming into work in sunless dark and leaving just the same. For certain, I've noticed my own mood take a very sharp nosedive since the onset of night began taking place at 5pm.
This week there is a planned photo walk being led by a fellow photographer to one of my more illicit locations of guilty enjoyment. Much as I would love to attend the walk for sake of meeting other photographers with similar interests in decay and detritus, I can't help but to feel wary of the circumstance itself. Best as I can tell, this walk will consist of several members of a considerably sized group. Though the location itself is admittedly one of the less fortunate in that it has been very blatantly vandalized and commonly tread upon by wandering curiously 16-24 year olds with a healthy dose of boredom, I can't help but feel traveling through a location of this type with any group (especially one as green as this one may in fact be) is an invitation for bad times. After all, it's almost been a year since a similar situation cropped up, and the lessons learned from that experience are still bright and fresh in my mind, and this particular photo walk triggers all the alarms my experience from a year ago should have. I suppose the only reason I'm humoring it at all is a strong sense of desperation to be around my kin, my fellow shutterbugs.
The only other option I can think to humor is to force the gear-centric route and pick up 2 or 3 battery driven LED banks and light subjects on-location, which is still not my intended goal but at least meets that goal halfway with my current capabilities. But then I'd also need to find a model willing to endure the dangers and risks associated with less-than-cozy locales, because I'm certain my inclination would be to photograph models against the backdrop of the decay I already love. It's a hairy state of affairs. At least I can predict my own tendencies and inclinations, at least.
So here I am, treading water still, more pessimistic than ever with the shade drawn on the sun for this Winter season. For the most part, my gear set is a workably complete kit, with the 45mm f/1.8 for strong portraits and 14mm f/2.5 for wide interiors. The E-P3 has managed to impress me more than my old GF1 ever managed to, despite my longing to once again shoot with that old glory (the GX1 is a bit of a downgrade at best from what I've seen, and this is strictly coming from an ergonomics and control standpoint). Future lens acquisitions will likely include the 12mm f/2.0 to replace the temperamental 14mm f/2.5, the VF-3 because sometimes it's just nicer to hold the camera to your eye, the shutter remote for experimentation with HDR once again, and maybe the 40-150mm f/4-5.6 for sake of having a "for work" kit to complement a prime driven "for art" kit. Aside from those pieces, perhaps a speedlight or 2? I'm not sure, I've always been partial to WYSIWYG lighting, so hotlights might be my better route. I suppose that list is not cheap, but the pressure is not on for any single piece acquisition. They are simply tools to make what I'm already capable of even easier.
Cheers to the patient wait for financial stability.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
For the better part of 2 years I booked occasional weekend wedding shoots. The images I took weren't necessarily bad, but definitely indicative that I only had a shallow understanding of what and how to photograph a busy event. My tools at the time were none too helpful either; a Nikon E8700 (Coolpix superzoom), a wide and telephoto adapter lens for aforementioned camera, a fully manual off-brand Quantaray flash and lens hood to allow for filters. I'm rather convinced the only thing that set my images apart from anything that could've been captured with any old point and shoot was in the editing I'd put the images through once back home. Again, the results weren't terrible, nothing like the standard extreme white vignetting and flat black and white or selective color images that float around these days from "faux-tographers", but certainly not material from a competent and established artist and businessman.
After a few gigs, my taste for paid, working photography declined sharply. Photography was still about discovery to me at the time, not about homogenization and putting out a consistent product. Granted, although we never stop learning, the collection of knowledge of new techniques and which practices worked and (arguably more importantly) which didn't was too much at the forefront of my growth experience in the trade and working assignments rarely allow the latitude of quality consistency to allow for experimentation of growth in one's imaging style.
Fast forward 3 years.
Being good buddies already, we met up at a mutually agreed upon location such that I could drop off my car and hitch a ride to the location of the photoshoot. The client's in-laws happened to have a little horse ranch and small collection of their own equine pets, and the subject of this shoot was very generally kept at arranged family and (mostly) candid daughter photos while she rode horseback on her very own pony, Beauty. We'd been humoring this shoot for some time, but I was reticent to take up the job until my Olympus 45mm f/1.8 came in. As clean as the images are from the Panasonic 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6, and as fast as Olympus' own kit 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 is in the 25-35mm range comparatively, nothing would quite stand up to the kind of crisp and creamy subject isolation I knew would be possible with that 90mm f/1.8 equivalence of Oly's 45mm. Eager as we both were to enter into this shoot, I knew it would be worth waiting. And my oh my are we both glad we waited for the "pro tools" to come in.
Prior to the full preparation of the star of the show, I stepped outside to tune my camera to the light available. Daylight savings time had kicked in the night before and my judgement of sunset's arrival was unfortunately quite off. Light was very quickly waning behind the cover of trees, and my shooting was mostly decided by the location it best gleamed through the interrupting branches. It all worked out in the end, though, with enough light to allow for reasonable shutter speeds but the proper lack of it to permit the delicious bokeh of f/1.8. We tried to get some moving shots, but sadly the light wasn't bright enough to permit anything but still capture. Still, the images came out gorgeous, the lens rendering important subject features with the crisp look expected, and Olympus' e-portrait algorithm providing an even better base image from which to tack on my considerably subtle layers of edits. It was a fantastic shoot, and the client was/is more than satisfied.
After the shoot was the part of a photographic effort I'd usually skipped in my younger years, but certainly proved pleasant and an appropriate closure to the evening. After a good hour, maybe hour and a half of shooting, we all retired to the Quarterfield Grill and sat down to have ourselves an absolutely delicious dinner. Granted, I already had a previously strong relationship with my client this time around, but assuming we'd known nothing about each other, we engaged in avid conversation that constructed the basis of what I'd understand to be good rapport. She liked the shots even before I'd gone at them in post, and with an already good impression made the experience leaped from professional encounter to casual chit-chat. Once home, I immediately set forth to touch up a few choice images and put together a DVD consisting of the original images, 4x6 crops and 8x10 crops, the sizes most commonly printed and certainly more than necessary given how simple printing is these days. Before handing off the disc the following workday, I'd already uploaded the choice edits to Flickr to share (after previously attaining permission to upload the images, of course). The client was only more eager to get her hands on the final disc.
Compared to my experiences years ago shooting images within the working frame and mindset... the experience has been night and day. The weddings and events I photographer between 2006-2008 felt like work, with minimal enjoyment involved and the lack of creative experimentation permitted at the time feeling like a clamp on my muse. Granted, being that this recent session was with a friend and co-worker the experience is ultimately bound to be more positive by default, but the experience of shooting felt very different nonetheless. I didn't feel the strict set of rules bearing down on me this time around because I already knew what was going to work and I already knew what I wanted the images to look like. On top of that, there was no doubt in my mind that the images I was shooting for would be liked by the client because I already had a portfolio to share of similar images and the client already liked them. Unlike 2006-2008, I have a style now, a trademark method and vision that is desired and deliberately sought after (so much so that the client was willing to wait 2 months for a lens acquisition). The working experience of photography is now less a stumble through swampy waters of unease and MUCH more a determined, marathon jogger's pace of following a defined route from checkpoint to checkpoint. I am not guessing at my performance and behavior anymore. I know what I am doing.
Time to find the next gig to book!
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Yesterday Autumn found herself bored and with a lump of free time, and she was gracious enough to give me a ring to see if I would join her company at the coffee house once I got out of work. Not meaning to come off as desperate (but totally doing so in spades), I informed her that I would leave work that very moment, drop my car off at home and be right there. Autumn ends up being the subject of my coffee house shenanigans fairly often. We were good friends in high school and continue to be uniquely awkward to the rest of our tribe of friends, but we both like out on-the-line outsider stance and appreciate one another for walking that line. Usually I come by her by chance as she's sipping a latte and reading a book. On this occasion she was specifically pleased with what she'd done with her hair that morning and, knowing she'd probably never manage the same "do" again by intent, aimed to not only play our weekly game of pastime catch-up, but to also have her "do" immortalized by the lens. I was certainly not one to object. I'm a hair guy, after all.
On a side note, at the suggestion of a good friend I've taken to increasing my activity on Flickr, from spreading out into more groups, actually participating in those groups instead of using them as hollow photo dumps and basically using Flickr as it was always intended to be used (not just an online backup). Reluctant though I was at first, I am now thoroughly addicted to the more social aspect of Flickr. I'm bouncing from group to group actually eager to see the next post, making connections with other photographers directly, contributing suggestions and participating in thread-run topics and contests... it's a lot of fun. Wish I'd been doing this all along.
Oh, and as a side effect, my typical 40-50 views a day has suddenly rocketed to over 1000. Whoops! Who knew? :)