Friday, December 3, 2010

Self taught?

I've been on a bit of a hiatus from photography for the last month. I went home for a vacation that turned out rather different and longer than expected. After dealing with a lot of things, I am slowly getting back into planning my business and doing research.

One thing I've come across often in my research, and it's a big peeve of mine, is a number of photographers claiming to be self taught. Self taught? Really...When you read more of their biographies, they mention that they've had some workshops, maybe learned from so and so. As far as I'm concerned, the vast majority of these people are full of it. If you've taken some night classes, the odd workshop here and there, gotten a little mentoring from other photographers, you can hardly call yourself self taught. Were you asleep when these people were teaching you? Or are they just an inconvenient fact to ignore for your ego?

The only people truly self taught picked up a camera, maybe a few books and never learned anything from a live person. There are a few out there, but not many. I certainly don't consider not taking a photography program at college to equate to self taught. I, for instance, am working my way through a night program as I can afford it over a significant period of time, take workshops in specific techniques and work with a mentor. I have taught myself some things from books, but that has hardly been the majority of my learning.

Do I have a point to this, besides a little venting? Certainly. I think we need more honesty and self examination in this business and less self aggrandizement and marketing bs. Otherwise you start believing your own hype and end up diminishing yourself overall.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A walk in the rain

This morning I went for a stroll in the pouring rain. It is Vancouver in the fall after all. Other than wet feet, it was nice. I don't mind the rain and even though it was dark when I started, it's much quieter first thing in the morning.

I'm doing this for several reasons. One of them is part of my trying to work on getting a little fitter. Not because I want to do it for my health, but because I know I want to feel better, not tired all the time. I took away several little gems from a short talk by Danielle LaPorte, and one of them was to make your goals based on how achieving them will make you feel, rather than what you can achieve. A novel concept for me, but it makes sense. Rather than making a goal of wanting to lose x pounds, my goal is wanting to feel better, wanting to feel good after a hike rather than like crap because I'm too out of shape. So I'm not going to try and force myself to the gym because it's good for me. That never works, and I hate being forced to do anything, even by myself. So my solution is just to get moving. I'll start simple, with a walk in the morning. When that feels good, move on to adding on other exercise.

Another reason is the desire to cultivate a new habit. I've been doing a lot of reading as I try and work on my business concept. Photography books, business books, inspirational books. Another great idea, from The Creative Habit by Twyle Tharp, is the idea of starting your day with a routine, or from another point of view, a ritual. Something you start every day with, that is repeatable, easy to do, and creates a habit. Her definition of a ritual is an automatic but decisive pattern of behaviour. This creates an activity that becomes habit, that is done without questioning it and can be the preparation to start your day and get your creativity flowing each morning. I am feeling in need of structure to my day and by starting with a walk, during which I intend to take a photo or three, seems like an ideal way to start my day. Will I be able to continue it on a daily basis? That remains to be seen, but I have started, which can be the hardest part of all.

Getting out and taking photos is fun, but not something I manage to do all that often lately. I have no excuse, since I certainly have the time. Even when working in an office all day, I still had time, but didn't seem to be able to manage it. I need to find a way to get myself out shooting on ideally a daily basis. Why? Not because I just want to get better at photography, all photographers want that. Because I know I will feel much happier with my photography as it improves. I took a body of work class over the course of a year, three twelve week sessions, once a week. My photography improved exponentially and I love how that made me feel. I was really happy with my results when I went out to shoot with awareness of why I was out there, rather than always just aimlessly pointing my camera at what caught my eye. So again with a goal with the end result of how it feels. I know my photography will get better by simply shooting, and it will get better yet by shooting with a purpose. One week, work on composition, another work on seeing the light, etc. Finding the time? Do it on my walk. This even ties in with the goal of starting my day with a creative boost. How better for a photographer than simply going out and taking a few photos?

And speaking of photos, here's a few from this morning's walk.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A working lunch

Things are progressing along nicely. The last of the items I needed to work away at my bromoils has arrived and I can get started working my butt off on them on Monday. I've shot three friends so far and need to get the film all developed. Bit of a backlog there, as I still have film to develop from my workshop in Oregon, but it's a heck of a lot cheaper doing it yourself then taking it all to a lab. And right now, that's got to be a priority. It all comes down to "what can I get away with making do on?" and what can I cobble together. Some things it only pays to get new, such as clean trays to avoid contamination rather than buying used, but many things when you are starting out definitely end up being DYI. For example, an excellent film drying cabinet can be made from an $11 hanging closet from IKEA and grandmother's old bonnet style hair dryer.

In terms of progress, I had a chance to do some event photography last week for a great charity. While ideally one doesn't work for free, there are times when doing so can bring you a lot of benefits. I got to support an important charity, practise my photography, make some great contacts and even got a free, delicious lunch out of it. At this stage in my career simply getting a chance to shoot for someone is important and the means less so, especially when it brings tangible benefits, and those don't only have to be monetary.

As a first shoot for someone other than friends, paid or not, it's still a little nerve wracking, because, more than anything else, you want to perform well, and get the shots you need and that will make the client happy. While some would tell you I generally don't lack confidence, anything but really, the first time for anything can bring a few butterflies. I am really happy with the photos, they capture the event well I think, have all the important bits, tell the story and show the spirit of the people. That's what you really want out of good event photography.

The charity, which does some great work with BC women is The Minerva Foundation for BC Women. They provide women and girls with programs in education, leadership development and economic security amongst others. Programs such as helping women re-enter the workforce are vital, especially in our current economy. Well worth checking out and supporting.

So here's a sampling from their Education Donor Awards Luncheon.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

1st Steps

So I've been researching and reading tons of material on photography and business. I have a lot of preparation to do before I can get the business side of things started. My 1st step, before I apply to the small business program is to get my portfolio in order. I need a lot more portraits and the easiest way to do this is get my friends and associates to sit for portraits. Or stand, or whatever. Heck, they can balance on their heads if they like, as long as they let me take their picture.

Since I'm choosing to specialise in natural light fine art portraiture, this will involve a lot of traditional portraiture as well as environmental portraiture. I'm studying up on my lighting, looking at portraits by the masters, both photographers and painters, working on getting my exposures bang on. When you are shooting film, you don't have the luxury of fixing it in post. Then again, you really should get it right in the camera in the first place regardless of whether you are shooting digital or film. I also have to work on my presentation, making a portrait session a wonderful experience for the sitter, not just a shoot. It's a collaborative process that ideally ends with great images and was wonderful to participate in for both of us.

And of course, I simply need to shoot, a lot, and make a lot of prints. Standard black and white prints, lith prints, bromoil prints. Whatever suits the mood of the image and highlights best the nature of the person in the portrait.

My goal is to try and get as much complete on my portfolio over the next two months. Then start on the business side of things with getting the business plan in order.

With ink and a brush

I just got back from a 6 day workshop on how to do bromoil prints. For those unfamiliar with this alternative process, you take a black and white image, bleach it back, then while damp use said ink and brush and carefully stipple on ink, layer after layer, and where the silver was in the image, it now takes ink proportionally, and you build back the image in ink.

It's a wonderful process that gives you a great deal of control and creative freedom on how you create an image. Depending on softness of ink, your technique, brushes etc you can control how grainy you want the image from a coarse lithographic style to a very fine grained photograph. You control density by deciding how much ink should be deposited, and you control how much you want the highlights to stand out. Contrast is also something you control in the final image. It's a technique that lends itself to sensitive interpretation of a subject beyond just what the camera records.

The instructor, David Lewis is one of the few remaining masters of this process and an excellent teacher. He's also quite the character and keeps the workshop entertaining. He gives workshops primarily down in the U.S. If you are lucky, try and get in on one down in Arch Cape, Oregon.

It was gorgeous there, right down on the beach. Our host was Linda Lapp Murray, who is a wonderful lady and fantastic photographer. Arch Cape is near Cannon Beach, but a bit off the beaten path, so the weather was great, scenery gorgeous, and it was quiet and peaceful.

Here's a few examples from the workshop as well as a couple of pictures of Arch Cape.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Getting laid off isn't the end of the world

Out of the blue last week, I got laid off. There may be signs of economic recovery out there, but we're not seeing much on the ground here in BC. I was the sixth person at my company since Feb. this year to get laid off. I know several other people who've also been downsized this year, so it's still pretty common for this recession.

Now when I tell people I got laid off, the first thing they say is "sorry to hear that". Well, I'm not sorry at all. I didn't exactly love my last job and rather than looking at this as something terrible, I see an opportunity. It didn't exactly fit my plans, but I'm nothing if not adaptable.

I'd been looking a lot at how to move my photography to the next level and segue over time into turning it into a profession. I've been doing a lot of research and trying to figure out how to focus down on what I really wanted to do with it. The idea was work full time for a few more years, develop my portfolio and get some paid photo jobs over time, get out of debt etc.

Instead, since I qualified for employment insurance, I've decided to embrace this chance to go pro now. I plan on applying to the small business entrepreneur program funded by EI and starting my own photography business. It'll be a lot of hard work but I am relishing the challenge. I am finding myself obsessed at the moment with further research to fine down what I want for my business model and locating resources to help with that.

As I go, I'll be posting these resources here and using my blog to collate information and give myself a visual progress record I can refer back to. The information may even be of use to other photographers since there isn't much out there that really draws this together.

For this week's links, here's a few I've found that are very helpful and others that look like they may be.

Professional organizations
CAPIC - The Canadian Association of Photographers and Illustrators in Communications
PPA - The Professional Photographers of America

Business/Photography Consultants

Photo learning sites

And for a little inspiration or a kick in the pants as required

Monday, August 30, 2010

Why is your style?

I've been thinking a lot lately on style in photography. I've seen images I really like, others I think really suck, and noticed that there are a lot of popular trends that seem to be way more style than substance. This has led me to wonder, rather than what is your style, a better question might be why is your style?

I'll start with one of the styles I don't particularly like. HDR. For many people it's a love it or hate it thing. Beyond the really crappy examples where it's really overdone, where it has this awful crackly texture, even the well done leaves me wondering what the point is? While our eyes may be able to see 3 or 4 times the dynamic range our medium may be able to capture, do we really see it when we look at a scene? I tend to find pretty much all HDR to look rather unreal. So when you choose this as a style, what do you want people to get from it? If your images look unrealistic, are you saying an attempt at capturing reality is unimportant? Is it just a creative exercise, something artistic? Is it better than reality, the way a picture should be by capturing all it possibly can, in your ideal world? Something to think about. As is the question, why did you choose it?

Another style I am seeing a lot of is desaturated images with a look of old polaroids or old colour snaps. Some of it is really lovely, but isn't different enough, at least not anymore, to be a very unique style. Lots of people have jumped on the bandwagon. At what point does a style become a trend, and then become meaningless as it really isn't individual anymore? Now, you can argue that how you use it brings that individuality to those images, and yes, that's completely true, but they still tend to get lost in the sea of images that look so similar in the end. It's not enough just to tweak a bit here and there, you really need to get into what makes a style unique.

So the popularity of a style or look brings me to ask, why are you choosing that style? What is it you want to say with it? Because in the end, your style says something, whether you consciously choose it or not. Styles evolve, develop not always by plan and have a lot to do with how your view the world, rather than necessarily the equipment you use. There are exceptions, as there are to everything, such as Holga images, where the gear does dictate a lot. In many cases, styles are chosen, directly emulating something seen in image galleries, something popular, something that can even be a fad, outright copying in many cases, and a reason is often a desire to achieve the same success of the person they copy. But in the end, what are you saying when you do that? If you don't transform what you desire to emulate into something that is uniquely your own, you can't say much besides you haven't put the effort into your own creativity. Sure, coming up with something original is hard, but by choosing to have your style show that originality, and being conscious of what else it says, you come up with what is uniquely yours. 

My own style is still developing, but even now I can see trends. My fine art images tend to be about nature, beauty, light. They have a stillness to them others remark upon. This relates not so much to something I wished to communicate as it does about how I see things. Nature for me is soothing and peaceful and the images show that, as they show my viewpoint. The images may be disparate in actual subject matter, but processing treatment, framing, composition, shallow depth of field, all impart an indelible stamp on the images that make them identifiable as mine, especially viewed together and in the end that is a style.

When it comes to portraiture, I am still working on what I want for a style, but I am turning to things people don't necessarily use much anymore, processes, equipment etc to get a look that will be unique and uniquely my own. I may go well out of my way to avoid looking like the masses of photographers out there but as I work things out, I am consciously looking at developing that style and considering what it will say. In the terms of high end and fine art portraiture, presenting a unique look, one off images, hand worked portraits, all these should communicate the unique value of such portraits. In addition, people who choose this for their portraits are also saying something in what they value in an image, in art and about themselves. And in the end, this is what your style says about you.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Blue in the sunlight

What turns blue in the sunlight? Cyanotypes! Also known as sunprints or solarprints, this is one of the simplest processes to get a photographic image without using a darkroom.

Yesterday was fun in the sun with friends exploring this colourful process. Lovely lush yard, good food, company and play. What more could you ask for on wonderful Saturday afternoon?

Cyanotype is a simple process. Mixing two chemicals, ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide, the resulting solution is brushed on paper in dim light indoors. Then you place a negative or items for photograms on the paper, and expose to the sun. After about 30 min, wash them for about 10 and where you blocked the sun, the paper stays white and the rest turns blue. If you don't want to mess with chemicals, you can buy precoated paper kits. This is great kid friendly exploration and hey, you can teach them a little about science and photography as you go, if you are so inclined.

This was our first outdoor social and photo event with the Vancouver Darkroom Co-op. We are holding these regularly and they are not just for darkroom members. We did colour photograms our first night. Friends are very welcome. Looking forward to our next get together next month.

Here's a few images. If you want to know more about cyanotypes, drop me a line.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Great photography magazines

Well, I just read a post on photography magazines, listing what was considered 5 great magazines you should be reading. I have to say, I was struck immediately by the US centric list, and the fact that it was the big names that aren't necessarily the most interesting reads.

Now, I admit my tastes tend to be eclectic, as anyone who's never heard of half the musicians I listen to can attest to, but I think there are lots of fantastic magazines out there that do way more to promote the diversity of photography and quite frankly, are far more interesting.

What do I get on a regular basis? Two great magazines for fine art, black and white and film photographers in particular are Silvershotz and View Camera Great images, lots of inspiration and excellent articles. I also really like Outdoor Photography from the UK. Beautiful colour spreads, great local knowledge (if you live in or are travelling to the UK) and again, plenty of inspiration. I also read two professional magazines, PPA mag from the Professional Photographers of America and Professional Photographer from the UK. Excellent articles on the business of photography, great examples and inspiring views of other photographers who are making it in this business.

I like the fact that these aren't all gear based, that there aren't as many ads as the mainstream mags tend to run and that you can find a real mix of photography and advice that is really relevant.

If you find these magazines interesting, you should subscribe or pick up a copy at your local bookstore or magazine stand. Some have very reasonable prices for digital subscriptions, especially compared to the cost of importing paper copies.



Sunday, August 15, 2010

Gastown Motorcycle Show n' Shine

While this northern girl was wilting in the heat today, it was still a fantastic day to wander about downtown. From the Vancouver Chinatown Festival to the Gastown Motorcycle Show n' Shine, it was full of hordes of people all over the place. While I don't have a bike myself, and am not a huge fan, it was still pretty cool wandering about the bike show and seeing some of the neatest bikes I've seen in person.

Here's a selection from today. And what the heck, one last one for a little downtown colour.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Why darkrooms matter

I was out wandering about my neighbourhood with a camera this weeked, as I often do. I really appreciated the fact that it was overcast as my old tlr only has a maximum 1/500th shutter speed, so for my shallow depth of field work, this is an ideal condition. And as well, just after the rain, there were lots of things covered in masses of rain drops, always a guarantee of something to photograph.

It had been a little while since I shot with film. While I use both digital and film cameras, I really love shooting film and working in the darkroom the best. Many people I know, who still shoot some film, don't do any darkroom work at all. I think this is really a shame.

I know there are many people out there who feel a darkroom is a thing of the past and has no relevance anymore. Others feel they are free, no longer having to spend time in one. Others have only ever and will only ever shoot digital. I think the point these people are missing is that learning to print in a darkroom does still matter.
When I speak with people about photography, they often ask about a place to take courses or their cameras and what they would like to do with their photography. I always suggest that they consider giving a film and darkroom course a try. Luckily we have an excellent school here, Langara College, that has a fantastic darkroom and still runs basic photography courses with film. I really believe that this is valuable, even if you only ever shoot digitally afterwards. 

Shooting film has so many benefits, especially for someone who is just learning. Learning to shoot manually, where you can't see what you did right away teaches you to master your camera fully, because if you don't, you won't have successful results. It slows things down, and since you only have a limited number of shots, you learn to make them count. You tend to become more selective of what you shoot, and I think end up paying more attention to what is in front of the camera. 

And then there is the darkroom. No matter how many times I watch it, it is still a magical thing, seeing that image form from nothing in front of my eyes. But beyond that, unlike sitting in front of a computer screen, being in the darkroom really makes you part of the creative process, in the physical sense of things. There's a satisfaction that I don't find is there when sitting in front of a computer, of having made something with your own hands, where you are physically creating this image, not just pressing a mouse and watching the computer do everything. 

I think there's a disconnect, when it comes to technology, that disappears when you physically create and process an image. There is also the ability to experiment hands on, see what happens when you do ........It is a chance to play, to become part of the process. And there is nothing like the satisfaction of being able to say I made this.

That's why I always suggest to people to take a chance and get their hands on an old film camera, which is cheap these days, and go take a film photography/darkroom course. You may decide this isn't for you in the long run, but you have had the experience to fully make that decision from an educated position and you might even have had fun anyways.

But don't just take my word for it. Freestyle Photographic Supplies is not only an excellent place to purchase supplies, but is committed to traditional black and white photography. They have published on their site opinions from many photographic educators that they work with on why darkrooms do still matter.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Evening walk

Another gorgeous night out tonight. While it was fireworks night, we went the other way, and walked the seawall into Coal Harbour. Here's a bunch of shots with that lovely evening light. If you can make it into the west end, there's more than just Stanley Park or the beach to go see.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Toning black and white

Many people may not realize but traditional black and white photographs are frequently processed with toning chemicals. Some cause very little colour change, perhaps only improving the contrast a little and are used mainly to increase the print's longevity and archival qualities. Others do produce a distinct colourization of the print, from a gentle warming of the tones to a sepia brown or cold blue colour and many others as well. Toning is very much a subjective process, based in the end on how you want the print to look as much as anything else. It is another process where experimentation can yield endless results as various papers, development and toners themselves cause a myriad of responses.

Tim Rudman has written one of the most comprehensive guides to toning and this book, unfortunately has long been out of print. Lucky for us, Tim has managed to have his book reprinted and it has just been released. The Master Photographer's Toning Book covers materials and processes in great detail.This is a limited print run, just 1000 copies and is available here from Silverprint in the UK. You can read more information at the website for the book. Copies are selling briskly so make sure to get yours.