Thursday, March 26, 2015

On Sharp Lenses and Fuzzy Brains ~

One of my all-time favorite maxims, from that wonderful compendium of T. Orland, is this: when man creates a sharper lens, nature will create a fuzzier subject.  I'm reminded of this every time I find myself in a conversation about cameras and lenses, which is pretty much all the time. Whether we deny it or not, deep inside we're all more-or-less gearheads.
I love reading Ken Rockwell's ( photography posts, one of which directly addressed the issue of lens sharpness with the somewhat alarming opening statement that "sharpness is the most over-rated aspect of lens performance." But he goes on to detail all the ways we measure, quantify, fuss over and generally over-think whatever the hell "sharpness" is. His message, and mine, has always been to properly use whatever lenses you have and not worry about coughing up a couple grand for that new lens that will supposedly make you a better photographer.

As for me, seems I mostly shoot for the web these days anyway, so I'm not as concerned about print quality as I used to be. When I do make prints they're just as rich and colorful (and sharp) as I  expect them to be.  Down here at the studio, both Whitney and I use our Canon cameras and lenses. For my aimless wandering now I rely on my trusty little mirrorless Fuji. In the old days, when I was shooting mostly medium format, I preferred lenses that were referred to as "long normals" or considered portrait lenses: the 150mm on the Hasselblad, and the 127mm on the RB 67.  Amazing lenses indeed. And expensive as hell.

And here's a recollection that just floors me: I spent a whole lot of money on Softar filters for the Hasselblad. I had both the Softar 0 and 1. Know what they were for? You guessed it, they softened the image slightly because the Zeiss lenses were too bloody sharp.  Life is funny that way.

So I think I'll live by an entirely new maxim:  Sharp lens, sharp mind.

Take your pick.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On The Interpretation of Dreams (And Large Jpegs) ~

Once again I had set out to wander on a gloriously beautiful weekend -- which, in my humble opinion, is just about every weekend here in Oregon -- and found myself up in the foothills above the lovely town of Hood River (lovely for, among many other things, one of the best brewpubs along the Columbia River). It was in those hills that I got this terrific view of Mount Hood. It was a little early yet for the apple and pear orchards to be in bloom, maybe by two or three weeks, so a return visit will be in order.
I hike along in something of a dream-like state of mind, absorbing the scenery as much as photographing it. If you recall my post from last week, you'll understand how I'm really just looking for all the secrets. My little mirrorless Fuji (which sounds too formal; does it need a more appropriate pet name?) makes all these big, mysterious RAW files for me. Through the enabling processes of Photoshop CS6, onOne Perfect Photo Suite 9, the occasional Autopainter, and a decent IPA (and I hear that recreational herbage does wonders, too; just saying) the surprises of images that speak to me start emerging on my screen. I can't produce a "straight" print any more than I can dream a "straight" dream. Not even sure what that means.

Parked in a field was an old, abandoned sheepherder's wagon which I shot from every angle and viewpoint, but the image above is the one that struck a chord. It's looking through the window at the back, into an interior dissolving and deteriorating with each passing winter. I love imagining what sights that sheepherder may have seen on those lonely days, and what dreams may have occupied them.

In Eleonara, Poe says those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who only dream by night.  So, point your camera and dream, mis amigos.

You may find a good brewpub along the way.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Zen And The Art Of Being Surprised ~

Expose for the secrets, develop for the surprises.  I've lived by this proposal, and have passed it along as (hopefully) sage advice all my life as a photographer. It's not original with me -- I certainly can lay no claim to that level of wit and wisdom -- as I've heard it variously attributed to Ansel Adams, or to one of his assistants, Ted Orland. And even they may have picked it up in a bar somewhere for all I know.
In Adam's case, it would have been a way to describe how he used his zone-system of calculating exposure to accurately pre-visualize a scene; in a nutshell: expose for the shadow value and process for the highlights. Great advice with Tri-X film. Not so great with a digital sensor.

And yet I think it's the greatest piece of advice to enhance creativity I've ever heard. Learn your camera, understand your processing, figure out technique in such a manner as to completely forget about all that when you're out there chasing the light. If you get hung up on how you're shooting, you'll have a hard time understanding what you're shooting, or even why. Point the camera and let it flow, and then take delight in discovering the impact of those images when you open them up and give them meaning.

The image directly above is the secret I shot a couple weeks back on my walkabout with Bill. Wasn't much to look at, but I could tell there were some wonderful textures and colors hiding in there. What I discovered was the image at the top of this post, and it was pure joy to peel back the layers and reveal the image I felt was there, somewhere.

We're surrounded by secrets, and that's a wonderful thing, because it means we're surrounded by surprises. Deep breaths, clear your mind.

And go find them.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Photos From The Front ~

There are pictures, and then there are Pictures; and while they may be worth a thousand words, some of them speak with a force and immediacy that cannot easily be ignored.  These photographs, taken by a twenty-something kid on the rolling deck of an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea in 1971, are just such images.

That kid, of course, is my brother Jim, and the camera he used was the Nikon Photomic F that I profiled a couple months ago in a post here. He recently rediscovered the treasure trove of his Ektachrome slides and black & white negatives and prints and set upon the task of scanning and restoring them. It's the project of a lifetime, and eminently worthwhile, that allows us to catch a first-hand glimpse into a life shared by few, and a history fading from view.

I love these photographs. They're just straight prints, minimally processed, no photoshop other than to size them for the web. The eye is unschooled but the vision is clear and straightforward, leading from this point onward to a man who would become an artist, a humanist, a healer. And a damn good photographer.

We're captivated by photographs from the war front, from the Civil War, the World Wars, Vietnam (such as these) all the way to Iraq and Afghanistan. Ones taken by the famous war photographers are forever seared into our consciousness, but just as powerful are the ones taken by the young soldiers and sailors just trying to make it through the day.

Just like that kid on the rolling deck of an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea in 1971.