…of alcohol and late nights

It has been some time since I put thoughts to electronic media but the flow of neurons and alcohol have given me impetus to do just that at this late hour. 2014 was not a good year for me either in photography or blogging my ideas and I seemed to flounder along doing just the bare minimum to get along and provide for my family. I have been lost in a fog of emotional despair that has kept me from doing anything creative or inspirational but I hope that all of this curmudgeonly ineptitude will be at an end with the new year and a new outlook on life. The mere thought of picking up a camera for the simple act of capturing images that provoke an emotional reaction has me paralyzed with inaction that I “MUST” shake off or I may never do that which I love so dearly. It is not a feeling of inadequacy that has me mired down but that what I see in my minds eye never fully meets with the reality of what is captured, nah, that’s BS because I just haven’t felt the desire and the passion that used to burn so deeply within. So sit back but don’t get your hopes up because I sure as heck won’t, and lets see what this year brings

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So much to say and yet so hard to say it

Most people suffer from writers block, where they run out of ideas or they have a hard time putting things down in black and white. I have the complete opposite problem. I have so many ideas in my head and so many things to comment on or to write about that they all get jumbled up in a huge mass and fight with each other trying to get out.

Try as I might to get my thoughts organized into cohesive bits and strings of rational commentary nothing seems to come of it. I have tried just about every thing in the books about organization but I still have the same old problem, organization.

I have tried jotting down on bits of paper the things that pop into my head but those fleeting pieces of paper disappear into the nether  never to be seen again.

I used to carry a large organizer that I spent to much money on thinking that that would be the impetus to actually use it, NOT. The only benefit of carrying that thing around all the time was one arm longer than the other. I would open it from time to time but mostly it was just an albatross. Thinking of it now, it is sitting somewhere gathering dust.

The electronics age hasn’t helped much either. I have a huge collection of electronic gadgets in a box in my closet taking up space but not accomplishing much else. Does anyone remember the Handspring? It is an amazing gadget that would take different modules for a multitude of tasks. You could plug in a module to do diagnostics on a car or another to check your blood sugar or yet another to read barcode. Back in the day it was the cutting edge of technology and was, in my opinion, The first PDA/cell phone. I have about a dozen of those things plus the docks and cables and all of the detritus that accompanies them but did I ever get organized, No. If anything, I became distracted by all of the little gadgets that you could get for it and forgot about what they were originally intended for.

I thought that the iPhone would assist me in my quest to get organized and be able to put my thoughts out into the the nether. I have had the 3g, 3gs and 4 but all I got for my efforts was a huge headache and information overload. Having mobile access to the world wide web is not a good thing all of the time. If anything it has made my problem insurmountable now because all the ideas in my head are now being joined by all of the other ideas floating around on the web. To make matters even more abysmal, I have now added the Samsung Galaxy Note II to the list of gadgets and it is worse now because it is so much better at distracting me than the iPhone ever was.

In College, I had a writing Professor tell me that my biggest problem was “perfection”. Every thing has to be perfect the first time around or I get caught up in the fact that it is not and become frustrated with it to the point of not doing anything. His suggestion was to get it down first and then worry later about making it perfect, yeah, right. Easier said than done. In the years since then I have come to my own conclusion, I don’t want to. Some how, subconsciously, I have decided that I don’t want to organize my ideas, I don’t want to write things down, I just don’t want to. I have yet to come up with a better reason for my personal peccadillo and still no way to convince myself that I actually Do want to do it, because I actually do, I really really do.

Imagine

The first and most important thing to have is an imagination, without one you will never see beyond the possible into the realm of the unimaginable. An imagination and a bottle of Pino Noir. An imagination, a bottle of Pino Noir AND a bar of chocolate. An imagination, a bottle of Pino Noir, a bar of chocolate AND a bag of fig newtons are important to any photographer. An empty bottle of Pino Noir is a powerful tool for a photographer as it allows one to see things not just as they are but as they can be, or is it an empty bag of fig newtons? I forget.

Shapes and colours and textures and negative space and… A photographer without an imagination is like a painter without a canvas or a writer without a pen, Nah, strike that, that’s a terrible analogy because those are analogous to the camera. Both the writer and painter need an imagination and the photographer is capturing on film what they capture on paper or canvas.  Composition and the rule of thirds along with lighting and ratios can both be taught  but the ability to see beyond reasoning is a trait that if not developed at an early age can never be regrown unlike eyebrows singed by a combination of charcoal, lighter fluid and a flame thrower.

A walk with a child…

How do you know if you have an Imagination you ask… Well, if you have to ask you probably don’t but to be on the safe side. Have you ever just sat and listened to a small child just ramble on about their day and gotten bored, if so, you don’t. The imaginings of a child is a wonderful thing. They see the world so much differently than you or I and not just because they see it from a lower perspective but because they haven’t developed the filters that adults use to see with. Clouds are crocodiles and trees filled with kudzo are giants or dinosaurs to a child.

See the Eagle fly

I say that an imagination is important but so is being grounded. To much if a good thing can be harmful especially when it gets in the way. Take me for instance, I have a fabulous imagination but when I get an idea and I try to interpret that idea on film I am usually disappointed by the results and get frustrated to the point of giving up on it and drowning my troubles in a bottle of wine. Let’s move on shall we.

Some times my imagination gets the better of me and I get overwhelmed by all of the ideas crowding around in my head and when that happens, which is pretty much all the time, I have to get out and just shoot everything I see and try to figure out how to make it all work later. I have a tendency to gravitate towards shapes, colors, negative space, high contrast scenes and textures. I’m not looking for that picture post card that everyone will love but those things that grab my attention out of the corner of my eye. Most of the time my wife doesn’t see what I was going for in a shot but to be honest either do I but there was something that drew my imagination and I just captured it for further study.

I was going somewhere with this but I seemed to have wandered off the path. Ah yes, a photographer with an imagination will be able to see what others don’t or can’t and come up with different ways of capturing a scene or portrait or whatever in ways that will either astound or befuddle the viewer. I say “Befuddle them”.

The Business of Photography

Wedding Photography

For most people, photography would not be considered a business except when they need to have portraits done or hiring a wedding photographer, then it is just a necessary evil. Photography is an activity taken on by parents or grand parents snapping pictures of “special” occasions and usually cutting off the top of uncle Ralph’s head or having another member of the family cut off on the left side of the shot. I can remember my mother getting her photographs back from the drug store and seeing just those types of shots. In fact, I can go through all of the pictures that I have from my childhood and point out not only the people in them but who the culprit was that shot them. My Grandfather was an amateur photographer and he new all the tricks like composition and lighting and you could guarantee that aunt Gert wouldn’t have a tree branch growing out of her head.

Photography is one of those activities that falls into more than one category at any one time. From it’s initial inception, it has been hard to quantify. The “Camera Obscura” or Darkened Chamber””, has been around for centuries and can be traced back to Ancient Greece, Rome and even China. Used by French and Italian painters of the Renaissance to quickly sketch out a painting and achieving a correct perspective. It was basically just a parlor trick until British inventor, William Henry Fox Talbot began playing with ways to “capture” the image. At the same time in France, Joseph Nicephore Niepce was working on a different process but to the same end. Because of his partnership with Louis Daguerre the process would become known as the Daguerreotype. When both of these process became public a whole new industry was born. Over night “Professional” photographers began setting up shop. At this point, photography as a hobby was only for the very rich. It wasn’t until George Eastman developed the Kodak camera for the masses that photography became an “Every Man” activity.

“I’m a Photographer”

Photography is the only “profession” I know of where anyone can buy a camera and instantly become a “Photographer”. I couldn’t buy a concert grand piano and instantly become a concert pianist. Or, just buy getting my hands on a scalpel, become a brain surgeon. I could go on listing a whole slew of “professions” but that would get to be a little tiring, you get my point, I hope.

A few cameras

The mere act of owning a camera does not make one a photographer, just an owner of a camera. Some people spend years going to school to be a “photographer” and even after all the time and money spent, are no farther along than when they first started. I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination but I have been doing this a long time and I have seen thousands of photos in different formats from contact sheets to digital images and I know what it takes to “make” a great photograph, not that I always do either. Some times it takes me a couple hundred shots to make one good photograph and that is after hours even days of shooting. Ask any real Pro photographer and they will tell you the same thing.

“Behind the Lines”

In these times of people losing jobs and the unemployment rate rising I am seeing more and more people grabbing that camera they bought for vacation shots and going out trying to make a living as a photographer. I applaud their gumption but even in the best of times photography is a cut throat business. With the advent of Social Media such as Facebook, Twitter, Flicker and the myriad of those being added each day along with every phone having a camera it is getting harder for photographers to get the notice they deserve because of the glut of images out there. There is a difference between a pro photographer who has been honing their craft over many years and someone who just happens to have access to a camera. You can tell the difference in the way that the picture has been crafter or the subject has been posed and it comes across in that photo album that the bride has on her coffee table. The term “Caveat Emptor”, “Let the buyer beware” is appropriate when it comes time to hire a photographer to shoot your wedding or portraits of your family.

Portraits

Why Film?

Why film? I think the better question should be “why not film?”. I get a lot of people coming up to me and asking about the equipment that I am using while I am out and shooting with one of my many film cameras and almost always the question “can you still get film?” is asked. No, I just like walking around pretending to shoot with an empty camera. I don’t say that but I am thinking it. I find that people are interested in film and becoming bored with digital because they see it constantly. For the older people, it reminds them of better times and younger folk think of it as something different. Look at the Holga cameras and how well they are selling, I know a store here that can’t keep them on the shelves.

Silky O’Sullivans on Beale St.
Nikon F4 80-200 f/4 Kodak BW400CN

This is one of my favorite shots taken with a Nikon F4 camera and a 80-200 f/4 Nikkor lens down on Beale St. here in Memphis on one of my forays with a film camera. I had this one  printed large 24″x36″ and it hangs in my house as a reminder of why I like film. I also donated a copy to the “Make-A-Wish” Foundation fund raiser auction and not to blow my own horn, It was the highest selling item of the entire event. Film has a mystique to it. There is an intangible quality that is hard to describe but it is there all the same. I have been shooting film for almost 30 years and I still enjoy seeing my prints for the first time after I have developed them. Even if I just take a roll or three and have them developed, the anticipation is almost palpable. Digital is kind of, meh. Don’t get me wrong, I think that they both have their place and I use a digital camera quite often, but it is just recently that I have been doing so.

Street shot
Nikon F4 80-200f/4 lens
Kodak BW400CN

There is a certain amount of knowledge that one must have when shooting film because you don’t have the immediate feedback that digital gives you. Knowing how to meter and read light is a must as well as knowing the type of film being used. A digital camera lets you shoot a scene and “chimp” to see if you captured it correctly and if not you can shoot it again but with film that luxury is not available. In one of my earlier blogs I wrote about the “Best camera, EVER”, the little Argus C3 and how it changed photography for the masses. I have several of these in-expensive cameras and I love to take them out and put a roll of film through them just for fun. “That’s the camera Colin Creevy has” was screamed at me by a very rambunctious girl about 10 or 12 as she dragged her father towards me while I was out shooting. The poor father couldn’t figure out if he was intrigued, perplexed or irritated as he examined his daughter and then the camera and back at his daughter. He was very interested in the camera and began to ask questions as we struck up a conversation between his daughters squeals of delight. “Can you still get film?” eventually emerged from his mouth, but only after he had asked some rather intelligent questions first.

Street Photography

Those types of reactions are reserved for my film cameras as most people tend to ignore my digital unless they want to see the picture I just took. Film has an allure. I can generally tell by looking at a print if it is a digital capture or film. Maybe it is the fact that I have been looking at film prints so long that I can judge by the grain or texture maybe even the rendering of the highlights and shadows, but I can. Film cameras and lenses are relatively cheap these days and good quality equipment can be had for next to nothing, I know, because I just bought a Yashica Lynx 5000 with a fixed 4.5cm f/1,8 lens and a dead meter for $10.00. Even with a non-functioning meter the camera still takes some phenomenally sharp pictures on good quality film. So, if you don’t already have a film camera collecting dust somewhere, go out and hit the yard sales and find one for a couple of bucks, put a roll of film in it and start shooting. Even if it has a sticky shutter and light leaks all over, mores the better because it will be challenging and create interesting images just like a Holga but for a lot less money. And if you like it, let me know. Better yet, If you live near Memphis drop me a line and I will lend you a camera and we can go shooting together. Why film? Why not?

Fuji X100 review, sort of.

Over the weekend I had use of the Fuji X100 thanks to my friends at http://www.LensRentals.com (gratuitous plug) and I wanted to get my thoughts out before I forgot. Keep in mind that I am not a paid advocate nor am I a professional reviewer. I am just an ordinary guy that happens to be a photographer and I wanted to try this camera out to see what all the fuss was about. Keep this in mind as you read on because if you are expecting a lot of technical jargon try dpreview or some other site ’cause you wont get it here.

Testing the camera to get used to it.

At first blush, the camera is a lot smaller than my Nikon D300s but compared to my rangefinder film cameras, it is pretty much comparable in size and that is how I think Fuji intended it. Compared to the majority of point and shoot cameras, the X100 is bigger. Big enough that it won’t fit into my jeans pocket but it would fit into a jacket pocket had I been stupid enough to wear one with temps in the upper 90’s and low 100’s while I had it. It took me some time playing with it and fiddling (as technical as I get) with the menu’s and buttons to start getting comfortable with it.

learning to focus the X100

As you can see by this photo, I hadn’t quite gotten used to focusing with the X100 and let me tell you, it takes some getting used to. I had a bunch of photos like this before I finally got the hang of it. One of the things I like about the X100 is it’s size but one of the things I didn’t like about the X100 is it’s size. I don’t have ginormous hands by any stretch of the imagination. In fact my hands are just about the right size if you ask me but when handling this camera, I had the problem of inadvertently hitting the wrong button or knob at the wrong time. I learned rather quickly that I had to watch my right thumb and index finger or they would either hit the navigation toggle or reset the EV compensation knob and the shot would be ruined. It would be nice if there was a place to park my thumb on the back of the camera for some extra grip and no buttons to accidentally push. I had thought about mounting a handle to it on the right side. That would have made the camera a little bigger and made it easier to hold and could be screwed into the tripod mount but that would have made the camera a bit more cumbersome and defeated the purpose of it’s diminutive size.

The nifty B&W setting

X100 in Velvia setting

I only had the camera for four days so I really didn’t have the opportunity to play with all the features but the one that impressed me the most was the film emulator. I’m pretty much a neophyte when it comes to technology, I’m fascinated by it and like playing with it but make it to hard for me to navigate through and I get frustrated. With the X100, it only took a couple of clicks in the menu option and there they were plainly labeled for me in easy language. You can shoot in B&W on JPEG and that is all you get but with Raw, all of the color data is still there for you to use. I really liked the look of the Velvia and the rich lustrous colors it captured. In the black and white setting the display screen shows it just that way so that you can see the picture as you shot it.

f2 1/8 sec ISO 200 handheld

Still f2 1/8sec ISO 200 handheld

I was also really impressed with the image quality in low light and hand held at slow shutter speeds. I didn’t start bumping up the ISO until later in the evening when I was inside taking shots of a band (see previous blog post). This camera just kept working away even when my D300s had to be bumped up. The fact that the camera has a fixed 23mm f2 lens has a lot to do with it even when you figure it’s equivalent to a 35mm lens with the APS-C sensor and the Nikon had a 105mm f2.8 lens.

Band shot f2 1/60sec ISO 3200 hand held

Even at high ISO the noise is kept to a minimum and the pictures come out crisp and clean. I might start talking about Anti-Aliasing filters and sensors that are arranged more like film but then that would be getting into the tech territory and I have no qualifications there. I will say tho, that for the short time that I had this camera I was both annoyed and surprised by it. Annoyed in that, every once in a while it would get in the way of taking pictures. Surprised by the fact that when I got used to some of the little annoyances, it took really outstanding photos. To bring this to a close, I really liked this camera, not to the point of paying almost $1200.00 for it but enough that if someone, say, Fuji or Roger at http://www.LensRentals.com wanted to give me one I wouldn’t turn it down (Hint, Hint).

Impromptue band photog.

Image

My daughter enjoys her music and she loves going to see bands perform at the New Daisy on Beale St. here in Memphis, but because she can’t drive, her mother or I usually get drafted into the taxi service. I don’t mind taking her because that gives me the opportunity to wander around and capture the people that visit our city and usually I end up getting some interesting shots. Eventually, after wandering around for a few hours getting some shooting in and eating, I end up back at the venue and because I look like a pro photographer (I like to think that’s the reason) the event staff usually just let me in. I have been to a few of these concerts with my camera in hand and that usually means “take a shot”. I have been pleasantly surprised by some of the results I have gotten. All of the bands I have seen and captured have been extremely powerful in that they are constantly moving and jumping about the stage. Now, I have been to see a lot of bands in my lifetime and most like the “Stones” or the “Scorpions” have been sedate compared to these bands today. The shot above was capture using a Nikon F4 camera with an 80-200 f4 lens and Kodak BW400CN film and one of the reasons I like it is because of the movement and energy that it conveys.

Theses shots were taken with a Nikon D300s and a 105 2.8 micro lens. I hate to admit it, but my daughter has some good taste in music, yes they are loud and yes they are like wild gophers on speed but they are fun to watch and shoot and the music isn’t half bad. If any of these bands needs a photographer, here is my shameless plug.