phototelling

life, events and work experience as interactive stories

Photo Stories

Photo Stories
The Ghost of Cowboys Past

The Ghost of Cowboys Past

Stories, Travel

Twenty minutes outside of Phoenix, Apache Junction has served as rest stop for wanderers, explorers, gold prospectors and those seeking a new life for generations. Located at the exit (or entrance) to the Superstition Mountains, Apache Junction is situated at the end of the Apache Trail.

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Even though they have been funneling native people through the mountains for millennia, the Apache Trail and Apache Junction are still the jumping off points for travelers and tourists in search of a link to the past. Photographers can spend time shooting landscapes in the Superstition Mountains, hiking along numerous trails or exploring a few of the local attractions.

 

One of the more interesting places to visit in the area is the Goldfield mine. Part ghost town, tourist attraction and glimpse into the past, Goldfield has a number of buildings and activities that photographers might find satiate their photographic curiosity … especially if they want to channel their inner John Ford. On weekends, a troop of local actors puts on small skits and gunfight reenactments to the enjoyment of the crowds that gather to watch.

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Photographing at the Speed of a Leisurely Walk

Photographing at the Speed of a Leisurely Walk

General, Inspiration, Travel

I moved to Arizona a few months ago after living in the Philippines for the past four years. Prior to that, I had spent most of my life in the US midwest.

If you love to photograph and have even the most minimal amount of curiosity, it is this wanderlust or movement that drives all of us forward. Beyond the newest sights, it’s the physical motion of walking to and from new places that makes things happen in our photographic mind.

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The need for exploration is what makes walking and moving about with a camera an ambiguous and endlessly fertile endeavor. It is both means and end, travel and destination, fluidity and the stopping of time.

Rebecca Solnit, in her book, Wanderlust: A History of Walking writes that “Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord. Walking allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts.”

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“I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness,” says Solnit.

The rhythm of walking with a camera is, I believe, one of the reasons for the rapid rise of street photography as an art form, impetus of exploration, and means of synthesizing and communicating one’s viewpoint of the world around them. While the internet, smartphones and a fast-paced world work in concert to limit our understanding of the outside world, walking with a camera in-hand with the goal of photographing the world around us compels us to study and observe every smallest living thing, expression or confluence of events.

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Again, Rebecca Solnit explains, “Thinking is generally thought of as doing nothing in a production-oriented culture, and doing nothing is hard to do. It’s best done be disguising it as doing something, and the something closest to doing nothing is walking. Walking itself is the intentional act closest to the unwilled rhythms of the body, to breathing and the beating of the heart. It strikes a delicate balance between working and idling, being and doing. It is a bodily labor that produces nothing but thoughts, experiences and arrivals.”

Use those thoughts, experiences and arrivals generated through scheduled or unscheduled walks with your camera to facilitate a robust body of photographic opportunities.

 

Harnessing All Of Your Creative Superpowers

Harnessing All Of Your Creative Superpowers

Blog, General, Inspiration

In photography, the effort you make in defining your own creative vision can have a substantial impact on the end result of your images …

Attaining a fresh approach is equal parts … observation … inspiration … and application.

A strong creative photographer works to continually fine-tune his senses, filling his utility belt with the strategies and techniques necessary to return to that place where inspiration resides and application is achieved.

No matter who you are or your experience with photography, creativity is your opportunity to share your unique vision. In a world inundated with photographs, images with a creative flair resonate.

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With that in mind, here’s a list of creative superpowers that you can continue to refine to keep yourself at the top of your game:

  • Focus – Find the right environment or situations that provide you with laser-like focus
  • Vision – Insight is gained by seeing through the eyes of others; spend time in the environment you are photographing and the people with which you wish to make a connection
  • Knowledge – The broader and deeper the vein of information you mine about a setting, situation or subject, the more potential insight you have to deliver to your audience
  • Fearlessness – Don’t be afraid to step out on a ledge, peak in a doorway or step into a dark alley. Get out early. Stay later. Shoot from a lower angle. The risks are higher. But so are the rewards
  • Tenacity – Be willing to push forward, past what is easiest and most obvious
  • Observation – You can’t comprehend the big picture until you are willing to grasp the details
  • Communication – Understand that communication is the key component in getting your idea, concept or photographic project off the ground and eventually conveying what you see to others in the form of photographs
  • Passion – We’re so much more committed to the things that we love to do; make all of your efforts something that you love to do
  • Faith – The leap of faith metaphor is a strong one. There’s a reason why it resonates
  • Implementation – Learn to love the execution as much as the ideation and your creative ideas and images will soar

 

Don’t Be Afraid To Express Your Inner Creative Vision

Don’t Be Afraid To Express Your Inner Creative Vision

General, Inspiration, Stories

A young couple with two small children sat at the table next to us at our favorite local restaurant last evening. The younger of the two children sat in a high-chair at the head of the table intently drinking in his family and the world around him.

The father masterfully focused all that he could of a two-year-old’s attention on a tablet display screen. With amusement and dedication he’d draw a letter on the screen and place it in front of the boy.

He’d draw a letter ‘J’ and the little boy would gleefully yell out … ‘S’. He’d erase the ‘J’ and replace it with a letter ‘T’ and the little boy would yell out … ‘R’. This went on for nearly ten minutes.

Not once did the little boy guess the right answer. Neither the father nor the child minded. The game finally ended when our section of the restaurant erupted in laughs and knowing understanding.

Photographic creativity is a lot like that. The more that you try to define it, the more that it just happens as you become fully realized … participating in life as it engages you. Like the mind of a child, a photographer pushes the shutter in an attempt to express what he sees in front of him before it slips away. Sometimes he gets it all wrong. But many times the purity of the attempt produces his greatest work.

Looking for your creative vision? Find your sponge-like inner child that simply reacts. That part of you that is a keen observer reaching out to the world as it unfolds in front of you.

When you step out on the street, don’t forget to bring your Cheerios, juice boxes or whatever it takes to keep a fresh and childlike view of the world.

 

Does Your Photography Stand Up To The Courage Of Your Convictions?

Does Your Photography Stand Up To The Courage Of Your Convictions?

Blog, General, Inspiration

Does your photography stand up to the courage of your convictions? If you really think about it, you know. That’s the esoteric thing about creativity that inspires. You may not be able to define it, but your gut tells you when something creative like an essay, poem, painting or photograph works.

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It’s often lyrical, hard to define and inexplainable, but you’ll know it because you can feel it. When you find something that you know is right, hold on tight … even as the pace and breadth of photographs taken and shared speeds along at an incomprehensible, ever-increasing rate.

Against this backdrop, some may tell you that standing out from the crowd is an art form. On the contrary, it is a willingness to listen to your inner voice that is most important. That inner voice will tell you when you are speaking with originality and authenticity.

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Forget about fame, likes, fortune or celebrity (it is photography after all). Photography that is derivative, stale or is missing the passion of the photographer, fades as it is lost in the hidden-away, forgotten shoeboxes of time.

When you find your voice and photograph what matters most to you, your images will reflect your curiosity for and willingness to connect with your subjects. Learn to trust what you feel.

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So again, does your photography stand up to the courage of your convictions?

If it doesn’t, it’s time to dig a little deeper.

If it does, the act of pushing the shutter will never be easier.

 

Photography As Food For Your Soul

Photography As Food For Your Soul

Blog, General, Inspiration, Stories

There’s a significant current focus on the idea of mindfulness — the concept of more fully immersing oneself in the present to free ourselves from the constant barrage of thoughts, predictions, anxieties, judgements, and incessant meta-experiences about experience itself that weigh us down.

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Photography is a medium that facilitates a means to gaining a measure of mindfulness.

Photography can be exasperating and frustrating because our minds are full of everyday thoughts about work, family, love, health, sadness or any other number of significant or trivial concepts. Add to this mad mind stew our concerns or unfamiliarity about our photographic equipment, fear about approaching others to photograph them, or the complexities of a shot as subjects or backgrounds rapidly change within the frame, and photography can quickly become a frustrating avocation.

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As we stomp about looking for opportunities to photograph, thoughts and worries overcome our ability to get the shot as we try to get the ‘I’ out of the experience. Sanity, clarity and inspiration, however, lie in the realization that we can immerse ourselves in the pursuit of the moments that we seek to capture.

To understand what it is to photograph, you must be present in the moment of that photograph. So long as you are thinking, “I am photographing,” you are not photographing.

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Photography can be one of life’s greatest experiential endeavors as long as the photographer fully embraces capturing what is in front of the lens. Gladly lose yourself in the moment. Become so engrossed in what is happening in front of you that you forget about your camera, insecurities and doubt.

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Once you become blissfully unaware of yourself, your photographic instinct will take you and your photography to unexpected and more fulfilling places.

 

Photographing With Intention In Mind

Photographing With Intention In Mind

General, Inspiration, Stories

 

A photograph must not be a battlefield littered with the dying remains of conflicting ideas. Rather, set out camera in-hand with an intent to engage in the world with something to say. Vagueness is obscurity. With so much clutter, information and billions of images inundating us on a daily basis, boldness resonates.

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Life, events and moments never simplify themselves, they always get more complicated along the way. Understand what it is that you are trying to say with your photographs. Use your brain as a filter to eliminate the superfluous before you push the shutter.

To convince others, you first have to convince yourself of your intent. A conciliatory or even an unduly understanding attitude — in that it is inevitably superficial — is not especially helpful to creativity.

 

Once you know what it is that you want to say with your photographs, never depart from the truth of what you are creating, even though it may seem banal at first. This will ensure that your photographs will be seen and felt. Your photographs will only matter for yourself and in your art to the extent that you keep your integrity.

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It’s helpful to remember that there is a difference between intent and knowledge. While intent is a valid pursuit in art, there is a certain hubris that knowledge can breed.

Henry David Thoreau mentions this, “A man’s ignorance sometimes is not only useful, but beautiful — while his knowledge, so called, is oftentimes worse than useless, besides being ugly. Which is the best man to deal with — he who knows nothing about a subject, and, what is extremely rare, knows that he knows nothing, or he who really knows something about it, but thinks that he knows it all?”

We’ve all met and have been crushed by the egos of other photographers, critics and artists who would seek to lower their evaluation of our work while heightening the elevation of their own.

Set out to shape your work with your own voice.

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Both your intent and ultimately the integrity of your photographs can be shaped as much within you, the photographer, as it can be by those surrounding the photographer. It’s a function of one’s interior personal commitment as well as one’s cultivated involvement with other artists and photographers. In short, nothing sustains the creative spirt more powerfully than the sense of belonging to a circle of kindred spirits.

 

Other photographers, especially those that you relate to most whether they be amateur, professional, street or landscape photographer, can inspire and sustain you as you find your voice. Build strong relationships with those whose work inspires you and remember to provide a hand up to those who seek advice.

 

In Search Of Photographic Inspiration

In Search Of Photographic Inspiration

Blog, General, Inspiration

 

Human imagination is the origin for everything that we comprehend to be beautiful and true. From it springs the visual genius of Picasso, the improvisation of jazz, the literary tour-de-force of the romantic poets and the scientific musings that lead to quantum mechanics.

We can readily imagine ourselves walking in the footsteps of someone else, yet we still have difficulty understanding just what imagination is notwithstanding its elusiveness or limits. And that’s what makes photography such an inspirational as well as aspirational medium. Countless people can line-up to take a photograph of the same scene but will see the scene or view the resulting photograph in different ways.

Imagination takes us beyond our senses — what we see, feel or know to be real. In that end, imagination is the discovery faculty that pushes us to penetrate and discover the unseen worlds around us.

Photography, a medium by which we can explore, document and alter the real world with our imagination, follows right behind. If you are looking for photographic inspiration, learn to find the points in common between subjects having no apparent connection … and find a way to bring them into juxtaposition.

In The Education of a Photographer by Charles H. Traub, the chair of the graduate MFA program in photography at the School of Visual Arts compiles a fantastic list of maxims that outlines the art and science of photography with equal doses pragmatism, insight and humor. All can be great jumping off points for photographic inspiration.

 

The Do’s

  • Do something old in a new way
  • Do something new in an old way
  • Do something new in a new way; whatever works … works
  • Do it sharp, if you can’t, call it art
  • Do it in the computer–if it can be done there
  • Do fifty of them–you will definitely get a show
  • Do it big; if you can’t do it big, do it red
  • If all else fails, turn it upside down; if it looks good, it might work
  • Do bend your knees
  • If you don’t know what to do, look up or down–but continue looking
  • Do celebrities–if you do a lot of them, you’ll get a book
  • Connect with others–network
  • Edit it yourself
  • Design it yourself
  • Publish it yourself
  • Edit; when in doubt, shoot more
  • Edit again
  • Look at everything–stare
  • Construct your images from the edge inward
  • If it’s the “real world,” do it in color
  • If it can be done digitally–do it
  • Be self-centered, self-involved, generally entitled and always pushing–and damned to hell for doing it
  • Break all the rules, except the chairman’s

The Don’ts

  • Don’t do it about yourself–or your friend–or your family
  • Don’t dare photograph yourself nude
  • Don’t look at old family albums
  • Don’t hand color it
  • Don’t write on it
  • Don’t use alternative process–if it ain’t straight do it in the computer
  • Don’t gild the lily–aka, less is more
  • Don’t go to video when you don’t know what else to do
  • Don’t photograph indigent people, particularly in foreign lands
  • Don’t whine, just produce

 

How do you see the world? The impulse for creative speculation is at the core of how the artist sees the world differently according to John Ruskin, the Victorian art critic and philosopher, “From the most insignificant circumstance, — from a bird on a railing, a wooden bridge over a stream, a broken branch, a child in a pinafore, or a waggoner in a frock, does the artist derive amusement, improvement, and speculation. In everything it is the same; where a common eye sees only a white cloud, the artist observes the exquisite gradations of light and shade, the loveliness of the mingled colours — red, purple, grey, golden, and white; the graceful roundings of form, the shadowy softness of the melted outline, the brightness without lustre, the transparency without faintness, and the beautiful mildness of the deep heaven that looks out among the snowy cloud with its soft blue eyes; — in fact, the enjoyment of the sketcher from the contemplation of nature is a thing which to another is almost incomprehensible. If a person who had no taste for drawing were at once to be endowed with both the taste and power, he would feel, on looking out upon nature, almost like a blind man who had just received his sight.”

 

Zoning in on Zone Focusing

Zoning in on Zone Focusing

Blog, Gear, General

 

Every photographer worth his or her weight in near misses needs to find a way to capture the most important moments that appear in front of them as they unexpectedly arise and just as quickly disappear. Often it’s a struggle between relying on the set-up of an autofocus camera versus learning how to use camera equipment in a manner that permits the photographer to trust their own instinct.

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The more that you photograph, the more often you ‘just’ miss the moment as it aligns itself perfectly in the frame … and then vanishes forever before you recognize it and are able to push the shutter. Curious about the world around them, photographers quickly learn that it is the pursuit of the next shot that is the most exciting part of photography. Over time, photographers learn by failing. To become a better photographer and a better artist, one needs to continue failing forward.

While sloppy technique can be interesting, it’s much better to be interesting and capture what it is you’ve set out to capture. It’s important then to find a technique, whether it is through manual or auto focus that minimizes reaction time and provides the photographer with the means to work out how the action will play out in front of them. From there, they can then determine how to align that moment in the compositional elements presented within the frame … all in the split second they have to get it right.

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Many photographers still use manual focus for the majority of their shooting except for fast action circumstances where it is more effective like news or sports applications. Remember though, that before the advent of autofocus, photographers were shooting every kind of photography (including sports) with manual focus.

Why would anyone give up using modern autofocus? Because it is possible to use a technique like zone focusing to achieve tack sharp images … with the confidence and control of knowing that the result you get after pushing the shutter will be in focus and framed exactly as you wish it to be framed.

 

Just what is zone focus? It’s a type of focusing system that relies on determining the distance to the subject and setting the focus using a scale printed on the lens. While it’s not for everyone, zone focusing does provide a measure of camera equipment control that can free up a photographer’s mind to better concentrate on the right moment, expression or composition on the fly. It can also be much more easy to figure out in practice than via explanation.

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First, it’s best to remember what depth of field means in photography. It simply refers to the area in front of and behind the subject you focus on that will appear sharp in the resulting photograph. As an example, if you choose a subject, depending on the lens aperture that you choose, a certain amount of the foreground and background will be in focus. That is the depth of field of the shot. Because of how lenses are designed, remember that the area behind your subject that is sharp will always be greater than the area in front of your subject.

Several quick points using depth of field for zone focusing:

  • Smaller apertures translate into greater depth of field in a resulting photograph. If you shoot at f11, you will get much more of the area in front of and behind your subject in focus than you will by shooting at f2.8.
  • Zone focusing is easier with wider angle lenses. 15mm, 19mm, 21mm, 24mm and 28mm are all great focal lengths for zone focusing. Focal lengths of 35mm and above are much more difficult for zone focusing.
  • The further away your subject from the camera, the more depth of field you will get in the resulting image. So, if you are using something like a 21mm lens on close up subjects, you can still end up with out of focus backgrounds in front of and behind the subject. Experimenting and practice are best.
  • Full frame camera sensors provide less depth of field than cropped sensor cameras.

The following website, http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html is a great reference.

With zone focusing, you really do need to use lenses that have a printed distance scale on the lens. The lens will then provide you with a quick reference to the depth of field you have with any shot you are considering.

In zone focusing, you simply pre-focus your camera to a certain distance and estimate the depth of field you will have as the subjects move through that ‘in-focus’ range. With a lens with a focusing tab on the bottom like a Leica M lens, you can easily manage the depth of field zone with quick turns of the focusing tab.

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The benefit of zone focusing readily becomes apparent as you simply click the shutter. As there is no delay between when you react and push the shutter due to a need to focus, the photographer can spend their time concentrating on composition, emotion or the action at hand.

When using zone focus, my lens of choice is a 21mm manual lens on a rangefinder camera. Since I like to get close to the action, I dial in a close setting on the lens of .7 meters. At f8, this means everything from two to 15 feet will be in focus in front of me. As I shoot often with a 21mm lens in narrow spaces, I know instinctively what will be in frame and what will be outside of the frame. With this setting, I can engage and talk to my subjects while I shoot one-handed. While that is not necessarily how others might choose to shoot, it provides me with the flexibility to shape my photography as I see fit. And that’s the under-realized value of zone focusing.

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In street, documentary and news photography, it’s easy to utilize the auto ISO setting in your camera to make certain that your images will not have motion blur when using setting in the f8 to f11 range.

 

Your first attempts at zone focusing may be clumsy and confusing, I know mine were. But with practice, you may find that you can become quite proficient at the technique. For those who like street photography, it can really open the door to some brilliant shots that you might not have been able to get before as you struggled to direct the autofocus on your camera. It may be worth an experimenting with the technique. After all, great photography is for the bold.

 

 

Paris is for … Photographers

Paris is for … Photographers

Blog, Daily Photo, Inspiration, Stories, Travel

 

In November, I had the good fortune to spend a few days in Paris for Paris Photo. It also provided me with some extra time to spend a few hours photographing in the streets.

For those who are unfamiliar with Paris Photo, it’s an annual exposition held at the Grand Palais, where photographers, publishers and gallery owners meet to provide exposure to photography, photographers they represent and of course, sell prints and books.

Events like Paris Photo offer photographers, as well as those who love photography, important frames of reference to see the work of artists that they admire. It may also provide an excellent opportunity to find out about photographers whose work one may be unfamiliar with.

I found a few books that I felt compelled to bring home. The first was Suite Egyptienne by Fouad El Koury. Printed by Actes Sud in 1999, it provides a beautiful black and white look at Egypt through El Koury’s eyes. A quick description of the book, “One hundred and fifty years later, a journey through Egypt on the steps of Maxime Du Camp and Flaubert. The work turns its back on the initial orientalist story and evolves into a personal fiction based on contemporary Egypt.” The book is designed by Ernesto Aparicio.

The second, was Dazai by Daido Moriyama. The description for this title, “Daido Moriyama creates a tribute to his favourite writer Osamu Dazai(1909-48). The book features a new English translation of the Dazai short story “Villon’s wife” originally published in 1947, accompanied by Daido’s own careful selection of images to both reflect the story and the writers effect of Moriyama’s work.”

Mostly, a trip to Paris offers an opportunity to do something that I can’t get enough of no matter the location … photograph. Fortunately, this mid-November the temperatures in Paris were above normal, the streets full of tourists and the trees still displaying the dying embers of fall’s brilliant color.

Unfortunately, the trip needed to be cut short in the wake of the Paris terrorist attack. But I’ll back again soon.

 

Since pictures best tell the story, here are a few from Paris in the fall. All are taken with a digital Leica M and either a 50/2 Summicron APO or 21/3.4 Super Elmar lens.

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Color or black and white, point and shoot, rangefinder or cell phone. It really doesn’t matter. Just make certain you have a camera with you on any trip you take … especially if it is Paris.