• Archives
  • Sep30

    Hummingbird

    This summer my wife and I put a hummingbird feeder on our front porch right in front of our kitchen window. For the first couple of weeks, we didn’t see anything, but once the birds discovered it, they started hanging out all day long. At first, it was difficult to get close enough to get a clear shot, but they started to get used to us being around and grew a bit less skittish. The more I shoot them, the more I try to capture the “perfect shot”. I am shooting through a window, and that greatly has diminished the quality of the shots – I will have to sit outside one day and see if they will come around while I’m there.

    As I reviewed my latest picture of one of these little birds, I started to realize that I like having a well to dip into right in front of my own home. Sometimes it’s kind of like calibration for the craft. It can bring you back to basics. Shooting the same subject over time and trying to keep it fresh and new even though the elements are pretty much identical is also quite therapeutic. Over time, you start to capture a mood by manipulating the way the light falls as well as creating an interesting composition. You begin to get emotionally involved with the subject, looking for clues to it’s personality that you can exploit. In this particular shot, she was on the other side drinking the nectar and then flew around to the left side and looked at me while seemingly posing for this like a little model. A second later she flew away at that breakneck speed hummingbirds like to travel at. It made me genuinely happy when she did that. I realize now that the “perfect shot” may never happen, and I’m perfectly content in continuing to pursue it.

    What is the well that you’ve been returning to lately in your craft?

  • Sep27

    I was reading Ken Rockwell’s news page and his post today about film vs. digital photography got me thinking. Back in the day when film was king I never cared about photography. I was a musician and that was my thing. Photography was a “hobby” for the rich (which by a musician’s standards is anyone who could afford more than a pack of cigarettes on top of 3 square meals a day), as the cost of processing film would be a decision that was lost to buying tacos for lunch. If what Henri Cartier-Bresson said about your first 10,000 photographs being your worst is true (and I happen to agree with him), then I would have starved long before realizing my potential! I really have a lot of respect for the film guys for doing so much with what they had to work with. There’s a giant “but” coming, you can smell it.

    Audiophiles are really a bunch of curmudgeons. They will argue until they are blue in the face about the superiority of analog recording and playback . In most respects, they are correct, but digital recording and production has gotten so good that it is quite possible to record sound so close to analog that you could fool even the most discerning audio geek. I only wish the popular music producers of today would lay off of the compression and start using the abilities available to them to capture sound and not distort it completely in the name of loudness, but that is a fight for another website. The second record my band made was recorded to 2″ tape because we wanted that warm analog sound. When I took the mixed songs to the mastering house I realized something that most audiophiles miss. It was mastered digitally. The engineer took the songs and converted them to digital files that he mastered on a computer. He did run the signal through tube compressors, but the final product was captured in ones and zeroes. The same thing happens with 95% of film that gets printed. The negative gets scanned and then printed on a digital printer. It becomes a digital photograph the minute it gets produced or distributed! There are still a handful of traditional photo labs out there, but they are a dying breed. Digital is rapidly killing the world of film. Will it go away completely? Probably not, but it will be something you have to work a bit harder at to achieve pure analog photography.

    This leads me back to Ken Rockwell’s post. Ken is a very opinionated guy, and he tries very hard to back up his opinions with facts. Sometimes he’s off, but for the most part I agree with a lot of what he has to say. I do find his delivery on this topic a bit abrasive. He calls the photography he grew up with “real photography”. Let’s be honest, I’m sure that guys who shot on metal plates scoffed at the film guys. Just like horse breeders who laughed at Henry Ford, technology moves on and leaves the old ways in the dust. Ken’s not saying in his post that he thinks poorly of digital, but that it’s different. I agree, but I also believe that you can get very similar results if you know how to develop your digital photos. He also argues that shooting film is cheaper. I’ll just go ahead and tell you I think he’s wrong there. The guys who grew up on film choose their shots more carefully because that is how they were brought up. They are far less likely to take 36 exposures of the same scene from every conceivable angle because it’s just not in their upbringing (with the exception of assignment guys who aren’t spending their own money on film and processing). So for Ken to say that it’s cheaper to shoot film to a guy like me who likes to let the shutter rip makes me think he’s crazy. I can shoot a dozen shots and delete the ones I don’t like on the fly and lock the keepers before I ever get near a computer. I can experiment with different exposures in changing light and get immediate feedback so that I am ready for a moment when the time comes. Digital makes a learning process that previously took days to realize take mere seconds. The old school guys hate this because they had to work really hard to achieve what the new kids can do with a lot less effort. It’s the old walking to school in the snow uphill both ways routine all over again. As for the guys that claim to be purists, they are manipulating reality the minute they use a different kind of film to achieve a different kind of effect. It’s no different than applying a warming filter in Photoshop. The greats like Richard Avedon used dogging and burning heavily to achieve their art. This is similar to a lot of the processing that goes on in the digital world.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, film photography is still the resolution king. You can fit a lot more information onto film than most digital cameras can capture, just like you can fit a lot more audio onto a vinyl record than in a digital audio file. But can you tell the difference? For most humans, the answer is a big fat no unless you are hearing the audio on a high-end analog sound system or viewing a professionally processed pure analog print. Most of us are listening to music in our cars or iPods and viewing photos on our computers or in magazines (which are digitally reproduced).

    Lets get back to the gist of Ken’s post. He is challenging photographers out there to try both in the same scene and compare them to each other and to see which one you prefer. Unfortunately I’m not going to be purchasing a film body anytime soon (although if the right deal comes by, I’d jump all over it). Instead I wanted to look at the example he gave with another photographer named Ken Lax and see if I could edit his digital photo to look more like the film one. His example definitely shows that a SLR loaded with professional portrait film interprets a scene with much richer colors than a high-end point and shoot digital camera’s presumably unedited file. You see, when a negative is printed it is a developed, which is a process. If you take a digital file off of a camera card and do nothing with it, you have not developed it. Most cameras that shoot in JPG do some form of developing in the camera, but if you shoot in RAW, you still need to develop the photo. What I came up with after “developing” Ken Lax’s digital photo was pretty close to his film photo (even though it was still not exact, it was more along the lines of how I would have handled the processing). I did reach out to Ken Lax to see if it would be OK if I post my edited version of his photo here, but he passed on that idea, so I must respect his wishes. Instead, I present a picture from the same area as his examples, which is on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. I took this shot in May of 2009 with a Nikon D40 using the kit lens and the only editing was done in Apple’s iPhoto which consisted of simply increasing the saturation. His photos were taken during September of this year, so the different seasons will have a different look as will the different times of day, but the idea is that a digital photo can achieve similar rich colors when compared to film if presented on a digital medium, which is the way we view most of our photography (for better or worse).

    Blue Ridge Parkway

    The big question this brought up for me is that if I did shoot with film, would I eventually just edit it digitally and treat the negative as a RAW file? At that point, then what is the point of shooting film? It seems like a hassle, much like going through the trouble of recording a whole album to analog tape only to have it mastered and distributed digitally. Still, there must be something there I’m missing because of the delivery method, or else so many photographers wouldn’t be so passionate about it. Either way, the real art is in creating something, not in what technology got you there. Just an FYI, Mr. Rockwell also believes strongly in the process that goes on before you press the shutter regardless of what kind of equipment you are using and has a wealth of timeless information on his website. Make sure to check out his sponsors too so he can keep providing his experience and knowledge freely to the photographic community.

  • Sep25

    Whew. I have a new-found respect for people who do wedding photography for a living. I can honestly tell you that I worked so hard on this that I sweated through and completely ruined a brand new tie! And that was just on the shoot. It has been almost a week since the wedding, and I still have a whole reception’s worth of photos to sort through. In an effort to share the process with you in a timely manner (and before I forget), I wanted to write up this post about a few of my favorite shots from this special event and how I created them.

    I definitely felt most creative in the pre-wedding shots, as I could set my own pace and really experiment. The couple only walks that isle once, so you really can’t get to nutty with your shot, but the wedding rings can be futzed with endlessly if you have access to them.

    I had a few ideas for the rings. I started with a classic shot of the rings on the spine of the Bible with a small flashlight from behind creating a heart shadow.

    While I liked how this looked, I started looking for something different. I took a look at the heel of one of the bride’s wedding shoes and thought that it looked like an elongated ring holder when it was sitting upside down.

    Then I noticed a very cool Kershaw pocket knife that the bride had with her make-up (yeah, you don’t wanna mess with Crystal). Being a knife collector, I really wanted to include it in a shot. On went the two wedding bands. I think she really dug this shot.

    I tried really hard to think of an original way to shoot the wedding dress. There really wasn’t a whole lot of options in the hotel room where the bride was getting ready, but then it hit me to put a wireless flash behind the dress and make it appear as it is glowing. Add in a little vintage B&W editing and this is what I came up with:

    I really like this close-up shot of the Maid of Honor hugging the bride right before we packed up and left for the ceremony. It is as authentic a moment as you can capture.

    One of my favorite shots of the day came as the bride was waiting to get in the limo. The sun was getting low in the sky and a beam of warm side-light hit her on the hand as she was holding her belly. The fall-off of light around the dress framed it perfectly and I quickly grabbed this shot. It’s these kinds of shots that only come when you have your eyes wide open for them.

    This shot of the kiss is also one of my favorites because of the sheer joy in Crystal’s face just a split second before the groom plants one on her.

    The group shots were an utter stress-fest. I knew it was going to be, but let me explain a little of my pain. The sun was setting, and it was going down quickly. After every shot I had to adjust my settings to get a decent exposure. At the same time, people in each group are looking at other people around me with cameras instead of me and I’m barking out orders from atop a small ladder. I had a single umbrella that I had to reposition each time a person was added or removed from a shot. Up and down, while constantly adjusting my exposure, and little time to review what I was doing – I was shooting and praying the whole time. Luckily I grabbed my favorite shot of the wedding, which is this magical moment with the bride and the flower girls. I just love this shot for so many reasons.

    Here is a classic shot of the newlyweds:

    I learned a hell of a lot on this shoot, and I know that if I ever do this again, I need to invest in a fast portrait zoom. Thank goodness for my 35mm f/1.8, because it saved my butt during the portraits.

  • Sep20

    I Survived!

    Posted in: Projects

    Crystal

    I just wanted to chime in and let you know that my first wedding shoot was a success. I learned a lot and I accomplished a lot of what I set out to do. I’m completely fried, so I’l write up more about it later this week when I have a chance to sort though all of the photos. I just wanted to share this fun photo of the bride during her reception.

  • Sep19

    One of my favorite aspects of photography is that you can do an assignment for someone else and even though the subject matter might not be what you would go out of your way to shoot on your own creative excursion, you can always find something that will pique your interest.

    Shooting real estate is one of those assignments that can be a little unfulfilling artistically. While it can be satisfying because of the challenge and skill it takes to make a home look it’s best, it is what it is. You can’t stretch too far creatively because you need to keep things realistic. You’re shooting wide, your compositions need to be precise, and your at the mercy of the seller of the home to have a well kept property.

    Here is a shot I took of the interior of a home just yesterday:

    Stairway

    When I was done I noticed a rose bush on the side of the house. A single rose against the brick siding caught my eye, so I put on my long lens and took a shot of it.

    Rose Against A Brick Wall

    Then I started to look closer at the rose bush and decided to take some shots of the thorns, which was a bit more appealing to me.

    Thorns

    I converted it to black and white and added a little cyan to the highlights to cool down the shot. It has an almost wintery feel as you see no flowers or leaves – just thorny stems against a pale blue backdrop.

    And there you have it. The photographer’s equivalent to goofing off on the job (as long as you wait ’till you’re done and you’re not doing it on a client’s dime) is a good way to make the best out of what can sometimes be a mundane or routine job. It’s also a good way to keep you inspired after using your camera as a tool for commercial gain, which in my case can sometimes feel like a soul sucking experience instead of an expressive one. It’s important to remind yourself why you started to do what you do in the first place.

    On a side note, I’m shooting a wedding for the first time tomorrow. I’m quite nervous as this is a huge task to take on and there is a lot of pressure to do justice to the newlyweds on their big day.

    Here is a shot of a moment between the bride and one of the flower girls at the rehearsal today:

    Wedding Rehearsal

  • Sep15

    d7000 Nikon introduced the d7000, which is the replacement for my camera of choice, the D90. Here are some great resources about it: Dpreview.com‘s tech porn preview, Engadget and Gizmodo weighed in on the announcement as well. My favorite coverage is by an actual photographer, famed Seattle photog Chase Jarvis has a great post about it including sample shots, a sample movie and a behind-the-scenes movie all created on a prototype of the d7000.

    Here is the short film he created on it:

    Make sure to check out all of the awesome shots he created as well (I don’t want to re-post those here, but you can find them right here).

    When new gear comes out like this it’s very difficult for a guy like me to control the urge to figure out a way to justify buying it. The truth is that the D90 is a friggin’ amazing camera, and I have no reason to upgrade it at this time. My next logical camera upgrade if I was going to stick with the DX format (which most of my lenses are designed for) would be the D300s. But the d7000 is for all intents and purposes even better than the D300s! This makes my head spin thinking about what the replacement for the D300s has in store. So my wife can relax, as I have no intentions on buying this camera, but I’m gonna start saving for the D400 now 😉

    sb-700The other newsworthy release from Nikon today is the SB-700, which is a replacement for the flashes I use, the SB-600. The best new feature to me is that the SB-700 now can act as a wireless commander – which means you can use it on the camera to control other wireless flashes – something that the SB-600 couldn’t do. If you know what this means then it’s exciting news because you don’t have to use your built-in flash as a commander for the remote flashes and you don’t have to buy the expensive SB-900.

    And, so as not to be a completely boring techie post, here is a picture of my happy little dog, Lola:

    Happy Lola

  • Sep14

    Red Tail Hawk B&W

    This morning I awoke as usual – I quickly checked my email and then put on my Tevas and exercise shorts to take the dogs out for their walk. As I was walking down the front steps I saw a red tail hawk being chased by a much smaller bird as it made its way to a treetop right behind my neighbor’s house.  It sat up there and started surveying the land as I realized that I was just a doorway away from my camera and a cool photo of a great bird.

    I never know when something will ignite the creative part of my mind, so it really helps to always have a way to fulfill that need when the opportunity arrives.  I swear that the iPhone’s camera has been a gift from the photographic gods in situations where I wish I had my camera before I realize that I do have one. In this particular situation, my Nikon was already set up with the right lens and settings to quickly capture this scene.

    In this shot, I chose to frame it with a lot of negative space (the sky) for two reasons.  One was to point out that this was high up and without being able to show the whole tree, I’m able to express height by defining the very top of the tree with the unobstructed sky above.  The other is that as I composed this I envisioned it in black and white and I knew I wanted it to show a gradient sky that will push your eye back down to the hawk at the bottom of the image.

    I also tried some other compositions and while I do like the following one in color, I feel that the black and white one is the more successful image.

    Red Tail Hawk

    This one was at a slightly different angle and shows a little more of the tree at the bottom of the image. I do like the color of the hawk itself though.

    I went to put my camera back inside, but my wife told me there was a great blue heron at the pond nearby. So, I slung the camera around my shoulder and took it along for the walk. Here is a shot of the heron trying to look scary while my dogs barked at it from across the pond:

    Great Blue Heron

    A little while later in the walk I started taking pictures of the flowers in my neighborhood. Here’s my favorite shot of a flower from this morning:

    Flower

    And there you have it. A simple mundane task that I do everyday became an opportunity to create and share. All it took was that little spark ignited by a cool looking hawk. And BTW, I did hear a song in my head when I put the camera up to my head to capture my feathery subject, but this time it was much more literal than last night’s example.

    “Hello Hawk” by Superchunk

    Promo_Superchunk (Hello Hawk) from Leandro HBL on Vimeo.

    Oh yeah, one last thing – today marks the release of Superchunk’s long awaited (9 years in fact) new album “Majesty Shredding”. Go download it already!

  • Sep14

    One of my biggest influences in photography is music. Being a musician makes it difficult for me not to visualize something without a soundtrack to it in my mind. Every good image has rhythm, a hook, etc. Sometimes I like to look at an image and figure out what song compliments it best, and conversely, sometimes I hear a song and it reminds me of an image (or smell, or climate, or emotion). When I start to connect the different artistic influences in my life and they begin to harmonize, at that moment I feel most alive. It’s in this zone that I’m on autopilot and start to let my subconscious break through my masks and reveal the real stuff inside. It’s a very honest yet sometimes frightening state of mind.

    Take a listen to the song below and look at the image below it. See if you can make the connections that I did. I’ll describe my feelings towards this relationship below.

    Here is a shot I made of the Ben Sawyer Bridge:

    Day 186 - The New Ben Sawyer Bridge

    I made this photo one evening all alone on this bridge connecting Sullivan’s Island to Mount Pleasant in South Carolina. Here’s a map so you can see how the stretch of road and this bridge is laid out:


    View Larger Map

    Hopefully you can see how it might be a little frightening to stand alone on a bridge over the Inter-coastal Waterway surrounded by marshland in the dark while cars fly by. It’s quite a rush to try and hold your tripod steady under the vibrations from vehicles and wind while shooting long exposures. All it takes is one inattentive driver and your day is completely ruined.

    When I stood up there creating this image, I had a steady thumping beat in my mind (could have been my heart influencing that). There was a sense of urgency, yet at the same time it was quite peaceful. I was determined to get the shot I had envisioned in my mind, and the energy of the whole scenario started to pick up as it got darker out. The longer I stood on that bridge, the more alive I started to feel. Then the light was perfect, and just the right amount of motion from passing cars was captured. It all worked. I knew I had my shot, yet I stayed just a little longer. Not necessarily to get a better shot, but to keep that feeling going. Sometimes when this happens, I get an even better shot than the one that I had planned. But that wasn’t my goal – I just wanted to let the emotion of it all disperse slowly so I could truly enjoy the whole experience. I really think Black Dub’s interpretation of “Ring The Alarm” captures that feeling musically. The drums and bass are perfectly executed, and the mix of the guitar and organ create such an incredibly passionate mood that you can’t help but get excited by the time they start in with the vocals. The song doesn’t follow any real pop formula – it just moves me in a fantastic way that makes me want to stand in the middle of traffic and watch the colors draw lines against a black backdrop through the lens of my camera.

    What song would capture this mood for you?

  • Sep12

    Hello world!

    Posted in: News

    Welcome to JWNPhoto.com. This site has been a long time coming, and I’m super excited to have a focused home for my photographic endeavors. I have a never ending urge to grow my craft, and with your input I will hopefully be able to realize that growth as quickly as possible, and trust me, I will enjoy every minute.

    Joe