Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Your commute

The reason I chose "seeing the invisible" as the focus this month was to make myself get back to working on a project I started more than a year ago. The project involves looking at Utah through one street (appropriately named "State Street"). I often drive on State on my way to work, and when the freeway is too busy, I use State on my way to Salt Lake City. Other photographers have done projects about Highway 89 (of which State is a part), but those tend to focus on beautiful nature scenes. To my knowledge, nothing has been done on the much less picturesque sections that run through the cities, and yet those are the sights the majority of Utahns see every day.

My personal goal is to turn my project into a book/exhibit within the next year or so. I don't expect people to want my State photos as home d├ęcor (well, not most people), but I do think it will be a good way to appreciate the unique identity of Utah. As I stop to look at the things I drive past at 55 mph (um, I mean, 45, officer, and sometimes 30).

Try it. Take a street that is part of your daily commute or a street that defines your city in some way. Try to notice something you would overlook. Try taking a photo that is not conventionally beautiful. See if changes your perspective.

Last Friday, I visited a friend in SLC. I took my camera and I took State instead of I-15. Here are a few of the photos:

"Don't ask"

The patriotic mailboxes first caught my attention, but the sign is what makes the photo:
This is NOT 802. DON'T ASK.
There's a story there.

"Mental Iron"

The stark graphics of a shadow cast by a speed limit sign on this wrecking ball intrigue me.

"Fire Proof"

I know that many people will not find these photos appealing, but keep in mind that I love photographers such as William Eggleston, John Gossage, and Stephen Shore. It's not every day that you see "fire proof" as a primary selling point. Or that you see filing cabinets outside next to a mountainscape.


An old Rambler for sale outside of a vacant auto repair shop.


Right off of 45 mph State, this is the visual equivalent of having 4 locks on your door.

"Yard Sale"

Only in Utah.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Photo gift idea du jour: Errata Editions books

Today's photography-related gift selection:

Errata editions Books on Books series.

The books on books series gives you access to out of print publications that would cost a fortune to buy. Here's a blurb about the project from their website:

Errata Editions’ Books on Books series is an on-going publishing project dedicated to making rare and out-of-print photography books accessible to students and photobook enthusiasts. These are not reprints or facsimiles but complete studies of those originals. Each in this series presents the entire content, page for page, of an original master bookwork which, up until now, has been too rare or prohibitively expensive for most to experience. Through a mix of classic and contemporary titles, this series spans the breadth of photographic practice as it has appeared on the printed page and allows further study into the creation and meanings of these great works of art.

(you can read more about the project on their site)

What a great way to increase your knowledge of photography and get inspiration from the greats.

I only own the Atget...

and the Klein...

but I wish I had every single one of them. Paradoxically, the "books on books" may become collector's items in their own right (i.e. unaffordable). The Walker Evans book, for example, is out of print already and you'll have to pay about triple the original price to get one from a seller on Amazon.

Price is around $30 while they're still in print.
I suggest buying them from photo-eye bookstore or from Amazon.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

So you want to be a wedding photographer...(pt 2): 5 tips

This is a continuation of my advice to all you future wedding photographers out there. Here are five pieces of advice, some of them learned from hard experience, all of them useful for a shoot:

1. Make a "to-do" list for your shoot

The brides family grew their own flowers for the arrangements. Imagine not documenting that!

If you haven't shot a wedding, remember that it pays to plan. You're first step, of course, should be a consultation with the couple—or at least the bride. Ask her which group shots she wants so you can plan from the largest group down to the immediate family. Making list will help put your client's mind at ease and will make sure that you don't forget any key family members. This also gives them a chance to clue you in on the possible awkward situations that sometimes arise when bringing together family members that may not usually be found in the same room together. Imagine, for example, placing the mother of the bride next to her ex-husband and his third wife. Awkward. Not that you want to launch a formal inquiry into the family's personal life, but asking about groupings gives the couple the perfect opportunity to help you avoid potential social gaffes.

Other types of questions...Ask about the number of bridesmaids and groomsmen. Ask about the schedule: Is there a luncheon, for example, before the reception? Is there a special program? etc. Once you've done a mental walk-through of the day's events, you should make sure you know the priorities: Are there certain must-have shots that you haven't talked about? Does the couple want to focus more on candid or on posed shots? Are there any shots they don't want? You get the idea. At least one pre-wedding consultation is a must.

Next, you should think about your own wish list. Imagine the wedding album you want them to order. Think about the visual narrative. Think about how to construct the story. But remember that your plan is an outline, not a script. You have to become a photo journalist and be ready for whatever story develops. That's always my favorite part.

2. Get that dreaded massive group shot done as quickly as possible.

There's not much room for artistry when you have to cram a few dozen people into one shot.

The big group shots (i.e. entire wedding party, family, friends, and all, often 50+ people) are usually what the parents want, but 9 times out of 10 they only order the smaller groupings. And who would blame them? Too many people = an 8x10 with heads the size of erasers. So channel your inner drill sergeant and herd everyone together, try to make sure everyone is visible, and take enough rapid fire shots to you get one without too many closed eyes. If the young kids behave, count yourself lucky. The main thing is to advise the adults NOT to coach the children—too many coaches just means a lot of turned heads. There's not much room for artistry in most scenarios, so get it done fast and save time for the bride and groom.

3. Critique some poses

I think they look adorable.

Just because a pose is popular doesn't mean you want to use it. Ask yourself, "What does this photo say?" For example (all examples I've seen recently):
  • no contact (and yes, eye contact can count) between bride and groom = they don't get along
  • piggy back ride when the groom is 10 years older than the bride = creepy
  • poorly position arm around bride's neck = extreme fighting choke hold
  • "cute" photo of toes poking out from sheets = "we're already sleeping together" (it may be true, but it's not what your aunt Thelma wants to see.)
  • holding hands while sitting cross-legged in the middle of the road = "We're oblivious and have lost all common sense but that's OK because we're in love"
4. Overexpose (but not too much)

Overexposing can kill a good sky (so don't do it if your shot is all about the sky), but it sure is flattering to skin. Practice on a friend. Try some underexposed shots, some properly exposed shots, and some slightly overexposed shots. The overexposed look is more like what people are used to seeing in magazines. And why do the magazines do it? Because it's flattering.

5. Get in close

This is a matter of personal preference, but my favorite photos are often the close-ups. Although the current trends seem to emphasize composition more than faces, I think that nothing competes with the beauty of the eyes.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Gift ideas for the photographer in your life

Starting now and through the holiday season, I'll do some short posts on photography-related gift ideas. I don't accept advertising, so any products/services I recommend are my actual preferences.

Today's favorite: Lynda.com online training.

I'm lucky enough that my work purchased licenses for Lynda.com this summer. I had always wanted to try their tutorials, and now that I have tried them I couldn't be happier. In principle, I'm not a big fan of video tutorials because it's harder to stop/repeat/let your mind wander for a minute with a video. But the tutorials on Lynda.com are the best I've seen. "But I can get tutorials on Youtube," you say. True, but it's a lot harder to find good ones. What you get at Lynda.com is consistency and a vast library of resources—not just on Photoshop, but on a host of applications.

So for your own personal wish list or for a gift, consider a subscription. One month for $25 or an entire year for $250.

Here's a blurb from the sites press release:

About lynda.com

lynda.com is the most popular computer-skill educational site online, offering tens of thousands of straightforward, comprehensive instructional videos. The website offers a subscription-based service called the Online Training Library®, as well as CD- and DVD-based video training spanning hundreds of courses and thousands of topics that provide computer and technology skills. The lynda.com Online Training Library® is also available via the free lynda.com iPhone App.
From professional software tools including Photoshop, Flash, Dreamweaver, Logic, Illustrator and Office, to consumer-friendly education about digital photography, Web design, digital video, and many others, lynda.com’s all-star team of trainers and teachers provides comprehensive and unbiased video-based training to a global membership of tens of thousands of subscribers. Members have access to over 53,000 movies in the Online Training Library®, and non-members can sample thousands of training tutorials for free. Learn more at www.lynda.com.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

October Monthly Special: Seeing the invisible

In his well known text "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (well known in academic circles, that is), Walter Benjamin writes, "The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses."

Something about the camera's power to freeze time and to organize and limit the chaos of the world opens up new sense perception. Benjamin would have us consider, for example, an enlargement: "The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject."

Similarly, in The Photographer's Eye, John Szarkowski notes that the new medium led (even forced) the photographer to explore new vantage points: "From his photographs, he learned that the appearance of the world was richer and less simple than the mind would have guessed. He discovered that his pictures could reveal not only the clarity but the obscurity of things, and that these mysterious and evasive images could also, in their own terms, seem ordered and meaningful."

This month, I wanted to do a non-Photoshop theme (although I will do at least 2 Photoshop posts) and instead, focus on seeing "the invisible." A good ghostly theme for Halloween, right?

The inspiration for the theme comes from an unlikely source: a portable outhouse.

I was walking around a lovely neighborhood in Paris with streets named after famous French photographers, when I saw "voir l'invisible" (see the invisible) crudely painted on the side of one of those portable toilets used at construction sites. Exactly, I thought. Why was I wandering around early in the morning searching for things to photograph? It wasn't to remind myself or others that I'd been to Paris—the function of souvenir/tourist photography. I was hoping to notice something new, to see something through photography that would have been invisible to me otherwise.

Because of that, I noticed the rescued Winnie the Pooh characters clinging on to the street cleaner's broom for dear life.

Because of that, I noticed the little cushion of leaves that had sprouted beneath the feet of a graffiti kindred spirit since I last saw her.

The mundane took on an alternate life as graphic art.

I used photography to look at things rather than through them. It may sound odd, but sometimes the superficiality of photography is what helps increase our awareness and appreciation of the invisible. In the case of the yellow mailbox set against the green restaurant, the functional purpose of each becomes irrelevant as everything is reduced to shape and color. And yet, the simplification makes the overlooked worth noticing. In the case of the chalkboard menu, I no longer see through the surface as a mere reference to my lunch options. Instead, I look at the surface and appreciate it in a new context.

When you pause and think about how many things you see through each day, you start to realize that we are surrounded by ghosts. And so, "seeing the invisible" is the perfect October theme.

I encourage you to use photography to look at the overlooked this month. If you can, do your own post on your discoveries and share your link in a comment in any post during the month. I'm excited about the theme and I hope you'll take up the challenge.

Some people who posted on the challenge: