My grandmother asked for a picture of my son, and that’s how it began.
She loves him so much, it’s endearing. It would seem that with every passing generation, she loves the next one more. Since he is the first of the third one down that she can see growing up, she is absolutely smitten with him.
I chose 3 photographs and printed them out, forgetting to render them in AdobeRGB so the colors looked terribly faded and I chose too large a size to be of any practical use. But she had them at least, one in a picture frame and the others curling up on her living room cupboard.
As happens easily with photos of children, they are now outdated. He couldn’t even walk back then, and his face has changed. I figured she would need new photos soon, if she still wanted to feel that closeness that pictures can bring her. I was already dreading the whole process of getting that digital image on paper and delivered at her house in a timeframe small enough to not make me feel like a failure of a grandson.
Just how easy would it be to have one of those digital photo frames for her, I thought. But then I’d have to remember to carry a memory stick with updated pictures, and we all know how easily those get lost. The probability of her being stuck with the same old photos for months was still high. So how about one that updated over the internet? They’ve been making these horrible things for ages now, and although their popularity has all but faded, surely some clever little employee somewhere must have come up with the idea of putting a wifi adaptor inside one of them?
Charleroi, at night. Wide lens, single light source held by model in the middle. Can’t lose.
I’ve always had a history with graphical arts but I only decided to pick up photography as an excuse to leave the house. I was down and out and figured out that the only way to crawl out of this rut was to go out and experience the city again. but sitting by yourself wasn’t enough, I needed something to do. And what better way to enjoy a place than to hunt for new angles, new perspectives and capture them?
Almost 10 year later now, I have collected gear that I barely knew existed back then, and regardless of objective skill, I feel like I have improved tenfold. I have come to the point where I can start charging for my work, which happens once in a little while.
When I take a photo of a red fire truck, process and share that photo, generally I want people to look at their screen and see the same truck that I pointed my lens at. Sometimes I go overboard with the post-processing but usually I take the challenge onto myself to show, if not the exact picture, at least the perceived picture of what took place that day.
This chain has a lot of weak links. Not only am I only human, but everything else is only what it is. Light is captured by the sensor, calculated by the internal processor, saved on a less-than-perfect medium in a less-than-perfect format. I downgrade that file further to make it smaller and easy to share, after I’ve changed a number of things about it. If I put it up on Facebook, the colors are simplified even more and the resolution butchered.
But none of that frustrates me more than the conversion to the sRGB color scheme.
“I need your help,” she texted me, and mentally I leaped forward, tore off my shirt, and flew into the sunset with unstoppable zeal. Physically, I texted back, “k.” and continued sleeping. (more…)
Photography is an adventure. Nothing short of it. I hate to sound like one of those hipsters going on about their gear, artsy filters and all that nonsense, but seriously: Photography is the shit. Just wanted to say that. Again.
Some people say we should live more about experiencing things rather than capturing them: Look up from your twitter account, or remove the camera from before your eyes. Open up and enjoy. And pretty much everyone who hears this load of shit noddles retardedly (both not words according to my spell check) and agrees without question. That’s okay. Not everyone can be expected to form an opinion for themselves.
They should have called it Burnin.
Haha. How funny am I.
Berlin was many things throughout history, and only became capital of Germany during the Nazi regime. The idea was to make it a bastion of civilization, per example of Rome in early history. It turned out slightly different and if anything, Berlin shows a past of extreme controversy.
A friend of mine described the place as marginal and I can see why: Half the people you meet on the street openly carry alcohol, there’s graffiti literally everywhere, and no one at all seems to have a job around here.
This marginality however, is at the same time the strength of the city. It is not a sign of a failing society, but instead a glimpse of an alternative one. This might be Berlin’s most attractive quality: Its history as a place of extreme conflict has attracted artists, squatters and freedom fighters from all around the world, who have had the chance to play a part in its reconstruction, and have established an underground society amongst themselves.
It’s been two years since I decided to pick up photography again and bought me a digital DSLR plus cheapo (but nonetheless good) 50mm lens. Both are now unrecognizable: I added a splash of color to the grip that has now faded, the rubber is torn, plastic damaged, and details have been repaired with super glue. The zoom lens that I later got, had its share of abuse as well; I had to open it up once to take out a broken screw and ever since, it tends to jam in certain circumstances.
Photographing for someone else is a pain in the ass. If you’re lucky, there’s people at the site that you know and you won’t be ignored to the point of spontaneous identity crisis, but even then a photographer’s job is a lonely one.
Many people, me included up until recently, will think an assigned job is pretty much the same as everyday street photography. And they would be dead wrong, too. (more…)
A reason, if not the reason, I picked up photography again, was to use it as a valid excuse to come places I am not expected or welcome. Backstage, on rooftops, breaking into deserted buildings: If you’re a photographer, at least you’re obviously not a thief or vandal. “Because I can” just doesn’t cut it as a credible reason. Go figure.
So it was only before a matter of time before the ghost town of Doel was paid a visit. I’ve been playing with this idea for years and the suggestion came up among a couple friends to go shoot together. I saw the perfect opportunity and that same week, the four of us sat crammed together in a Mitsubishi like these in an A cup on our way to the border. Because where else would you find abominations like Doel, but in the furthest corners of this tiny place?
– Doel in the past
Trivia: Doel used to be your everyday little hick town, with only two things special about it. A nuclear power plant was built in its backyard in the seventies, and together with that plant, it is cut off from the world by the Schelde on one side, and Antwerp’s industrial zone on the other. Long before its residents even thought of moving out, this place was forgotten by God and left to go mad.
When you see Doel today, it is hard not to imagine that at some point, everyone did indeed go mad. It’s strange because they wouldn’t have any particular reason (beyond the obvious): In the early sixties, the first plans arose to wipe Doel from the maps and use the space for industrial growth. They were quickly trashed again, but resurfaced in 1995. A series of protests, juridical screw-ups and poor communication lead to uncertainty around the fate of the village. Its residents were divided between those who wanted Doel to stay, and those who wanted a clear policy on how the village was to be abandoned.
The government eventually found loopholes to continue the build of the new container dock, and started a program in 1999 to buy the entire town, and put it up for rent so the locals (or outsiders) could stay and maintain a worthwhile living standard, while it became possible for the contracts to be ended and the town left empty.
Things didn’t go so well, in reality. The atmosphere had soured and those who took the money, were labeled traitors. Squatters took the place of those who left and the town turned lawless until in 2006, a zero tolerance was enforced. The squatters too, were driven out and left the empty husk of a short, but turbulent past behind.
So this is what remains: From the first moment of turning into this desolate place, it becomes apparent that there are three major chapters that formed it. The long process that turned it into a village, the few years it took for it all to go to hell, and the ongoing period where the only souls there are photographers and graffiti artists. The protests that escalated into hatred and the promises never kept, leave their echo as though an apocalypse took place.
My first worry was that there would be nothing left but ruins. Especially the area around the church was pecked dry. Windows smashed, furniture in pieces. But if you took the risk of going upstairs, you would sometimes find things left behind by the original residents. Amazing, if you think about it, that after all these years, evidence of a peaceful town can still be found.
At times, it was truly heartbreaking. Old books, children’s toys, letters, bank account logs. Things that, in normal circumstances, wouldn’t have been left behind. I can understand if you’re angry, but leaving your bedroom behind untouched? Some things were too strange to fit into the big picture.
And then there was the power plant, completing the picture of something along the lines of a nuclear holocaust. One might wonder if he shouldn’t be wearing a gas mask, with all the warning signs, both official and artistic. There was always this atmosphere of invisible danger, that made me walk very carefully where ever I went.
Not that I needed actual danger to do so- I could never shake the feeling that I was still breaking into someone’s home. That these broken valuables still belong to someone who might come back any moment to find his former life utterly destroyed.
I’m being dramatic, I know. It’s the effect this town has on people. And here’s what I couldn’t believe- People still live there. Original residents that stuck, through it all. There’s a hardware store and a bar still open, and the church bell rings every half hour. Looking around, it’s just inconceivable how people can survive there, in that godforsaken hellhole in the midst of Belgium’s worst landscape. The nearest shop seems two days away and there’s just nothing left to live for. And, in all honesty, it was a shitty place to begin with.
The four of us all carried identical camera bodies (Canon 500D, although mine is labeled ‘Rebel T1i’) so if we one day manage to put our pictures together, it will be easier to compare shooting styles and lens characteristics. Personally, I must say I seriously took the effort to make my shorts technically sound, using a few new methods:
-Av mode, which controls the aperture.
-Exposure compensation for shadows or highlights, so that I could recover their detail in post-processing.
-Using the camera’s histogram to review my shots, so I could determine if no details were lost outside the camera’s dynamic range.
-Adjusting the tonecurve to bring contrast in the areas that needed it the most.
If this is all incomprehensible to you, don’t fret: Up until recently it was for me, too. These are advanced techniques and I’m still not anywhere near mastering them. I am still too concentrated on my subject rather than my camera, forgetting to adjust ISO values or using entirely the wrong aperture. Regardless, I took the few tips of my friend’s photography teacher to heart and it seems that, even in that single evening, I learned heaps. Using the histogram in particular helped me solve problems I had been struggling with from the start.
It seems I needed this to restore my self confidence as a photographer. Lately I’ve been occupied with other things and if I made any progress at all the last few months, it didn’t show. The respect for photography itself rather than using it as a means to accomplish a good picture, was something I needed to be told. It put me in my place and I think it helped me open up to new techniques. All this from 30 minutes with a photography teacher.
It was safe to say we weren’t the only ones there. In the afternoon, the crowd that showed up reminded me of my festival jobs last summer. Cameras far more expensive than ours, tripods,… the works. Usually my response is to climb or trespass where others won’t go, but that wasn’t really an option this time around. I’m happy that instead, I would later be able to show my pictures and explain why I used the settings that I did. I may have been far from the best photographer there, but at least I can pass for one.
It is commonly known among amateur photographers that the average learning curve is drastically different from the perceived one. Long before you make any significant progress, you deem yourself a pro. And even while I was fully aware of this, I fell for it like any other idiot, possibly even more than the next guy.
The realization came when my friend’s photography teacher took a quick look over my work and, in just a few words, explained perfectly how worthless he thought it was. It was a painful blow and while I won’t let it stop me, did put my feet back on the ground.
Of course I wasn’t the only one there asking feedback, and while my presence was tolerated, paid close attention to the tips given. Their shots were pulled up on a screen the size of a door, criticized, and improved. One thing I noticed about all of them is that they were taken in situations I wouldn’t even have considered taking out my camera because everyone with or without talent, already would have. When creating something, I insist on originality and go out of my way to find angles no one else will.
The photographs I saw fall under a category I call “Facebook Photography”. You know the kind: where some indie chick with an iPhone and Polaroid app takes a picture of a park bench, and puts it up on Facebook where all her friends find it “oh so artsy”. Basically, photography for photography’s sake. Taking pictures of nothing, just to take pictures.
It’s a style I personally don’t like, but I now learned that this makes the difference between a pro and an amateur. It’s like an athlete doesn’t just run to get from point A to point B, he runs just to run. Learning photography, in the same way, is about finding any mundane subject and getting it framed right, using the histogram to get the exposure perfect, and knowing your aperture effects. What I’ve been doing is spend too much time on my subject and my self, putting technique on second place. Once I make that switch and learn to get the details right, I will not only learn the rules before I break them, but also get them right when the crucial moment happens.
The quality of a photo is very subjective, but there is much less discussion about technical rules and guidelines. And I don’t know them well enough, shame on me. I might find my photos the greatest thing since flushing toilets, but that doesn’t make them good. Subject and technique are two sides of the same coin, and a good photographer has a firm grasp on both.
Light stenciling. With my fascination for both stencil art and street photography, one would wonder why on earth I haven’t thought of it before. It was a colleague who pointed me to a tutorial of someone who has done it long before me, but while the examples were fascinating, they perpetually remained inside the artist’s bedroom.
To make a long story short: Basically you make a black box with a stencil cut out on one side, and let a flash go off inside. The only thing that gets printed on the picture you take, is the stencil, brought out by the light behind it. The rest of the box keeps the flash from lighting up the surroundings.
Do this with a long exposure, with which you can walk in and out of the frame without making a noticeable difference on the shot, and you’ve got your stencil, in light, hanging in mid-air. It’s a surprisingly easy process and when you get it right, you can make amazing pictures in mere seconds.
Now let’s try and think further on this: This technique makes it possible to make any shape or figure, and put it anywhere in the world, with the only condition that you can get there to make the flash go off, and that the surroundings are dark enough.
Anything, anywhere. The artist’s wet dream. Text, inside jokes, labels, anything. As soon as the sun goes under, the world is your canvas.
So far I’ve been experimenting with small stencils and reflections, and the results are promising. It’s funny though, how hard it is to think outside the metaphorical box when there is none. With the endless possibilities, it’s getting hard to come up with actual implementations. You can imagine these little experiments are only the tip of the iceberg- I haven’t even begun using color filters, yet.
There’s a funny thing I noticed when holding a camera. It’s something I had trouble with when learning to shoot in the army, as well:
I am right handed and right footed, but primarily use my left eye.
It’s called a “master eye” (in Dutch anyway) and you can check it like this: Hold your hands out in front of you with a hole between them, and focus your eyes on something through that hole. Now close one eye. If she subject shifts out of sight, the eye you had been closing is your primary eye, and the other is mostly used for estimation of distance and as a back-up.
I had never noticed before that when I hold up a BB gun of the 9mm-type, I actually use my left eye to aim. Imagine my confusion when handed a rifle and literally not being able to look down the sights, holding it against my right shoulder but closing my right eye when aiming.
This results in an unusual style when shooting pictures, as well. While most people look through the viewfinder with their right eye, I use my left and as a result, have a harder time checking my surroundings without moving the camera away, not something you want to do when shooting the action.
It’s most obvious when I’m working in portrait frame. Everyone turns their camera to the left and sort of leaves it hanging between their fingers, carrying most of the weight with their left hand on the lens. I turn to the right and let it rest in my palm.
Not a big deal you might say, if it weren’t for the fact that so-called battery grips are designed for tilting your camera to the left. Since I don’t know of any cameras with left-handed design, this means that those grips are useless to me, other than the fact that they carry extra batteries. Kind of makes me wonder if this will pose any more problems using tripods, flashes and so on.
When using a rifle, I just had to forcibly learn to use my right eye. But it’s not as good as my left, so I rather not change that habit unless really necessary…
An acquaintance who owns a saltwater aquarium once mentioned something that goes around amongst enthusiasts: Gallon fever. It’s the urge to always go a step further and buy a larger aquarium as soon as it becomes available. He described it as the feeling that your aquarium becomes visibly smaller as soon as you notice a bigger one.
Photography equipment: the exact same thing. Canon recently released the 60D, which distances itself a little more from the semi-pro and plants itself smack in the “advanced users” category. It’s sleek, it’s handy, and I fucking want one.
Pretty much everything about this camera is better than mine, and some features are ones that I really missed, like an articulating LCD screen and user-adjustable kelvin values for accurate white balance. It’s buffer size is immense (58 jpegs/16 RAWs at 5.3 frames per second wtf) and it looks like it’s aerodynamic enough to fly. It’s sex in an aluminium and polycarbonate resin with glass fibre body.
I got my camera back in february, which means it’s getting close to one year now. And it looks exactly how I wanted it to look when I got it: There’s war paint on it, the textile strap is showing signs of wear and the viewfinder rubber is torn and glued back on. It looks used, and like it has proved its worth in everything I put it through.
While a year is not much even in terms of electronics, this particular model (500D) is now 2 generations behind on the 60D. This is the point where professional photographers buy a new body to stay ahead of the game. Yes, I am not a pro photographer, but this isn’t a pro model, either.
I can’t justify this new body at the moment, but damnit, it’s painful to let it just sit there in the shop while at the moment, I could technically afford one. But, I have investments to make in a tripod and flash first, not to mention the audio equipment I am currently working with and the trip up north we’ll be making in a few months.
Sponsorship is, at the moment, more than welcome. Did I mention it’s my birthday tomorrow?
I’ve been joining a friend who takes photography class, hoping to get some feedback on my photos. People there seem quite welcoming even though I haven’t paid a cent for what seems to be a pretty legit class. I haven’t had the chance to discuss possible improvements yet, but I don’t want to skip in line.
The flipside of the coin? I have to be a model. I’d put up examples here but they’re not mine, and although I have them, I’m not going to distribute someone else’s work before they even had a chance to edit it or even give me permission to do so. So far I’ve been using them to experiment post-processing portraits on, flattering myself with dramatic lighting and smooth skin. Dark eyes make me look manly.
It’s strange how you get to know people in a very different way when editing their photos. I don’t like editing portraits with the model sitting next to me, because it often leads to awkward silences when I zoom in to darken certain bodyparts. I sometimes deliberately bring out imperfections on the skin (I actually love doing that with shots of myself), which always provokes reactions from the model.
I too disagree on what the photographer thinks are the best shots, because I think I look like a cocksucker on them. But if that’s the look she was going for, I just get to “stand there and look pretty” and otherwise shut my hole- my opinion is irrelevant. For an aspiring photographer like myself, I must say it’s a unique experience, and part of the learning process to experience the whole process from the other side of the lens.
PS I look dashing when underexposed. hint
(Hold your cursor over pictures for more info, clicking on them will show the large size)
It’s entertaining sometimes, how naïve people can be when it comes to photography. I think, of all arts, that photography, or at least the (semi-) professional kind, must be one of the most misunderstood.
The masses seem to still tie photography with journalism, which in turn is falsely believed to strive towards unbiased, non-fictional mapping of facts. Without going into the latter too much, I can assure you that in both cases, they are way off.
In one of the theater productions I worked for, I also played photographer. I had just gotten my camera back then, and was learning by leaps and bounds. But of course, professional pictures were needed, so a professional photographer was hired for the job. Several actors ended up telling me they liked my shots better and while I disagreed, I certainly was flattered- Until I asked why that was, and I was told, “Yours are more honest, while his are edited.”
All shots taken, are edited. Analog, digital, professional, amateur: The very act of taking a picture is not a display, but an edit of reality.
It starts with the framing of the shot: A picture stands or falls with its composition. Cut a face in half, and you might as well toss it. A photographer chooses to catch what is interesting, in an interesting way, and everything else is excluded. A supposedly “unedited” analog shot is a distorted, one-minded take on reality.
And don’t think analog is holy. It starts with the choice of negative (you don’t think the world is actually black and white, do you?), and goes on when developing; using filters to alter contrast, burn or dodge certain areas to make them lighter or darker… Compositions of different shots can be made with surprising ease, involving nothing remotely like Photoshop but creating situations that never existed.
Digital photography goes way beyond that, even. Don’t think you don’t edit shots taken with that retarded cell phone camera, either. You don’t really want to know what that plastic little lens really “sees”, you wouldn’t accept it. Heavy sets of software are thrown on the information given through by the sensor, to alter contrast, color saturation, brightness, and reduce butt-ugly “sensor noise”. Digital photography has the editing of shots at its base of existence.
The key factor behind this philosophy is the fact that digital sensors, after all these years, can’t even come close to the quality of analog negatives. Anything at all that could make these pictures compete, would have to be written as software. The main difference between your point-and-shoot camera and my bulky DSLR and complicated software, is that I insist on fixing these things manually, rather than let my camera do all the work.
So a huge part of all this editing is the attempt to compensate for the digital sensor’s shortcomings. But how do you get it back the way it was, in reality? The answer is, you don’t. Only when you have photography as a hobby, do you know just how much our mind alters the things we see. The difference between natural and artificial light, for example, is immense. What you call “white light” is in fact, plain and simply orange, or blue. Even the difference between noon and evening light asks for completely different settings. If you were to reset the settings on your shots, you’d end up with orange or blue rubbish- not even the kind an amateur could live with.
So what is your reference, what do you refer to when changing a picture? Not what your eyes saw, but what your mind remembers seeing. This of course adds another, huge factor: Subjective emotion. If you remember what you saw as fucking epic, you’ll want to change the photo so that it screams “fucking epic”. This often asks for not a reconstruction of the facts, but a subjectively distorted travesty of them.
The so-called “honesty” in photography doesn’t lie in the photographs themselves, but in the photographer. What he needs to be honest about is where the limit is, and what he wants his photograph to portray. Does it need to tell facts? Does it have to show the photographer’s view on them? Is it simply for entertainment purposes? Does it need to sell itself/something else?
The viewer too, should be aware of this choice and adjust his take on the shot accordingly.
We’re all very sorry, but if the purpose of a photograph is to please and sell to the masses, there are no ethical restrictions holding anyone back to push the editing of say, a fashion portrait, into the absurd. As long as we’re clear on that, there is nothing “dishonest” about any shots. Even when sticking to reality as much as possible, the very process of capturing the image is an edit, in itself. Technically speaking, the greatest of all.
“Photography” means “drawing with light”. It is a creative process and those do not exist without the influence of the artist and his tools. So get it straight, once and for all:
All photographs that you see, be it in the newspaper, on billboards, on facebook, or on the screen of your point-and-shoot cammy, are edited- It is just a matter of how much. And when you try to guess just how much, there’s a good chance you’re not even scratching the surface.
I kicked off with my Gargoyle idea. I would call it a project but a project produces results. So for now I’m sticking with “concept” or “idea”, which leads to experimentation. If it works in my head, it works well enough.
I’ve been through the theory, so let’s consider practice. I’ll have to find models with a freakish lack of acrophobia (fear of heights, you peasant) and willingness to do my bidding. Not an easy combination. So far I have two people, one of which I’ve actually done some test shots with. More on that later.
It’s easy finding people willing to be photographed. What’s a lot more difficult, is to find the right people. They’ll have to work with me, and I can be a little awkward to work with. And since a photograph sadly doesn’t portray your beautiful personality, I need them to have the right appearance, too. It doesn’t mean they have to be good looking per se; what I’m looking for is an obvious elegance, fearlessness and some… spark, or such. A thoughtfulness. Gargoyles are by definition ugly, and with that comes a certain wisdom that transcends beauty. Perhaps I should just start looking for ugly models.
The city of Gent nears bittersweet perfection for a theme such as this. Its whole center is medieval, and has several towers breaking the horizon. The sad part is that such a city must be maintained, and cranes are fucking everywhere. It’s going to be really hard to close these out. Tourists get in the way, and people jump from towers making it politically rather difficult for us to go stand on the edge.
I might have to tune my Photoshop skills for this. I’ll be going to school now anyway, so why not.
Then, there’s the issue of safety. If there’s one thing bothering me, it’s that I’m basically asking these people to risk their lives for my hobby. I might pressure them to do things I will do, but they could be afraid to. Standing on ledges, balancing on things, all without the slightest safety. Not only can it get us both in trouble, but also the danger is actually there. A gust of wind or crumbling hold can have dire consequences that I don’t want on my conscience (not regarding the loss of their life).
Is it really worth it? This won’t make anyone any money and has no constructive value. Any danger whatsoever, is basically uncalled for and a good reason not to continue.
I took an acquaintance to the “duke’s castle” the other day to do some test shots, in order to explore the skyline, orientation and possibilities with different perspectives. Results are… adequate, because this is a first attempt. There are plenty of issues I am far from satisfied with, many of which I have myself to blame for. Lack of skill, for starters, but here’s a rundown:
– I need to watch the background more. The picture to the right here is spoiled because of the crane’s arse sticking out.
– I still don’t know my lens well enough. I actually thought the EXIF data (that stores your camera settings when the picture was taken) was off with one picture, because I didn’t realize my aperture can go smaller as I zoom in. Changes in contrast are drastic depending on settings such as these.
– I blame the nervousness of working with a model (first time, mind) for my lack of experimentation with perspective. I didn’t want to keep her in one place for too long so I rushed it, and it shows. Lots of things I could have done better.
– There’s things missing, that much is obvious. But that’s okay, this is nowhere near finished.
There are two things I want from this:
Satisfying creative output, meaning that I want it to look like I’ve been brooding it in my mind for about a year now;
And personal growth. I want to learn, as much as possible, as fast as possible. I think this is a good way to push my limits and see what I can produce. Some feedback from the nice folks on dpreview.com would help but they don’t seem too impressed by my style or subjects- I’m lucky to get one cryptic hint from a newcomer. That I already knew about.
Next step is more personal pictures, with poses and facial expressions. I may want to try that with someone I know a little better, but I have to say this one is rather addictive to work with.
The eventual plan is to have something ready around this time, next year. My dream is to have the freedom I need during the Ghent Festival, with huge crowds in the streets and holy shit, fireworks in the background. I think I might have to file in a formal request if I want that to happen. And I might.
I never gave much of a damn about things like copyright involving any of my work. I will steal others’ work as easily as I will hand out my own. My idea so far was that if we manage to turn it into one big artistic orgy, we’ll all walk away richer from it.
That’s because in the past, my inspiration never had any consequence whatsoever. I did it for myself and didn’t do much more than fuck around with it. Now that I am nearing the border of professional work with my latest photography projects, I’ve been forced to reconsider. So far I still do it for myself and whoever wants to have their picture taken, but I’ve been trespassing (one of the many reasons I picked up the name “Trespass Photography”) on territory that isn’t happy to have me there.
My father was so kind to send my co-ordinates to the organization of Polé Polé Festival, a local world music happening with several branches in the country. I’ll thank him for that when I have the chance, but I’m afraid I will also have to tell him to curb his enthusiasm just a little.
It’s not easy to get by as a professional photographer. The real reason, despite what anyone might tell you, is because photography is so damn easy. It’s hard to get it just right, but a walk in the park to learn the basics. As a result, any redneck with his hand in his pants and a reflex camera in the other can take “adequate” pictures. It’s a rare occasion when a real professional is needed, and Polé Polé is a good example. Now, if I were to walk in and provide “above average” (where I like to think I am positioned) pictures for little to no charge, I am effectively breaking the balls of all those other photographers who need the money to get by. By going under their price, I will in the long term, force them to ask less, with all due consequences. That in itself doesn’t need to be a thing I should be concerned with (ethical objections aside), but these people might be my colleagues one day, god willing. Slowly, it’s getting that time where I need to be careful about stealing other people’s property, time or money.
Another little issue I hadn’t been very worried about is the content of my pictures. The formula thus far was simple as pie: If I don’t want them known to the world, I don’t put them on fucking Facebook or whatever. Ta daa. You privacy freaks might want to consider that one.
I’ll photograph whatever the damn I like. Buildings, people, doesn’t matter; nobody gives a shit.
That all changes however, when you are permitted to photograph sensitive subjects in a trusted environment. Not just other people’s work that will spoil a bigger thing if blindly published, but also things concerning privacy.
I might be allowed to photograph people in the nude, in professional context. Actors. And I’m getting a little sensitive about it, possibly even more than they might ever be. Because hey, you don’t see me taking my clothes off, little wuss that I am.
It’s a big thing in itself to know that I will own these pictures, to begin with. I doubt I’d be allowed if they suspect I’m doing this for anything else than photography itself. From what I can remember, they don’t really get the point of it to begin with. Then, there’s the question of what I might do with them. There is a vast difference between having oneself tastefully displayed in the name of art to five hundred people, and having your lily white ass on display for five million perverts on the web.
I am aware of all this, and there are endless ways in between. I am even willing to let them have my memory card at the end of the day and have them select the pictures I can have.
Model exposing themselves, literally in this case but not necessarily always so, adds a whole new dimension to photography because suddenly, taste becomes a factor. What is artistically called for, and what isn’t? Although it’s not the first time that I cross this line, it is definitely the first time that I do so publicly. For the sake of the models, my credibility and self-respect, I’m going to do this slowly and right.
This text will automatically appear on several websites, but best thing to do is to view the original format, which you will find right here:
We made it. More than two months of work and preparation have lead to these few days, in which our efforts are criticized and judged by the dumb masses.
“Onderweg” is what we deliver, or “Underway” as some might call it. It is the result of the creative outbursts of a one-of-a-kind director and the unique (to say the least) chemistry between around fifteen actors, simultaneously on stage for the whole performance.
The piece is built in several layers. The actors start out as themselves (although obviously acting), and explain the structure of the play. It’s the story of a group of refugees, squatters of an abandoned railroad station. Inside this story, like a dream within a dream, another story is told, played by the same people in different roles. They switch back and forth, playing narrators, concepts, objects and goddesses, and play themselves, from an actor’s perspective. Still with us?
The creative process was at least equally layered and infinitely more complicated. As part of the set crew and responsible for the sound effects, I was included from the start and got to watch from the sidelines as progress was made on many levels. And because I had my camera with me at all times, for the first time, I get to share this experience.
Photographs alone are snapshots, literally and figuratively. They never tell the whole story, so I’ll try and do that for them.
As mentioned, the story of our group takes place on different levels, poetically appropriate considering the parts we play in the eventual result. Let’s start with the obvious, at the beginning.
By the time I joined the company, the actors were well on their way of learning their lines. The script was written by the director, based on improvisation sessions of the main actors. Dancers came and went, people trying out to see if it was something they wanted to join in on. I lost count on the faces we saw in passing, and only a select few who were there at the beginning ended up staying. Their friends were called upon and quickly enough we had a big enough group- give or take a few.
Soon, we moved to a much bigger place to practice at, and from there on, it was pretty much “business as usual.” The choreographer and director make a good team, and it was interesting to watch as things took shape. As usual, I had many doubts about their working method and focus on things I found trivial, but kept my hole shut; They’re the pro’s, not me. Scripts onstage disappeared one by one as the actors learned their lines by heart, while the crew had theirs close by for the numerous times we had a cue to fill in. It got repetitive at this point for me, but I didn’t mind much. I was enjoying being a part of it and I had plenty to keep busy with.
As progress was made, small problems became evident and grew in size. Chemistry between actors is as important as anything and just didn’t want to work out. While closing in on the “general week,” the last week before live performance, things heated to a breaking point.
Additionally, several actors soon went missing in action: on holiday. It was something we all knew well in advance but still came at a very inopportune time. It was up to the director to come up with a solution, which he did: Ignore the problem and continue as planned, albeit with a little more care about everyone’s feelings. Again, not what I would have done, but I trusted his judgment and simply crossed my fingers. It’s a decision that could still be argued about today, but since nobody has any experience with directing but the man himself, we’re hardly in a position telling him what to do. If there was any point in the production where I lost sleep, this would be it.
Either I missed a revolutionary change during one of the very few days I was absent, or the cast put some real effort into their acting during this hiatus. Either way, when I returned, their performance had changed considerably. It still wasn’t quite perfect (like it ever is), but as another crew member said after a full rehearsal: “I’ve seen this play dozens of times by now, and today, for the first time, I was actually moved.” And I had to agree. We had a great thing brewing.
We had moved to the actual room where the performance would take place by then, and it was time for us set builders, to get down to business.
The original plan when all of us first sat down together was a remarkably vague one. The only thing that kept being mentioned was “white”. White walls, white floor, white props. Also, there were to be some kind of compressed packs of garbage of some kind. Several ideas were brought up, from using synthetic foam to jam trash in, to wooden cubes wrapped up in prints. But really, we didn’t really have a clue what it had to look like, let alone how to do it.
Another problem was that we were on our own. A fashion designer and a stage builder were suddenly held responsible for the construction of a whole set, something neither of us had ever done. Since I had been involved with the theater group in the past, I naturally assumed that I carried the end responsibility, and would have to arrange the meetings and take all the big decisions. In short, I wasn’t looking forward to it.
Luckily, I was proven wrong. I had gravely underestimated the potential of my colleague, and the expertise of a carpenter who would ”help where he could” before leaving for Spain for I don’t know how long- could be decades. He was so kind to provide us with wooden panels that we could paint and put up, rather than paint the black walls of the theater and screw ourselves with days work after the shows were over to get it all black again.
Initiative is not my forte, and I don’t underestimate the ways in which my colleague helped me in that respect. Luckily, her creativity and assertiveness easily exceeds mine, and to put it bluntly, she took charge far more effectively than I would have. I was glad to just nod when she suggested the next time to meet and work, and simply agreed to the ideas she came up with. I may be more clever with a hammer, but as a designer she’s the one with the brains, as much as I hate to admit it.
We reconsidered those “elements” repeatedly, and eventually it became clear that the intention was to portray the squatters’ packrat tendencies. Furniture, still usable, was to be “compressed” together to a as small a size as possible, for later use. This was a huge relief for me, as it meant less than half the amount of work as originally thought. We came up with a few ideas, painted them white, and voila. The set was ready.
Transportation proved to be a hassle, not that I would know because I wasn’t even there. Conveniently, I had to work for real, and only came back to find everything on-site. After a complication or two with organization, we got our act together and went to work. The panels were up in a day, and later moved slightly apart according to the director’s “If you can’t hide it, Show it” philosophy. The surface was written with the actors’ lines from the play in black marker, to create a sort of diary effect with the leafs spread out along the walls.
The white floor proved another challenge. We had to enlist a few actors to assist getting a huge roll of linoleum floor covering up a flight of stairs, which we then unrolled and flipped upside down, with the white side up. And thus, a white room was created, and as soon as the actors walked in, it became the “white room with dirty footprints”. Between figuring things out, painting, assembling, and making it work, we worked for a good month, pretty much every few hours we had to spare.
Photography and observations
There is no such thing as skill.
Skill is merely a snapshot of progress.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. So in that respect, every photograph is a snapshot, literally and figuratively, of the photographer’s skill at that time; and of course the equipment, light conditions, and even previous shots that linger in your camera’s settings.
When I first started out, I had my camera for just over a week. I had just joined a forum to get as much dead honest feedback and technical tips as I could, and was still testing settings and exposure modes. Upon coming home every night, I would scan through my pictures to see what I did wrong. The best ones, I kept and put online for the others to find, but I wasn’t looking for praise. I was merely practicing.
We started out in a smallish, dimly lit room with black walls. A nightmare to get sharp images. The low light meant that I had to crank up my ISO setting and use wide open aperture, with so much noise and haziness as a result that I could hardly even tell if they were in focus or not- another thing my camera was struggling with. It wasn’t until we moved to a much bigger room with better light, that I could really see my pictures for what they were. I noted where improvement was possible and practiced at post-processing.
I could tell my voyeuristic tendencies weren’t welcome, at first. I got plenty of glares, however discreet, and I could sometimes see the actors struggle to concentrate when looking into a lens or hearing the shutter nearby. It took some practice for me too, to get over the awkwardness, but that too is something I needed to learn. You get used to it quickly and if they are still bothered by it, they have surpassed the point where they need to show it. Problem solved.
Most of them didn’t seem to understand why, either. That is mostly due to the fact that they don’t share the same passion and wouldn’t get why want to, for example, get my angle right. For them, there is nothing to see simply because they don’t look at a scene the same way I do. They don’t get why they are “worth” taking pictures of, not realizing the composition they are in. And of course, they only see their flaws- but let’s not get into that.
Between the dancing, acting and reviewing, the possibilities for compositional experimentation were endless. Fifteen people standing in diagonals, interacting with someone in front or behind them, gesturing some way or another… Heaven for anyone wanting to get it on film. Most movements were slow and repetitive, allowing me to take my time to compose and re-try again and again.
As we switched buildings again, the white walls were being put up and lights installed. Suddenly, the ugly, boring background of cables and loose drapes gave way for something that actually gave depth and interest to the whole. From that point on, the quality of the pictures took a leap forward and I was able to do things that simply didn’t work before, like close-up portraits. The play of warm light with bluish background gave anything I did a whole new dimension, boosting any “good” composition to epic proportions. You might say I am biased and you would be right, but I am not the only one to notice this.
What still needs work, is my exposure compensation. I haven’t quite figured out how my camera will interpret the light, and I often underexpose. Also far from perfect is my post-processing, which could compensate for mistakes made during shooting. Next production, perhaps?
A professional photographer came by to take the official rehearsal pictures, which could then be bought in actual prints. Sting as it might, I had to admit they were very good. His workflow was far more efficient than mine, who goes by trial-and-error, and the manipulation of colors was to the point and accurate, not to mention his exposure.
I did have a few people disagree with me, however. They said the pictures had something missing, and even went as far as calling mine better. While I take this with a grain of salt (and much gratitude), I think they might be on to something: a deeper knowledge and understanding of your subject unmistakably leads to better pictures. It was the actors’ patience and acceptance that allowed me to capture them at their most intimate moments. Regardless if they liked the results or not, I will carry this with me for the rest of my career: the practice that I had in these few months was more than I could ever wish for.
So now that this is over, I have a big photo album with pictures that will soon be forgotten. Sooner or later they will be gone altogether, and the story they told will fade.
When practicing photography, you are constantly faced with the decision whether to delete or keep a shot. When choosing to remove them, with them a part of the memory disappears. The set that remains shows how I saw things, but as the memory fades, so will the interest. The art of photography seems to want to keep memories alive, by showing just how interesting they really are. A “good” picture emphasizes the things that made a situation affect you. The more closely the viewer is involved, the easier this is, but soon enough no one will know or care what all this nonsense is about and with their value, the pictures will disappear. It’s a dead shame in one sense, but still a natural process I’ll have to live with.
In the play, the residents of the old train station, who inside their roles were actors in the secondary story told, take over abruptly and demand their own ending, a good one- a “Happily Ever After” one. Sadly, the actors in the story that took place in this reality, can’t just go and do that. The end has come and the goodbye was an emotional one: Somehow, friendships were forged in this melting pot that will last for a long time to come. I didn’t get much pictures of this because my initial goal was nothing but practice in composition, which I now regret. Or would that be one bridge too far? I suppose it no longer matters…
So I got my family’s blessing to go through with this photography plan. Yes, I asked. After all, I’ll be spending their money, not mine. Okay that’s not true; that money is long gone and it will take me a while before getting out of debt. For that starter budget I got me:
Ta daa. I need to revise my financial plan.
Either way, I’m glad they gave me the green light. Not just because of money, but moral support, as well. I think they’re happy to see me actually pursue some constructive goal. Vibrant as I may think my life is, they usually don’t see more than me still working that same job as before.
My father often told me how sad he thought it was that I didn’t manage anything serious with the education I got back when I had my video camera. I made some pretty nice shots, even with that cheap thing, and even taped the formal events he organized. His reaction when I said I wanted to follow a course, was very encouraging.
I can use this kind of support from a family that generally doesn’t really get what I’m about. Finally it’s something tangible to them, and they’ve been nuking me with good advice and positive words. No cold hard cash, though. Damn.
The moral obligation I got myself in might stimulate me, too. And with my habit of going “fuck this let’s find something more interesting,” I can use all the stimulation I can get.
“Take nothing but photo’s, leave nothing but footprints.”
Photography is a complex mixture of technique, technology and creativity and takes a long time to master. It’s no coincidence that the real artists out there take it very seriously and stick to all sorts of self-implied rules and unwritten laws. The same goes for a family of photographers called “urban explorers”, for whom I have a huge respect, even outside photography. Entering abandoned buildings and areas, often in the pitch dark or with real danger involved, takes balls. And, they too, have a set of ethics they stick by.
“Do not force your entry (you are not a burglar). Do not steal (you are not a thief). Do not leave anything behind or leave your mark (you are not a vandal).”
I read this recently in an article and found it rather amusing. I could follow the photographer interviewed in everything he said, but at this point I just thought, “He’s saying this because he knows it will get published.” And even if he did not, and even if he sticks by it, and even despite the fact that I admire him, I won’t abide by any of these three rules.
Crime is crime because there are victims. Turn it any way you want, no matter what the law says, crime only has effect when somebody, somewhere feels like he is wronged by your actions. Theft, murder, whatever: Laws are made to protect the victims. In my eyes, if there is no victim, there is no crime.
Now don’t jump to conclusions: I don’t go anywhere simply for the sake of breaking in, stealing or leaving some tag. But if the gates are closed, I will climb them. If I know items are permanently abandoned and nobody will miss them, I consider them fair game.
I see why most people disagree with me: it’s because they were raised to do so. With my limited education and moral guidance, I composed my ethics though experience and while I detest antisocial behavior, I will ignore the law and common regulations in favor of my own (as long as I don’t get caught, obviously). I admire a man who lives by his principles and I try hard to do the same,… but mine are simply different. Don’t get me wrong, I try to have respect for the photographers that come after me, the locals, or the owners; but if neither are involved, I’ll do whatever the fuck I want, thanks.
This is a dangerous way of seeing things, because I rely on something else than the status quo, which is proven to work to adequate (for most) extent. By the rationale of the law, if “everyone” just made up their own rules, anarchy (the bad kind) would ensue and society couldn’t survive. And I agree with that completely. But I’m not “everybody”, or even just anybody. I’m me. I am capable of living with people without harming them or myself.
Get this: I’ve been breaking laws since puberty (back when it was just plain cool) and it has never come around to bite me in the ass. Why is this?
It’s because no one notices. The harm I cause is marginal if even existent. If workers climb their scaffolding, they will never know that I was there. And if by some means they do know, they certainly won’t complain about it. There’s just nothing to worry about for them. Yet still, the police would stop me if they saw what I was doing because they assume the worst: that I am out to steal from the yard or buildings, or cause damage. I’m not. I just want to take pictures, and there was a fence in my way.
I never thought I’d be one of those morons who collects magazines of whatever hobby they have. I can understand being into stamps or hentai collectibles (to a limited degree) but to go so far as to buy magazines about them? What could possibly be so interesting that they can fill 40 pages with it?
As of this moment, I have about five of them laying around in various places because I forget them all the time. In one month’s time.
I’m not one to start buying whatever just because it seems vaguely related, but god damnit these clever bastards always put technical tips in them, which I am currently soaking up like a dry sponge in a urinal. Additionally, I am posting my questions (and countless examples) at professional forums to get the harshest criticism I can get. My latest challenge entry (which I thought was kind of nice) ended up on 94th place out of 99, though, I might not try that again too soon.
I’m hoping to improve as much as I can, in the least amount of time. My equipment, but more importantly, myself. I can’t help but wonder what will turn up next, and I can barely curb my excitement. Looking retarded with magazines under my arm is just a sacrifice I’ll have to make.
So I got the camera, I got the lens, and since yesterday, I got the pictures to show for it. I think it’s time to reflect (no pun intended) for a moment.
I haven’t used a reflex camera since school, exactly ten years ago. I did one year of audio-visual arts and failed (though not in photography), and went on to do something else. As a result, I know the mechanics of a reflex, and a few tricks of the trade regarding framing. I know of how “bokeh” works and the relation of aperture, exposure and ISO. Also,… Well. That’s about it. But that’s all there is to analog photography, if you don’t count the development stage. If you then take that knowledge to digital photography, there’s numerous blanks to be filled in. I still haven’t figured out who the fuck Nyquist is and what he has to do with anything.
Ever since, I’ve been using point-and-shoot camera’s. I’ve had two, and while the first one was a 12Mp sensor bathing in junk, the second was quite the pleasure to work with. I think that here and there, I managed to take pictures that looked good regardless of the gear.
I’ve grown used to looking at the screen for framing, a loud but practical zoom, a wide angle of view, and custom settings all around since this thing had the tendency to over-simplify for the tourists among us.
First of all,
When it first arrived, I have to admit, I was a smidge disappointed. It didn’t look as impressive as I had expected, in other words it didn’t have an ass with sunlight beaming out of it. It was lighter and smaller than I expected, which much less buttons (even though I knew perfectly what it would look like). This all changed rapidly once the batteries were charged, and I got to use that baby. Already it has grown on me like a second limb [sic] but with more options. It’s smarter than I am and any “issues” I’ve had with it were mostly from my end.
I chose to get me a cheap lens first, photograph the fuck out of it, and then decide what kind of objective I want. So I went with this one, which cost me €130 and, in good light conditions, it should provide a crystal clear image. It doesn’t zoom, it doesn’t tilt, but it’s a good lens and that’s kind of the point. Any further purchases are the first thing on the agenda when I’m content with the basics, which won’t be before a second battery and external hard drive, so probably not before summer.
I tested a number of settings on the actors of a theater play I do voluntary work for. But the real test came later.
I left home yesterday with the intention of thoroughly testing both my equipment and myself. Some people might have noticed I am going through an increasing obsession with gargoyles, and how they peacefully watch those beneath them, in plain sight but seldom noticed. In that regard, the trip was a success in all fields. The only moments when I was spotted was when I first started climbing. Soon, they would loose track of me as if they were incapable of tracking something above eye level, and for the next hour or so, I was invisible to the city, despite being in the open.
Here’s the things I noticed.
-My camera rocks. As I said, it’s smarter than I am. Since I’m used to my point-and-shoot, I still have that urge to drastically meddle with the settings. If I want a shallow depth focus, I’ll jerk the aperture to the widest possible setting even when dealing with subjects respectively 50cm and 250m away. I have yet to learn to be subtle.
-I’m going to need that one year warranty. Already, I’ve had my camera wet and coated in dust. My objective drum isn’t airtight so there’s a good chance some of that made it into the body. I tend to put my equipment through the worst abuse, whether it’s my bike, rucksack or camera.
-Custom setting are for the pro. I set off with my camera set to “aperture priority” and all sorts of fancy options, with the results shown to the right here. I quickly changed to the “landscape” setting and let my camera do the work, apart from a number of shots where I used manual focus. Auto settings make me feel like a retard, but they keep me from making dumb mistakes. If I set my aperture wide open like I tend to, my camera isn’t always doing to be able to compensate with ISO and exposure time. I think I’ll check around with others if that’s just me being slow.
-I am NOT SATISFIED with my lens. It’s cheap and it shows. It might not be immediately evident, but if you click through to the original of the one to the left, you will notice that every individual out-of-focus point of light comes out as a little pentagon. This is because the meager five aperture blades inside the objective are not rounded, something which theoretically wouldn’t even bring up the price.
It gets worse. Without changing positions, I then focus on the background, with this as a result:
A huge fucking pentagonal blue blob straight smack in the middle of my photo. A potentially successful picture, completely shot to hell. I climbed a forty meter crane for this shit? It would be somewhat acceptable, but lord was I disappointed when I wanted to capture the blinding sunlight reflecting off wet cobblestones. For some reason, I am getting solar flares half the size of the picture, with no way to predict it.
On top of that, I seriously miss my zoom function. A cheap zoom lens is many times worse than a cheap fixed-angle lens, I know that. And it’s not that I miss zooming in as much. It’s zooming out. To compare, I brought my old camera with and shot the same church with both.
To the left, my new camera. On the right side, my old.
Note that I did not zoom in, I couldn’t if I wanted to. I’m sure you can imagine how annoying this can be. The thing is you see, I’m dealing with a portrait lens, and it’s supposed to be treated as such. Landscapes are out of the question. I think I might just get a different objective pretty soon, after all. The gear I have now is the equivalent of a dockworker with a small dick. (The dick is the lens, thankyou)
-Further issues: Where should I start…
I got the feeling that my first pictures were never quite focused well, a problem that seemed to lessen over time. It might be the lens, it might be the habit that I lost of shooting with wide aperture. Or it might simply be due to the fact that I gradually let the camera make more decisions for me, rather than ask the impossible of it.
Also, I’m far from confident about my framing and technical details. I know of the 2/3 rule and I use it often, and I (should) know about portrait framing. But that’s where it ends. I need to do a lot more research on that.
Since I have little contact with “real” photographers, it’s hard for me to say where I stand. I know I’m an amateur, but just how much of one, I can’t really tell. I would ask others but I seriously want to avoid running into that “well first of all, change your lens” advice. I’ll get there eventually, but in the mean time I would like to know how to take a decent picture. You don’t learn to drive in a Ferrari either, do you? This kind of penile compensation only makes me want to give up.
Still, when my bandwidth clears up (overdid it on the downloads a little), I think I might find me a forum or two. I’m not that arrogant to think I can’t learn from the experience of others, even (especially!) when it comes to equipment.
All in all, I think I’m off to a good start. The only thing I am not happy with is, not surprisingly, the part I knew least about, which is the objective. But with my limited budget blown to bits, I’m stuck with it for quite some time to come.