Friday, October 29, 2010

Accidental Art?

One of the unique aspects of photography is that you can shoot a ton of images of the exact same thing.  You can really explore a subject.  I suppose in the world of a painter this might also be true in that you can always add another layer of paint and cover up anything that doesn't work.

But any good photographer will tell you sometimes an image was just a plain old accident.  So the question always comes up is there an value in this?  One of the key skills of being a photographer is editing your work very critically, only showing the stuff that really works.  This is true for just about any form of art, but maybe more so for photography.  One of my favorite quotes from a good friend of mine is: "The difference between a good photographer and a great one is a trash can".  Implied in that is that a great photographer only shows the images that really work.  It might be then said editing is what separates a photographer.

So this brings us back to can an accident be art.  I think the answer is of course it can.  One of the truths about photography is that you have to be in the right place at the right time to capture an image in the first place.  You have to press the shutter release to capture the image, even if by accident.  I think this thought makes photography a lesser form of art to some people, I think this is what makes photography a relatively unique artistic medium.  It is nearly impossible to be lucky all the time, you can't teach someone to have an eye, and while everyone who owns a camera has probably had one of those accidental captures where they have no idea how they did it, the "photographer" will have a higher hit rate in general and also be able to learn from those accidental captures and use that information in the future.

Here is a recent accident of mine that for some reason has stuck with me, let me know what you think.  This was captured on a Holga camera.  I have been shooting a lot of panos on the Holga recently working on a slightly new technique.  While I was walking around Coney Island I decided that I wanted to shoot single images.  Now my technique for creating the overlapping panos in the holga is to set the film counter window to 16 and remove the internal masks.  This way I am shooting images slightly bigger than 6x6, but using the 6x4.5 counter resulting in uniform overlapping.  Well on this day I swore that I had returned the film counter window slder back to 12 and was happily shooting away thinking I was creating single images.  What I ended up with was 3 distinct views of Coney Island that I wouldn't have intentionally overlapped, but I kind of think it works.  Here's to happy accidents!

"Coney Island"
Holga, Ilford HP5

Friday, October 22, 2010

The art of the tourist

I know some photographers go out to create art.  They plan ahead, wait for the perfect conditions, and go out with the goals of capturing a specific shot.  I have run across some who believe that is the only way to create great images.  While I definitely set up shoots where that is the exact way I approach creating an image, more often than not photography is really just a part of my everyday life.  I enjoy always having a camera on me and challenging myself to capture something special from what ever I encounter.  If you have never approached photography like this I highly recommend it.  For one it forces you to accept the lighting conditions you encounter and really think about how to best use and expose for it.  You also have the challenge of seeing a scene for the first time and having to figure out on the fly if you can capture something special.  Often you might even be limited by the camera that you have on you.  The old adage of using your eyes to photograph every thing you see is also useful.  Just having a camera on you as you go through your day allows you to really look at the world around you and if you see something you can capture it.  This is how street photographers capture life so to those who practice that craft this is just how they shoot.

The idea of always having a camera on you is also great for the beginning photographer.  The idea is to always look at the world around you as a possible photograph.  Now for many of you the thought of carrying around your big fancy camera all the time doesn't sound very practical.  If this crossed your mind then I suggest you find your self a smaller lighter camera.  The Holga (a toy camera) is perfect just this purpose.  They are cheap (like $30), light (made of all plastic) and can fit in any bag you may have on you.  All you need is a few rolls of film (iso 100 and 400).  If you like instant results then an old Polaroid SX-70 or 600 camera could work as well.  The new Impossible films are getting more stable and easier to use (Check out my review and lessons learned on these film in two weeks right here).  And of course most cell phone cameras these days are pretty good (the iPhone cameras are especially fun, more on this in a future blog post).

This leads me to tourist photos.  If you practice looking for images in your everyday life this can translate really well to when you go on vacation or travel to a new city.  You can take your typical tourist photos like seen below, but sometimes even just using the right camera (in this case a Holga) can make the usual "Girlfriend in front on (insert iconic place here)" scene seem a bit more interesting.  Plus while you are being a tourist capturing the usual images you can also capture something more special!

"Kelly on Brooklyn Bridge"
Holga, Ilford HP5

"Brooklyn Bridge"
Holga, Ilford HP5

Friday, October 15, 2010

We dont' have to be lonely anymore...

So welcome to my first POTW (photo of the week) post, every week that I don't post a long boring diatribe on photography I'll post a new image.  They will come from the archives or the unending pile of current work. I had planned all week to start with an image that is on the website, but then I got off my butt and started working through the pile of negatives that I needed to scan and started working on editing a few images.  So here its is a new image fresh out of post!

This is an image that I personally just love, but for reasons that are unrelated to how successful the image may actually be.  This is a pretty common occurrence for us photographers, we fall in love with images for reasons that are not always related to how well the image works from an art perspective.  Now I have had it beaten into my head that you need to remove yourself from your images and evaluate them unemotionally and only display the images  that truly work.  I say rubbish!  Well at least I think it's important to allow ourselves to love an image just because we do.  I photograph my life, sometimes I strive to make great art from the everyday, but sometimes I am just recording moments that are only important to me.  This is one of those.  I actually do think this image works on all levels, but maybe it doesn't convey to anyone else the emotions I had when taking this picture.

"We don't have to be lonely anymore..."
Nikon FM2N, Ilfrod Delta 3200 @6400
And don't forget to check in on GreenSt's Filckr page every Tuesday for new images.  Also if you like this blog please choose to follow it or put a link on your blog.  If you put a link on your blog let me know and I'll return the favor.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Spooky Show II @ LightBox

The show is up!  I had a piece selected so if you can make it out to the gallery please check it out.  If you can't make it then check out the images HERE!

In other news I am in the middle of scanning a bunch of film keep an eye out over the next few weeks here and on GreenSt's Flikr page to see the results.  Also check out the Flickr page to see the images uploaded on GreenSt's Flickr Tuesdays.

This Friday will start my Photo of the week so check back in at the end of the week to see a highlighted image of current work or something from the archives.

Here is my image from the show:

"Electric Company #4"
Holga, Ilford HP5

Friday, October 8, 2010

Family Portraits on the Farm!

I recently had the pleasure of shooting some family portraits for an old college friend, Romi.  The awesome part was that the shoot was part of  a long weekend visit and Romi and Family were more than happy to do the shoot informally!  Romi and her husband Andrew (everyone named Andrew rocks!) have two beautiful children Kalan and Gavin.  As many of you may know shooting children can be difficult, especially in a formal studio setting with a limited time frame to work in.  So having parents willing to trust me and go with the flow is a luxury and really in my opinion the best way to have a chance to grab something special.

This was a first of this kind of shoot for me.  I have worked with a few families in the studio, but never had I worked on location (in this case their beautiful historic Farmhouse in VA).  Hearing horror stories from my other photographer friends about trying to get children to cooperate had lead me to realize that trying to force young children to focus for long periods of time with parents and photographers trying to get that perfect image with all involved smiling on cue was a recipe for failure.  So I have always wanted to try an informal, available light shoot.  Just me and my camera and the Family on location. If I could get the whole family to relax and get used to me pointing a camera at them I figured I might be able to produce some images that were much more than simple images of a family all smiling on cue.

So the first day of the weekend visit I made sure to have my camera with me at all times.  I took a couple hundred images that day.  Almost all of the them terrible, but my goal was to just get everyone used to me with the camera.  And I did capture two lovely images that you could never duplicate in the studio.  The first is of Kalan passed out on the couch after an afternoon at the pool, and the second is of Gavin helping Dad prepare for dinner.

The morning of my last day visiting ended up being the big shoot.  The weather as expected was terrible for photography.  It was over 100 degrees (did I mention the beautiful historic farm house had no AC?), the Sun was bright and harsh even at 10AM when we finally started shooting.  And on cue Gavin had a melt down with in 5 minutes because he had no desire to wear the nice polo shirt his Mom wanted him to wear.  So I asked Romi if I could go off with Gavin alone and see if I could win him over.  Once I had him by himself I asked him what he wanted to wear, his soccer uniform he replied.  Perfect! Then I asked him what he wanted me to photograph him doing, he decided posing on his bogey board in the middle of the lawn..Brilliant! I sure would have never thought of that :)

Next up he played with his cool dump truck, and then onto T-ball practice.  The Holga came out for these images.

at this point the whole family was watching and I grabbed a nice simple image of Romi and Kalan.

Then it was time for some bike riding and Dad stepped in to help.

Now these images may not be fine art, but they are images that are showing the Family as they are.  So they are unique and special in that way.  Personaly I find these images more meaningful and more likely to be special over time.  There is a bit of a snapshot of this families evberyday life here, something they can look back on a still be transported back to this time in their lives 10 years from now.

Next it was time to play soccer and Kalan joined in.

All during this time I was making a deal with Gavin, if we did what he wanted for a while, maybe we could do a few with his sister and then the family.  When it was time to pair up the siblings I managed to grab some really special images (with the help of some obviously funny antics from the parents going on behind me, maybe one of these days Romi and Andrew will tell me exactly what they were doing behind my back that was so hilarious).  In these images I managed to capture a few brief moments where Gavin let his guard down and you can see how much he loves his little sister.  Kalan was never shy about showing her love for him.

Up next came some serious tree climbing.

And then it was time for some portraits of the whole family.  The bright background actually provides the perfect distraction free background.  I love having the children in trees in between the parents.  I also love how again you see this natural family dynamic in an obviously posed image.  Kalan is staring lovingly at Dad, Gavin as usual is in his own world, and parents are doing what they are supposed to!  Put it all together and I think it adds that extra something and gives you a more true glimpse into this lovely family.

To end the shoot we went on a short hike around the property.  It was hot, everyone was getting tired, but the children were now having fun and comfortable and I got this!

For me this was THE image of the shoot.  It is one of the best family portraits I have ever shot.  You have this perfect representation of this family.  The strong, loving, protective arms of the parents representing their love and support of their children.  Yet the parents faces aren't shown.  Honestly their hands are all you need to understand how Romi and Andrew feel about their children.  You also understand that these are parents who are not overbearing, they see their children as individuals and allow them to be exactly how they are.  You see Gavin off in his own world, this is very much Gavin.  Kalan is quietly experiencing everything, happy to be with her family and finding enjoyment in every new experience.  During the walk she picked flowers and they make the perfect appearance here.  The only direction I gave the family was to stop in a patch of shade and then I started shooting.  I saw this immediately and grabbed it.  I knew then that I had something special.

I grabbed a  last image with the Holga.

The gear used for this shoot was a Canon 20D and a Modified Holga from Holgamods.  The majority of the shoot was done with the Canon.  As a solo shooter digital just allows for a smoother and quicker work flow.  In retro spec I wished I had done some more work with the holga and explored overlapping images of each of the family members.  I plan on heading back down to work with the Klears soon so hopefully they will be happy to let me experiment with that.

I think the main lesson learned is to not have to much of a plan going in, when you are working with many individuals and especially young children it may be better to just go with the flow and see what you get.  having parents that are willing to allow you that freedom is key, they may not get the perfectly posed images they might have wanted, but they will get some lovely images of their family as they are and personally I think those are family portraits that will stand the test of time.

Hey if you just want images of the whole family on a silly blue background, perfectly dressed up and all looking right at the camera smiling on cue, I can recommend "Glamour Shots by Deb" at your local mall or Walmart.  There is no sense paying a fine art photographer to create shots that a 14 year old kid can make while working his summer job!

Keep an eye out for the next article from GreenSt detailing Andrew's testing of some of the Impossible films starting with PX100 First Flush and the new PX100 Silver shade as well as his first tests of the new PX70 First Flush color film.

Also check out GreenSt's Filckr page every Tuesday for Andrew's weekly uploads of new images from current shoots and his archives.  Tell him what you think by leaving comments and favoriting the images you like.