Benefit auction for Japanese disaster relief

The famous Japanese Maple in Portland's International Japanese Gardens.

As I have mentioned to some of you, I have decided to organize a small, benefit auction in support of disaster relief for Japan. I don’t like being in a position where I know I could do something if I was motivated enough, and don’t, so I figured I would see just what I could do, and started organizing an auction.

I think as a population, we are not limited by our abilities or inabilities but rather by our motivation and desire to see something done. It is pretty amazing what a small group of motivated individuals can do once they set their collective minds to a task. And that is one reason I wanted to do this. The photographers of Portland are all a capable lot, capable of quite a bit, and I wanted to tap into that a bit and turn our talents with cameras into a result greater than the occasional images we make.

So quickly, here is the time and location:

Fresh Pot
724 SW Washington
Portland, Oregon

One night only
First Thursday
May 5th, 6-9 pm

So, what I need in terms of help, because I can do this on my own, but the result and the effects will be much greater the more help I can get. At this point, I need donations of artwork.

In terms of the art, I am looking for smallish pieces, say 8×10. Larger or smaller pieces than that are certainly welcome though. The work can be bare prints, it can be matted, it can even be framed. I want to stress though that these pieces are going to sell inexpensively. Do not donate something valuable with the expectation of it meeting that price.

Ideally, I want to put up a number of pieces with very low, buy-it-now prices of around $25-50. Other pieces, particularly framed ones, can go through a silent auction process, but I want firm prices on many of the pieces so as to be able to tap into the walk-through crowd that would not hang around until a bid was finished. I will also tell you, based on a heck of a lot of experience, that in order to sell work in Portland, it needs to be inexpensive. Portlanders, especially after the recession, do not spend a lot of money on art. Hence why I want to put low price tags on the work, and I want anyone donating to be aware of that upfront. I have not settled on a price structure just yet, but I will be in touch with everyone who donates when I do. The cutoff for donating pieces is the last Thursday in April, so one week before the opening. Of course I will still take donations after that, but if they can be in before that, it will make my job of organizing all this easier.

Donations can be dropped off at Blue Moon Camera in St. Johns where I work. Please include your name, phone number or e-mail with your pieces. Alternately you can e-mail me to make other arrangements for getting your work to me. If you are out of town, state or country, you are still more than invited to donate work, just mail it to Blue Moon Camera. If you need that address, e-mail me at zeb@zebandrews.com.

An alternate idea for getting prints to me for those of you far away, is through Quick Stop Photo, which is Blue Moon’s outlab for digital printing. You can upload, order and pay for prints through their website which is www.picturepreview.com. I think an 8×10 costs all of $1.99. Then in the final instructions for your order, just instruct them to send the finished print to Blue Moon and to my attention. Make sure you leave your name in the order comments as well, and contact info too please.

The second group of people I need help from are those willing to show up the night of, bring friends, hang out, and buy work. I don’t expect to have a problem with people willing to donate, I don’t even expect to have a problem with getting people to show up, but folks, this will not be an art show, but an art sale, so it is important to get people willing to contribute small amounts and get to go home with a print under their arm.

100% of the bids will go to charity, at this point, it appears Mercy Corp. I plan on having a laptop right there so that winning bidders can make their donation on the spot and no paper money has to trade hands or even be involved. Alternately, and I still need to confirm this, people could make donations before coming to the show, and bring a printout of the receipt for their donation and use that as a voucher for bidding. I will accept that too. The important thing is to just make sure the money gets to Mercy Corp some way or another.

Alright, there are still other details to iron out, but this gives you all enough concrete information to start making your own arrangements. I don’t need to tell you this is for a good cause, you already know that. Nor do I need to remind you what a disaster Japan is at the moment, our media barrage, as clumsy as it is, has made that point too. What I will remind you of is that we are all capable of making a difference here, it may be small, but it will matter. And the more motivated we become, the more intent on our purpose, the greater the effect we will have. So don’t write yourself off as being insignificant, don’t use that as an excuse to do nothing at all. I know you all have prints just laying around out there, and you all have abilities with a camera, lets translate that into something, that on a certain scale will be a big thing.

Thank you.

No such thing as bad weather.

Approaching storm clouds in southeastern Oregon.


I know more than a few photographers who refuse to leave the house unless an epic sunset or sunrise is promised.  At the same time there is a running joke amongst some of my photographer friends about how I have unbelievable luck with “good” weather.  This has been tested over the last three weeks on my weekly outings to the various bridges.  Every time I invite others out with me, they tend to glance apprehensively at the looming rain clouds while joking that my streak with good weather may just be coming to an end.  Then of course we show up and the clouds break and the sun beams through and there are rainbows and unicorns and elves and we get amazing photographs.

Or something like that.

This coming from the guy who over the past two winters has taught a “Winter landscape” class through Newspace expressly geared toward getting the rainiest, worst weather possible.  The first year I did that, my good luck almost was my undoing and the class was graced with a rare gorge snow, making things unarguably beautiful.

I did much better this past winter at Cape Kiwanda getting some of the wettest and most blustery conditions I have ever experienced out there while trying to take pictures.  We got shellacked by the weather.

And you know what?  Out of all the classes I have taught, that one probably produced the best pictures.

I like tell people several things when it comes to weather.  The first is that good and bad really have no relation to the weather.  Weather is like light, it is just is.  There is no good or bad weather, it is all in your approach to it, how much you are chained down by your own perceptions and expectations.  As photographers we like to blame light and weather for a lot of our own shortcomings.  “ah, the light was horrible” or “the weather sucked”.  But you know what, if you didn’t get any shots it is your own fault, not that of the weather.

Second, and following the first then, when my friends now joke with me about my good luck with good weather I tend to joke back that for me all weather is good, be it rain, ice, sun, etc.  I am sort of like how the post office used to be.  Yes, neither sleet nor dark of night slow me down as well.

Third, I prefer the so-called “bad” weather because all the places I like to go such as downtown, the Gorge, or the beach are all much less crowded on those days.

Fourth, as a photographer who photographs in “bad” weather you tend to get all the pictures the fair weather photographers miss.  In a time where some of us hoard locations like precious minerals, it is amazing the change in the quality of your images you can bring about simply by going out in crummy weather to the usual spots.

Fifth, you never know.  You just don’t.  “Bad” weather tends to be more dynamic and more prone to rapid change.  It can pour one moment but the next those storm clouds may ease aside for a brilliant sunset.  This is less likely to happen on sunny days it seems.  I tend to go out with as few expectations as possible and see what I can find.

Sixth, I just love rain and wind.  They make me feel alive.  I was out in the Gorge this weekend in the rain.  My coat still smelled like wet moss today.  It was great.

Anyway, so if you know a fair-weather photographer, the next time the skies gray up, kick them in the rump and drag them out with you.  You’ll be amazed at how differently beautiful the world is in the rain, or sleet, or dark of night…  ;-)

Those who think they are the only ones looking, tend to be looking at far less than the rest.

Ok, before I get into this, let me preface by saying it has been a long week. I am fairly worn out and as such perhaps a bit more grumpy and rant-prone than usual. ;-) But nonetheless, what I am about to rant about is behavior that has bugged me for a little while now, I generally just don’t pay much attention to it. At the same time, it is behavior I don’t understand, at least fully, so I am willing to hear counter arguments to my following rant. If you disagree, please speak up, argue your point, let us have a discussion. A side rant of mine is I tend to enjoy too little discussion on here, but that is beside the point.

One rant at a time. :-p

So here goes. What gives with photographers who believe they need to keep places all “secret”? I see this most often with landscape photographers. They will go off to a place, generally one that is hardly undiscovered, and come back from it with their photos which they will gladly share, and often boast of, but will make sure to mention that it is their “secret” location. Now, I am not talking about the habit of not including location data, I mean, I don’t always post where a photo is. Generally this is because it is not anywhere specific or I don’t know how to describe where it is. Such as with some of my photos of the Palouse. Sure I could get down the map and scour it for 30 minutes finding the exact coordinates of where I took that photo. But I don’t. If someone asks, I will try to give them as good of directions as possible.

So I understand the lack of location data. Rather, what makes me scratch my head a bit is photographers who go out of their way to brag about how a location is secret and they are not telling.

I mean, why? Really?

In a sense it always makes me wonder if the photographer is a little insecure about their own abilities, isn’t this generally why one boasts? Because they feel some need to impress others by letting everyone know how special they are? Ok, maybe I am being a bit harsh. Maybe. Told you I was feeling rant-prone.

Insecure or not, I think it is kind of bad form and etiquette. If you don’t want to share where a place is, I guess that is your decision, but bragging about your secret spot is a bit over the top.

And then there are those photographers who make full use of places like Flickr or Photo.net to locate spots that others have shot, asking questions on where locations are and such, and then refuse to share that information themselves. Kind of self-serving and selfish. I had a customer in the store once who was talking about how foolish most Flickr photographers were to share so much information, that he did not post because he did not want people to know where his favorite spots were, but he did like to get on there now and then to see where everyone else was going and thought it a good use for that. He was a bit of an arrogant scumbag too. But perhaps that is beside the point.

So the question I keep coming back to is, why? What is the reasoning behind this behavior? Are they afraid others will get down there and steal their photos? Can you really steal a photo? If so then perhaps the problem doesn’t lie with the availability of info on where that location is, but rather with your own ability to be creative. And I think that gets to one of the hearts of the matter. With so many landscape photographers out there, many areas get saturated in terms of how often they get photographed, and so the competitive nature (another silly piece of behavior) drives photographers to not only range farther afield to “new” areas but to try and hide that info from other photographers so they cannot get out there and make their own pictures.

I have two responses to that. First, I have a whole series of the St. Johns Bridge created over several years. I find that I take my best and most creative photos in the places I am most familiar with, that I have visited the most. Sure I get nice photos in new places too, but those pictures tend to be based on experience I have gained experimenting in those places familiar with me.

And second, I learn a lot more from seeing others photograph in a place I have been to, than I could hope to on my own. What I mean is, by seeing how others photograph the Palouse, or Painted Hills or the Alvord Desert I learn about other comps, conditions, techniques. Way more than I ever probably would have on my own. So in the long run it is a benefit to myself to share that info and encourage others to those spots to photograph their own perceptions. At least that is how I think about it.

Now to be fair I have heard a good argument or two for keeping locations secret, but these tend to be the incredibly small minority. One was a photographer who was taking pictures of a Mennonite community in New England. He did not want to share the location of this rural community because he did not want photographers bum-rushing out there to take photographic advantage of this quiet community of people. I can appreciate him trying to protect them while still trying share their experience with the world. The second good excuse involved the Boiler Bay headlands along the Oregon coast because the popular trail to the coast involved crossing private property, specifically someone’s front yard. Most photographers will behave themselves, nonetheless I probably would not appreciate a flood of photographers sneaking across my front lawn all the time in the pre-dawn darkness. Now an alternate route has been laid out that avoids the property and respects these people’s privacy much better.

But that is about it, at least that I can think of.

I dunno, I struggle with this one, because on one hand I really don’t care much. To each their own, or such. But on the other hand, it also strikes me as bad etiquette which can lead to bad habits and the teaching of. But even more so than that, because I think allowing yourself to fall into that trap of location hoarding is not a healthy perspective for a good photographer. I think it is a symptom of some underlying problem. I am not a psychiatrist though. Imagine that though, photographic psychiatry!

Anyway, as I was saying, if you think the success of your photos relies on you hiding where you take them, then you probably are not a terribly good photographer. Perhaps competent, maybe even good, but probably not great. Because a great photographer isn’t limited by his location, secret or not, he carries all the secrets of his or her success with them. They are called vision and imagination. Between those two things, they make secret locations irrelevant. In my opinion.

So my advice to all you location hoarders? Don’t. It’s ok. Share information, encourage those around you to go there and shoot. Help them get better because by doing so, they will help you get better too. It is not a contest, nor should you feel like you can be collecting these spots. And if you do insist on keeping your secret locations, don’t show us photos of them. Keep them secret. It is mildly obnoxious to dangle them in front of us and not be willing to share where they are. Chances are, somebody else already knows anyway. You probably were not the first one there. In fact, that is almost certainly the case. And if you still insist on going this far, then at least have the decency to stop taking advantage of other photographers who are willing to share their information. Because that is just selfish and I am out of excuses for you at this point.

Ok, wow, that really was quite a rant. Have not done that in a while.

So to sum all this up, let me just say this one last thing, sort of as the icing on the cake. That is, I have a lot of serious thoughts on photography, but I try not to take any of them too seriously. Even this rant. Sure, it was worth the twenty minutes of typing to put it out there, but at the same time, it really is not that important because I am going to keep doing what I do, in a way that I feel good about doing it. And all the location-hoarders in the world cannot affect that.

This shot by the way was sunrise at a super ultra secret location called Hug Point along the Oregon Coast just south of Cannon Beach. Don’t bother to ask me where it is, I’m not telling. :-P I visited here back in February with (who got really wet), (who makes awesome videos) and (whose pinhole is present in this frame if you look hard enough).

On Pinhole

poplars

Poplar farm along I-84 in Oregon, 30 seconds

Those of you who know me, know that I enjoy my pinhole camera.  I rarely go out on any photographic excursion without it in fact.  So, I figured I would spend a few minutes tonight introducing it to those of you who are not familiar with it.

The camera I use is made by in Hong Kong.  They make beautiful, wooden cameras that operate as wonderfully as they are beautiful.  My specific camera is the Zero 6×9 multi-format, though I only ever shoot it in 6×9.

There are three main reasons I enjoy my pinhole so much: it is slow, it is simple and it is durable.  I am often amused at the irony that my love of nature and my love of photography have combined to get me out to more places than I would have otherwise, but that pressing desire to photograph those places sometimes causes me to rush and scramble so much for the next shot as to actually distract me from enjoying the scenery right in front of me.  The aperture on my pinhole is a “blazing” f250.  That means even on fairly bright days I am going to have exposures ranging from 15 to 60 seconds in length.  It is not uncommon for me to expect to wait out a five or eight minute exposure either.  What I have found this does is that it slows me down.  I tend to find myself relaxing a bit more, looking around, studying and planning, but also just simply enjoying.  The required wait on the camera pays off in a more relaxed approach to the landscape around me.

Salmon Street Springs, 8 seconds

Salmon Street Springs, 8 seconds

Finally, I can rarely have a discussion about pinhole without mentioning how durable this camera is.  My camera has been dropped into the ocean…twice.  It fell off my tripod and got swept over the Eagle Falls at Lake Tahoe.  It jumped off my lap and out of a parked car in NW Portland once, shattering itself on the sidewalk.  It was probably tired of being dropped in the ocean.  But for all those adventures, it still works.  The images it makes look as good as the day I bought it.  The second time it fell in the ocean, it took about three minutes for me to find it in the surf.  When I did, it was buried under wet sand, with only the leg of my tripod to indicate where it was.  I opened the camera, dumped out the salt water and sand, then ran it under the faucet in a nearby restroom to rinse it out.  I dried it with paper towels and had it reloaded within 15 minutes.  I cannot say this would have been possible with any of my other cameras.  As long as I can keep the box light tight, and as long as I do not damage the pinhole itself, this camera will last a lifetime or more.

Of course, it does not look nowhere near as nice as it used to.  But it has plenty of character, and stories.

Light and time may not be endangered species but we are still always losing them.

Light and time

Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” — George Eastman

It is not often I post things to my blog that were not taken by me, but this is one occasion. Simply, this is a glass negative found across the street at the Salvation Army. If I had to guess I would say it is probably a bit over 100 years old, considering that was the era when glass plates were being shot.

So at about 3 pm today I found myself holding a piece of glass with an image of three gentlemen on it over 100 years old.

I love my job.

But more importantly, I love photography. This really just sort of blows my mind. I start thinking about the fact that I am holding a once-sensitized piece of glass, that contains the imprint of light that bounced off of these three men over 100 years ago. In a sense it is almost a “light shadow” cast by them and captured on this glass.

And here I am using a state of the art scanner to digitize that image and bring it on to the web. Once again, amazing.

I don’t want to make it seem like I am taking a dig at digital photography (digital imaging is why this image exists on the web right now) but this is a very big reason why I shoot film. The tangible nature. Being able to hold a piece of film that was struck by the very light that came off of the subject. Thinking that, that very same piece of film may one day be pulled from a box in someone’s attic 80 years down the road, and that someone can hold it up to the light and see what I saw. They will even be able to still print it or scan it.

But it is not the ability to still print it or scan it that so amazes me. It is the physical evidence that light has left behind on this particular piece of film, or paper, or glass. Digital doesn’t have that. The sensor carries no trace of that light, rather it is converted into electronic bits and bytes. A digital copy. A replica of what that light cast. There is nothing tangible, nothing physical to hold unless a print is made, which so often it never is.

And in some way this makes me deeply uneasy. I don’t like thinking of the work of my life as being so intangible. It scares me in a sense and I never feel quite easy with digital images, despite the many amazing shots I have taken on digital cameras. And also despite how careful and redundant I am in backing those same images up. But it is not just my work. I think of all the pictures snapped every day. All those snap shots of sons and daughters. Mothers and grandmas. Beautiful sunsets and sunrises. And I think of what awful percentage of those images will have ceased to exist within ten years. Or twenty. Let alone a hundred years from now.

I know that even film is not permanent, nothing is really. Not our negatives. Nor us. Or our planet, or even our universe. But nonetheless, I am pretty certain that I will not be able to pull any of my CDs of digital files out of a box in 100 years and still have them be usable. Nor any CF cards. My external drives won’t last more than 10 years I bet. My digital files won’t ever be anything more than bits and bytes. Sure I can print them, but those are just copies of copies. Better than nothing, but still far lacking.

And so I shoot film, because I like to think each of those negatives carries the physical effect of light off of a beautiful waterfall striking it. Or the light bouncing off of my son Owen playing when he was 6 months old. And then again when he was 12 months old. Or even the very light that reflected off of an old friend no longer living. It is not so hard to hold a negative, or a plate like this, in your hand and feel like you are holding just a tiny shred of some past time itself. The last physical remainder of a moment long extinct, and that when I hold a negative in my hand, I am touching that light again. And that is one of the things that drives me to shoot film. That deep sense of not just recording light and time, but preserving it.

What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time.

” — John Berger

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If you have not browsed through it, the run by the Library of Congress is amazing. Really sit down and take your time taking it in. Don’t just browse, really give yourself the time to look.

Shutter speeds and apertures

This was shot with a smaller aperture to maximize depth of field and have both the bridge and the footprints in the snow in focus.

In case you did not know this about me, I work in a .  A pretty awesome camera store at that.  There are few better ways for someone passionate about photography to spend their work day than working with other photographers and their photography.  As such, one of the things I like most about my job is that it is not just about selling cameras.  With each camera we sell, it is as easily about educating that person in how to use their camera as it is about them actually buying it.  I love the educational aspect of my job.  It gives as much back to me behind the counter as those in front of the counter tend to get.  In fact it is extremely rare that a day goes by that I do not learn something new, generally spurred by a question a customer has come in with.

Anyway, one of the things I have the privilege of explaining frequently is shutter speeds and apertures.  I never find it a mundane conversation.  I remember all too well those early days of fumbling with an aperture-thingy that was well beyond my understanding.  I just knew that rotating that ring made the needle in my meter move up and down and I had to get it in the center.  Really, that was the bulk of my understanding of apertures at one point.  Not an iota more.

Understanding shutter speeds and apertures is really important.  Basically every single camera in existence uses them from your cell phone, to your pinhole, to your 5D, to your B&J 8×10.  (I give bonus points to those who can tell me any of the remarkably few ways to make an image without a shutter, aperture or both ;-D)

Yet for as important as apertures and shutters are, they can be a slippery subject.  Early on they can be unfathomable in their complexity and later on they become so second nature as to be taken for granted.  So this next bit is meant as a primer for those new to the subject and a refresher for those not.  Because every time I get to teach them over the counter I am reminded of their importance myself.

I generally start off by comparing a shutter and an aperture to the workings of the eye.  refers to the hole created by the aperture blades, generally inside your lens.  If you set your camera to f11 and your shutter to 1 second and look down into the lens as you depress your shutter you will see a number of blades closing down to form a smaller hole in the middle of your lens.  That is your aperture.  In relation to your eye, it is like your pupils.  When things get bright, those blades contract to allow less light to pass through.  When things get dark, they open up allowing more light in.  The measurement of this opening is represented by the numbers on your aperture scale which generally read something like 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4 ,5.6… sound familiar?  The lower a number is, the wider the opening and hence the more light that passes through.  Apertures like 16, 22, and 32 are smaller openings that allow much less light in.  Generally a lens’ fastest aperture is considered its “speed”.  This is why most lenses are demarcated by their focal length followed by their maximum aperture, such as “50mm 1:1.2″  The aperture is expressed as a ratio, but the important number is that which follows the colon.  So this 50mm would have a maximum aperture of 1.2, which allows a lot of light through the lens and is considered very fast.  This would be a grand lens for low light photography where you want to preserve high shutter speeds.

Apertures represent one-half of an exposure.  They control how much light passes through your lens.  That is why they are so important when it comes to flash photography and night time shots of the stars.  When using a flash, the flash fires so fast that your shutter catches its full intensity everytime, regardless of your shutter speed* (I put an asterisk there because there is more to that statement that I am not going to get into tonight).  So the only way to limit how much of that flash-provided light hits your film is by closing your aperture to allow less of it to pass through your lens.  Same with stars.  If you use a smaller aperture while doing star trails, the dimmer stars’ illumination will be cut out if you use too small of an aperture.

And if that were not confusing enough, aperture also controls your depth of field, which is how big an area of your photo that is in focus.  Those wider apertures have narrower focus, while the smaller apertures have greater fields of focus.  For example, focus on some flowers on the ground in front of you that are… say… five feet away with an aperture of no more than f4.  Now without changing your focus look at something on the horizon.  It will be out of focus.  Your depth of field at f4 is generally not great enough to bring things at great distances apart into focus at the same time.  To remedy this close down to f11 or 16 or even 22.  The further down you go, the greater the distances between near and far you can bring into focus simultaneously.  This is a popular technique for landscape photography.  But it works in reverse too.  Say you have some friends who want a portrait, but they insist on standing in front of a dumpster.  Well try a wider aperture, with an aperture of 1.8 or 1.4 you might find that you can focus on their faces and put that nasty dumpster behind them unrecognizably out of focus.

So that is half of the equation.  Shutter speeds are the second half.  If the aperture is to your pupils, shutters are like your eyelids in that they blink.  The speeds displayed are generally a fraction of a second, so 60 is really 1/60th of a second and so on.  Some cameras will display this as 1/60 and some as just 60.  The higher the number, the faster the blink and the lower the number the slower the blink.  Faster blinks allow the film to see less unless the light is brighter.  Sort of the same as blinking rapidly in bright daylight and then again in a gloomy room.  In lower light you see less the faster you blink.  Same with cameras.

Here I used a shutter speed of about 1/4th of a second so I could pan the image, creating this abstract, blurred effect.

Here I used a shutter speed of about 1/4th of a second so I could pan the image, creating this abstract, blurred effect.

Also like apertures, shutter speeds have a secondary purpose as well.  Faster speeds will freeze movement while slower speeds blur it.  For example, 1/60th is generally fast enough to make someone walking look like they were standing still with no blur.  But if they were to run 1/60th would result in a bit of a blur.  You would need to increase to 1/125th if you wanted to freeze a runner.  Now if they hop in their car and start driving away 1/125th is likely to result in blur as well and you would need to go up to 1/250th or even 1/500th if they were in a big hurry to get away.  On the other end of the scale, take those silky waterfall shots we are all so fond of.  To blur water like that, simply set your shutter speed to 1/4th, 1/2 or even 1 full second.  As long as your camera is stable on a tripod, only those things in motion (the water in this case) will blur through the long exposure.

Shutter speed becomes important when trying to determine when it is safe to hand hold and when it is not.  The general rule of thumb is 1/60th and above a normal person can hold stable.  Anything slower and you had better brace the camera.  This is because that person walking or that water falling is not the only motion a shutter controls.  The act of hand holding a camera introduces motion since none of us hold perfectly still.  If you look through your lens while holding your camera you will see that you dip, duck and weave all over the place.  The camera records this motion too.  That is why too slow of a shutter and you get “camera shake”.  I take that rule above a step further though and usually say that your slowest shutter speed should match the focal length of your lens.  For example, if you have a 50mm, you should shoot no slower than 1/50th of a second (or the closest equivalent).  But if you put on that 100mm lens you had better kick your shutter speed up to 1/100th of a second and up to 1/200th if you put on that 200mm lens.  This is because telephoto lenses magnify everything, include that natural camera shake.

 

Phew.

Now that we have gotten this far, it is important to realize that there is a relationship between these two.  If you close down your aperture and allow less light in, you need to slow your shutter down to compensate.  What the aperture takes away the shutter needs to make up.  Conversely, when you adjust your shutter speed, you will need to make sure your aperture is set to balance those changes.  These two work in tandem and both are equally important in creating an exposure.  Generally the change from one aperture number to a next is measured in “stops”.  Going from f4 to f5.6 is one stop, in this case one less stop of light.  Going from f11 to f8 is gaining one stop of light.  The same holds true of shutter speeds.  Increasing your shutter from 1/60th to 1/125th decreases your exposure by one stop, while slowing down from 1/60th to 1/30th increases your exposure by one stop.  So if you change your shutter by one stop towards overexposure but do not change your aperture, then your image will be slightly overexposed.

 

This gets a bit more tricky these days with modern cameras.  It used to be that all the numbers on your aperture and shutter speed dials were in exactly one stop increments.  Many modern cameras display in 1/2 or even 1/3 stop increments so your shutter readout might actually go from 1/60 to 1/80 to 1/100 to 1/125.  This can get confusing.  The way to keep this straight is if you want to increase your shutter speed by a stop, double it.  So one stop above 1/60th is doubled to 1/125.  To decrease by a stop, halve it to 1/30th.  To decrease by another full stop you halve again to 1/15th and so on.  Apertures double every two stops.  So changing from f2.8 to f5.6 is actually decreasing your exposure by two full stops.  The number in between is f4, which is your one stop mark there.  But once you know that, then you know that one stop over 5.6 is actually just double f4, in this case f8 and one stop over that then would be double of f5.6, so f11 and one stop more would be double f8 so f16.  See how this goes?

Double phew.

Anyway, that is the gist of my aperture/shutter speed lecture.  I hope it is useful to some, and a good reminder to others.  I hope some other night to sit down and write a bit more in depth on how to use these features a bit more creatively.  Actually I plan to definitely do so for my creative landscape class coming up at , which is probably why all this is on my mind to begin with, as I am getting prepared for that.

I do think fundamentals like this are important.  I do not think they are absolutely necessary, and relying on them too heavily has its own dangers (see my on that). Anyway, this was all meant to help and I hope it does.  I know they can be a terribly confusing subject, and therefore can be embarrassing to have to ask to be explained.  But then again, we all have to start there at some point.

As elusive as a shadow at night

A nightbound train passing by the St. Johns Bridge

A nightbound train passing by the St. Johns Bridge

I am going to risk putting myself out on a limb here (oh god, not even beyond the first sentence without a pun, bodes ill this does), but I want to discuss a bit about what makes photography…worthwhile, at least on a personal level.  It is often a bit awkward for me to tackle such subjects in a forum such as Flickr, much easier to discuss things like this in a more personal nature, I often worry that tone or intent will be misconstrued.  A small worry, but a bit of one nonetheless.  Mainly because I don’t want to sound like a know-it-all.  I don’t, in case you wondered.  And as I often say, I don’t even necessarily believe much of what I write to be true.  I am perfectly capable of being wrong as well.  But it is not really the being wrong or right, for which I write, it is the attempt to make myself more aware of how I think and act in regards to photography that is a valuable exercise in and of itself.  Hence these “essays”.

But moving on now.  I get a fair number of e-mails, of which I try to answer most every one.  My photography does a fair amount of inspiring ( a good thing, which always flatters me) but it also does a fair amount of impressing ( less of a good thing).  I get a lot of e-mails asking for advice, which I happily give even if I never really feel like I know exactly what to say.  Seems like such a simple question, but each time I wonder if I managed to say just the right thing to fan the flame of their creative spark, or if I missed the target altogether.

Anyway, I was laying on the couch the other evening, trying to drift off and take a nap and my brain had other ideas, some of them good enough that I decided to get up and make a post of them regarding the value we assign our photography, because this is an important concept when it comes to becoming a better photographer, in my opinion.

First off: Your photography is not limited by your camera, nor your lens.  It is not limited by shutter speeds, aperture, film, focus, flash, white balance, color, black and white, grain, noise, etc.  It is not limited by your budget nor your education.  It is not, and I repeat, not, limited by light.  It is certainly not limited by where you live or where you go.  Your photography is limited simply and quite importantly, only by your own imagination and vision.  All those factors I mentioned (and more) can certainly affect your photography, but ultimately you make of it what you will.  Photography begins and ends with the photographer, the best light in the world, or most advanced metering system will not change that.

Second:  Getting published is great.  So is selling photographs.  Making explorer can be flattering.  So is getting hundreds of comments and favorites.  Being profiled with a book or on TV is impressive.  A long resume of accomplishments always looks nice.  So does a polished portfolio of stunning images that draws oohs and aahs.  But when it comes down to it, all this stuff is icing on the cake.  Sweet but not too fulfilling.  Whether you are just starting out in photography or not, but particularly if you are, don’t approach it thinking one or more of things these have to be accomplished before you become a worthwhile photographer.  As I said above, all your photography begins and ends with you, not with Popular Photography Magazine or MOMA or contest prizes or Explorer hits.

Your photography will never be more valuable than the value you place in it that split second before

you hit the shutter button.

What matters most happens before the picture is even taken, not after.  The worth of your photography is in what gets you up at 4 am in the morning to brave freezing conditions in hopes of a sunrise.  It is what makes you follow your children around all day long patiently snapping frame after frame.  It is what causes you to drive for miles, or walk them, in search of that moment, be it in the middle of a sprawling urban landscape or a natural one.  It is significantly in what keeps you picking up that camera as the fractions of seconds become days, the days months, the months pool into years, and beyond.  It is in this desire to see, to experience, to feel, to celebrate, to remember, to be a part of, to be amazed or amused, that you will find what makes your photography worthwhile.  Everything that comes after the snap of the shutter is merely added drama, and it is never as important as you think it is.

If you can take this to heart, and mind, to shoot more freely from so many of these false limitations that we impose on ourselves way too often, the most common of which is to model your photography off of other people’s expectations of it.  Then you will also discover that the most important thing is to pursue your photography in a way that is your own.  Make your photography yours, it will show.

And I will be honest, regardless of how lucid I described what I am hoping I described, or how easy I made it sound, the process is neither to go through, at least for me it wasn’t.  It does not happen overnight.  Sometimes the proverbial lightbulb will switch on, but count yourself lucky if you experience this.  I think most people reach that point by stumbling through murky gray areas feeling out their own creative nature.  And this is something important to remember too.  All those really good photographers you look up to and wish to emulate?  They were all awkward novices at one point too.  Stumbling along lost at times themselves.  If a photographer tries to tell you otherwise, he is either full of himself (or herself) or has an awful memory.  Really, one of the most important traits to adopt in your photography is not actually creativity, but dedication.  You know, long term patience.  Passion helps too.  Passion is fuel for dedication.

Hmm, this is about the part where I finally decided to get up and start typing, so this is kind of the end of this train of thought (sorry another bad pun to close this out).  I do hope some of this helps.  I sometimes think photography is all about vision, but not always in terms of how well we see what is in front of us, quite often it involves how we see ourselves too.  We each come with all the truly essential tools we need to be good photographers, but make no mistake, we can still do quite a bit to sabotage our own abilities if we aren’t aware of the subversive ways in which we do it.

In terms of this photo, I took this one night a month or so ago out shooting the St. Johns Bridge with Aaron.  In fact you can see his shot taken right beside me . I figured the bridge would make a good subject to accompany what I wanted (to try) to say today.

Thanks again for reading along this far.

Getting to know me a bit more

Cape Kiwanda

Cape Kiwanda

… I dream to be an artist. I pray that someday, if I work with enough care, if I am very very lucky, I will make … a work of art. Call me an artist then, and I will answer.

I consider myself a photographer…stop. Not a fine art photographer, nor a master, or a photographic genius. Not a savant or a guru. I guess if you pressed me I might label myself as a landscape photographer, but only hesitantly as I am reluctant to confine the definition of my photography so. Simply put, I take pictures, therefore I am a photographer.

The words art and artist are tricky titles to apply, there is a lot of gray area. I try not to think too long about what is art and what is not, it really is not usually that relevant to what I do. I shall say though that I believe art is not something one does haphazardly or on occasion. Just because you smear paint on a canvas, does not necessarily make you an artist, nor does one’s ability to press a shutter button.

The mild rant aside, recognition as an artist, is not what drives me. I do not actually dream of being an artist. What I do dream of is being a teacher, or at least someone who facilitates the spread of ideas and knowledge, specifically relating to photography. There is little that is more rewarding than sharing an image like this and seeing it excite (rather than impress) others. Knowing they will go out and incorporate those ideas into their own personal vision of the world, which will have just become that much wider because of the new inclusion of perspectives. Then knowing they in turn will share those visions and ideas back again with the rest of us. That to me is a much richer reward than any list of accolades.

To speak a bit of the technique used to create this image, I first saw this idea demonstrated by the photographer Ted Orland. I was visiting Yosemite and happened to stop in at the Ansel Adams Gallery where Ted had an amazing photo of Mono Lake done in this style. His photo was a lightning bolt to my imagination and not too long after seeing his image, I found myself standing along this stretch of the Oregon coast hoping for a nice sunset. It was an amazing afternoon, and I spent it up on the cliffs reading The Princess Bride and taking photos, but I was certain the sunset was going to fizzle because of the layers of clouds on the horizon. Sure enough the sun sank behind the thick band of clouds and the sky started to gray out so I hiked down off of the cliffs and figured I would linger on the beach…just in case. The sun reached the horizon and the burst through the thin layer of clouds there, lighting up everything for about 10 minutes. I double-timed it far enough down the beach so the sun was not behind the cliffs and close enough to Haystack Rock to photograph. Before I left I shot this panoramic with almost an entire roll of film through my Holga. The final photo ended up being the product of eleven separate shots scanned and layered together in Photoshop. It is an interesting technique, and an excellent way to burn film. But it is fun, and it has allowed me to find yet another way to see and capture some of the amazing things I see in life.

Getting to know me… a bit

Q and A

Q and A

Let me start off by first saying, thank you for stopping by my little corner of the internet, and secondly for pulling up a chair long enough to read what I have written here.  If any of you are familiar with my Flickr stream, then I am sure you are aware of the fact that I am about as prolific a writer as a photographer.  This tendency of mine is sometimes a good thing I think, and sometimes not.  Let us hope for the former because I have a lot that I would like to be able to say.  But for today I figured, as way of an introduction, I would tell you a few important things about me and my beliefs in photography.

I have been seriously dedicated to photography since 2002 when a Pentax K1000 made its way into my hands and almost did not escape again.  Not long after that I bought my first “real” camera, a Nikon FM2.  My family of cameras has grown much since that first Nikon over the years, but that FM2 is still going strong.

Even though my current range of cameras are all film, and I have never actually owned a digital camera, I put very little stock into the film vs. digital argument, a debate that has quickly wound down over the years.  Suffice it to say, that a camera is a camera.  The most important parts of photography happen behind the camera, not in it.  Those who remember this become better photographers than those who place more faith in the equipment they are holding than in themselves.

I would not mind carrying that belief a step further too, and say that what happens behind the camera is even more important than what is going on in front of the camera.  I say this to remind people that pictures are everywhere.  They are on exotic beaches in foreign countries certainly, but they are also in the bus stop just down the street.  They exist at high noon on sunny days as well as during those amazing sunsets and sunrises.  Magic hours occupy two to three hours of each day, this still leaves over 20 hours of perfectly good shooting.

Many of us realize that light is an essential part of photography.  Without it, we cannot make photographs.  There is another important ingredient though, and that is vision.  I am not talking strictly about eyesight, as it is possible even for the blind to make photographs.  What I am referring to is that magical combination imagination and willingness to really look at the world around us.  Combine that with the technical prowess to operate the camera and you have a potent formula that will produce {insert appropriate adjective here} photographs regardless of setting, weather, light, time of day, and so on.

Which brings me to talent.  I do not put much stock in talent.  I realize that some are naturally more adept at certain activities than others, they grasp concepts quicker and learn faster.  But talent is no replacement for dedication, persistence and passion.  Those three traits will trump talent any day of the year.  What is more, none of us picked up a camera for the first time and immediately started making world famous images.  We all started out stumbling and feeling our way in the dark.  Some of us are humble enough to admit to this, some of us are not, but we were all there at one point.  Those that have succeeded at this art have done so because they had the passion to invest themselves in it and the dedication and persistence to do so for very long spans of times, often a lifetime.

I will most likely expand on some of these threads in later posts, at least I hope to be able to do so.  For today though I had better wrap this up, and I would like to do so by answering a few of the recent questions I have fielded in the past week.

What advice do you have for a beginning photographer to get better?

Carry your camera with you everywhere.  Never leave it at home, it ought to always be on your shoulder, for a number of reasons.  Mainly, if you do not have your camera, then you cannot take pictures, and if you are not taking pictures then you are not practicing, and it is difficult to get better at something without practicing it.  Besides, the best way to guarantee that you will see amazing pictures to be taken is to go somewhere without a camera.

Do you think digital cameras have taken the art out of photography?

No.  Photographers make the decisions on how to use their equipment, not the equipment itself. A camera is merely a tool: a lifeless and soulless box of plastic, metal and glass.  Never mind that defining how a camera can be used in a less artistic fashion is a tricky endeavor, but assuming that we did, I think we would find that those photographers who did so with digital cameras would be just as likely to do so with practically any other camera.

Is Zeb your real name?

Yes.  Maybe if you get to know me well enough one day I will tell you the rest of the story behind it…maybe.

Who designed this awesome site for you?

That would be a couple of friends of mine by the names of Stacey and Ben, or at least those are the names they have always told me.  If you are impressed by the design of this site, you can find a link to Stacey’s page at the bottom of this page.