Thursday, May 28, 2015

Getting High: Reality and Screen Resolution ~

There's something really cool about seeing the world in high-res, and something a little unsettling about it, too. Wonderful because I'm able to see nuance and detail in my images that come as a pleasant surprise; it opens up new avenues to interpretation that don't necessarily express themselves when I trip the shutter. And unsettling because, well, now I think my perception of reality depends on that clarity. Call it on account of old age and/or near-sightedness, I guess, but in any case I always thought reality was a bit over-rated to begin with. Isn't that why we became photographers in the first place? Be honest.

The primary portal to my fantasy world is my 15" 2012 MacBook Pro, but alas its 1440 x 900 screen resolution is as hopelessly outdated and inadequate as a car without cup holders. I mean, really. So until I upgrade it later this year, I'll usually send and open my files on one of the iMacs down at the studio (2560 x 1440, that's what I'm talking about) or even, yes, my little mini iPad (2048 x 1536; not bad, not bad at all). I've been a photographer for an embarrassingly long time now; I honed my technical skills to where I could consistently look upon a freshly-minted negative and say, yes, that's what I was going for. But not anymore. I want to open up a freshly-minted file and say holy shit!  I bet you do, too.

And now that there's a 5K iMac out (a truly wicked 5120 x 2880) I'm sure the race is on for ever higher resolution on all our devices, and I can hardly even imagine where it all ends, or more importantly, what it ultimately means. If it means anything. Technology shapes us every bit as much as we shape it, and our perception of the world around us is all the more fluid and plastic for the effort.

As for me, I like Adam Savage's sage observation on Mythbusters: "I reject your reality and replace it with my own"

Best description of photography I've ever heard.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

On Competitive Camera-Spotting ~

Let's subtitle this one "Mine's Bigger Than Yours."  It's an interesting phenomenon, and one that goes way, way back: checking out someone's camera gear, and making a mental note of the relative superiority/inferiority of your own. We're all guilty of it. Admit it.
Personally, I think it's kind of fun, particularly back in the day when I was using something like the Mamiya RB 67: ha! your puny little Pentax does not stack up! And when I broke out the Burke & James 8x10 field camera? blissfully, blissfully divine. But it related only to a smug pride, and nothing more. It's just as meaningless today, perhaps even more so. I was put in mind of this during my travels last week when I realized that we're actually engaged in something of a reversal of this: incredible photographs are being made on ever smaller, less intrusive cameras. Lightweight mirrorless cameras are anything but lightweight when it comes to image quality. And the iPhone? Don't get me started. The image you see above was made on one. Now when I see someone lugging around a Canon 1D and a big gray L-series lens, I'm more disposed toward sympathizing with their sore shoulders than wondering about their pictures. Because, obviously, it was never about the cameras, ever, and to believe that bigger equipment made you a better photographer was to miss the point entirely.

I'm no pedant, honestly. If you ask, I'll simply suggest you try out lots of different cameras, try out the smartphone, experiment with whatever tickles your fancy. Buy a camera you can afford. Buy one that fits in your hand, is easy to master and comfortable to carry around. Spend your life developing your eye and mastering your craft. That'll beat 36 megapixels any day.
As for me, well, I've consigned my beloved Canon gear to the studio. My 7D syncs so nicely with my lights, and when I'm making portraits it just feels like a part of me, seamless, and effortless.
For my frequent travels and wanderings, though, I've come to really love my little mirrorless Fuji, so light, so easy to use, and so sweet. And of course, of course: I'm never, ever, anywhere without my iPhone.

There's an old saying: f 8 and be there.

There's another old saying: size doesn't matter.

I'll just leave it at that.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Travelogues of Plato ~

Well ok, Plato wrote Dialogues, not travelogues, but if he'd had a credit card with some frequent-flyer miles, he probably would have had a lot more to say about that cave with the flickering shadows. But I guess you had to be there. As for me, my flickering shadows were cast by a great road trip this week with my brother Jim, a man as restlessly a wanderer as I. The northern California coast, the beautiful wine valleys, and two middle-aged men loaded down with camera gear and only the vaguest idea of direction, and you get the idea. Good times.

The real journey starts now. After all the miles a-foot and on the road, I'm sitting here at the studio, staring a wall of RAW files square in the face, and that's why this adventure is usually the harder one for me to start. It's the photographer's version of writer's block, I reckon: finding the voice that ties them all together, making it possible to dig in and figure out why I took all those photos in the first place.
Little by little though, I feel it starting to happen. The cool morning light, the intense fragrance of the cork, even the persistent wind: it's coming back and I'll get to enjoy it all over again as I process my images. I'll even be thinking of our old friend Plato, credit card and boarding pass in hand:

Look at the shadows, look at the shadows....

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Photography in a Parallel Universe ~

I approach photography with habits I developed (no pun intended) many years ago in the paleozoic era. The great process -- film, paper, chemistry -- involved an enormous amount of time, and it is that very flow of time that engrosses me to this day. Ah, you say, but digital photography is instant; it is a revelation of the immediate, a celebration of this very moment. Yes, but... no.
I will often make an iPhone image, for example, and work in what is essentially real-time, using some favorite apps to make quick interpretations. I love doing that, exploring what's going on in my mind before the image has grown cold. But just as often, with the passage of only a day or two, I will find that very same treatment artificial and boring. It lacks the element of time.
Back in digital's early days, when each year brought forth quantum leaps in the technology of image quality, a photographer I knew told me why he thought it important to always buy the latest camera. It was all about capturing as much information as possible, not necessarily for the right-now, but because in the future there will always be new software to enable an interpretation of an image that may not be possible, even imaginable, today. Best be able to meet the future fully clothed.

So much of that new software is right here, right now. I personally find myself using onOne Perfect Suite nearly all the time; it progresses and evolves right along with me. I go back over files months, sometimes years, after I made them, and see them brand new all over again. When you wonder "why the heck didn't I see that before?" it's because, if you're being honest with yourself, it's not enough just to be clever with Photoshop. All art is communion, mainly with yourself, and that great joy of discovery happens when that image you made excites one last photon of memory from the birth of the universe. No shit, you and I were there.

I took pictures.