Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sundance wrap-up (or why I haven't been posting much this week)

The Sundance Film Festival has kept me busy all week, which explains the relatively few posts. So even though my blog is not about film, I thought I'd do a post about what I saw and what I thought, just for my own record. I promise to get back to photography tomorrow.

Here is what I was so busy seeing (but not photographing. I don't do the paparazzi thing):
  • "Daddy Longlegs"—A story about a divorced Dad who only gets to see his two sons for a couple of weeks each year. His zany antics make him look like the "fun" parent at first—that is, until he decides to drug his kids with his sleep meds so he can go to work. It was a well made film, but I hated it because the Dad was so despicable and the only redeeming quality was that most any parent looks great by comparison.
  • "All that I love"—It's punk rock meets the Solidarity movement in Poland. A lyrical coming of age tale with addictive youthful energy.
  • "Obselidia"—A socially awkward neo-luddite librarian is compiling a dictionary of obsolete things when he meets a fun-loving woman who is inexplicably fond of him. Is love obsolete? Who knows? But a good plot and fleshed out ideas certainly are. Trite.
  • "Restrepo"—A brilliant documentary about the war in Afghanistan. An incredibly moving and politically neutral look at troops serving a hellish 15 months in the worst area of the war. See this whenever it comes out.
  • "Enter the Void"—Director Gaspard Noé is one sick puppy. The opening credits are the best I've ever seen, but then we enter the void...The story of a brother and sister (with an incestuous relationship, of course) living in Tokyo. He sells (and does) drugs. She strips. He dies and then we get to hover above the action in Tibetan book of the dead spirit-cam mode for the remaining 2 and a half hours of the film. Plenty of psychedelic interludes, gratuitous gross-outs, and a sperm-meets-egg sequence that had the audience bursting out laughing even though it wasn't meant to be funny. When asked what his next film will be, Noé said "3-D porn." Everyone laughed, until he said, "No. I'm not kidding."
  • "Smash his camera"—A documentary about Ron Gallela, the famous paparazzo taken to court by Jackie O and punched in the face by Brando. Wannabe paparazzi take note. A few rules are 1. Dress for the occasion, 2. Forge credentials, 3. Use the kitchen to gain access to an event. Director Leon Gast was a delight and so is the film.
  • "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil"—If you like horror films you should love this hilarious spoof in which the hillbillies are the good guys and the college kids end up being their own worst enemies. Instant cult hit. Way better than last year's Nazi zombie story, "Dead Snow."
  • "Welcome to the Rileys"—I predict a future Oscar nomination for Kristen Stewart, who plays a 16-year-old runaway stripper/prostitute in this touching story of a couple trying to cope with their eroding marriage and daughter's death. James Gandolfini (or "Jim" of you want to sound like you know him) and Melissa Leo are also flawless in their roles. Although the sensitive viewer might be impressed by the lack of gratuitous nudity (given the subject matter), the pervasive language might still be a deterrent. Too bad, if so, because I think most parents would love this film. One of my favorites of the festival.
  • "Jack Goes Boating"—Based on a stage play, this film features Philip Seymour Hoffman (who also directs) as a man who needs a woman in his life. Set up by a friend and his wife, things go well for him but not so well for them. Tender, funny, bittersweet. Worth seeing.
  • "The Dry Land"—A soldier back from Iraq tries to cope with post traumatic stress. The director looks like he's about 18, but clearly knows what he is doing. The unknown lead gives an amazing performance as does Wilmer Valderrama ("Fez" on "That 70s Show"), even if he does seem to be in love with his own body in real life. The film is well researched and will likely get some play through Army venues.
  • "Blue Valentine"—Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play a couple in a disintegrating marriage. The director said that when he was a boy, his two biggest fears were nuclear war and that his parents would divorced. When he was 20 (circa 1998, I believe), his parents got a divorce (sad, but preferable over nuclear war, right?) and he started to work on this screenplay. After 11 years of planning, every single detail in the film is well crafted. Beautiful and tragic.
  • "Howl"—James Franco plays Allen Ginsberg in this film about the ultimate beat generation poem. I found it to be tedious and glib, but my friends loved it (as will Freshman composition English professors everywhere, I'm sure).
  • "The Killer Inside Me"—Casey Affleck, one of my favorite actors, plays a sociopathic deputy in a small Texas town. If you want to witness nihilistic glee and women being beaten to death with bare fists, knock yourself out. Personally, I don't see the point.
  • "The Kids are all right"—But the adults are way messed up. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening play a lesbian couple whose kids track down their anonymous sperm donor Dad. Most ironic line is when the son asks his moms why they don't watch lesbian porn and they respond "They often get straight women to pretend to be lesbians and I find the inauthenticity to be very unappealing." Pretty entertaining, great acting, but that's about it.
  • "The imperialists are still alive"—I can't even give a resume of this movie except to say that it involves overprivileged New York hipster middle-easterners being blasé and paranoid at the same time. Very clever in the first half then it all unravels. When a director says "I don't try to please the audience" in a Q&A, that's code for "People aren't responding well to my film." Still, it was fun to spot them wandering around Park City oozing coolness.
  • "Joan Rivers: A piece of work"—Straightforward documentary about Joan Rivers and her insatiable appetite for fame. She attended all the screenings until the last couple of days. If you're not a fan, don't bother.
  • "Waiting for superman"—The people who brought you "An inconvenient truth" are taking on the messed up educational system in America. An inspiring and brilliantly executed documentary that will infuriate the unions. This is a must-see. At the screening, the film was only 5 days old, but by the time it hits public release, it will have a lot of suggestions for change in the end credits (à la Inconvenient Truth).
  • "A small act"—A perfect double bill with "Waiting for superman," in my opinion. This moving documentary shows how a Swedish holocaust survivor's small donation to a Kenyan child has changed many lives. That child grows up to go to Harvard, to work for the UN, and to found a charitable organization named after his benefactor. The film makes a compelling argument for education as the best way to prevent violence, and it makes you want to be a part of the solution. To the director's surprise, $90,000 in donations came in as the result of the Park City screenings.
  • "Winter's Bone"—Creepy and realistic heroic quest in which a girl from backwoods Missouri (we're talking squirrel eating "I done put the hurt on her" and "I told you once with my mouth..." country) has to find her bail-jumping meth-cooking Dad or else lose her house and land. Incredibly authentic and striking film. One of the best of the festival.
  • "3 Backyards"—The melodramatic score features feedback-like flute parts that will make your ears bleed. Three stories, all of them unresolved. Well acted, but what's the point? This is the kind of "indie" film that gives indie films a bad name.
  • "Son of Babylon"—A road trip movie about a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother who travel across northern Iraq in search of the boy's missing (probably dead) father. Director Mohamed Al-Daradji carefully selected non-actors for the film. The central message is one of forgiveness and shared humanity. Let's hope that message gets heard.
  • "I am love"—ugh! Why did this have to be my last film of the festival? In this incredibly pretentious melodrama, Tilda Swinton plays a Russian-born woman living an aristocratic life in Italy (and yes, she speaks Italian throughout the movie). An overwrought score, heavy-handed film-school style references (Tilda's hair has the "Vertigo" swirl, several Antonioni-style mise-en-scène moments, etc.), and a lot of "profound" shots of insects and factories make this film smell at least 40 years past its expiration date.
So, that's what I've been up to. Next on my to-do list: the start-to-finish portrait retouch recipe. I've been planning on it for a long time. I will finally tie together my tutorials into a complete portrait retouch workflow. And then there's the next "monthly special." Hmm...what will that be?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Photoshop Dodge and Burn Tutorial

In a traditional darkroom, dodging and burning refers to the manipulation of exposure to make selected areas of a print lighter (dodging) or darker (burning)—a technique covered in most photography classes. In Photoshop, however, the typical user doing a portrait retouch may never click on the dodge and burn tools—and for good reason. Rarely is "D&B" explained in Photoshop tutorial books other than in general terms, and usually applied to landscapes rather than people. Furthermore, finding usable information on D&B in forums is a foolhardy endeavor best left to people with too much time on their hands and a high tolerance for uncertainty. Or an insomniac with a blog.

The mystic order of hi-end beauty retouchers meets your high school art class

In Photoshop, the precision of dodging and burning can be taken all the way down to the level of a pixel (whether you should go to that extreme is up for debate). When it comes to retouching skin, the pro retouchers swear by (and at, I'm sure) D&B because it leaves the natural (a word which here means perfectly lit air-brush makeup enhanced) skin intact. While other "skin smoothing" methods rely on blur, which compromises texture at the risk of creating plastic-looking skin, D&B affects only shading.

At some point in your schooling someone (with wildly untamed curls, a smock, and Birkenstocks?) taught you how some careful shading can turn a 2-dimensional circle into a wondrous charcoal-smeared "3-D" orb. Erase the shading and the circle becomes flat. Now let's replace that circle with an ugly zit. The zit "pops" (sorry, as a Dad I am legally required to use this brand of groan-inducing humor) out on the face because of highlights and shadows. Tone down those highlights, lighten up those shadows, and the zit disappears. It's all about shading. Adjust the shading and crater-like pores lose their attention-getting shadows. Circles under the eyes? Gone. Wrinkles? Reduced. But wait! there's more. Want to create better bone structure? Sculpt perfect cheek bones? Add sparkle to eyes? Fill out lips and add extra shine? That's right, folks, all this and more can be yours for the low low price of...

Only 6 hours of your time! Per photo!

What? Doesn't sound like such a good deal? You'd rather just blur skin to smithereens in a few clicks and call it a day? I don't blame you. But before you give up on D&B, let me tell you about bread for just a minute.

I have a friend who makes the most amazing bread. Specialty flours. Supplies purchased in France. A custom built wood oven in his backyard. Poilâne himself would approve. Amazing stuff. But does this mean I'm going to build a bread oven in my backyard? No. I wouldn't even know where to begin. But this doesn't mean that I'm doomed to a life of store-bought bread. My wife makes a bread that can pass for artisanal that doesn't even require kneading.

The moral of this story is that it doesn't have to be all or nothing. The purists might disagree, but I say, learn some techniques, find a compromise that works for you, and go from there.


Step 1. Assess your photo

Here is the "before" photo:

I am using a stock photo because if it were an actual client of mine I couldn't say things like "Who does your eyebrows, Mrs. Potato Head?" Seriously, that is some criminal overuse of eyebrow pencil. But too bad, I'm dealing with skin here.

Before we start retouching, we need to assess the problem areas:

Her eyes look tired and red. The shading under her eyes adds to the worn-out look.

The skin near her mouth and chin area has some blemishes and dark spots.

Her lips are not bad, but a little better definition and fullness wouldn't hurt.

The overall lighting is making her face very flat.

Step 2. Create your dodge and burn layer

Some people like to do one layer for dodging and another for burning. I prefer to keep it all on one layer and switch between the tools.

Create a "New Layer" and in the dialog box change the mode (from the pull-down menu) to "soft light" and check the box that says "Fill with soft-light neutral color (50%) gray." I named my layer "Dodge and Burn," but you can name yours "Snooki" if it makes you happy. Now click OK, and we'll start dodging and burning on the gray layer we just created.

Step 3. The maligned Dodge and Burn tools—Use them.

Most people "dodge and burn" without actually using the dodge and burn tools. Instead, they use the brush tool with white or black paint. Prior to CS4, they had good reason to do so. The D&B tools were notorious for suddenly changing skin to shades of gray or orange. However, CS4 improved the D&B tools and added default settings that protect tones, so I think the actual D&B tools deserve your loyalty.

When the dodge or burn tool is selected, you will see some settings in the top menu bar that merit attention. You will be changing the diameter of the brush often, so learn to use the right (larger) and left (smaller) bracket keys on your keyboard to adjust as needed. The hardness of the brush should be extremely low (like 0%) for smooth transitions. The "Range" options let you choose to affect "Highlights," "Midtones," or "Shadows." You are more likely to get good results if you concentrate on the midtones. In fact, feel free to leave it there the whole time. The exposure setting should be kept very low, such as 5%. A low exposure setting means that the changes will be very gradual. Small repeated light strokes will give you better control of the effect.

Step 4. Choose an area and get to work.

I prefer to work by area and switch between the dodge and burn tools and then move on. For inside the eyes, see my previous eye tutorial. The following picture shows one of the eyes as seen when only the gray D&B layer is visible (you click the eye icon in the layers palette to toggle visibility on and off for any layer):

The lighter the gray, the more I dodged in that area (and the darker=burned). I brought out the catch lights in the eyes and I dodged the dark circles and wrinkles under the eye a little at a time (and changing the brush size to suit the area) until I got passable results.

Notice that I said "passable." A pro retoucher (and that is not me—I'm a photographer) would spend more time and do much more detailed work. But then, a photo used for a cosmetics campaign will be scrutinized more heavily than most portraits. What I am proposing is something that you can do in about 20 minutes (or less) once you get used to it.

Compare this...

to this...
It still looks natural and has exactly the same texture as before, but her eyes now look better rested. I could have done more, but I think it's better to do stay subtle.

A few tips before moving on to another area:
  • If you have access to a pen tablet, your D&B "sketching" will be much easier. If not, well, be glad I'm not telling you to do pixel-level editing
  • Zoom your view in and out to keep things in perspective. Don't bother doing individual pixels. Zoom in to about 300% when you need to get close for more control (changing your brush size as needed), then go back to 100% as much as possible. Finally, make sure you zoom out to see the whole image once in a while.
  • If your skin tones start to shift (toward gray or orange), try switching to the "sponge tool" (it's in the same pull-down menu as the D&B tools) and under "mode" in the top menu settings select "desaturate" (to tone down the orange) or "saturate" (to move the gray back toward normal skin color. I use a higher flow (20%) with the sponge. But remember that if you are having a lot of problems with tone shifts, you are probably overdoing it and/or not being precise enough with your brush.

Step 5. Skin imperfections

Theoretically, you could retouch every blemish with D&B, but I wouldn't recommend it. Remember that I'm trying to steer clear of six-hour retouch sessions. For large blemishes, I would use the patch tool or the clone stamp to save time. If your subject has a very bad complexion (i.e. bad acne over most of the face), you may have to resort to the foundation method or some form of hi-pass skin softening. You can still use D&B for contouring (see step 6).

In the photo here, there is just a patch of blemished and uneven skin to the left of the mouth.
As in step 4, I will dodge out the darker areas to make it even with the surrounding skin. When I accidentally lighten something that doesn't need to be lightened, I simply switch to the burn tool and darken it up again. With only the D&B layer visible, you can see the dodged section on the lower left side:

In very little time, you can make the area vastly improved (or perfect if you're willing to take a long time):

Step 6: Contouring
This is the fun part. You can improve the shape of the face, lighting, and the lips with a little D&B. First the lips:

Dodge the highlights to get a more plump shape. You will want to accentuate the highlights and extend their reach. Next, burn to create more shadow near the bottom and more definition (like a light lip liner) around the edges (if needed). The shadows at the base of the lower lip will give it that pouty look.

Pay attention to how in the "before" photo, the lower lip has almost no highlights in the middle area:

After dodging to even out the highlights and burning a little at the base, the lips start to look more full.
Now you can contour as much of the face as you like. Here is what I did:

I dodged a highlight down the nose and burned some light shadows along the sides of the nose. This gives better lines and can be a great way to make the nose thinner as well. If you know how to do makeup or if you have illustration experience, chances are you can do a much better job than I have here. If you have absolutely no experience, just pick up a magazine and look at the highlights and shadows. The dark dot at the end of the nose shows where I burned in to reduce glare.

I also brought out the cheekbones with some D&B because the lighting had flattened them. I burned a little more definition into the chin, and I dodged a little more sparkle near the eyebrows. You don't need to change any of the settings (from your 5% and "midtones" as seen in step 3) except the brush size, and course switching between dodge and burn as needed.

This doesn't need to take much time because we are going for overall improvement rather than a 6-hour fashion spread perfection. As a final step, you can create a new blank layer (just normal blending mode, not a gray soft light layer), sample a nice pinkish tone, and dust areas that are still on the blotchy side with a soft brush (not the D&B tools) set to a low opacity (5-8%).

Here is the before:

and the after:

Here they are side by side:

As one final note, I should point out that I am a big advocate of subtle retouching. I don't think you should look at an image and say "Wow! Look at that retouching!" You can, of course, use the principles in this tutorial to do as much or as little as you like.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

8 free desktop wallpaper photos from Paris

My quest to keep my desktop fresh continues. After combing through my most recent Paris photos, here are eight that might end up on my screen, and yours if you like. They aren't meant to be crowd pleasers. There's no Eiffel Tower or child holding a baguette. Instead, these are a few of my own idiosyncratic choices (you can download any of them from my gallery). I think the size should work on most laptops and will probably still look good on a monitor around 20 inches, but I'm guessing here. And I don't mean the size of the photos in this post. If you want one of the images, you'll need to click on the link to my gallery, view at full size, and then right-click to download from there.

1. graffiti and a camera—two of my favorite things

2. I like to imagine the person who has all of this stuff crammed behind the front windshield of their truck. I'm sure they won't mind if I add to the clutter with a few stray folders.

3. What could be more French than this? It just makes me laugh.

4. The creepy ambiance of this photo pleases my morbid side.

5. From a window display at the Bon Marché during the holidays. I have a thing for letters and typography.

6. From the Vanves flea market. I love flea markets and my son is a cellist, so this is a good one for me.

7. These crates of oh-so-French beverages were sitting at the end of one of the passages that the flâneurs loved so much. I like the graphic nature of the image, but the cigarette butt in the foreground is the cherry on top.

8. I find this scene from the Tuileries gardens both enchanting and creepy, like a good old fashioned children's tale.

That dodge and burn post is coming up very very soon, and after that, the complete portrait retouch workflow, so stay tuned.

Desktop makeover

Crap! It's nearly 3 a.m. and I was going to kick back and watch guilty pleasure "Heroes" on TV (I know it's never regained its season 1 vibe, but oh well...).

Instead, I got distracted (I tend to do that) and sorted through my 2009 Paris photos looking for something to replace my desktop wallpaper (a way too old Daft Punk graphic). Then, I thought "Hey! Since I'm still not ready for that dodge and burn post, maybe I should do a "list" post of possible desktop photos and make the post less lame by giving away my possible choices." Seems quick enough, right? Could have been, had I not chosen 72 contenders.

I'll put some of them up tomorrow once I check how this size works on my desktop. The photo at the top of the post an Abelardo Morell-inspired shot from inside the Louvre. I put it on my desktop and it immediately demanded that I clean up that mess. I tidied up a bit and at least dragged everything off his face, but now he seems to be staring disapprovingly at the items hovering over the white space. You can view it at the 1680 x 1050 px size that I used on my desktop and then download it by right-clicking from my Smugmug site if you think you can handle the constant scrutiny.

I don't think I can. At least not at 3 a.m.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A list of 10 ways to help the Haiti relief effort

If you want to help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti, here is a list (including many other lists) of ways you can help:
  1. Text the Red Cross (text "Haiti" to 90999) and automatically make a $10 donation.
  2. LDS relief and Islamic relief USA have been working in concert to help with amazing speed. As I write this, the LDS site seems to be having difficulties.
  3. Haiti relief fund has a list of at least 23 charitable organizations where you can donate. The FBI is warning people to beware of fraud. It makes me sick that some people take advantage of tragedy to make themselves rich. Make sure you donate to an organization you can trust.
  4. Here is a post with 10 ways to help
  5. Another site with 9 ways to help.
  6. A list of six ways to help. I like that it includes the suggestion to learn about the culture. It might sound like that doesn't help, but the more you know the more you will feel connected to the culture.
  7. Put a little friendly pressure on local businesses. This list of corporations already helping out might help inspire smaller businesses to do somethingl. When you shop, you might consider asking the business if they are doing anything to help. If they get asked often enough, they will probably take action.
  8. Pray, meditate, do whatever you do on a spiritual level, keeping in mind that "faith without works is dead." (James 2:20)
  9. Put "help Haiti" on your calendar in March or later. This doesn't replace helping out now, but they are going to need help for a long time. By March, there will be less news coverage fewer people donating, but still plenty of need.
  10. Post any other ideas in a comment. Maybe you will inspire a reader.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

10 things scrawled on wood in Paris parks

I was walking through the Jardin du Luxembourg less than two months ago (*sigh*) when I noticed some graffiti written on a bench. It read (and I'm editing here): F--- Lavoisier! F--- Montaigne! I burst out laughing as I imagined some French high school kid studying for the bac exams. Then I thought about graffiti and how much it has (and hasn't) changed over time. Today, I usually think of spray cans, subways, and city walls when I hear the word. With the ubiquity of tags, stencils, space invader tiles, collage, stickers, and all forms of elaborate graffiti, things written on park benches or carved into trees had fallen off my radar.

I know that the etymology of "graffiti" links the term to scribbling, and yet I don't think park bench scribbles are really in the same class as what we now call graffiti. So I decided to rename things carved into wood "scrawlings." And thus begins a personal project to collect examples of things scrawled on wood.

Since my focus is on lists this month, here is a very specific list:
Things scrawled on wood in Paris parks

When you use a list to create a photo essay, the more specific the better. In fact, I could be more precise and use five photos specifically of trees as the beginning of a project...

or five photos of benches...

My point is that a prompt that might sound like something from Family Feud ("Name something you might find carved into a tree trunk.") can become the start of a fun photo project. Try it. Be specific. Post your results and link back to share for the "monthly special."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sorting through chaos (and then adding it back in)

I snapped this photo standing outside a used bookstore in Paris. I didn't dare step inside. I wouldn't hesitate to take photos of riots, but this...this chaos was intimidating. There wasn't a person in sight, but I was sure that this was the lair of some terrifying creature—perhaps Shelob, that giant spider in Lord of the Rings, or maybe just some troll-like bibliophile ready to snap in two anyone "just browsing." Only the bravest dare enter. Sure, there appears to be organization off in the distance, but before you reach that promised land you have to cross mountains of chaos, books piled upon books like so many unredeemed souls.

I guess this image makes me think about the problem of ordering knowledge. Denis Diderot is my intellectual hero because he walked the line between order and chaos so well. He co-edited the most ambitious encyclopedia Europe had ever seen—72,000 articles penned by more than 140 of the greatest minds of his day, all 18,000 pages alphabetically ordered and preceded by an impressive forward and a "tree of knowledge" tastefully pruned to 18th-century philosophical standards—and then he subverted the entire structure by weaving what we would now call "hyperlinks" into all of the authors' writings. One minute you are reading about convents and suddenly Diderot (cheeky devil) might point you to an article on prisons, and so on. Diderot believed in the interconnectedness of knowledge way before the world had a "wide web." And although he was not lacking in self-esteem, his own collection of links within articles were not even meant to be the final word, but rather an example of how we ought to read. He would love Wikipedia and its ever-mutating content. He tried to invent it.

I could go on (don't get me started on taxonomy), but let's get to how this applies to photography. Remember the quote I used from Lewis Baltz in my last post about how the real difficulty in photography is in organizing photos to create meaning? I agree. But I also like what Stephen Shore says about the moment we take the photo:
Photography is inherently an analytic discipline. Where a painter starts with a blank canvas and builds a picture, a photographer starts with the messiness of the world and selects a picture. A photographer standing before houses and streets and people and trees and artifacts of a culture imposes an order on the scene—simplifies the jumble by choosing a vantage point, choosing a frame, choosing a moment of exposure, and by selecting a plane of focus. (The Nature of Photographs, 37)
That may come off as a bit too cerebral to someone taking snapshots of their kid's birthday party, but we're all making those choices every time we take a picture. In fact, we may be working from a list. Somewhere, in the back of our mind a list (created by looking at scrapbooks? by family tradition?) lurks...Photo of child blowing out candles? Check. Photo of each present being opened? Check.

A good reason to get a little intellectual about our systems of organizing (our conscious and subconscious lists) is to weave a little chaos back into the mix. Add a little Diderot to your structure. Try cross-pollinating your lists. This is what happened (quite a while ago now) to wedding photography when "journalistic" coverage became the big thing. The standard poses were suddenly in the company of (if not displaced by) a photo vérité style that in turn produced enough candid moments to inspire its own set of (less than spontaneous) lists. It sounds like I'm suggesting that lists inevitably lead to stagnation and cliché, but what I am really suggesting is that we need to be aware of the lists that we already use and see if they have anything to say to each other.

Thoughts? Comments? How do you organize chaos? How much chaos do you let in?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

January Monthly Special: Lists

Really? Lists? Yeah, I know. By now, every magazine, blog, and newspaper you've read has probably done some sort of "2009" list. I know I did. And why is that? Why this obsession with lists? According to Umberto Eco, that question merits a book and an exhibit at the Louvre. Here at Take-out Photo, the rest of January will have to suffice.

I am not proposing that we all take photos of our to-do lists (like the one of my ipod above). Instead, I want to look at lists as an organizing principle. "Workflow," a big part of a photographer's life, is basically a list of steps. At some point in this month, once I finish the dodge and burn post (look in the photo, it's on my list), I want to give you my portrait retouch workflow from start to finish.

As for lists and our creative process, I like the following quote from Lewis Baltz (from the "Contacts" dvd that I find very inspiring):
"Anyone can take pictures. What's difficult is thinking about them, organizing them, trying to use them, montage them in some way so that meaning can be made out of them. That's where the work begins."
If you're at a loss for inspiration, try a list. Umberto Eco claims that the phone book would be his pick for a desert island because he could make up so many stories from such a long list of possible characters. I question his sincerity, but I like the idea of it: the most boring, banal list as a source of creativity. It's a good challenge. Look at your "to do" list and imagine that it needed to be the basis for a photo essay. What other lists do you have? How would they manifest themselves in a photographic form? As with the desert island phone book, a list won't tell a story on its own. However, we don't need to be writers to make a list come to life. A careful reader can pull meaning from a list. Help someone else see that meaning, and you have created a story. If I were to "read" our local phone book (and I won't, but still...), I might begin to notice all of those hybrid names (mix and match all of your beloved ancestors) that Utah spawns (check out this hilarious site for examples). Or maybe I would notice clusters of certain family names grouped together in the same part of town—all except one. You get the point.

I'm bringing back the links this month, so I hope to see some participation from you (participating in Take-out Photo was at the top of your New Year's resolution list, right?). Do a list post of some sort, and come back here to add a link. Maybe when we're done we'll have a nice list (fingers crossed!).