Monday, August 30, 2010

My way or the Highway

My house in Flagstaff is right of Route 66 - a highway with fairly consistant traffic regardless of the hour.

Last week I grabbed my tripod and headed out around 9pm, well after the sun had set. I hoofed it around 6 miles to and from downtown, with stops all along the way to take photos.

This is the only somewhat decent shot I got

Flagstaff is covered with sunflowers. Route 66 is highly concentrated - whole plots of land have been taken over. This shot is lit entirely by the lights of passing cars. We had a bit of a breeze that evening, so there is some blur on the flowers. I think the blur adds to the picture, rather than taking away from it.

I start school today - I'm officially a Junior at Northern Arizona University where I study both Photography and Marketing.

Have a great Monday!

Friday, August 27, 2010


It isn't often that I take a picture and I know immediately that I "got it." Much of the time I shoot and shoot and shoot the hell out of a subject without really knowing which frame I'm going to end up working on, or what the finished product will look like. 

The photograph below was not like that at all. I did maybe 15 frames of the cat in this pose, and knew immediately when I had the one that I was going to use. 

The first *click* got her looking at the camera. After that it was just a matter of composition and getting her in focus. Because I'm freaking blind, I really suck at manual focus. As such, I've taken to holding down the shutter and pulling back the focus from infinity. Worked great here!

This is precisely the photo I saw in my head. It's so rare that I get exactly the shot I envision - I guess it says something about how I'm learning to connect my vision, execution in camera, and post production. Photography is, after all, an exercise in continual learning.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Celebrating mediocrity

I find it very interesting that creative people tend to attract to one another. I find it even more interesting that people in the same discipline tend to stick together. Musicians with other musicians, photographers with other shutterbugs, painters with other painters. The list goes on.

There are exceptions, of course, but it seems to me that we have so much more to learn from hanging around creatives who do something different from what we do. The photography community is great - and it definitely has its own merits. At the same time, some of us never really venture outside our little group of button-pushers, and that's a damn shame.

I spent some solid time yesterday evening talking with an artist I really respect. She's a painter - and she brought up something I understood as universal to photography, but not to creativity.


An image I like - but that isn't GREAT

That is to say - not everything we create as artists is going to be a masterpiece. We might slave and bleed over one particular piece. We might give it everything we've got. But that doesn't by any means guarantee that the art will be beautiful, or that it will sell for thousands of dollars, or that we will even like it!

Photographers understand this all too well. Some create hundreds of snapshots to get one good photograph. Some have refined their art and only make ten or twenty crappy frames for every image worth seeing. The true masters know how they work, and they can get beautiful work maybe one out of every five frames by simply ignoring the crap, and taking their time.

The thing I'd never understood - that surprised me so - was that this affects all creatives. Jasmine Stack, the painter I was speaking with, told me that out of her most recent finished series of 20 paintings, she would only NOT burn three. The rest, as she views them, are mediocre at best - she downright hates one of them.

I've seen the series she was referring to - and I plan on publishing it here if I get her permission. Sure, some are better than others, but I blanched at the thought of her BURNING these paintings. I don't think she spent less than 20 hours on any one of them.

Then I realized - I'd happily burn the vast majority of the photographs that I create. The shots in my portfolio are the only ones I'm really happy with - everything else can get thrown into the fire.

More mediocrity

I don't burn them though, and I don't think Jasmine will end up burning her recent series. Even if a piece of art is less than perfect in the artist's eyes - it can still have great value to an outsider. Someone who can see it from a different perspective may love the one piece that Jasmine absolutely hates. I know people who really like photos that I hesitate to post because I think they suck so bad. It isn't that these people are ignorant about what makes good art. It's more that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

As such, we as artists should not condemn mediocrity. We should celebrate it. Creating mediocre work motivates us to keep going, to keep pushing, to keep creating.

My work is mediocre sometimes. Occasionally it downright sucks - but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop. It means I'm going to keep working, to keep challenging myself and my audience.

I challenge you to recognize when your creativity leads to mediocrity. Instead of feeling downtrodden about it, tell yourself to celebrate Iit will motivate you to create bigger, better and more beautiful art.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

OOF: Ivan

Out Of Focus. OOF. I did my first OOF post back in February.

This last week or so I've been shooting all my personal work with my manual focus 28mm f/2.8 lens. I suck at manual focus. Whether I'm wearing my glasses or not, I have to really take my time in getting a decent shot.

The following photo is an example of what happens when I try and catch quick action. Of course, it didn't help that Ivan chose that moment to get really interested in my camera...

I love his eyes! I think the color is what allows me to get away with a complete lack of focus, because there blue provides a central focal point. 

I'm getting back in the swing of things in Flagstaff - shooting sports for the University is a supremely awesome job. Free tuition rocks too.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Headless Portraiture: Jade

I've come across a new on-and-off project. Portraits, minus the subject's head.

I'm not sure how often I'm going to pursue this project, but I've added it to my keywords list, so maybe in a few years I'll have enough shots for a decent series.

Jade was my semi-willing subject for this shot.

I did a few other shots while she and I waited for breakfast in downtown Boulder last week. Here are a few of my picks.

I'm getting settled back in Flagstaff, preparing for the school year to start up again. I'll be a junior this year, still double-majoring in Photography and Marketing at NAU. With any luck, I can establish a bit of a routine. That'll mean I'll be blogging much more regularly. My strobes are due in by mid-September (I think), and I'm sure I will have LOTS to say about them.


Friday, August 13, 2010

MacBook pro issues - HELP!

My broken MacBook pro.

A little about the computer. It is a refurbished 2007 2.2ghz with 2gb ram. I put a 500gb WD hdd in it less than a year ago. I've never had any serious problems with it. I do not have my apple discs - though i will have them in a week.

The symptoms: upon power up I get no screen. No grey, no white, no blue. Nothing. The fans kick on, the hdd spins up, the LED on the front comes on and stays on. I get the classic apple "chime." then it sits there.

I tried to boot into target mode via FireWire, something I have done successfully in the past, to my PowerPC g5. No go. I hooked up my external monitor and tried cmd+decrease brightness. I also tried f7 and fn+f7 to mirror the displays. Nothing. Because I can't see anything, I can't log in. My PowerPC is set to share Internet via the mbp, but it doesn't get internet, which I take it to mean that the mbp is not getting even close to booting up.

I used the machine successfully 4 hours before the failure. I shut it (gently) when i left. When I returned, I got the symptoms described above.

My stuff is all backed up - but I would really like to get this machine working again. Any suggestions are helpful and appreciated.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Raven - Homeless in Boulder

Yesterday as I drove out to get an early lunch, I saw a homeless guy begging on a median near my house. We don't get many people as far north as Gunbarrel, so I took an interest.

I stopped at home, grabbed my camera, and headed out again. On my way, I asked him if I could treat him to lunch. He insisted that he couldn't leave his stuff (a bicycle and a bucket) but that he would appreciate a bacon cheeseburger. I drove off in search of lunch for the both of us.

40 minutes later, I returned with Chipotle for me ($7) and a SmashBurger for him ($8)

We sat in the shade next to the train tracks and talked and ate. He told me a little about how he got into his current situation, and we discussed religion, politics and electronics. After we finished eating, he grabbed his chewing tobacco and I grabbed my camera.

Raven, a 56 year old transient, says he feels no guilt about playing "the faith card." He believes everyone has some kind of faith-based religion.

Sitting in the shade behind a railroad crossing control booth, Raven chews his post-meal tobacco.

A heavy limp and gratuitous use of a cane aren't part of an act - Raven routinely travels to Denver via the RTD bus system for medication that he can't afford on his own.

About one in every twenty cars will stop to give him something - though he rarely gets more than a dollar or two at a time. The light at Jay road and the Diagonal Highway is a long one, so people have plenty of time to fish through their wallets.

Raven is a shaman, here he explains one of the many out-of-body experiences he had shortly after his release from a 10 year prison sentence for "doing something illegal I shouldn't have."

This is where I left Raven - in the median right where I found him two hours earlier. He's on his way to Denver today, hopefully after getting enough money to pay for his medication and bus fare both ways.

I really enjoyed talking with Raven, and with any luck I'll be able to do this with other people in need in the future!

How have you made a difference lately?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

I'm a day late getting these up - August 9th was my parents' wedding anniversary - 25 years!

We did a quick photo shoot before they left for their vacation cruise in Alaska.

Adorable, no?

Happy 25th Anniversary Mom and Dad!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Lauren's senior photo

Had a great shoot with Lauren about a week ago. My first time with train tracks - we had a blast!

Obviously she can't use this as her senior photo - its horizontal. Still, it's definitely my favorite from the series! Working with all natural light has been a really refreshing experience this Summer. I spent all my spare time in Flagstaff learning how to use big strobes. Now I'm going back to my roots, so to speak, and rediscovering the beauty of good natural light.

You know me - I couldn't resist seeing it in black and white.

If I was smart, I would have rotated the camera and captured this same pose in a vertical. I got a few that were *close* but none that were close enough. Oh well!

This is the shot she chose to put in the yearbook as her official senior photo. I like the train tracks better, but I guess that's just me!

Doing more and more senior photos as I bring my vacation in Boulder to a close and get ready to head back to Flagstaff.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ivan the Terrible

My good friend Case sent me some photos of his dog Ivan the Terrible (IT for short).

I'm not sure who shot these photos, but Case sent them to me to "touch 'em up or do what you normally do with photos to make them awesomer"

Here is the original

Nothing hugely wrong with this photo to begin with - which is always good. I know too many people who don't even both looking through the camera, at least that's the way it seems. This is a decent shot to start with, so I know I won't be working too hard to improve it! My only complaints are the crop and the flat light.

Here's what I changed to make this photo "awesomer." Crop, contrast, exposure, sharpening, vignette, and a little retouching on the sand stuck in his fur. That gives you have the following photo that (I think) has much more POP and such, is much more lifelike.

If you're new here, you might not know I'm a total sucker for black and white. If you're a longtime reader, you know enough to expect me to at least try black and white, even though I love Ivan's gorgeous blue eyes.

I'm happy with both photos. I hope Case is too!

Is there anything you would have done differently? Let me know in the comments! Remember my Comment of the Month contest is going through the end of August! All you have to do is leave a comment below and you're automatically entered to win free stuff!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Comment of the month

A big thanks to whoever anonymously posted the following comment about the following picture.

"Couldn't disagree more with Mark [who doesn't like the above picture]. Don't get me wrong, I think the first photo is good, but I find that the second pose is more interesting to me. While the first pose is well executed, albeit a more classical approach to the nude, I think the the bed shot brings up some interesting comparisons.
I think many times, when shooting or posing and otherwise, we are so afraid of wrinkles and creases. The shot is, of course, framed to emphasize the subject, but moreso, we see a strong implied line emerge as we go from her dark, shadowed shoulder to her more brightly lit, almost luminescent knee. 
The shadowed lines of her arm and legs of course emphasize this progression, but I think what is more interesting are the creases exposed above her leg.
Posed on the bed, we can instantly see similarities between these creases in the skin and the creases in the bedding on the opposite side of her body. The weight of her form resting on the bed, as her body does on her legs, naturally causes creases in both skin and bedding which, by no coincidence, are both adorned with arboreal designs. Rather, this further emphasizes and solidifies the connection between the female form and the bed upon which she rests.
With this analogy firmly established in the visuals of the photo itself, we can further explore the relationship between skin and the bedding. 
The comforter on the bed acts as a reminder of the intimacy of the bedroom and all the acts accomplished within. The making of the bed, an oftentimes daily ritual, is an act of erasing the previous days' history, both good and bad, and beginning a new day. It acts as a cover, literal and figural, for the acts undertaken in the bed. These intimate moments that undid the bed are smoothed over and hidden from view by the immaculate bedspread.
In this way, so too does our skin hide the most intimate of our thoughts and desires. We compile a days worth of experiences and hide them behind our bodies themselves, by our enthusiasm, our false smiles, our false confidence. This, in turn, is hid further behind the the clothes we wear to hide our nakedness.
Thus, the figural baring of her intimate thoughts, her soul, her heart, if you will, as implied by her physical nudity, is contrasted by the clothed and hidden bed. Yet, despite conscious effort, neither facade is perfect. The bed is creased by her very presence, just as her skin is creased by the very act of living within it. These creases and imperfections are not inherently negative, but rather are simple consequences of the Sisyphean aspects inherent in life itself; as much as we try, we will never achieve perfection as long as our bodies, and our beds, are in use. 
Her conservative pose thus expresses not a shyness or shame at her nudity, but a quiet reserve and subtle confidence not just at her own physical nudity, but at the secrets hidden under the covers and within her heart. For these are consequences of living and should be endured with as much pose and quiet integrity as the figure expresses within the photo."

This comment rocked my whole world - and it was left anonymously. If you are the person who wrote this, please speak up - I have something special for you. Be honest now.

In fact, because of this comment, I am instituting a new monthly contest here on the Vault Blog.

Comment of the Month!

That's right. I'm so desperate for comments that I'm going to reward those of you who comment either on Facebook or on the blog itself. The reward will change every month, but here are a few of the things I'm thinking about giving away.

  • Vault Photography hats/shirts
  • Free business card printing
  • Limited Edition prints (BIG ONES!)
  • Headphones
  • Photography books
  • Memory cards
  • USB drives
I've never done a contest before - but I'm totally serious about this stuff. If you leave a comment on one of my posts, you're automatically entered to win. Of course, the better the Quality of your comment, the higher your chances of winning. Dont BS me, but do try to say something more meaningful than "Great shot!" or "you suck."

Let me state that these contests will be entirely subjective - I will pick who wins. If you don't like it, too bad. <insert legal mumbo-jumbo about where contests are and aren't valid and No Purchase Necessary and stuff>

If you people make me hire a lawyer to spell out all that stuff, I'm going to cancel the contest (which I have a right to do whenever I want for whatever reason I want) and pout (which I am also allowed to do!)

Each contest will run from the beginning to the end of that month. August's has already started and is open to you all. "Anonymous" left his or her comment on July 31st at 11:31pm - barely winning for July - before I had even thought of the idea for this contest. 

Questions? COMMENTS? Concerns?