Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Eight things we love about photography – Stillness

How often do we observe how fast life moves? And how seldom is that a compliment? Maybe I’m just getting old, but I find that I savor the moments when the world stops dashing around for a little while and slows down to the tempo of a good book or cup of hot tea.

Photos are by their nature still. They’re actually quite good at capturing motion, but even the most energetic picture still lacks actual movement or even video’s persistence-of-vision illusion of action. When you look at a photograph, what you see (in most cases) took place in a small fraction of a second. But that instant and everything that happened in it is held in place for you to examine and contemplate for as long as you want.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Eight things we love about photography – Connection

Many times I’ve been asked some variation of this question: what’s the best kind of camera? The underlying inquiry is usually about Canons and Nikons, SLRs and point-and-shoots, or even digital and film. But the best answer I can give is much simpler than that. The best camera you can ever own is the one you have with you when you see something worth photographing.

Photography is a connection to the world around you. Photos are records of your presence in a particular place at a particular time. They represent a deliberate decision to be part of life rather than living entirely inside your own head or burying yourself in email and texts. You have to go somewhere. You have to do something.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Getting tattooed

Nikon D7000, 80mm (35-80), 1/250, f/5.6, ISO 640, adjusted

Hot off the presses! Amy got tattooed earlier this evening, and I decided to post the photos. I don’t think any of the previous entries on the blog are photos I shot the day the entry was posted.

Here Danny and Amy are getting ready to start:

Nikon D7000, 35mm (35-80), 1/80, f/4.2, ISO 400, adjusted

And here’s the new work partway done, with the lines complete but the shading dots yet to come:

Nikon D7000, 48mm (35-80), 1/40, f/4.5, ISO 800, adjusted

Just so there’s actually a technique lesson here, I can use a narrow depth of field to change the story I’m telling. In this shot the emphasis is on the work in progress:

Nikon D7000, 80mm (35-80), 1/125, f/5.6, ISO 900, adjusted

But by changing the focus just a bit, I switch to a more subtle emphasis. Here Danny is the in-focus subject, even though he appears in the shot only in silhouette:

Nikon D7000, 80mm (35-80), 1/125, f/5.6, ISO 900, adjusted

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Eight things we love about photography – Moments

Comedian George Carlin used to do a bit that went something like this: there’s a moment coming. It’s in the future, but it’s going to get here. Okay, it’s closer now. Getting closer. And ... here! Ah, now it’s gone.”

Greater minds than mine have philosophized to the brink of madness about the nature of memory and impermanence. Buddhist traditions in particular assign considerable importance to living in the present moment rather than dwelling on the past or obsessing about the future.

I love photography because it records moments as they occur. Even a technically poor photo like this old shot of my cat Howie preserves the moment he went after my foot in a way my memory never could. He’s a full-grown cat now. I no longer own those shoes. The steamer trunk at the top of the shot – which we were using as a coffee table at the time – is now gathering dust in the basement.

But when I look at the photo, the memory is back in my mind. And now that you’ve looked at it, the memory is in your mind as well.

To be sure, some photographs don’t take much advantage of this. A studio shot of a bowl of plastic fruit will look the same now and ten minutes from now and ten years from now as long as you don’t change your settings or move the fruit. But far more common – at least in The Photographer’s Sketchbook – are shots that freeze a moment in time, something that never existed exactly that way before and will never exist exactly that way again.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013’s unblogged favorites

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/40, f/2.8, ISO 1600

This past year was a big one for photographs. The Miksang class in June was the highlight, but several other photo safaris contributed a considerable count to the image database (now well above 20,000 pictures).

In prep for the Fourth of July, Amy and I decided to go shopping for fireworks at Red X. We do that every year, but this time we took advantage of the open-24-hours schedule and made our purchases after midnight. The place was empty, which made for a fun experience and some good photos.

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 0.8 sec., f/8, ISO 200

The “Exile Tattoo in the Rain” post was the most popular of the year, getting more visits than any other two combined. So it’s funny that one of the best photos of the evening wasn’t included in set. Error rectified.

Nikon D7000, 28mm (28-200), 1/60, f/4, ISO 450, adjusted

The year got underway with a pair of posts about pictures from the Kansas Capitol. Because the legislature wasn’t in session, we were able to roam around the House and the Senate chambers. Though I did some fun work with the 10.5mm lens, this picture of the Senate floor taken from the spectators’ seats is my favorite. I’m fond of the light and of the copper columns that in days of yore housed stoves to heat the room.

Add Nikon D7000, 42mm (28-200), 1/15, f/25, ISO 500

The whole month of July was devoted to photos from my week in Boulder at the Miksang Institute. Despite the thorough coverage, I left out one of my favorite shots. This shot of the rushing waters of Boulder Canyon Creek has just enough blur to convey motion without turning into another example of the ever-popular smooth-and-misty slow exposures of streams. Though it lacks just about everything I teach students about composition (focal point, anyone?), I liked it enough to make it the wallpaper on my iPad.

Nikon D7000, 200mm (28-200), 1/2000, f/5.6, ISO 320

Speaking of shot composition: I didn’t pay much attention to this photo from the Liberty Memorial set until I started work on a composition lesson for the web site. But once I took a closer look at it, I found I really liked it.

Nikon D7000, 86mm (28-200), 1/1250, f/9, ISO 250

Under most circumstances I’m leery of photos of other people’s artwork. But this one did some fun things with texture. And it really is a nice statue. It’s from the Omaha Zoo, in case you were curious.

Nikon D7000, 105mm (28-200), 1/1000, f/8, ISO 250

Here’s one from closer to home. Every semester (weather permitting), I drag my photo students off to the college’s flower garden to practice. And I practice right along with them (good example and all that). I was still feeling a little contemplative, as you can see from this shot.

Nikon D7000, 18mm (18-55), 0.5 sec., f/4.5, ISO 100

We’ll wrap up the year with one more from the Exile set. I didn’t blog this one because of its close resemblance to the zoom trick photo (and because this one has a slight focus problem). But it’s such a nice image of Amy in a comfortable spot.

That, then, was the year that was. The Photographer’s Sketchbook web site saw its first actual classroom use, and I’ve made a few improvements in it since the end of the semester. The blog made it to 52 posts; keeping up the every-Wednesday pace was a challenge, but it was also a lot of fun.