Focusing Assistance From The Kitchen
Monday, October 3, 2011
File this under, "I thought I was the only one." Turns out I'm not the only one who confuses the focusing ring with the zoom ring. I often accidentally twist the zoom ring on a long zoom instead of the focus ring. Sometimes it's vice versa, but either way it seems whenever I want to focus I accidentally zoom, and when I want to zoom I accidentally focus. So leave it to former Outdoor Photographer editor Rob Sheppard to come up with this beautifully simple solution, posted on his Nature and Photography blog. It's a silicone jar opener that he purchased in a kitchen supply store, and it's the perfect way to differentiate focus ring from zoom. Great idea, Rob!
Your Top Ten Photographers
Friday, September 30, 2011
I was recently reading about one of my favorite photographers, Andre Kertesz, and it got me to thinking about all of my favorites. What photographers do I most admire, whom would I emulate, whose work would inspire me to make pictures if I didn't know anything else about photography? So I started compiling a list. That's part A of this exercise, and I recommend you do it now: make a list of your top ten photographers of all time.
For me, that list goes like this (albeit in no particular order). I do have a fondness for Kertesz so I'll list him first. Andre Kertesz, Harry Callahan, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Steve McCurry. Those first four are easy. These would have to be my favorite photographers, hands down. I wouldn't have thought they'd have such a documentary slant, but they do. Look there, I'm learning something already. To continue with my list…
5. Mark Seliger. I sure love his portraits.
6. Dan Winters. Same goes for him. Inspiring and amazing.
7. Alec Soth. Simplicity to the n'th degree.
8. Todd Hido. I'm in awe of so much of his work.
Time for another pause. Those four are on the list today, and probably will be for a good long time. These four are portraitists and fine artists with an interesting, sometimes theatrical, sometimes documentary flare. Again, I'm learning even more about my photographic tastes.
The last two are tricky. I could consider Annie Leibovitz (yes, a superstar, but also an amazingly talented and prolific photographer) or Frank Ockenfels with an aesthetic that makes me weak in the knees with envy… And there are a ton of working photographers I admire as well. For the purposes of this exercise I'm going to go with Leibovitz and Ockenfels as my 9 and 10, simply because I know they consistently have impressed me for a long, long time. Again, portraits, creative, theatrical, yet somehow very real. I'm once again reinforcing an aesthetic photographic preference. That brings me to part B of this exercise: analyze your list to determine what you really live in the work of other photographers.
I'm clearly taken by photographers who don't create visions of fantasy or illusions or special effects, but rather photographers who have a simplicity about their work. Maybe that could be described as a purity of vision in a documentary sense. This even applies to the portraitists, and even their most theatrical works. Because on some level, those images are designed to provide the viewer very factual information about the subjects. I'm starting to become aware of my own strong affinity for graphical compositions as well, which I'd say I share with many of these photographers. Which brings me to part C, and ultimately my point.
If I want to make work that inspires me, on some level I should make work that is similar to these photographers. Why not simply start from scratch and identify what they do, and distill how I can do that too. That's the first step to making great work, I'd say. If I distill the things that these photographers have in common, things like authenticity, documentary, reality, graphic, people, quirky, interesting, unique, powerful… These words should be always on my mind when I'm creating my own work. If I'm doing something different than this, moving in perhaps the wrong direction, maybe I'm not serving my basest photographic instinct: to make work like that of my favorite photographers.
So I'm advocating that you try this little exercise for yourself. List your favorite photographers, distill what it is you most like about their work and what they all share in common, and then put those things to use as targets in your own photography. I think this is just one simple way we can learn directly from our favorite photographers.
The "Inception" Of Stop-Motion Movies
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Did you see last year's hit movie "Inception?" I did, and while I understand that many folks found the dream-in-a-dream nature of the film a bit disorienting, it still managed to tell a unique story in a unique way and draw viewers in. The same can be said for this stop-motion movie from Neatorama.com. Eran Amir created a short film in which he photographed 500 different people holding more than 1500 different pictures, and when strung together they create a movie-within-a-movie vibe quite similar in effect to the disorienting construction of Inception. That's a convoluted way to say, "Wow, cool stop-motion film!" I could've just said "check out this cool movie that also has a stop-motion movie inside it," but that just doesn't seem as unique. No matter what you call it, it's a cool clip that you should definitely check out.
Anamorphic Projection Photographs
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
That's a fancy title for a pretty simple blog post. Sometimes somebody makes a picture that's just so cool and clever I have to tell others about it. That's the case with this image by artist Stephen Doyle. He created an anamorphic projection—a physical construction that when viewed in the ideal perspective takes the shape of another object. In this case, Doyle used simple blue tape to create a huge word—Grit—that served to illustrate a concept in a story about an educational program for the New York Times. When viewed just right, Doyle's long stripes of tape perfectly spell out the word. It's one of those things that's so simple and so creative it's inspiring. Read all about it and watch a "making of" video at the Colossal blog.
Justin Timberlake Wants Your Pictures
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Actor/musician/superstar Justin Timberlake is starring in a new movie called "In Time," and as part of the promotion for the film the Talenthouse creative collaboration web site is sponsoring a photography contest on J.T.'s behalf. Ten finalists will be selected (five via reader poll and the remaining five by Timberlake himself) before a grand prizewinner is ultimately chosen. The winning image will be featured at the premier of "In Time," and it will become Timberlake's actual Facebook profile picture for a full month—putting that photo in front of 12-million viewers. That's quite an audience for any photographer. Check out the contest at Talenthouse today.
The Most Influential Cameras Ever
Monday, September 26, 2011
This blog post is really meta: it's a post about a post about a post. Mike Johnston, The Online Photographer, recently directed his readers to a great and controversial blog post listing the most influential cameras ever. Part of what makes the thing great, actually, is the built-in controversy. Compiled by Jason Schneider, the group—like all "best of" proclamations—is designed to incite a bit of outrage. That's what makes an exercise like this successful; it gets people talking. This list sure does, as you'll see both at the TOP blog and on the original post at the Adorama web site. My personal favorite on the list is the 1938 Kodak Super Six—just because it's such a neat looking camera. My favorite camera not on the list is the Nikon F4, which I used to hammer nails when it wasn't taking pictures. There are a few modern cameras that cause more than their fair share of controversy. Read for yourself and join the conversation, and maybe think about your own favorite cameras and where they might fit the list.
Don't Focus And Recompose
Friday, September 23, 2011
I'm a "focus-then-recompose" kind of guy. This is not good. I always sensed I was neglecting some fairly robust camera focusing technology by falling back on this old-school approach, but it wasn't until I read this DPS blog post by James Brandon that I realized just how woefully inadequate this technique really is. Focusing then recomposing is the technique in which you point the center focus point in your viewfinder at the subject you want to photograph—say, an eye on a smiling face—and then (once focused properly) you recompose to create the composition that's most pleasing. The problem with this approach becomes visible in a few specific instances: at larger apertures, when working with longer lenses, and when you're a generally unsteady photographer. When you recompose you can actually change the distance between the focused point and your camera, meaning that the new plane of focus is actually behind the original (correct) one. That means that if your lens is long enough, your aperture large enough or your depth of field shallow enough, you're going to get an out-of-focus picture. See for yourself at the DPS blog, then get started—as I am—learning how to focus correctly using shifting focus points.
Long Exposures In Bright Sun
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Everybody loves long exposures, right? You go out at night and open your shutter for a few minutes and let star trails or headlights or a simple moonlit landscape light up your sensor. Long exposures are a great way to bend time and motion and make them work within the confines of a still photograph, creating something that we humans just can't see with the naked eye. But what if you want to make long exposures sometime other than nighttime? What if you want to make long exposures during the day? Well thankfully Scott Kelby has recently posted a great video on exactly that subject at the Weekly Photo Tips blog. There are lots of tricks that help, but you definitely need a good neutral density filter and a tripod. Watch the video to see how Scott goes so far as to make a two-minute long exposure on a sunny day.