You Have to Stop and Take a Look Back

Looking back at your old work can really help with inspiration for future work. We as photographers can get so caught up in what we are doing, that we forget why we started taking pictures in the first place. It’s not just about looking at your mistakes, it’s looking at your old successes, and remembering why. I have twenty years of images to look at, and it’s easy to get consumed by all that work. Frankly, I don’t think most of it is very good. Taking a look at a roll of film randomly chosen from a binder is often helpful.

This gallery is from April 2005 in Lafayette, Colorado.

My friend Longboard Ric was working with a group of young skateboarders (groms) and I went along for the ride. Ric loaded up the van in Boulder with his group of teenage skaters and we drove to a new skatepark for a mini skate-competition. I have gone to a lot of these competitions with the kids and have always had a great time.

Film: Fujicolor Reala
Camera: Rollei35 S

The Best One-Day Music Festival I’ve Ever Been To – The Whitaker Block Party

A little background.

Whiteaker Block Party is a neighborhood event for the Whiteaker neighborhood of Eugene, Oregon. This was the 11th year of the block-party. The neighborhood residents and businesses in the hood pull together and volunteer to throw a ten-hour party. Which is more like a music festival than block-party.

I had been approached a few months back by Mick Dägger of the band Dick Dägger to see if I was interested in shooting the Whiteaker Block Party and then he later asked me to manage the photographers. I was excited to volunteer for the job. The word got out that I was working the festival and people I know would come up and be enthusiastic that I was shooting the show. It feels good to know I have fans of your work.

Planning the job.

How do you plan a job like this with two photographers? You have to know the players and the layout of the event you’re shooting. I tried to put a plan together, I had a Google Doc of the bands that needed to be photographed. I planned out different routes between stages where I could get to a good vantage point to photograph the attendees, vendors and volunteers. That was the plan at least. I started my planning process weeks in advance. I needed to prepare and purchase any supplies necessary for the event. I worked on a project a month earlier and already bought extra batteries and memory cards, so I was well equipped in that area. I only brought one too many lenses, which is pretty good for me. I brought a mono-pod and never used it and I didn’t bring a tripod and didn’t miss not having it.

When Tyrone Russ (the other photographer) and I arrived on location at 09:45 we re-evaluated our plan. We decided on a new plan; abandon the orginal plan. New plan: Shoot everything and anything interesting.

How was the music?

The music was amazing. Just amazing. Almost all local acts. There is such a deep talent pool of musicians in this place. It is a little ridiculous. There really was music for everybody, and every musical taste. I just wish the schedules were staggered a little better, but with eleven stages I could see that being difficult. There were a lot of acts that I like that I had never heard of, but I really enjoyed seeing. There were several stages, I couldn’t get to because things were so to tight.

It’s not just about the music.

There was a lot going on the at block-party, more than just music. There were street performers and arts and crafts for the kids and just a bunch of neighbors hanging out together, playing out with their dogs and children. I think I saw some people having a beer together. This event is nothing like I’ve ever been too. Ferry Festa in Dobbs Ferry and Ferrogosto in the Bronx are a lot like a big block-parties, but hanging out in the Whit with these clowns was the highlight of my time in Eugene.

I left at 10:15pm and I woke up at 10:15 the next morning, I walked down to the zone and if I didn’t see the party for myself, I probably would have assumed that it didn’t happen. Man, the cleanup crew really did a great job.

Nice work guys.

Here are more galleries on Facebook:
Off stage
On stage

Good Night Folks

Subjects and Muses

Last December was the first time I caught the band Childspeak. I loved their music immediately, I also find this band a compelling photographic subject. I’ve photographed them on stage and off stage. There comes a point when your subjects become your friends and your friends become your subjects. Photographing people is a personal process, these things are bound to happen. Yesterday Derek and I were talking and he reminded me that we as artists often have muses. A muse in simple terms is just a creative influence. In practice though, a muse has a powerful impact on your art and creativity. I have yet to decide or figure out if a whole band can be a single muse.

I’ve hung out with these guys a lot in the last few months, and they are a lot of fun to know. Childspeak is always been fun to photograph, but honestly, the first few times I photographed them on stage, I’ve had a helluva time trying to get images that I like. That challenge has been worth the work though. Music is an emotionally powerful art form, I would argue that it’s far more powerful than photography. So trying to photograph subjects making music often seems fruitless. So how do you do it? How do you tell a story of someone telling a story?

Each time I photograph them though, I get a bit better at it. By better, I mean that I like the work I am producing more each time. Technically the mechanics are the same, but I am able to see what I want to capture before I even press the shutter button. I’m not bored with photographing them yet. I tend to lose interest in shooting a single band fairly quickly. I rarely lose interest in the music itself. As you photograph a subject a few times you can get bored pretty quickly, especially if they don’t show interest in the image making process itself. Which is often the case with musicians.

I don’t really know if Childspeak has become a muse for me or not. It’s complicated. There is a fine line between a subject that you aren’t done exploring and creative influence. I can tell you that I really enjoy what they do. They seem to appreciate what I do.

The Domestics at The Doug Fir Lounge

The Domestics are one of my favorite bands. They don’t get that admiration just because of their stellar musicianship and songwriting. They are professionals. They really bust their ass to make it happen. It is different for everybody of course. Leo, Michael, Kyle, Matt and Brad are also friends. So when they call, I come running. Especially when I have the chance to capture the good stuff. You know, the stuff the everyday fan doesn’t get to see.

For some bands, that is view not for fans’ consummation. I unfortunately have seen that attitude all too many times with a lot of bands. Fans like to see that view though. It’s a part of the experience.

The process leading up to the playing of a show is fairly mundane and quite frankly, boring. It doesn’t matter if the band is a popular touring band or a local indie band. There is still a lot of hurry up and wait. I have photographed a lot shows, and I don’t get near enough time alone with a band leading up to a show. This is where the real pictures come from. I like shooting the show itself, but the best stuff is the personal time I get with the bands. The time between load in and sound check is usually a great time for capturing great images. Every musician shows some excitement and anticipation of the upcoming set. This is my favorite time to shoot.

This is how the process works from start to finish:

  1. Load the gear in the vehicle
  2. Drive to the venue
  3. Go inside the venue to get the low down
  4. wait
  5. load in all the gear
  6. wait
  7. set up on the stage
  8. wait
  9. soundcheck
  10. wait
  11. wait some more maybe go get something to eat
  12. you’re still waiting
  13. play your show
  14. pack up your gear and load out
  15. drive home

There is a lot of great images to be captured between items 1 and 13. There are a lot of great opportunities to take pictures and tell a story. Most of the bands that I have met in the last several months don’t really see the importance in telling this story. So they don’t go through the effort. I have to say though, that some of these bands do a great job on their Instagram accounts, trying to convey to world they are indeed people. However, they aren’t photographers. The quality of work may not be very good. I can’t say with any certainty that the fans really care whether the images that are captured are very good. I can say though that I have run into a few bands recently that believe that professional photography dilutes their street cred, so they stick to the DIY approach. In that token, bands need to have a brand identity, and take control of that brand.

Telling a story of a band on any given day does have some value to their fans. It’s just my personal opinion that the images that are captured tell a real story. Sure, live streaming on social media for a few minutes here and there are great, but the story being told there tends to be more “hey, look at me” rather than “hey, this is who we are”. Most times, an outsider’s visual perspective can better tell a beautiful story about interesting people. It’s only boring to the musicians in most cases. To the fan however, it’s pure gold.

A Night of Childspeak

It doesn’t matter whether we’re photographing dog catchers, accountants or musicians. Photographing groups of people always adds another level of complexity over photographing one person. It’s difficult enough to coordinate with one or two people, it’s even more so with four or six people. There’s usually an element of uncertainty when photographing groups.

If there’s already an event where the group had planned to be at, this makes it easier. Coordinating a group photo-shoot is a different situation. There are always people in the group that aren’t so thrilled about being photographed. Every situation is different of course. I had a band shoot a few months back during the band’s practice day and there were members that had some anxiety over being photographed. This shoot with Childspeak we had some scheduling issues, but everyone was happy to have the shoot happen.

We hustled pretty hard to get this shoot done in one night. I had such a great time working with these guys.

Everything comes down to having a good plan of what you want to achieve. When things go off the rails have a plan b and a plan c ready to go.

Broken Heart Rodeo

Next month I am having my first solo gallery show in town. The photography show’s theme is the musicians of Eugene, Oregon. Fortunately, I have good friends that are musicians. They decided to get together and volunteer to play the opening event for me. I am very excited about this event.

One of the bands is called “Broken Heart Rodeo“, and the members come from four different bands. Le Rev, Pancho + The Factory, Booty White and his Contraband and Holler House. They are getting together to play some honky-tonk songs. I decided I needed to get some promo shots of the band. They let me come to the last hour of practice to shoot some pictures. However I thought this might be more of a dress rehearsal. It was not, but we made it work.

Show details

Eugene Musicians in Pictures: May 5th at Shadowfox, 5:30—8 pm (First Friday Tour Stop at 6:30 pm)

Over the last several years, Tom Chamberlain has photographed more than his fair share of live music. All of the images he will exhibit are of Eugene musicians performing on stage at various local venues. He enjoys photographing musicians because of his love for live music.

The opening reception will feature musical performances by SurfsDrugs and Broken Heart Rodeo, who will both perform again at Luckey’s for the post-reception party.

About a dozen prints of various sizes will be exhibited and for sale at Shadowfox. Every penny that Tom collects for prints will be donated to Eugene MASV (Musicians Against Sexual Violence), a non-profit coalition of musicians, artists, entertainers and activists working to prevent sexual violence in the community’s night scene and to empower victims/survivors who are performers and audience members.

Another Great Pancho Show

There is a huge difference between shooting live music and experiencing a show. I photograph a lot of shows. There are some acts that I put more work into than others. Some bands put more work into their show than others. So how I approach each set is different. To me there’s more to a good show than just good songs. When I go to show, I think I want a little more.

Pancho + The Factory is one of those acts that I love to shoot and love watching. However, photographing a show can really separate you from the experience. When I’m photographing Pancho, I shoot a lot of frames, but I do my best to experience the show as well. This last show happened to be on my birthday. I don’t work on my birthday, but I love these guys so much, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I had great access to the stage and to the photo-pit, so getting some good images was easier. There were a lot of people at this show. Pancho opened for Ty Segal at the Hi-Fi Music Hall. Navigating the crowd wasn’t easy at all. I don’t mind working for it though. I think there is something special gets translated into images when the photographer likes the music.

I will have more images published in Fade In Chorus next week with a show review.

An Evening with the Suburban Dead

Last Wednesday I got the opportunity to photograph Pancho + the Factory. I have been wanting to get a shoot with those guys for weeks now. They have a big show coming up and a bunch of new songs, but Steve giving me that precious practice time with them was fantastic.

There was no time to shoot a group shot, so it was one on one. I had 90 minutes to shoot seven head-shots while they were working on their stage-faces. I had to cycle through the group whilst learning my new 120cm octagon-softbox. I’ve used large softboxes before, but I have never used an octagon this large. It does make beautiful light that wraps around the subject. I think I still have a little ways to go with this thing before I really get the hang of it. I also had a limited amount of space to work in. I had not been to their practice space before, so I didn’t know what to expect. There was a large step-van in front and it blocked the wall I wanted to shoot in front of. The weather didn’t exactly cooperate the way I would have liked either. Fortunately there was a good overhang for the band. I however spent most of the time shooting in a light rain.

The shoot was fun, and I can’t wait to shoot more with this band. There is one necessity that I need when photographing a band with six or more members, a good assistant. I was lucky to have Michelle there to wrangle the gang for me. It’s always nice to have someone carry stuff for you too.

The Vivitar 90-230mm f4.5 Review

The lens that you didn’t know you didn’t need.

This is almost a review of a lens. I don’t do technical reviews, this is just a usability review.

Without going too far into Vivitar’s history, Vivitar is an American photo-equipment company that didn’t actually make their own equipment. In regards to their lenses, they would contract independent lens manufacturers, mostly in Japan to make the lenses that they would re-badge with their name on it. These lenses were generally very high quality. Often the lenses were just as nice as Canon, Pentax and Nikon in the 1970s and 80s.

This particular lens was a popular zoom range for nature photography enthusiasts. This lens was made by Tokina and has a very interesting TX lens mount interface. Tokina had four versions; T1, T2, T4 and TX. This allows the lens to mount to different cameras. This came with the Konica AR adapter. I don’t have any Konica 35mm cameras, but I do already own an M42 TX adapter. So, that made it easy to test.

How I came to own this lens?

I found this lens in a thrift store, it was $9. The lens doesn’t have a scratch on it. The lens doesn’t even look like it’s ever been used. So I bought it.

Let’s talk about how it handles.

I mounted to my Fujifilm X-E1. The first thing I noticed, it’s weight. It is a heavy lens and long, just about 7½ inches. It was quite awkward to hold. However, despite it’s weight and size it actually felt better when I mounted it to my Pentax Spotmatic 35mm film camera. My favorite feature though, the length of the lens doesn’t change when zooming or even when focusing. It’s a fun lens to use, 90-230mm seems odd nowadays, but it works well for photographing in the ducks in the park. It has a long focus throw, so it’s very easy to get fine focus.

How is the image quality?

Image quality is fine. It’s not going to get any awards on DxOMark. You don’t buy this lens for image quality, you buy it because it’s a really cheap zoom. Another feature it has that I had not mentioned, the lens also has a “close-focus” mode on the zoom ring, it moves the rear element further away from the image plane. In a similar fashion as the Sears 28-200mm f4-5.6 lens I reviewed in November. When in CLOSE • FOCUS there is a fair bit vignetting and distortion. Personally, I don’t mind that so much. The lens is sharp enough for my taste. Can it go head to head with a modern zoom lens? No, I don’t think so, but again, that is not why I would use this lens.

Shot on Fujicolor Xtra 400 film:

Shot on a Fujifilm mirrorless camera:

Final thoughts on this lens.

I like this lens, but it’s not an every situation lens. Personally I prefer to shoot with prime lenses, if I know I’m going down to the river to photograph the waterfowl I think I would still prefer my 200mm f3.5 prime. This would not be great as a portrait lens because of the f4.5 maximum aperture. It would work, but not ideal. A lot of its shortcomings are about its size. If you don’t have shelves full of vintage lenses like I do, then this thing just might be right up your alley.

Women’s March in Eugene

I walked out my door at 11am to go to the march. I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know how any people would be there. My plan was not to document, but I always carry a camera. The 15 minute walk to downtown Eugene was pretty quiet, so I just assumed this event would be fairly mellow. I knew I had friends there so I hoped to meet up with them. The crowds poured on the little street in front of the Courthouse from all directions. It was amazing. I don’t think anyone was expecting such a turn out.

I was completely surrounded and somewhat overwhelmed. The idea of trying find my friends seemed too daunting of a task. I wandered a bit through the crowd and settled on a nice spot. The people all around me were in such a great mood, it was a lovely scene I found myself in. Sure, there were a lot of signs that weren’t very flattering to the incoming administration, but it was clear everybody here came from a place of a peace, love and respect.

It’s time to march

The organizers over-estimated the crowds patience to stand around in the pouring rain. Everybody was a bit antsy to get to the marching part of the march. Everybody was great, the traffic was patient and the police did a great job of getting the marchers where they needed to go. When we made it downtown a resident of the Tiffany Building put a speaker on the ledge and played some pop music for the crowd, it went over well.

Don’t call it a protest.

This march was a call for solidarity. Many people are worried and angry that the incoming administration will destroy what we have left of democracy and the planet. I’m certain the pro-DT residents of Lane county are angry about the match, but that anger will eventually lead to hate. That hate eats away at person’s soul and it’s so hard to come back from that. Events like these really just bring people together and let everyone know they’re not alone.

Happy New Year!

Eugene Psychedelic Ball

No New Year’s Eve party is complete with a bunch bands crushing it all night long.

This was a lot of show. I caught a piece of every band that played and I tried to get good shots of each band but you know how it can get crazy at a NYE show.

Year in Portraits – 2016

The “Year in Pictures” thing is a popular theme this time of year. I think a lot of photographers love the retrospective.

This year I put together a group of my favorite portraits. Most of these are not “sit and smile” shots. In fact they are off-the-cuff shots of friends and family. those are often my favorite images. As I was going through my Lightroom catalog, I saw shot almost 30,000 images. I know that I do enjoy revisiting my past images.

I learned going through the last twelve months of images; I haven’t shot enough portraits. I will have to address that shortcoming in 2017.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Photographers

This is a story of one of my recent failures, sort of…

Last Friday there was a show I wanted to shoot. I hit up the organizers and got a media pass and I was ready to shoot. It was a long show, with lots of performers. I try to go into every gig with a game plan. I knew what I was getting into, but I just did not get what I wanted when I left.

What was the plan?

My plan was to shoot as many individual portraits as I could while in the green-room. I would grab them between sets and sit them down. I knew how I wanted the images to look. I knew that there was a lot of stage time as well, so I would just go back and forth from the main stage to the green-room. I felt this would be pretty straight forward and easy to pull off.

What did I do wrong?

I brought light-stands, umbrellas, and strobes. I thought I was prepared and I felt like I was prepared too and just did not get there early enough. I walked through the door and there was musical equipment everywhere. The “get there first” approach has always worked well for me. I should have gotten there an hour earlier than I did and scooped up a good spot to set up my lights and chair. I needed to create a space just for shooting and kept clear of clutter.

The room doesn’t have very good ambient light and my auto focus isn’t so great in low light, an extra lamp would have been helpful. I snapped so many pictures and when I got them into Lightroom, they were out focus. I could plainly see that my auto-focus just did not get the right point. I didn’t know most of the players, I never knew who to photograph or when to photograph. People were running around all over the place. Some people got there late and I found it difficult to go back and forth from the stage to get shots in both places. I was really upset with myself. I could have planned things better than I did. I never do well when I’m rushed.

Events like the one I just attended are very fluid and I need to be just as fluid. I should have brought somebody to help me round people up and I should have been more clear on what else I wanted to. I feel I could have done it right, and I can’t whine about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I managed to edit down 90 images that I really liked. Only six of those were from sittings in the green-room though.

What did I learn?

I learned not to take a situation for granted. I know to get the location early. I understand that no situation is as perfect as it seems. I think this is why I am so frustrated with myself, because I know where I went wrong before it actually went wrong.

I had a photography teacher that made one statement very clear; you either got the shot, or you didn’t.

So now I just have to get back out there and have a clear plan of what I want and learn to adapt to situations more fluidly. These kinds of gigs come up from time to time. At the very least, the organizers were very happy with the 90 images I supplied to them. At least I have that going for me.

Forty Five Minute Close-up

My love for funky lenses of a certain vintage is no secret.

Today, weather played a factor in the amount of time I had with a Sears 28-200mm f4-5.6 macro lens. I only had a small window of time to walk around the neighborhood with this lens.

2016-11-22-70

Macro vs. Close-up

There is a difference between macro photography and close-up photography. Often times lens manufacturer’s marketing departments will brand lenses as macro, but in reality the lenses are only capable of 1:4 to 1:8 magnification. Macro photography is the practice of photographing small subjects to appear large. Usually with a magnification of 1:1 or 1:2 ratio. Typically this means a proper macro lens has a very close focusing distance.

Using this argument; the lens I tested today is a close focusing zoom lens. Depending on the zoom, the ratio this lens rates at a 1:4 magnification ratio at 28mm and a 1:7 ratio at 200mm. In macro mode at 28mm I can bring the front lens element just shy of 4in (10cm) and 200mm the closest I get is roughly 48in (1.2M). This is pretty darn close. In normal mode, 28mm close focus is 8ft (2.5M), and at 200mm the close focus is 6ft (1.2M). The way the lens achieves the close focus is by a twist ring that pulls the rear element further away from the sensor. This lets you focus closer but it prevents you from focusing to infinity. This is great because it bypasses the need for extension tubes. This is a novel idea.

Ok, so how does this thing handle?

It doesn’t handle very well. This lens is heavy. The front filter ring is a 72mm, there is a lot of glass in this monster. I don’t have a scale, but it weighs noticeably more than my Canon EF70-200 f4L. With the adapter for the Fujifilm-X series, the lens is just about 7in (18cm) long and add another inch (2.54cm) at 200mm. This is not a photowalking lens. It’s awkward, bulky and is difficult to focus. I don’t much care for push/pull zoom lenses either. This lens is just not very well suited for the way I like to work.

I did notice that this lens has a real t-stop issue compared to prime lenses. T-stop is the measurement of the actual amount of light that the lens allows to pass through. This is not to be confused with f-stop, which is calculated by the diameter of the iris as it relates to the focal length.

I did a quick comparison with two prime lenses. I metered through a 28mm and a 200mm prime lens set at f5.6. Both prime lenses let in slightly more than 1 stop of light compared to equivalent focal length in the Sears 28-200 zoom lens. This is very common with older zoom lenses, and a big reason I don’t usually use vintage zoom lenses. Prime lenses do have several advantages but convenience is probably not one of them.

Because of the t-stop shortcomings, using this lens on a cloudy day means boosting the ISO higher than I really like. This lens is difficult to hand hold at 200mm in many conditions.

Image quality is the most important feature to me.

I was a little surprised, this lens fared a bit better than I thought it would. This lens does not come close to the resolving power of modern glass, but the images I got from it were pretty good for my taste. There is some chromatic aberration that is easily managed. Shooting close-up, the lens is pretty sharp, as long as you could hold the camera still that is. The vignetting is not too bad either, especially for a zoom lens of this vintage. Despite its weight, it doesn’t feel particularly well built. It’s a little wonky.

Final thoughts.

It’s a cool lens, albeit with limited practicality. I enjoyed using it, but it is not a lens I can recommend for a casual photographer, whether shooting film or digital. It’s not a true macro, but it can be handy for a few situations if you don’t own extension tubes. Extension tubes will give a better quality on a prime lens than with this zoom. However, if close-up image making is not your usual thing and someone gives you this lens, then by all means take it and get an adapter.

I’ll certainly use it again, but it’ll be under very limited circumstances.

So, are you a good photographer?

I am a photographer, and on more than one occasion people have introduced themselves as photographers. Yay! The more the merrier I guess. I actually love talking photography with photographers. However, I don’t have a lot of patience for people looking for an opening to brag. I like to open with one question to weed those people out. The answer itself is not near as important as the delivery of that answer.

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So, you any good?

Those four words can coax a lot of information out of people. I get a mix of answers and I always appreciate a bit of humility. Most of the time that is what I get. However, I have noticed that the younger and hipper the photographer, the more boasting they like to do. There’s no need to brag though. You have the whole conversation to work in how “good” you are.

My favorite interaction; I was shooting a show at Berbati’s Pan in Portland and this kid struck up a conversation with me. I asked the question, and he actually said, “I’m pretty much the best young music photographer in Portland.” He went on for several minutes, I turned my back on him and walked away. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses.

Is good even definable?

Yes, I think it’s definable, but only in a very limited context. The adjective good as it relates to photography is much more vague than in other forms of visual media. Good is subjective. If you think it’s good, then it’s good. Simple. I know that doesn’t help.

How do you know if your work is any good?

See above.

Seriously though, don’t listen to your friends and family, and for the sake of all that is pure, don’t give any weight to the opinions of your Facebook and Instagram followers. These people don’t know what they’re talking about. Work hard and put real pressure on yourself to get better and learn more about your own work. There is no such thing as a natural. There are no naturals in the world of photography. Monetary success and popularity does not make a good photographer. Putting out consistently good work and not resting on your laurels.

Well, then how do we know if we are good photographers?

You ask yourself that first question. If you answer it honestly, then you’ll probably fall somewhere between terrible and the best the world has ever seen. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Join groups and look at other people’s work. Sure, 👍s, ❤s and ⭐s are great, use them as a general gauge and go from there. If you need more than that, you can seek out professional portfolio reviews. You should probably prepare yourself for reality though, those guys can be harsh.

Xerox came up with a computer program that can tell the difference between good and bad photos. https://services.open.xerox.com. I think it’s kind of funny.