Author: Tom Chamberlain

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.

wp_20150605_001

So, you any good?

If you’re an older, experienced photographer then you need to read no further. You most likely have a good grasp on things.

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.

Instagrammers and Photobloggers

A photoblog is a form of photo sharing and publishing in the format of a blog. It differs from a blog through the predominant use of and focus on photographs rather than text. ~wikipedia
Photobloggers
I had an interesting chat with an older gentleman today. When he asked me what I was taking pictures for, I just responded by saying I was a photoblogger. He caught me off guard when he asked, “like that Instagram?”. I could only answer with a yes. I haven’t really thought much about comparing Instagram to actual photoblogging. I maintained a photoblog for a long time but now I just primarily consider my Flickr and Ello my go to photoblog platforms. Yeah, Instagram is a very good place for Photobloggers.

Photographers just want their work seen.

For as long as I’ve been a photographer, I’ve been looking for a way to get my images viewed. In the old days, before social media, a nobody photographer had a difficult time getting eyeballs on their work. All through the 90s, the only people who saw my work were my friends and family. If I wanted to see work from other photographers, I could go out buy a bunch of photography and art magazines and go to galleries. That is where I always wanted my work to be seen. It was an interesting time for photographers. Trying to get your work out there was a lot of work. I tried getting prints hung at coffee shops back in the 90s, but my work just wasn’t very good.

This internet thing seems promising.

I got my first home computer, and I bought a CanoScan film scanner and I was ready. Like many other photographers, I wanted a place on the internet. There weren’t a lot of platforms to post work, but there were a couple of good sites starting to gain traction. PhotoNet was my spot for a long time. Then I discovered Flickr in 2006 and I was on Tumblr for a while, I liked it but I never had a lot of followers so I never really gained any traction. I had a lot of overlap on the platforms I was using.

My favorite platform was PixelPost. I had to install it on a server (I had my very own server at home for a while). I’ve tried many photoblogging platforms over the years and PixelPost was my favorite. When it was time to put a portfolio site, I settled on WordPress. I still kept my PixelPost photoblog on a sub-domain. The internet has changed so fast and technology advancing so quickly. It gets difficult to keep up, but I still want to photoblog.

What now?

The internet is everywhere and Instagram, and EyeEm are viable platforms for photobloggers. I know that most people consider Instagram a cesspool of self-indulged selfie-photographers. There is a lot more there. The mobile platform was ahead of its time when it debuted. Instagram really does work like a traditional photo blog aggregator, but it’s in the palm of your hand. I know it started out as a mobile-photo sharing application, but it had grown into so much more. There are a lot of businesses using the platform, and it works for a lot of different things. There are a lot of really brilliant photographers, but a lot of those photographers are there for self promotion, not social networking. There is a fair amount of social networking, but there is also a lot of room for art-discovery. If you know how to look, there is a lot of worthwhile photography.

Here are a few photoblogs that I have been following a long time.

Joseph Holmes
Daily Dose of Imagery
I Shoot Film

Fujifilm DL MiNi Zoom, After One Roll of Film

A One-Roll review of a small and useful point-and-shoot film camera.

Fujifilm has been building high quality cameras for a long time. When I spotted this little 35mm camera at the thrift store for $5, I didn’t hesitate to buy it. The camera has some minor ding on the top corner of the camera next to the flash. Fortunately the camera has a sturdy aluminum body. It’s built quite well. The camera also came with the manual, which is really nice. As I read the manual, I was really impressed by all the features this camera has. The camera is very usable and pretty stylish.

I rushed over to Dot Dotson’s and bought a roll of film and loaded it. The film door only opens just enough to drop the film canister in. Once you close it, the camera rolls the film on to the take-up spool first. Then winds it back in to the canister as you take pictures. I appreciate this feature, but it puts the frame numbers backwards. I’m just being picky I guess.

The lens focuses very quickly, but it is a bit noisy. So it’s not a very discreet camera. The lens quality is good, the lens however is very slow and the zoom range is far from impressive. 28-56mm at f4.5-f7.5. Compared to other cameras of the time and type, the specs are a little over par. Like a lot of cameras in this class, there is a learning curve, because you don’t know what your shutter speed it, you really have to hold the camera steady in subdued light. My first roll of film was Fujifilm Superia 200. I like this film, but Dot’s was completely out of consumer ISO 400. They do have a fridge with professinal grade film, but I did not think it was necesssary at the time.

Do I need another point-and-shoot film camera?

Since owning only one camera is not an option for me, having a film camera of this type is required for my lifestyle. A few months back I reviewed a Rollei Prego 70. This is a p/s camera of the same ilk as the Fujifilm DL Super Mini. The Rollei is a 35-70mm zoom. However, the DL is a far more impressive camera. It has a ton more features and hands down an easier and more satisfying camera to use. I think my Rollei Prego will have to be given to a deserving sort of photographer, because this camera has taken the Prego’s spot in the camera bag.

PROS:

  1. The body is metal.
  2. Quick auto-focus.
  3. Manual focus capability. (Range focusing).
  4. Easy film loading.
  5. Exposure compensation +/- 2 stops in ½ increments.
  6. Positive feedback on shutter button. Half press to focus is very easy to do.
  7. Sliding to door to cover lens and turn off camera.

CONS:

  1. The body is metal, so it’s a little slippery with cold hands.
  2. Slow, I mean really slow lens. (f4.5-7.5)
  3. Loud. Auto-focus and zoom motors are quite noisy.

This is a very nice camera, and with the auto flash modes for fill, back-light and auto it is very useful. Being a photographer is more about how you feel when you are taking pictures than the gear you are using. This camera will be taking the place of the Rollei Prego in my camera bag. In doing research on this camera I learned that Fuji made a prime version of this camera. It’s just named the DL Super Mini AKA Fujifilm Tiara, with a 28mm f3.5 lens. Read Benn Murhaaya’s blog post about that camera here on 35MMC.

Live Music at Conor O’Neill’s

Music is a big attraction for Conor O’Neill’s

There is music three nights per week. Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings is a raucous time at the Irish Pub. The main room gets really packed, especially when the university is in session.
By most accounts Boulder Colorado doesn’t have a very big a music scene, despite having a lot of music fans.

Last week the owners of Conor O’Neill’s announced they were going to close after 17 years. The word on the street, was the building owner raised rent 30% or so. Well, I guess some things have changed and now they are going to stay open. If the pub had closed it would have put a huge hole in the already tiny music scene. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and the hordes were kept at bay.

Let the music roar on…

Joy Riding the Petri Racer

Another day-in-the-life of vintage 35mm film shooter.

A couple of days ago Berg swoops me up at my place and head to the Bunk Bar for his band’s show. I get into the car and he hands me this retro looking rangefinder. He found it at a thrift store for $20. It looks so retro it’s difficult to believe it was built in the Sixties and it’s not some funky Eighties throw-away camera. Berg wanted me to give it a good run and let him know how it stacks up.

The test drive of the Petri Racer.

I did some Google-reconnaissance and I learned a little about it. The camera had a light meter, but it’s not tied to shutter or aperture. Shutter speed goes 1 second to 1/500 of a second and it’s all mechanical. It uses a mercury battery that is no longer in production. However, everything is mechanical so it doesn’t rely on the battery to shoot, unlike other fixed lens rangefinder cameras of this ilk. This version has a 45mm f1.8 but they made a 45mm 2.8 fixed lens camera too.

Five frames into shooting this camera, I was hooked. The rangefinder patch is a little tough but the distance scale on the lens barrel is easy to read so ranging in the distance is great too. The film advance is nice and positive and snaps back against the body and doesn’t poke you in the nose.

The most fun thing about this camera, the shutter button. The shutter button is on the front of the camera. It’s right on the body instead of the top plate. It took some getting used to, but it’s actually is quite a nice placement for it.

Here is a picture gallery. The film Berg loaded in the camera was Scotch 3M 200 35mm film. I bet the film was at least 15 years old. I exposed the film at e.i. 100, and managed to get a couple of keepers.

The Film from Manifestivus

Sadly when you have a busy you tend to forget with somethings. In my case, I forgot to process film I shot from Manifestivus this summer. It was a lovely surprise to see these negatives after they came back from the lab.

I shot a these images on Pentax Spotmatic F with Agfaphoto Vista 200. I love this film, it’s affordable and fairly sharp. This film really works well on bright sunny days. The camera is good for any time.

Only One Lens?

Photographers rarely carry just one lens, and the 50mm lens can’t get you out of every jam.

Inspired by a conversation I had with a photographer a few days ago, I wanted to write this post. He was curious about my Fujifilm X series mirrorless camera and the Pentax 55mm SMC mounted on it. We talked about gear and what we carried on a daily basis. He went on about his Canon EOS 7D with a 24-70 f2.8 as his walking around camera. He told me gave up on the 50mm because it’s not versatile enough for his style. Fair enough. I like the 50mm, but it’s not the only lens for the job.

Photographers have had countless conversations about what lens to buy first, or if you could only carry one. The routine answer for prime lenses is simple, 50mm on full-frame and perhaps 24mm for an APS-C sensor. If you really want to cover a range, then 24mm-105mm for full-frame and 16-55 for APS-C. These arbitrary choices are imposed by trends. These hard and fast “rules” do not take into account the individual photographer’s needs. The idea that we as photographers must have the full range of focal lengths is pure nonsense. The idea that every lens as a specific job and can’t used for other things is just narrow-minded.

Falling on deaf ears.

I think a lot of young photographers are led to believe that wide-angle lenses are for landscape, telephoto lenses are for portraits and 35mm – 50mm lens are for “general photography”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I have a friend that routinely shoots portraits with a 35mm lens. Jillian does some lovely work too. Besides, I don’t even know what general photography means.

I agree that the 50mm lens is a great all around lens but it’s not the only lens to get the job done.

A telephoto lens is not a one-trick pony.

This afternoon I decided to head out on a photowalk for a few hours, but only armed with a 135mm prime telephoto lens mounted on my Fujifilm X.

Is carrying a 135mm lens ideal for street photography? What’s ideal? Who dictates what ideal is? Honestly, I would have preferred a few more lenses, but I wanted to prove the point to myself. There is a lot we can do with the gear we have.

Photography takes imagination, but it also takes some of technical knowledge. This knowledge can be taught, but your creativity can’t be. The more technical knowledge you have, the better equipped you are as a photographer. Technical knowledge will help with creativity, that just goes with without saying. That line of reasoning works with all fields of study.

Dragging around a telephoto lens on a photowalk for street photography shouldn’t slow you down in the least.

A Soundcheck

Soundcheck is both the most important and the least exciting part of a live performance.

The soundcheck is always my favorite time with the bands. In my case I get to hang out with friends, but it’s great to get a preview of the set. The other advantage for being around for soundcheck, is getting a preview of the sound and all the angles on the stage.

In all my time shooting bands at their shows, I never see other photographers at a soundcheck. That’s right, NEVER. I don’t think they know what they are missing.

This evening’s shoot takes place at The Liquor Store in Portland to photograph Surfs Drugs who were billed with Weezy Ford and Kyle Craft. During this particular soundcheck, Kyle Craft did have his whole band and Surfs Drugs only had two members, so their soundcheck was short.

A soundcheck is very straight forward. Set up the stage as it would be for the show. The sound engineer checks that every cable is working. Then each instrument and mic has its level set one at time. The band will then run through a few songs next. Each channel will get tweaked while band plays. It is at this point that every player tells the sound engineer what they want to hear and what volume they would like their monitor set at. If the venue has a dedicated monitor engineer then that would be a different engineer. A dedicated monitor engineer is rare luxury in smaller venues.

That’s pretty much it.

Boring? Oh yeah, it’s boring because it’s not a show. It’s set up.

There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, and getting to know how things work at a live show is very helpful for planning. Getting to know the players doesn’t hurt either. There are opportunities for getting great images when the band has their guard down. However, there are some musicians that are nervous wreck and there is no way a photographer is coming in to catch them at their least perfect. Fortunately for me, my friends are not nearly as uptight.

Soundcheck with Kyle Craft at The Liquor Store.

Mississippi Studios, My Favorite Music Venue

Why is Mississippi Studios my favorite venue?

2015-06-29-317-b-b

I just like everything about it. MS is not very big, but still has a balcony. They have a great bar inside the music room. The restaurant Bar Bar has great food, a good selection of beer on tap. I love the outdoor patio with the bonfire going strong on chillier nights. The crowd is generally really chill. The staff is absolutely professional. I’m just very comfortable there.

The main room has the balcony above that overlooks the main floor and the stage. The stage is damn near the perfect height. You can still get a good view from the rear of the room, but not so high that the band seems far away. They also keep a rope about 3 feet from the stage. The rope gives photographers a little room to navigate from one end of the stage to the other. I like to get there early to grab a beer or two and post up as close to the middle of the stage as I can get. I try to avoid standing directly in front a mic stand to get a clear view of the whole band. Unless it’s a paid job to photograph a band, I’m happy just standing in the middle as not to disturb my fellow show-goers.

I’ve photographed my fair share of live music, and Portland is my favorite place to see shows. With so many interesting bands and venues, there are many options for photographers, shooting live music is fairly easy to do. If you can get on the guest list, great. Paying the cover is almost always worth it.

Most venues will not have issues with photographers shooting most local bands. I did say most venues will not have issues with shooting live music. A photographer is going to have a hard time shooting at the Crystal Ballroom without a photo-pass, and the Star Theater won’t let photographers bring in camera bags. Most other places are pretty laid back of course. There is just one rule every photographer needs to heed when shooting in any venue. Don’t be a dick!

Nine out of ten shutterbugs photographing live music in Portland are not shooting for a publication, there is no real need to bully your way around a venue to “get the shot“. I understand we as photographers have a desire to do capture the best images. We need to be conscientious to the people around us. I’ve had many people try to clear a path for me in the audience, but I don’t want to affect the dynamic too much. When I need to get closer, I try to be as patient as possible and move up as people start to shift.

Lighting is the most important thing to me.

Without good lighting, getting a good images is very difficult. Mississippi has above average lighting. Despite being mostly LED, the lighting is very good. I don’t like LED lighting. Some photographers say they can’t tell the difference between LED and other types of lighting, but I certainly can. The overall quality of LED is just not there. The light is flat and lifeless and doesn’t look as clean.

As with most venues on a multi-band night, the opening acts don’t get much attention with the lighting treatment as the headlining act does. That’s fine for me, as long as it’s bright enough on the stage to get good shots. Now there is one particular musician in Portland that attempts to build a closeness with the audience by having the lights turned down as low as possible. At that point I put my camera away and just enjoy the set. At the end of the night, the most important thing is the band puts on a great show and we shouldn’t whine about it.

Magenta lighting is the photographers worst enemy, in my opinion of course.

I’ve found that Mississippi Studios doesn’t use nearly as much magenta as some of other venues, but they still use it far too much for my liking. When watching the show, magenta light look just fine, as long as there is some lighting dynamics. When shooting the show, magenta is just terrible. Skin tones are NOT enhanced by magenta. I just cringe when I see it.

As long as newbie and veteran photographers can keep it together and not disrupt shows, we should be able to as often as we want. Mississippi has been really cool with us coming and shooting, I would hate to see that end.

Here is a small selection of my favorite shows.