Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 The Year's Ten Best Shots

I narrowed the field down to fourteen, and from there it could have been any ten. Choices like this are so subjective, but I ultimately had to choose content over technical. These are not in any particular order of preference. Except for the first image, they were all shot with the Fuji X-Pro1.

.... NOT!

Where's Charles Atlas when you need him?

Something smells fishy

Ummm .... Real

Because I said so!

Who, me?

Something I can do for you?

Queen of Fifth Avenue

The kids are laughing

Cough cough

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thoughts for the end of the year

First an apology. An error in the processing of one of the images in yesterday's posting was pointed out to me. It was simply an oversight on my part that I didn't notice pixelation in one corner of an image that was the result of a glitch in Silver Efex Pro 2 talking to Lightroom. It happens sometimes that when I finish processing images in SEP2, during the process of applying the filter and re-importing back to Lightroom, I get strange effects happening. So far it's been infrequent. Rather than call Nik Tech Support and hold on the line for several minutes (a phenomenon that is new to Nik Support only since the Google takeover. Hmmmm ......) I reprocess the image and it's fine. I didn't post the comment, but have decided to change my comment procedure for next year and post all comments, except those that are abusive.

I'm reviewing my shots for the past year in preparation for submission to an annual review. Later this week I'll be posting a blog entry of my 'Ten Best Shots of 2012'. I have narrowed the selection to forty-fours images for now. My exciting plans for New Year's Day include beginning work on my 2012 tax figures, giving two lessons, and doing a final review of the images and narrowing the choice down to ten. This is heady stuff!

I've had a little too much time on my hands lately and been thinking a bit too much - about anything and everything. For those of you who don't know me personally, it may come as a bit of a surprise that I am somewhat obsessive/compulsive and correspondingly have a tendency to act impulsively. Non, pas vous! You say. Oh, mai oui! This is not necessarily a bad thing. When I was younger I would at times berate myself, wishing to be more normal like I thought everyone else was. As I grew older I learned to accept my differences, to utilize them to my advantage. Lately I've come to cherish them. Really.

Everyone of us begins life as a creative person. Children love to draw and play with crayons. As they become adults they forget how to do that, or put it on a back burner and think about making money and raising a family. Talented people learn to apply their talents towards more adult and mature endeavors. The artist, however, never quite becomes an adult, never grows up, in the sense that he never loses that creative drive. He learns to combine his creativity and talent, and accepts that the world around him will deal with life in a mature adult manner (not quite the same thing as sane, however) and find a modicum of satisfaction in his conformity to the norms of society. The artist stops at twelve, and that's were I've been ever since. I tried mightily to change, but always reverted. I've stopped fighting. What a gift is every day when I start out and have to decide how I'm going to have fun, how I'm going to spend my minutes and hours searching for my grail cup.

And that brings me finally to my point. Whatever I do is with an end result in mind. I go out to shoot so that I can create images, process them, write about them here, and present them to the world. But my joy, my bliss, is in the search, the process, the doing. Not in how others do or don't appreciate my product.  I like to hear back from people about the images, how they've enjoyed them, or not. How they would have shot or processed them differently. And I especially like to teach - whether it be music and the violin, or photography. But if I never received feedback or responses, if I never had any students, would I still play with my toys? Go out to shoot? Write about my experiences here?

Absolutely. The thrill is in the exploration and discovery, the experimentation, the risk taking. The rest is just icing on the cake. And it's not about the toys you use, it is about using your toys. My current toy of choice is the Fuji X-Pro1 with the 18-55mm zoom lens. The shot below was taken at 55mm. I generally tend to stay at the wider end of the focal length spectrum, but without the long range flexibility of the zoom lens I wouldn't have been able to get the shot. The sidewalk was very crowded, and isolating this character would have been impossible with a wider focal length. A big thanks to Mike Cinelli who, after reading my post yesterday, supplied me with a preset of sharpening parameters which really puts some zip into the Adobe raw processing algorithm for the X trans sensor.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fuji X-Pro1 More to learn

To date Adobe Software hasn't come up with reasonable raw processing for the Fuji X-trans sensor. The way the new sensor captures and processes light requires new thinking on their part and as yet Adobe has been satisfied to rework their current formula to produce acceptable, but not outstanding images. The jpeg processing in the Fuji camera can do it, SilkyPix can do it (albeit through a rather arcane user interface), and Phase 1in the beta release of their raw processor - Capture 1 - has apparently been able to do it. I gave a beta version of Capture 1 (which includes updated processing for the X-trans sensor and Fuji X series camera profiles) a test run. If it works as well as touted, I'll have to think long and hard about switching from Lightroom which for me so far has been OK .... just. To have two different cataloging systems - for Lightroom and for Capture 1 - is a bit daunting for me.

Now onto the XP1 and the 18-55 zoom lens. I was out on the streets in New York City yesterday with the intention of shooting most of my images at the 55mm setting with OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) turned on. Previous to my outing yesterday, I discovered information about how the OIS works between the camera and lens, and understanding how to use it affects both image quality and battery life. There is a new setting in Shooting Menu 5 called 'IS Mode' for which there are two settings with descriptive names of IS1 and IS2 - oh so helpful. In the IS1 option OIS is on and running continuously whenever the camera is turned on and a lens which has the OIS functionality is mounted and the function on the lens is acctivated. In the IS2 option OIS is activated only when the shutter is depressed half way before shooting.

Ah me, there's always trade-offs in life, and especially in photography.

If IS1 is selected, the OIS runs continuously which creates a serious drain of battery power. But it also means that the teeny weeny gyroscopes in the lens are always engaged, running, and ready to stabilize without the slightest delay. This, not surprisingly, results in a very large percentage of the images shot in this mode being completely unaffected by lens motion or shake at slow shutter speeds.

If IS2 is selected, the OIS kicks in only when the shutter is depressed half way. So power from the battery for the OIS is used only at that time which, of course, results in a significant saving of battery power. However, in the time it takes for the battery to get the gyros up and running, and to stabilize the image the camera can still fire the shutter if the button is depressed quickly in one continuous motion. This resulted in a significant number of images shot on Friday (in this mode) being not optimal.

Sometimes the story or the expression of the person in an image is significant enough that I process and post it even with its technical shortcomings. So here's what I got from my outing on Friday. The first was shot at 55mm and, with the OIS set to IS2, was one of the few at that focal length that were spot on.

The following two images were taken at 18mm. At that focal length the depth of field is deep enough to cover a multitude of sins. I was especially attracted to this gentleman's glasses.

I saw this gentleman from half a block away. He was puffing so hard on the cigarette there was no time to get a clean breath of New York air.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Street Portraits at 55mm

Shooting at the long end of the Fuji 18-55mm zoom lens has some advantages and some drawbacks. Both of these shots were at an f-stop of 5.6 and a focal length of 55mm (82mm equivalent for a full frame sensor). If I had taken them at a wider focal length with that aperture, the depth-of-field ratio would have made the background elements seem more in focus which then would have made isolating the main subject from the background more difficult. The downside of shooting at that focal length is that I know (and I see it in the images) that I was farther away from the subjects than I like to be, and there's a feeling of immediacy missing from the images. 

I like very much the blurry background of this shot. The focal length works well here because there's really only two planes - the subject's front and the background.

The planes in the next image are a bit more complex. The background and the subject form two planes as in the above image, but the trombone slide extending out appears a bit flattened because of the 55mm focal length. If I had shot this next image at 18mm, the slide of the trombone would have much more of an extended effect. 

And then there is always my favorite - 18mm -  which gives both of these images a real feeling of presence in the foreground with a deep falling off in the distance.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Practicing with the Fuji 18-55mm zoom

I went into New York on Xmas day specifically with a personal assignment in mind - to practice shooting on the long end of my zoom lens. As I mentioned in yesterdzy's post, it's a different feel for me. I nailed some shots, and got some flubs (I know, it's hard to believe, huh?). I'm working on processing the good shots, and I plan to go in again later this week to work more on the technique. Retirement is soooooo difficult.

I still love to shoot from the hip at 18mm. As I walked by this guy he had such a guilty look on his face. I have no idea what he just did, but it must have been really baaaaaaad!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Xmas Day in New York

It was a slow day here in suburban New Jersey (nothing new about that), so I made a quick trip into the Apple. It's strange to see so few cars racing around and not much pedestrian traffic (except probably for Fifth Ave. around Rockafeller Center). 

After re-reading some ebooks published by Thomas Leuthard, which are available for no charge on his website, I've begun thinking about taking street portraits with the longer end of my zoom lens. It requires some adjustment in my street perceptions - I have to be more aware of what's happening a longer distance away from me. Shooting from that distance is good because I have more of a chance to capture a face and expression without the subject being aware of me, and bad because I have to lift the camera to my eye to get the shot. The angle of view is way too narrow to be able to shoot from the hip, and too narrow to include any environmental subject material. And it's bad because I don't sense any immediacy with the proximity of the subject - but that's something to which I may just need to adjust.

I took this shot this past Sunday on Broadway. I think I heard him say into his cell phone ' ..... I don't know why, the guy just punched me in the nose!'

Sunday, December 23, 2012

SoHo Fashionista

This afternoon, after exploring part of the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, I took a walk through SoHo and the West Village. As usual, when the crowds are out shopping there are many people carrying all sorts of cameras. But I rarely see anyone actually taking a photo, with the exception of those shooting with phone cameras. I guess it's just my 'gearish' (not sure that's a real word) curiosity, but I'm always checking out the cameras that people carry. Mostly Nikons and Canons - no surprise there. But lately, every time I hit the streets I find another shooter carrying a Fuji X-Pro1. It's always fun to chat with them, compare notes, and exchange business cards. 

As I was walking across Spring Street towards West Broadway, I spotted this fashionista surveying the parade of shoppers. I saw him from a block away and just said a small prayer that he wouldn't move before I had the chance to snap a few frames. This was the best of the series.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Hands and Faces

When I'm out hunting for images, body language and the way a person uses their hands often tell as much of their story as their facial expressions. It's as though this woman is describing the size of something, and the gentleman next to her seems to be saying, 'That's me she's talking about'.

Two hands, one up and one down....

Stop! In the name of love ....

And sometimes no hands are needed, a look tells the whole story ....

Friday, December 21, 2012

More Zoom Lens Shots

I usually don't post shots like this. Actually I usually don't take shots like this, but testing the 18-55mm zoom lens has been a priority for me the past few days. The first shot, of the Empire State Building which is on the corner of Fifth ave. and 34th street was taken from the corner of Fifth ave. and 38th street. I don't have the figures to do the math, but considering the height of the building the observation deck at the top had to be at the least six city blocks away. When I zoomed into a 1:1 ratio (100%) on the raw data, I could see the individual binoculars on the observation deck. Not sure what will come through on the jpeg rendering. It was shot at 55mm (82.5mm equiv.) at 1/250th second, f8 and ISO 320. I did minimal Lightroom processing.

The second shot, of the Chrysler Building which is on the corner of Lexington ave. and 42nd street, was taken from the corner of Fifth ave. and 42nd street From my position to the top of the building had to be, once again, about six city blocks. I did some Photoshop processing on this image to clone out an errant flag pole on the right side of the image. The exposure settings were the same as the previous shot. 

Quite satisfying detail and image resolution from the XP1 and the zoom lens. I'm back on the streets this weekend to practice with the zoom and image stabilization. It's a tough job!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

More on the Fuji 18-55mm zoom lens

After reviewing my images from my outing on the streets of New York, one thing is very clear to me. I need more time with this lens to get my zoom/longer focal length chops back to snuff.

Drat it! I guess I'll just have to go out and shoot a lot more. Just to recap what I said yesterday: the focus speed is very good at 18mm and 35mm but a little slower (not by a big factor) at 55mm, the IOS (image stabilization) works extraordinarily well so that I can hand hold at 1/30th second and get good shots, I miss not having the aperture indications on the aperture ring but as this is a variable aperture lens (f2.8-f4) those indications would be meaningless, and the lens hood mounting leaves something to be desired in terms of a secure fit on the front of the lens.

The images below were shot RAW, processed minimally in Lightroom and then put through my workflow with NIK filters. The first two shots below were at a focal length of 18mm, f6.4, and 1/125th second. Since I keep my camera set on auto ISO it varies - the first shot was at ISO 5000 and the second at ISO 6400. In my film days an ISO of 6400 would have resulted in practically no definition in the small details. The first NIK processing is with Dfine to manage the contrast noise, then into Color Efex Pro 4 to optimize the color contrast with my special (wink wink) tweaks, and lastly into Silver Efex Pro 2 for the conversion also with my special (wink wink wink) tweaks.

In the first two images, the woman on the right was quite striking looking (nothing gets my camera finger more twitchy than a pretty lady) and yet so sad.

After playing with focal lengths all afternoon I noticed on the barrel of the lens that 23mm was specifically indicated. I thought that was a bit unusual, and then I realized that the fixed focal length Fuji X100 has a 23mm lens. Many X series Fuji fans (should have been Fuji series X fans, but the alliteration wouldn't have worked) have been clamoring for an equivalent lens for the XP1. It corresponds to a 35mm focal length on a full frame camera. That and 21mm were my favorite Leica lenses to use, so I played for quite a while at that focal length. C'mon Fuji, let's get that 14mm lens out already! The image was shot at 1/250th sec, f5, ISO 2000 and put through the same processing as above.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fuji 18-55mm Zoom Lens Test Run

I received my lens on Monday and did some preliminary shooting with it, but today was the first day I had a chance to hit the streets of New York with this lens. First some caveats: my testing is by no means scientific, I'm not a pixel peeper. I can only attest to how the lens performs given the kind of shooting at which I am adept and love to do - street. What's important to me is how the camera and lens feels in my hand in the field, and the extent to which the quality of the images they produce satisfies my expectations.

That said, after one afternoon on the street in Manhattan I can easily say I love this lens.  I haven't shot with a zoom lens since I put down my Nikon D700 (I mean put down as in laid it on the table, not as with a pet). Since I got my XP1 I've shot exclusively with the prime 18mm and 35mm lenses. It's a totally different mindset. I've got a lot of practicing to do to get up to snuff with a zoom lens again.

The minimum focusing distance with this lens is about a foot, give or take a few inches (Fuji says 11 inches). When I first unpacked the lens I noticed a little noise when shaken gently (not stirred). So I called the Fuji support line and the tech with whom I spoke confirmed he heard the same noise when he  gently shook his lens. Don't know what that is, but apparently it doesn't adversely affect the lens performance. I found the camera and lens feels very different in my hand. I'm used to the lightness and shortness of the two primes, this lens is heavier and extends further out so my right hand had to work harder over the hours of handling the camera. I'm a little disappointed with the lens hood. No matter that it's plastic (the prime lens hoods are metal), when it snaps into place on the front of the lens the connection doesn't feel very secure, and in fact it can easily be dislodged. But in the grand scheme of things it's a very small matter.

I looked for chromatic aberration at 18mm, and found it. It's about the same as the CA on the prime 18mm lens - so that's no big deal, easily corrected in Lightroom. I turned off the image stabilization on the zoom (more about the IS later) and took a few test shots at 18mm and 35mm so that I could compare the sharpness to the two prime lenses. At 18mm it's pretty much the same. At 35mm the prime has a thick hair's advantage.

I didn't have any complaints about the focus speed of the prime lenses right out of the box, clearly this wasn't a clunky DSLR with huge, heavy lenses so I had realistic expectations. After the firmware updates the speed of focus was a non-issue for me. At 18mm and 35mm the auto focus speed of the zoom lens is the same as the primes. The response is a little slower at 55mm, but I don't have the 60mm prime to compare.

I had only one lens for my Nikon D700 with image stabilization, a 70-300 f3.5-5.6 zoom. I rarely used the lens, so I have nothing to which I can compare the Fuji's IS. I am, however, totally impressed with the increase in flexibility that the IS allows. I have been able to hand hold the camera and shoot comfortably at shutter speeds down to 1/30th second. I pushed some shots one stop slower - to 1/15th sec. - and the results are quite satisfactory considering that the slower shutter speed buys some ISO speed and lower noise in the image.

The first of these shots was taken at 1/60th second, f4, ISO 5000, these are jpegs, generated from raw data by Lightroom, without any processing.

This second shot was taken at 1/15th second, f4, ISO 1250.

If you were to pixel peep, you could argue that there is some slight blurring in the second shot, but the difference in the pixel noise makes the first shot seem a little soft at the edges of lines. So I guess if you want to shoot in low light you have to pick your poison.

One of the pleasing surprises for me in using this lens was that there is a 23mm focal length marking on the barrel. That puzzled me at first, but then I realized that it translates into about a 35mm equivalent. So I tried shooting at that focal length. If felt much more comfortable than the (approximate) 50mm equivalent of the Fuji 35mm lens. I've always been more comfortable shooting at wider focal lengths, so learning to shoot at the longer end that this lens provides is going to take some patient practice. I'll suffer through it.

The next time I post, I hope to have some real street shots from today's outing.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Kids Are Smiling

I attended a mini-photo-expo on Friday at Unique Photo in New Jersey. I had been invited to have a show in their gallery space and needed to see the space and work out the logistics for the show. I'm planning to exhibit a series of photos that are part of the 'I Hear A Voice Calling' collection on my website.  

My visit to see the space at the same time as the expo was really coincidental. Honest ..... Really .....

But I found a camera bag that takes my current configuration (incuding my iPad) and is 1/4 the weight of my current bag. And then, I happened to stop by the Fuji counter to chat with the national sales rep. I had a chance to play with the real 14mm lens which won't be available until the end of January, 2013. And I tried out the 18-55mm zoom lens which is now available in limited supply. Mine is coming tomorrow and I hope to post images from it later this week. 

Yippeee!!! A new toy! Maybe that's why those kids are smiling.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The World as I See It!

The title for my blog entry for today is the same as that of my blog page. I wish I could have italicized the word 'I' but text formatting wouldn't allow it. My point is that this is my blog site, and the title was carefully chosen to permit me the flexibility to say what is/was on my mind about a variety of subjects which are always buzzing around in my head - I guess I have way too much time on my hands, hey that's retirement! If however I were to have titled the blog site Musings of a Street Shooter, anyone who came to this site would reasonably expect to find subject matter pertaining to street photography. If one of my wild fantasies were to come true: that through my expertise and artistry as a street/documentary photographer I were to garner a very large following of acolytes who flocked to my website, bought my books, attended my seminars, and joined my organization to glean all they could through my teaching based on my experience as a photographer, and I were to abuse that trust and expectation by using my position to espouse a philosophy of life, that might well be called (in the words of our esteemed onetime progressive Republican president Theodore Roosevelt) using my position as a bully pulpit. If a blog is entitled Photoshop Insider, I don't think it is unreasonable for readers coming to the site to expect to find information or a discussion about something related to digital processing or photography.  

But there's gems to be found out there in the blogsphere. I was surfing around over the past several days and came across this blog. In particular there was a quote by Ted Grant (an outstanding Canadian photojournalist whose work can be seen here) regarding b/w photography: When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!

Expressions and gestures are everything to me when I shoot street. I can think of a dozen different captions for this image, each one is a story in itself.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Elvis Redux

I've been waiting for too long to get my 14mm lens for the XP1. As I was reading my daily round of blogs today, there were several that discussed the first of the Fuji zoom lenses - 18-55mm - and showed sample images. This lens too is not yet available in New York. I have until now resisted the temptation to order it because I already have the 18mm and 35mm lenses, and the zoom would just be redundant. 

Or would it be the other way around? Would the zoom make the two primes redundant? Notice that in the previous paragraph I said that I have until now resisted the temptation? Well ..... so much for self discipline! Now I have to exercise extreme patience while I wait for two lenses to arrive. 

The zoom is a variable aperture lens going from f2.8 at 18mm to f4 at 55mm. That's only one stop difference and with the image stabilization that has been touted as superb I should be able to shoot comfortably at 1/125th or even 1/60th second which more than makes up for the variable aperture. 

Still, the IQ of the two primes is so great that they will be difficult to leave behind on any particular outing. Wonderful, more gear to carry around.

I saw Elvis on Fifth Avenue the other day, trying to hail a cab by waving his cell phone in the air. 
You ain't nothin' but a hound dog .......

Monday, December 10, 2012

Don't bite your tongue!

One of my favorite photo blogs, which I read daily, is the Online Photographer. Today's entry talks about the opinion of Bill Jay regarding photography and the current art/gallery business and is very much to the point regarding the commercialization of a photographer's work. It's well worth a few minutes read.

I'm spending this rainy Monday afternoon updating the images on my 'commercial' website, so I don't have anything thoughtful or pithy to say. I like this photo. The composition is not great, but I like the characters and the juxtaposition of the two slick guys on the right with the blue collar guy and his son on the left, and the gritty New York streets.

Don't bite your tongue!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Enlightening Exhibit

A new exhibit has opened at the Metropolitan Museum in New York featuring pairs of paintings by Henri Matisse, the exhibit is entitled In Search of True Painting. I sometimes have a problem with exhibits such as this because they are so stimulating that I get sated before I can see the whole presentation. I definitely need to go back and spend more time in the last room of the show. The premise of the show is that Matisse made paintings and then experimented with techniques he saw other painters use - especially the pointilism ofCamille Pissarro and the flat colors and geometric shapes of Paul Cezanne.   

Seeing how a master creates a composition in a painting, how he uses outlines and edges, and how he emphasizes the geometry and weight of the objects/people with color - and then viewing another work of the same scene and objects but with an entirely different palette and technique, made this show really special. The curators provided interesting explanations of the similarities and differences but I generally find that reading the intellectual verbiage distracts me from responding intuitively and interferes with my own personal explorations. 

Painters have such a luxury to have the time to create their own composition from scratch. Street shooters need split second timing to read a scene - the characters, light, and drama - as it unfolds and grab that special moment. 

Just what do you think you are doing?


Friday, December 7, 2012

A Color Shot

Except for the few instances - personal or family photos, studio shots for a client, landscape or HDR - everything I shoot is intended to be converted to b/w. It's just my old fashioned sensibility, my street work needs to be in b/w. 

There are occasional exceptions. I was sitting at one of my favorite shooting spots this week, enjoying the people out at lunch hour and the shoppers. I saw this gentleman approaching from across the street and not wanting to miss the shot by taking any chances (like shooting from the hip) I held the camera to my eye for several seconds as he approached and fired off three shots as he walked by. The people around him were totally oblivious. Just another New Yorker. He noticed me as he walked by but tried mightily to act indifferent. The moment passed and I continued to watch and shoot for about another half hour. And then I saw him again, approaching me from the same direction as the first time. Somehow he must have doubled back and escaped my attention, or taken a different route downtown, only to come back and walk by me a second time. Once again, I raised the camera to be sure I got the shot. But this time as he walked past he gave me this look. As if to say 'Why are you taking pictures of me!'

Gee, I dunno .......

I still like the b/w shot too.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


What an amazing phenomenon! I was in Midtown Manhattan this afternoon, sitting in one of my favorite spots from which to shoot street characters, and I started to notice how many cameras are being toted around by so many people. Not counting people taking snaps with their phone cameras, I would have to say that easily one third of all the people I saw were draped with a Nikon, Canon, Sony, or Olympus of some kind. Many of them DSLRs. 

What surprised me even more was that everyone was using them. Well .... almost everyone. There were  some who were so uber-cool that they had to be seen carrying a Leica M9. But be caught actually using it? Heaven forbid!!

Here's the point: the digital camera revolution has made photography easily accessible to so many people that the pundits and talking heads who want to tell us how to think say this will kill photography. Shooting with a phone camera, and processing with Instagram? That's not photography!

I won't argue that point. All I can say is that if so many folks are taking pictures, even if they are just family snaps in front of the Apple store on Fifth Ave and 59th Street, there's bound to be a heightened sensibility for good photography. If just a few of those many people develop a better understanding and appreciation for what goes into creating a meaningful image, and if a few of those few step forward and begin making images that actually say something, we're all better off for it. 

I'm sure he'd agree:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Just A Great X-Pro1 Shot

Nothing pithy or erudite to say. The photo speaks for itself. Happy happy!

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Great Day In The City

We don't get many days of 60˚F during December in New York, and when they happen it seems everyone is outside to enjoy it. I knew it would be a great day to hit the streets for some shooting, so I put aside all my plans and jumped on a train. Unlike the days I spent shooting last week, today was not a day for grunt work. It was pure joy and pleasure. I was buzzed to be on the street and part of the crowd. 

When I saw this woman emoting (over what I haven't a clue) I thought 'Ah yes, my heart be still!'

Sunday, December 2, 2012


I often talk about how the dynamics of a scene are communicated through the gestures of the actors, especially with hands and/or facial expression. But communication with others in a scene is often done with a direct look - either towards others in the scene or outward towards the photographer. In yesterday's post the most prominent character (and the one that initially attracted my attention) was the gentleman in the front of the image. the shot would have been ok if he were the only character in the frame, but direct eye contact with the girl standing behind him gave the image much more depth and an added dynamic. 

Once again, in the following shot, it was the facial expression of the person in the front of the frame that was my initial target. But unconsciously I included the girl behind him. I didn't actively see her when I took the shot, and it was only when I reviewed the images at the beginning of my edit process that I noticed her and the dynamic that she added to the photo.

As I noted in the post yesterday, I didn't feel 'in the groove', and was surprised to have gotten the shot that accompanied that blog entry. Ditto for today. I guess I was working on auto pilot and didn't know it. Just goes to show ya, get out and shoot no matter what. You just never know what will happen. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Cloudy Day, Perfect Light

It's wonderful to be out walking in New York on a sunny day. People's spirits are up and there's more smiles all around. But a bright sky and dark shadows at street level make getting a well balanced exposure almost impossible, especially with the way I try to shoot surreptitiously. But with a cloudy overcast sky the light is much more evenly balanced, even if people's moods aren't, and that makes for a much easier time of it on the street.

I've been out shooting for a few days this week. They've been days in the bank, so to speak. I love being out with my camera. It's something I must do, otherwise I go through street withdrawal. But that doesn't mean that every time I'm out shooting I come away with great material to work on. It's being out on those days when I'm not in the 'groove' that the grunt work gets done. I have to look harder, be more alert, and try new techniques. 

I worked with a new focus technique with my X-Pro1 today. Put the camera on manual focus mode, and using the optical viewfinder, zoomed in with the control wheel and refined focus with the AF-L button. There's definitely a learning curve to be worked out with the technique, but the results were promising.

 After reviewing my work I realized that I came home with more than I thought I had captured. I spent the day around 14th Street and Union Square. There's a Christmas market set up in the square and the aisles are very narrow. Isolating one subject was just about impossible. But on the fringes of the square, at the farmers market, the crowd thinned out a little. I aimed to get an image of this gentleman, but somewhere in the deep recesses of my unconscious I framed this. A shot of just the one person may have worked out, but the girl looking at me from the background adds a much deeper dimension to the image on several levels.

That's why getting out to do the grunt work is so important, sometimes ya just get lucky!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why Do I Shoot Street?

This is a question posed by blogger/streettog Eric Kim. There is a rather sophomoric video that accompanies his post, and while the question is legitimate and admirable, to attempt to posit an answer by using an approach designed to address corporate/industrial issues is akin to using methylene chloride to clean a Monet painting. The question is way too complex to seek to answer with such a simplistic analysis. The premise of the video might however serve as a rudimentary starting point.

Why do I shoot (at all)? For me it's the same as 'To be or not to be. That is the question.' It's who I am. I must do it. I love it, and I'm happy when I have a camera in my hand. Why do I shoot street? Because I feel compelled to do it. I love it. I'm happiest when I'm out doing it. I love to watch people, to schmooze, to connect with them. And I constantly search for stories (or sometimes make them up). If I get a good shot, process and post it, and thereby touch something in a viewer, so much the better. But the end product (the image that I print or post) is not the prime motivating thing for me. It's the self-exploration, the opportunity to recognize a challenge and solve it, that sings to me.

For your viewing pleasure, a face and hand gesture I captured about a month ago on Fifth Avenue during more clement weather:

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Process Is Everything.

When I was a young man playing the violin was my greatest passion. I couldn't imagine going through a day without having the instrument in hand - whether practicing on my own, rehearsing with an ensemble, taking a lesson, or performing. It didn't matter why, only that it happened. Indeed, I couldn't imagine my life without the violin. Playing still gives me pleasure, as does teaching. My need t probe and explore myself still drives me forward. But my instrument has changed and the medium for exploration has changed from aural to visual. Now I have my camera, but the process is the same.

A quote from Art & Fear : 'If artmaking did not tell you (the maker) so enormously much about yourself, then making art that matters to you would be impossible. To all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product: the finished artwork. To you, and you alone, what matters is the process: the experience of shaping that artwork. The viewers' concerns are not your concerns (although it's dangerously easy to adopt their attitudes.) Their job is whatever it is: to be moved by art, to be entertained by it, to make a killing of it, whatever. Your job is to learn to work on your work ..... The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.' 

When I played the violin it was making the music with the instrument that was important - to hone my technique, to rehearse with the ensemble and make beautiful music. The performance was to make money to pay for groceries and clothes. And so too with photography. My 'bliss', as Joseph Campbell would call it, is to have the camera out on the streets and make the connections with the people I see around me, grab that slice of time that says something special to me. When I have gallery shows it's to sell images - to pay for groceries and clothes.

This photo, which I titled Stupido! happened this past Saturday. I heard the woman's Italian vitriol half a block away. The hand gestures say it all.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Stuck In My Mind

In this video, about the celebrated Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama, I was impressed with his way of shooting and his approach to working in b/w. So much of what I do is intuitive that I find it difficult to answer questions my students put to me about my processes when I'm out on the street. Just as Moriyama says, I need the city, and I need the people. Stories are constantly unfolding in front of me, and with the camera I can freeze moments of time in those stories.

This past Saturday was my first day out shooting at the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. The holiday is exciting for me because the crowds of people present constant opportunities.  I was shooting on Fifth Avenue when I happened to turn around, and in front of me was a woman with glowingly dyed red hair, wearing a furry yellow and black striped jacket. Without thinking I fired off several shots - I knew I'd caught the 'money shot' for the day. It was impossible for me to look at the image and see anything but the color in the shot. As so often happens, there's something in the image that sings to me and I need to draw out. But as Moriyama points out in his video, the color was making decisions about the picture, dictating something vulgar. B/W is exciting to me because of my body's instinctive response, the monochrome image has a strong feeling of abstraction and symbolism, a feeling of taking me to another place.

I was relaxing after I'd processed and created the image below, reviewing some of the photo blogs I'd seen during the past week, when I ran across James Maher's blogpost of last Friday. There was something stuck in the back of my mind when I was out walking on the Avenue, and I had no clue that it was there. And then this:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Dreaded 'C' Word

In a recent blogpost of the World Photography Organization several videos were presented about creativity and photography. Generally I tend to shy away from the new age philosophy that we are all inherently creative, but the first of these videos brought the issue more into focus for me (pardon the pun). 

I'm always searching for that kernel of whatever it is inside me that makes me a productive artist. In the video the speaker makes four points, and I think it is the extent to which any of us is willing to engage all of these points that separates the 'milk from the cream'. 

Being open and embracing experience: When I go about my day I have to be always aware of what goes on around me, open to a new situation or experience, and be willing to become engaged in it. It's what shooting on the street is all about. I can't go out with preconceived ideas of what in particular I will be looking for - that's like wearing blinders - but rather just observe the world around me and jump into a new situation (sometimes with fear and/or trepidation).

Embracing life's challenges: It's what connects us all together, and in reflecting that in my images I can draw the viewer into the subject to see the world through the camera, with my perspective. The more difficult or challenging the situation, the more effort I have to put into it. But I can't run from those experiences to look for what is more comfortable or familiar.

Pushing up against the limits, and what you can't do: When I hear a voice in my head that says 'You can't do that' I have to listen to it, and then go and do it. Succumbing to that voice is to admit defeat. Were I to have listened to that voice I would never have become a violinist nor a photographer.

The embrace of loss: This is the most tragic to run from. Loss is part of everyone's life, in myriad forms. It's part of the natural world and the inexorable passing of time. As time moves forward, what was once, in an instant, is over - gone forever - and if the way I see it is not documented, the memory of it will fade and disappear over time. 

These are all not easy to commit to. To the extent that I am willing to do so will determine the force and impact of what I seek to portray.

On one of my photo walks in NYC I happened upon this gentleman and was struck by the disparity of the sadness in his face and eyes, and the sign he was holding. I hope he, and all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Becoming and artist

From Art & Fear : '..... becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive.' Reminds me so much of Joseph Campbell's idea of following your 'bliss'. Every artist has to forge a path through the forest in search of his grail. If he follows another's path, it's not his own and the message in the art will be derivative. 

When I see a scene or incident that catches my attention and piques my interest, when it speaks to me and I photograph it, that says something about me. As I work on an image I look for what caught my attention and for the flaws and weaknesses it reflects in me. Again, from Art & Fear : 'Something about making art has to do with overcoming things, giving us a clear opportunity for doing things in ways we have always known we should do them.' There definitely is an undercurrent of fear in taking photos of people on the street, but having overcome that and having nailed the shot leaves me with a buzz. When I see reflections - in windows or mirrors - the image takes on new levels and planes of focus. There is the background that stops the viewer's attention and forces the eye back into the scene. There's the street merchant facing the camera and pushing attention back to the middle ground, and there is the woman in the foreground, really just a non-descript dark presence that stops the eye from drifting off the side of the image and forces attention back to the center of the image - the reflection in the mirror of yet another person who does not bodily appear in the shot.