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 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.

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.

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
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

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.

Why Mobile Phone Photography?

I love having a camera in my pocket more than having a phone. Fortunately I can have both. The inter-web is flooded with iPhone images, and that is a fact that we can’t escape. If you are a photographer, a good camera is a great thing to have at all times. These days mobile phone cameras are pretty darn good. Mobile cameras are not a replacement for even a compact camera, not yet at least. However, if it’s the difference between getting a picture and not getting a picture, you’re better off with having a good mobile camera.

Currently Flickr has the iPhone listed as the most popular camera. The Samsung phones are the second most popular. This is probably due to the sheer numbers uploaded by each user. The list does reflect the fact that the average person is using them and uploading them. I would tend to agree with the criticisms that these uploads are getting out of hand. The images are not very good, but I have no problem in saying that these images are of low quality because the photographers are not very skilled at using these mobile devices.

Yeah, I believe mobile phones are capable of taking excellent pictures. Every camera has limitations, whether film, digital or X-Ray. The right camera for the job, but this isn’t always possible. You have to work around your camera’s weaknesses. With mobile photography, every phone is different and has different hardware specifications and different software specs.

I prefer Android over iOS, it’s not about better or worse, it’s just the way it is for me. iPhone camera software may only differ from versions of iOS. Android’s camera software differs from manufacturer to manufacturer. This is often problematic for beginner photographers, but shouldn’t be a make it or break it situation if you have a little practice.

Lately, I’ve been using an app called Open Camera for Android. This app opens up a lot of features that the stock camera app just might not give you. There are certainly hardware limitations with options, but there are plenty of non-hardware options. This app is very customizable and useful. There are plenty of automatic features and depending on your hardware it opens up a lot manual settings, like ISO and Color Temperature. I am using the LG K10 with Android version 6, AKA Marshmallow. I was previously using Open Camera on an ASUS Zenfone 2 with Android version 5.0.1 Lollipop and it worked flawlessly. If you find that your stock phone app is just not doing enough, go and play around with some other apps. Open Camera is free and doesn’t have any ads. You’ll find that a lot of other apps in the Play store are supported by ads. I find those things too annoying for my taste.

Software will not improve your mobile photography on its own, you have to understand the limitations of those small digital sensors. Mobile phone digital sensors don’t have the range that the larger sensors have. Blowing highlights is very easy to do. The focal length of mobile phone cameras are roughly at 3mm, so getting shallow depth of field is very difficult to achieve. There are lens accessories are don’t really help to achieve that, but they can help focus on smaller subjects at a close distance so there could be a little leeway. The more you shoot with your camera the more you learn how it responds. You just have to pay attention to what you camera is doing, then plan ahead.

these images were all shot over the last few days with the LG K10 and imported through Lightroom Mobile and edited.

The Wedding Day

Jack and Molly got married in Deerfield, Massachusetts.

Jack and Molly are good friends of mine and when they asked me to shoot their wedding, I didn’t hesitate. If I do shoot a wedding, it’s going to be for friends. I have turned down several wedding gigs over the last few years, because I don’t consider myself a wedding photographer. I do consider myself a “people photographer”, there is definitely some overlap. I love weddings, but I am not completely in love with photographing them.

2016-06-20-439Although, I consider my style to documentary style, I tend to lean a little toward editorial. So there is still a little creative license in the editing process. This is where I think that my style isn’t really applicable to wedding photography. Just like all genres of photography, fashion plays a big part on what people are looking for in their wedding photographer.

There are hundreds of “How-to videos” on the internet. This is currently wedding season so there are a ton of them surfacing on YouTube. I watched a few of them and there was a lot of commonsense information and some good points. The videos I watched were almost helpful. I decided to shoot the wedding the same way I always shoot.

Shoot everything.
I photographed everything I found important to capture. Before the wedding started, I scouted the location. I tried to find the best angles for every shot. While at the same time, I did not want to disturb the guests. This can be challenging for someone of my size. I had to hope that no one could hear my shutter firing either, but we were outdoors. The best part of the outdoor wedding, we were under a tree’s canopy. This was perfect! There is nothing more challenging than shooting in a tent. I suppose being a hot summer day came to be my advantage.

I was also not being met with obstructions by other photographers in the guest pool. Not one single person got in my way as I was shooting the bride and groom coming down the walk way. Dave our wedding officiant was a great help with timing so I could get a clear shot of the bride and groom after they were pronounced. I also managed to get several great shots of the married couple in the front of their family with the ol’ Hasselblad.

I find weddings are extremely stressful. The pressure to get the key shots can be a little tough. Editing the wedding is also be really challenging too. However, when you are shooting for friends stress seems to be amplified. You don’t want to let those you care about down. I seem to be a photographer that can get through a shoot when there is some stress to push me. If I am working that hard, it’s going to for family and friends.

Jack and Molly

A Photographer’s Toughest Competition…

The only real competition we face is ourselves.

PhotographerDon’t hate your fellow photographer for being more popular than you. The odds are they are not “better” than you, they’ve just figured out how to garner more attention on the internet. I was once one of the many photographers brainwashed by the idea “competition” was the source of my unpopularity. Perhaps I still am brainwashed. For the most of my photography career I have been the victim of self-doubt. In my early days, I would routinely sabotage myself by making excuses like “if I had this camera, then…” and “if I had the opportunities that so-and-so has, then…“. I eventually gave up trying to be a professional photographer and just started to shoot what I wanted to shoot and was pretty happy for a long time.

In the early 2000s I decided to give pro-photography a try again. The internet is a new monster to face. I joined a social-photography site called Photo.Net and I learned a lot about the art of photography, but I also learned about gear-lust. I was also intimidated by all the great photography on the site. This is also where I discovered internet trolls. I had no experience with them, and they managed to get under my skin. However, the jealousy didn’t really come until I hit Facebook.

The years went on and once social media took hold of the internet, all hell broke loose. I come to realize that being cool was more important than being talented. I built up a lot of negativity for these cool-kid-photographers that were popping up everywhere. I wasn’t the only one to feel that way, and the internet turned many reasonable photographers against each other.

On more than one occasion a photographer actually stepped in front of my camera while I was taking a picture at a show. Another time in Portland, a young photographer walked up to me and informed me that he was the official photographer for this show. My brother’s band was headlining the show. I replied, “good for you, but my brother is currently on the stage and I’ve never seen you before.” He walked away and didn’t say another word to me. I found a lot of negativity over the years, especially while shooting live music. I’ve also met some great photographers and I’ve made some solid friends along the way.

It’s gotten so bad that our petty jealousy has spilled over to our subjects’ perception of photographers. The other a day, a friend and his band were playing a show in Portland and naturally I showed up with cameras. He didn’t realize I was in town and came over to me and apologized because he invited another photographer friend to shoot. I was not surprised by the apology though. I wish I were surprised. A few years ago I may have been a little jealous. If I were in a band, I would want as many photographers at my show as possible. I would not want too many photographers at my wedding though. Photographers have no grounds for such petty jealousy. I suppose a lot of this jealousy is fueled by over-inflated egos.

PhotographerThere are photographers out there being showered with undeserved accolades. That’s just the way it is. I do believe that the average Facebook viewer doesn’t know the difference between good and bad photography. It doesn’t matter though, we as photographers just need to be honest with ourselves and the work we are producing. Viewers become more educated on photography and are more likely they hire photographers on merit, not popularity in the long run. There are always going to be clients that are seduced by aggressive A-Type photographers. We don’t want them as clients anyway.

Hate spewing “trolls” are constantly trying to sabotage us. We can’t let them bring down our industry. As long as we continue to engage in the negativity, they will succeed in bringing down our cohesiveness.

I had to learn some hard lessons. I guess we all have hard lessons to learn. There is always something to learn from other photographers, there is no reason to hate.