Thursday, December 18, 2014

Trying To Catch A Storm ~

Well, there we were again, out on the Oregon coast, seeing if we could catch a little storm action to photograph. You'd think we'd get plenty of opportunities for that up here. But as luck would have it and fate would be, the "Pineapple Express" actually rolled into northern California (thus drenching my poor brother Jim down there) leaving us with just the usual drizzle and occasional sun breaks up here in the wild north. But who's to complain? We had a wonderful time. That's an iPhone shot on the beach at Cape Kiwanda. Photo tip of the day: always go with a companion who owns a red jacket (in this case, my lovely wife Nancy, a real trooper), and have them stay a few steps ahead of you. It's better than buying a new lens!

I'm a native son of the left coast, and have tramped its shores from Coronado Bay to the Puget Sound. My wife and I take particular delight in the winter and early spring out here; the light is moody and unpredictable (like me, before I've had my coffee) and every scene invites a quiet moment of contemplation. And I certainly don't mind the rain. This old tree standing guard over an unnamed creek is at Cape Lookout, taken with my Fuji mirrorless.

It's almost Christmas, the crowds are gone, the weather is perfect, and that camera in your hand is the best damn camera in the world. You've run out of excuses.

And so have I. It's time to storm the beach.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thinking About the Black & White Portrait ~

I'm mainly a people and portrait kind of guy. It's what initially drew me to photography and sustains my fascination even today. The studio I apprenticed at back in '73 had, among many other cameras, a big and beautiful 5 x 7 view camera with a delicious Carl Zeiss lens. As a newbie I certainly didn't appreciate it then as much as I do now in retrospect, but boy, the portraits it made (and which was my job initially to print) were stunning, as you can imagine. It was a more static, classical style which I still view as timelessly beautiful.

Over the years, portrait styles evolved as tastes changed and new equipment and technologies came along. Back in the day, a hand-help camera in the studio was considered as taboo as drinking on the job (although, now as I think about it....) My influences then were the likes of Yousef Karsh, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, and so many others, their books at my side.

And these days I'm more than likely, as I rely on my digital cameras, to step away from the studio and shoot in color. What, then, continues to be the fascination with the black & white portrait? It's hardly an anachronism. It remains a relevant art form, capable still of producing penetrating and personal images. Maybe it's just me, but I sometimes see a great deal more texture, tonal values, and intimacy in them. And maybe we don't see it just as we did with the great films and the high-silver papers, but it's there nonetheless. My studio mate Whitney often shoots in black and white, forsaking even an original color file, and consistently produces timeless and beautiful portraits of children as well as adults.
So I'll keep at it, and hope you do too. Even though, without a darkroom to lock yourself in, it's tougher to drink on the job.

I'm just saying.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Heading Out For The Day ~

I didn't post a blog last week, and will blame it on Thanksgiving. Sorry about the interruption, but the turkey was great, the wine was plentiful, and the self-loathing for over-indulging lingered for a delicious few days. But then on Monday my friend Keri sent out a text that she was going to grab her camera and go wandering and was looking for some co-conspirators.  And that, mes amis, is my favorite outdoor activity. Like me, she is a recent convert to a mirrorless camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 (how do they even come up with those names?) and I am still wrapping my head and hands around the Fuji X-e2.  Wandering around the railroad tracks and warehouses of the inner SE of Portland provided some really fine colors and compositions. With our fellow co-conspirator Chaz we had a very creative and challenging (and cold!) afternoon.  My favorite shot of the day was the warehouse wall you see above. The colors and lines put me in an O'Keeffe-ish frame of mind. Does anyone else see a desert pueblo, or is it just me?

Sometimes the best photography happens when you're not thinking about it. Call up a friend, grab a camera, and just go. Anywhere. If it's a nice sunny day, don't worry; you can wait it out until the really good weather returns. The cloudiest, coldest, rainiest, windiest days are the ones made just for us. They are where the real surprises lay hidden.

A little turkey and wine wouldn't hurt, either.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tweakable Software ~

Sometimes I just like to tweak the hell out of my photos. This frame of mind is either the result of a misspent youth, or growing up around artists. And upon reflection, I think those are both the same thing. Even a good "straight" image, like the one above, has a lot of image manipulation applied, since many years ago I realized I was less interested in reproducing what I saw than interpreting what I felt, and discovering along the way a lot of the mystery that was hiding in the image. That's why I do photography. And you? What's your excuse?

I just recently downloaded onOne Perfect Suite 9, and have been a big onOne user for a few years now. It's very robust software, and has given me so much more freedom to work and explore an image than I've ever experienced before. It's the sort of thing that keeps you at the computer until the wee hours.

But wait, there's more. As you by now are aware, I take a lot of iPhone photos, too. One of the creative apps I frequently use is called Mextures, which has some wonderfully crafted presets. And as if this all wasn't enough, if the image is appropriate I will layer it with a treatment in Auto Painter.
Because, you know, sometimes you just have to go nuts.  The wisest words ever spoken on the subject are attributed to Ansel Adams: Expose for the secrets, develop for the surprises.

Well, here's to the surprises.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Old, older, oldest ~

I have many passions (far too many, according to some) but the one that has captured my soul in photography for as long as I can remember is a passion for antique and non-silver photography. I'm an ardent collector of old photographs (but oddly not so much old cameras; I'm more a "software" guy than a "hardware" guy, I guess) and have at times been a dedicated practitioner of the arts, working in platinum and gum dichromate. The juncture of history and photography is fascinating. The one above is a salted-paper print; the inscription on the back, carefully recording the family names, is dated 1865. And why that fascinates me is this: the actual light that made this photograph reflected directly off those people, and I'm holding that light in my hand. That thrills me right down to the bone.

I had a contract for several years with Whitman College in Walla Walla, restoring old negatives and prints.  We had a beautiful old Elwood 5 x 7 diffusion enlarger, so we were able to print directly from some very old glass plate negatives. Bringing an old colloidal wet-plate negative back to life can really change the way you view photography's history, as well as your own.

The people you see reappearing on such a print, long dead more than a century,  would have interesting things to tell us if we could only listen. It makes me wonder what sorts of things we may want to tell some future restorer, a century from now, deciphering a by-then obsolete digital file.

Hope it's worth the telling.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Life in the Abstract ~

As someone who was raised in the arts I have a special fondness for the abstract and expressionist image. Photography, oddly enough, lends itself to this surprising well. We make a photograph by focusing in on a minute speck of time and space, to the exclusion of everything around it. What could be more abstract than that? We only think we recognize the trees and clouds. So I really enjoy looking for the image that has abstract, painterly qualities in itself. Like the one above: it's the side of a steam locomotive, painted in a brilliant orange, shot just above the drive wheels. By excluding the obvious and peering in on just color, line, and composition, I ended up with something that, to me at least, holds more visual interest than a simple picture of an engine.

And then there are those happy coincidences of graffiti and billboard that can end up looking like the expressionism of a troubled painter. I love discovering these serendipitous gems and trying to do them visual justice with my camera.
I always have, at the very least, my iPhone with me, and often as not even my mirrorless little Fuji camera. There's never an excuse not to constantly scan horizons near and far for art, fine or otherwise.

That little voice in my head is telling me (among so much else) to pay attention to everything, the big and the small. You never know what you'll see, but I bet it would make for a great photo.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Road Trip ~

My weekly (some say weakly) blog activity was postponed last week on account of one of my other favorite activities, a road trip. And a big fat one at that, from Portland to Chicago in a fast car. Road trips can have two possible purposes, not always mutually exclusive: to get somewhere (which is probably just a state of mind, anyway), and to wander about looking for things to see and photograph (ditto). This had both of those elements, and to see family at the other end was nothing short of wonderful. I don't often get the opportunity to photograph my big brother, a wonderful artist and musician, and am always inspired when I do. And thus the portrait above. Salúd, Ricardo.

Photographers are restless people, as artists generally are. We travel, says Anais Nin, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls. We go the long way around just to see what there is, and for me, that's often right here in the studio. I long for the restlessness, and sometimes the itchy longing to be home again. For most of us, to travel is to be home.

Just make sure you bring a camera.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Old, And In The Way ~

This is the first digital camera I actually owned. Sure, I was repping for (and later, Pro Photo) so I had access to all the latest pro digital gear that came down the road, but I bought this very one at some point in 2002: the Olympus E-20. Enormous 5 megapixels, shot jpeg's and tiff's, although it took about 10 seconds to write the tiff files. I dug it out the other day, popped in a couple fresh batteries, and voilá! like Frankestein's monster, it came to life. Well, maybe not life as we know it. Although it took CF cards, it couldn't format anything bigger than 1Gb (and maybe not even that) and for the life of me I couldn't find any CF card in my collection smaller than 8Gb. And I was so looking forward to shooting some side-by-sides with my 7D and Fuji Xe2 to see how image quality has evolved and improved over the years. Anyone have any antique cards? Although this photo I took on the Oregon coast with that E-20 in the Fall of '04 shows it had some worthwhile chops.

Time is not a constant thing; it flows at crazy rates all throughout the universe. The film cameras we owned -- the Hasselblads, the Nikons -- were just as good and useful to us after 10, even 20 years. But the twelve years that separate that E-20 from when it was made till now seems like an eternity, and it's now functionally obsolete.

And some mornings when I wake up, I think I know the feeling.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

And Now Let's Get Rid Of Some Color ~

I just don't work in black & white very much, which is a little ironic considering that a big portion of my pre-digital career was spent perfecting those very skills. There was intense craftsmanship to it all: a wide range of films, all with very definite personalities; filter and exposure techniques to master (can't get Zone System out of mind, even now); developing and printing techniques to bring out what you saw (or thought you saw) in the camera. All heady stuff.
One thing is, I just haven't gotten around to setting my cameras to work in monochrome, so I look for color and then try to make conversions in software. Those who do work in monochrome consistently produce outstanding images; my studio mate Whitney and my brother Jim both come to mind.  So what I've been exploring recently are those images that are very monochromatic in nature, so a natural exposure doesn't reveal very much color information to start with. Then -- just like in the "old" days -- I start to see the dominance of texture and the power of design instead.

If you're one of my regular readers -- and indeed if you are, you should probably start spending your time more productively -- then you'll recall how dependent on onOne Photosuite software I am. And here's why: for the first time since I left the delicious analog world of film and paper, I have an arrangement of tools that match up to the photographic vision I've been working and re-working for nearly a half-century. Both color and black & white.

Years and years ago, I had the pleasure of working with an old photographer who taught me as much about life as about photography. He told me that every new technique you master is another hammer in your toolbox that you can use to pound little pieces of reality into shape.

I've never stopped collecting hammers.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Old & Wrinkly = Character, Rght?

My wife was fixing to throw away a bouquet of roses this morning. That, in and of itself, should not be the cause of anything particularly noteworthy. But these roses were indeed past their prime, which made them particularly noteworthy to me. You know me, I love photographing flowers, and when they start showing their age I'm delighted to haul them down to the studio and use them to avoid doing real work. These were no exception.
I think there is a sublime beauty in living things as they age gracefully, whether they be roses or people. We're all going down that same road (some of us faster than others, I assure you) and it is the re-telling of the experiences of a long life that makes such wonderful photography. The rest, as the poets say, is merely prologue.

And to be honest it was also an opportunity to put my new Fuji mirrorless through its paces. For the record, it's the Xe2, and I think it's the beginning of a beautiful friendship. My initial attraction to mirrorless was not so much to any particular model, nor to any perceived improvement in image quality (my Canon gear fit that bill nicely) but instead -- again -- to the vagaries of age, and the not-so-graceful progression of it that I seem to exhibit. 40+ years of hauling camera gear around has left my shoulder in poor and painful shape (although, since we're being honest, I like complaining.) It's going to be a joy to go out wandering with something so light, so responsive, so versatile, and so fun.

Guys my age appreciate the companionship.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Faces ~

More than most anything else in photography, I love faces. Even --no, especially -- this one, a colorful window-washer Whitney and I saw this summer plying his craft in the Village. It was portraiture that attracted me to photography in the first place, and the iPhone is a wonderful tool for getting away from the studio to get images I wouldn't otherwise see.

But I'm not able to leave it alone just there, oh no. There's something about the artistic potential of a portrait that harkens back to my early days, to my dad's art gallery, to the portrait artists past and present whose influence I only began to appreciate as I grew older. So part of my process involves a lot of layering to incorporate some of the painterly qualities I admire in fine art. Most of my iPhone portraits are initially worked right on the phone using Snapseed to crop and make a few other adjustments, and then re-opened in an app call Mextures which gives a fine patina to work upon. They are then brought into Photoshop (I'm using CS6) to add a painting under-layer using a tool called Autopainter; this provides a layer that I can then selectively blend to achieve a look that has a distinct painterly feel, but nonetheless retains an obvious photographic quality. I almost universally use my onOne plug-ins to fine-tune the image so that I can achieve a look that appeals to me.

In art, as in life, there really aren't a whole lot of absolute do's and don'ts to dictate what you see and how you work. If you have a vision, then use the tools and techniques that can help you realize it. Grow, experiment, change, adapt, listen, learn .... and stop worrying about your damn camera.

And if you're really, really, really not careful, you could end up making a selfie like this.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Upon Further Reflection ~

I think I'd make a great tourist. I'm already a pretty good traveler, but I think I'd make a great tourist. This odd reflection came upon me this past weekend when my wife and I took a few days off at the Oregon coast, and ended up doing an uncharacteristic, "touristy" activity that I would have normally looked down my nose at. There was a steam-train ride out of Garibaldi that sounded like fun. It even offered a senior discount of a whole dollar. Kid you not. Hard to pass that up, and I'm really glad I didn't, because I gave me the opportunity to see this gorgeous early-morning vista on Smith Lake. And no, it's not an iPhone shot; I had my Canon gear with me. That's really how dramatic the light looked that morning, and there's very little photoshop editing on these images other than cropping and some sharpening. Yeah, it's a tourist shot, but darn happy I took it.

I have no moral to this tale, it's just a personal observation and an admonition (to myself, mainly, but if the shoe fits...) to not be too serious, to be open to the new experience, the fun, the silly. Eat an ice cream cone. Take pictures in the rain. And for heaven's sake, take the steam-train ride.

You might get the senior discount.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Show of Hands -- Who Still Loves Medium Format?

Maybe it's the "throw-back Thursday" mentality I find myself in when I get around to working on this blog, but a conversation I had with a young photographer yesterday filled my nostalgia quota for the week. Although brimming with talent and the godforsaken enthusiasm only a twenty-something can muster (apparently at will) he had never heard of medium-format cameras.
I certainly don't blame him one bit; in this commercialized digital world, where is the room for this kind of knowledge? Our conversation fascinated him and interested me. And I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to helping educate the current generation of photographers. I shoot exclusively digital, both in the studio and outside. And that got me to thinking about medium-format digital.

When I repped in the photo business, I had access to all kinds of incredible medium-format digital cameras, particularly Leaf and the oh-so-lovely Hasselblad HD. This image of the flowers was a test shot I made using the Mamiya ZD. I think some of today's higher-end DSLRs from Nikon and Canon can compare favorably to the image quality of those older medium-format digitals, but it was a real revelation to work in full 16-bit on their proprietary software. The images were amazing in their clarity of detail and sharpness. The current Hasselblad H4D-60 is, as the name suggests, a 60 megapixel beast; not sure even my quad-core Macbook Pro would keep up with that. Not to mention my bank account.

So I'll just keep thinking back to the old Hassy 500CM's we used all those years ago. And my Mamiya RB 67. Even used a couple of Bronica's back in the day, and I hang around a photographer who still occasionally uses his Contax 645. And if your bank account is essentially bottomless, here's a picture of the limited-edition Hasselblad HD-40 Ferrari. You should be able to pick one up for around $30K.

But look who I'm talking to. Photographers. As if.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Where Can a Guy Get a Little Inspiration Around Here? ~

Actually, I think the inspiration to create a beautiful photograph strikes me most strongly when I'm supposed to be doing something else. Like work. Emails. Marketing. And lord knows with a lighting workshop coming up in a couple weeks, there's plenty I need to get done down here at the studio. And this got me to thinking (a dangerous thing, I know) about the supposed dichotomy between work and pleasure, business and inspiration. If our eyes are open, we should be inspired every waking minute.
This struck me as I kept gazing on some flowers I picked out of our garden this morning. I thought they'd be nice in a vase down here, but it was hard to keep my attention focused on my "work". Honestly my "work" is taking pictures, so the rest of the morning was spent in flower arrangement and photoshop. And I feel pretty good about that.
One of the single best pieces of advice ever given to me, many years ago, was by an artist, a painter who frequently sold his work in my dad's art gallery. Everything, he said -- everything -- is visual material for a great image, if you just keep your eyes open and look for it. Every scene is a landscape, every face a portrait, every direction you look holds valuable promise. Use your mind's eye to make the adjustments, the calculations, and the decisions to take that picture. You don't always need a camera.

I bet a take a thousand pictures a day.

Yogi Berra tells us that you can observe a lot, just by watching. Wise man, that Yogi.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Snapshot Sunday ~

You can really feel the change in the air, a palpable, tangible sight and smell that tells us the end of the brilliant sunny hot days is coming fast, to which I can only say.... it's about freakin' time. I've lived all over the West, but as a native Northwesterner, I feel much more at home up in these Oregon parts. Not a fan of 90-degree weather and blazing sun, but not so much for the discomfort of the unfamiliar, but for what seems to my eye (admittedly near-sighted) to be a limited color palette dominated by contrasty shadows. I'm eagerly awaiting the return of a diffusing overcast and fall colors.

Not to mention the baseball playoffs.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What a time it was....

It being a Thursday and all, I felt the urge to step into the way-back machine and engage in some wistful reminiscence. Bill & I often find ourselves recounting our experiences with the great cameras, the great films, and our great darkrooms. He still has his hand in it, since he teaches film and darkroom photography, but I'm afraid I've long since given up the practice. My Aristo cold-light head is languishing somewhere in storage. When our beer-fueled conversations bring up such memories as Tri-X, Edwal FG-7, Oriental Seagull, Amidol....well, I may not get misty-eyed, but I begin to miss the smell of hypo and the warm glow of a Thomas safelight.

I am, however, neither a hopeless romantic nor a sappy sentimentalist. (In other regards, I may well indeed be hopeless and sappy, but that's something entirely different). I love shooting digital in the studio, and the radically changed architecture of cameras -- I'm looking at you, iPhone -- has, for me anyway, really opened up expressive channels for engaging the world.

And I get just as big a thrill watching images as they emerge and change on my computer screen as I did when I dunked the paper in a tray of Dektol. Only my clothes don't smell anymore. I hope.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Portrait Workshop Coming Up ~

Mark this one down: Sunday September 21, from 2 pm to 8 pm

Once again hosted by our friends at Advance Camera, this will be pretty much an all-day affair, working inside the studio and outside exploring natural light. Sure, we'll get a little geeky talking about lights and meters and such (isn't that the fun part anyway?) but mostly we'll work with our beautiful model learning how to make rich, luscious portraits in a variety of styles. You'll learn techniques you never thought about before, and create images you never thought you could!

Like all of our workshops in the past, this is definitely a hands-on, bring-your-gear and let's get to work sort of event. And as such it's also limited to a fairly small group size to make sure everyone has  a chance to be involved and get the most out of it. We already have some people signed up, so make sure you contact Jordan Sleeth at Advance Camera to get the details and get registered. I'll be conducting this workshop in our studio in Beaverton, and we have beautiful nature trails and areas right outside the studio door for our trip outdoors. Contact me any time if you want to discuss more details or have questions, concerns or need directions; my contact info is on the right.

And then lets get ready to have some fun doing the very thing we're passionate about!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Snapshot Sunday

Sushi. I get hungry just thinking about it. The only other food indulgence that can get my juices flowing is a hotdog at a hockey game but, hey, that's just me. This is the lovely little restaurant that Whitney & I visited earlier this week, and -- have iPhone, will travel -- I can never resist a quiet image. Likewise I can never resist working and interpreting the heck out of it.  Some of my friends have asked me to share the process I go through to create an image like this one, which I'll happily provide in a future post. I have no secret formula.  The only great art here is the sushi.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Studio Day ~

I know that Thursdays have more or less morphed into "Throw-Back Thursdays", and as much as I love to step into the Way-Back machine and abuse my readers with frightening photos from my misspent youth, it's also the day I set aside to get some work done in the studio.  A couple of blogs, websites to manage, a ton of email to answer, and uncounted projects to put finishing touches to. But that doesn't preclude actual photography, and as so often happens, it's the unexpected moments and places that really matter. As in this really sweet portrait of my friend and studio-mate Whitney: we walked up to our favorite local sushi place for lunch (Sushi Ban-Ya, Hall Blvd, Beaverton, if you're interested and I highly recommend!) and found the perfect combination of window light, clean background, and iPhone. You can do the math.

We have a nature path just outside the door to the studio, which we take for the short walk up to the restaurant.  Whitney actually does a lot of sessions along the trail during the year, and it's especially beautiful in the fall. But today we were both captured by this particular quiet little scene.  Even though it was a bright mid-August Oregon sun, we wanted to see if we could somehow capture a quiet and serene moment with the iPhones. I used a couple simple apps, among them one called Mextures, and discovered this.

Ok, now it's back to work. I suppose you'd say the fun and games are over, but if that were actually true, I'd do something else.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Snapshot Sunday ~

Actually, everyday in one way or another is a snapshot day, right? The thing about being surrounded by creative people is to also realize that we're surrounded by beauty no matter where we turn. In this case, it was a group of sweaters and tops that my wife had washed by hand and hung up by an open window to dry. My iPhone is always handy (even if I'm not!). Usually I open up the image in Photoshop to size it, and then work on it with my onOne plug-ins, and in this case I also layered it with a painting app to give it a more interpretive look.

This is more direct look of that image; I love that we're able to manipulate and interpret the images we make in practically unlimited ways.

So today I'm going to pick some blackberries, drink a little beer, watch a baseball game, barbecue with some friends and generally be a nuisance. With my iPhone.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Re-boot Blog; V2.0

Bill Carrigan & I are pretty much surrounded by photographers, videographers, painters, poets, cranks, and a lot of really creative people. It's enough to drive you crazy.

But it's also really inspirational and challenging. Bill worked with Dave Carsten and me making our video on dental photography,  and we're now working on an online studio photography tutorial, along with other projects. So we figured it was just a natural progression to join forces on this blog, re-boot it, invite other authors, and have as much fun as possible while we explore every possible avenue and dark alley that photography (and other creative endeavors) lead us down. We'll probably get mugged once or twice along the way, but we hope you'll come along with us and share the ride.