It's not the camera, it's the photographer. We all know that. Do we live it? Not always. Which is why I did a deliberate "lesser photographer" thing.
Where I would usually have the iPhone in my pocket as an emergency or backup camera, this time I made a deliberate decision to go out and shoot with nothing but the iPhone. No big medium format camera. No DSLR. Just the iPhone 4s.
Our creativity strives under constraints. Some of the greatest photography has been made with cameras that some of today's photographers wouldn't even touch with a ten-foot-pole. So I went an extra step and instead of using the iPhone's built-in camera app, I used one that most people would call crippled. Its name is NoFinder and it is pretty much what the title of the app says: a camera without a viewfinder.
Now adding that kind of a restriction might initially sound silly, but it has turned out to be surprisingly good for the creative side of things. Not being able to look through a viewfinder helped me concentrate on the actual scene a lot more than if I had looked through a viewfinder. Pointing the camera without a display also left a certain margin of error, but in the end for many shots that lead to interesting and unusual framing choices that I wouldn't have made with a viewfinder.
Most of those accidental choices of frame weren't that exciting, but then there were a few that I found really interesting. And again: I wouldn't have arrived at them any other way.
The last two constraints that I placed myself under turned out to be pretty much the most beneficial ones: my decision to set the app to only take square pictures and to work in black-and-white only.
The lack of a viewfinder initially made it harder for me to judge the angle of view, but after a few shots it became pretty clear how much would be in the picture. As an added benefit I now have a pretty good idea of the field of view that I can get from the iPhone. I didn't really have that angle visualized before.
And in the end that's how Frog Umbrella came into existence. Being able to see the entire scene with my two eyes, I could watch the umbrella kid walking away from the building and while it was doing so, I fired three shots while trying to anticipate the framing.
And the third shot was the charm. That's my kind of picture - everything fits nicely, the frog's eyes are doubled in the building, every element in the photo feels like it belongs exactly where I put it. I'll be happy when I bring home one single picture like this every time I go out shooting. I'm still working on that.
» Frog Umbrella on Flickr (leave a comment)
I recently posted a bunch of pictures that I took back in the United States in August.
Here are their stories.
Clicking on pictures opens them in a new window.
Let me start with the one picture that is my favorite of the whole bunch. It's Liliana, the daughter of my friend, photographer and parfumeur Douglas Hopkins and I made several pictures while we spent some time during my stay in Washington D.C.
I try my best to treat children with the same respect and at same eye level as I treat anyone else, and I try to carry that into my photography whenever possible. Lili sat ona structure in front of the Washington Air and Space museum, and when I noticed what the sun and the wind were doing with her hair, I took a few shots. What came out was one of those in-between pictures, where the posing stops and the real emotion happens.
Lili again, at the museum's gift shop, trying on props. This time I deliberately didn't shoot her at eye level, so I could emphasize the huge gap between the little girl and the pilot's gear, making for quite some contrast and fun. The goofy look on her face helped a lot to make this a humorous picture.
This is one of those street shots where I'm really happy that everything has it's place. The guy in the foreground sits very comfortably in the corner, facing outward, which gives him a bit of a lost feeling, and the fact that he's sitting on the curb holding his face, helps a lot in conveying that feeling. I shot several frames while different people walked past, the guy in the background also touching his face was the final winner.
Meet Peter, his friends and his dog. This one I'm very proud of. At first I walked past them, and the stream of thoughts in my mind went a bit like this: "Awesome, three guys in wheelchairs, with a tiny dog, I totally should take a picture of them. But how would you feel sitting in a wheel chair and some stranger asking to take your picture? But it's such a great scene! But I really don't want to hurt anyone's feelings…" and so on. At that point I had long walked past them, but then luckily the urge to get that picture won, I turned around, approached them, asked if they'd mind me taking a picture of them and they said "Oh sure, absolutely!" and I took about 10 shots of them from various angles.
I tried from their eye level, which I felt was the appropriate thing to do, but the busy background (it was at a street festival) didn't work, so I had to revert back to a standing perspective. A bit of tilt on the lens helped guide the attention to the three - and to the dog, wearing an SF Giants jersey.
I come to the United States every year to hold photo workshops. One of them was the Fire & Night workshop in San Francisco. I always wanted to include night photography in the workshops, and adding fire to the mix turned this into a really exciting one! There were a lot of pictures with lots of detail in the flames and great color contrasts between warm and cold, but in the end this is one of my favorites, even though the flame itself is blown out. I love how it shows the raw power of the flame, its strength to light the entire scene, its heat, and the motion of the fire breather juxtaposed with the other guy waiting.
Last but not least, the Fire & Night workshop also took us out to Treasure Island to take pictures of the San Francisco skyline at night - or rather at the blue hour. That term is misleading though, as it actually describes a window of maybe 10 to 15 minutes. It's the time shortly after sunset, where the sky turns a deep blue. We were really lucky to get the fog behind San Francisco lit by the city lights and glow in a bright orange. The color contrast with the sky turned out very dramatic. Initially I was unhappy about the clouds in the sky, but they turned out to add some great drama to the pictures.
Group shot, Berlin LIMITED workshop 2011. Photo: Sean Galbraith
Large format photography has the potential to seriously mess with ones mind. The photographer's mind and that of the audience.
For a photographer it is still the most affordable way to get spectacular resolution. The camera movements allow for compositional freedom beyond anything that ispossible in smaller formats. Due to their simpler and much more symmetrical design, the image quality of the lenses is generally superb. And last but not least, the different workflow and the more thorough approach to each individual photograph generally make for more thought-out pictures.
The audience reaction to large format pictures is often a different one than to 35mm photography. Due to the higher resolution, the pictures will typically have more detail, which oddly enough tends to be true even when downsized to web resolutions. The large size of the medium (4x5" and higher) results in a very different look and depth of field. And the typical lack of falling lines tends to give even very busy pictures an amount of structure and a tidy appearance that is hard to achieve with smaller formats.
My typical reaction to the higher resolutions used to be: "meh". My impression was that at the sizes typically used on the web, it wouldn't make any difference if the picture was shot with a DSLR or if it was taken with a large format camera.
After having immersed myself in large format photography for a while now, I had to change my previous "meh" into a "HOWLY COW" though. The amount of perceived detail even at smaller resolutions tends to be spectacular.
I should have known about the detail thing from the video side of things though. A very similar effect happens when you downsize HD video footage (1920 x 1080) to SD resolution (544 × 480). The amount of perceived detail is just a lot higher than with native SD footage.
Here's my audio engineer's look at it: sound recordings are often made at a much higher bit-depth (24 bits) and higher resolution (96 kHz) than the resulting CD will ever have (16 bits / 44.1 kHz). Why? Higher perceived resolution, even at the final down-sampled stage.
My next step is to print one of these pictures at 25x50" to see the ACTUAL detail. Zooming in to tiny portions of an image to see them at a 100% pixel resolution on your screen just isn't the same.
By the way, here's a little detail from the above shot:
Group Shot (detail), Berlin LIMITED workshop 2011. Photo: Sean Galbraith
What's the largest print you've ever made?
Man muss analoge Bilder auf die Schatten belichten, die Lichter finden sich dann schon von alleine. Solches hört man immer wieder, und es ist schon ein Stück weit berechtig, speziell wenn man sich im Bereich der "guten" und "normalen" Belichtung befindet.
Die wirklich spannenden Bilder finden sich allerdings oft in den Extremen.
Was, wenn man sich an die Enden heran pirscht, an die Bereiche ganz im dunkeln oder im hellen? Bereiche, die sich an anderen Stellen auch gerne mal "Zone 2" oder "Zone 9" schimpfen. Bereiche, die man als guter Fotograf gefälligst mit einem Reflektor oder einem Blitz aufzuhellen hat?
Dort begibt sich so mancher Fotograf dann in derart unbekanntere Gefilde, dass er sich nicht mehr so ganz auf die Dinge verlassen mag, die er viele Jahre lang gelernt und praktiziert hat.
Ist Schattenzeichnung wirklich so wichtig? Darf man nicht doch diese Ungewissheit ins Bild legen, die dem Betrachter Spielraum zur Erforschung gibt?
Von 15.-17. Juli 2011 halten wir in Braunschweig einen Doppelworkshop gemeinsam mit Spürsinn zu den Themen Fotografie am Ende des Lichts und Entwicklung am Ende des Lichts, in dem wir uns ganz analog und mit viel Spielfreude in die Extreme begeben.
Die dunkle Ecke im Keller, in der sich die Monster verstecken, mag beängstigen...
...spannend ist sie allemal.
Every now and then I run into a song that I *have* to listen to over and over again without getting sick of it. Strasbourg / St. Denis is one of those. My music taste could probably be described as eclectic, and this kind of jazz definitely has a place in my heart, and I'd love to play the bass on this song with a good band one day.
So without further ado here is Roy Hargrove (this is only an audio track, but YouTube was the only place I could find it in an embeddable form)
By the way, I bought the entire album without listening to any of the other tracks, just based on this one song.
Do photography and typograhy have more in common than the "ography"?
I remember back in high school I used to doodle my own fonts on checkered paper instead of paying attention to the math lessons. And not just individual letters, I drew entire alphabets. Numbers and special characters and all. Many of them were quite similar, rather geometric, and I distinctively remember trying to make them look well balanced and getting the distance between the individual letters right.
This all came back when I ran across an article on typographica.org titled Making Geometric Type Work.
I knew almost nothing about typography back in high school, and it was years later that I started to read up on the subject. However, what I did know was what I liked. And I tried to figure out why I liked things.
Typography is everywhere. Look around you, the world would be quite a different place if you removed all the written words from it.
Typography is about design as much as it is about helping to convey messages. If you talk to type designers, you'll hear them use words like balance, width, joins, alignment, spacing - the exact same terms that we photographers use in the context of image composition.
And yes, it isn't that much of a difference - actually learning about typography and other visual media will inevitably influence the way you compose your pictures. Mind you, not always in a conscious way. I often catch myself almost accidentally having applied some of these principles when I revisit my images later.
Having made these principles conscious while learning about typography has helped slip them into my subconscious without me even knowing it.
And when I notice the results, it makes me smile.
Do you have anything visual that influences your photography? Let me know in the comments.