2008, Stone Bridge
There are a couple different “easy” photo subjects in this image. Stone structures, particularly those from the Civilian Conservation Corps, often provide wonderful photographic opportunities. Most have become as much nature as structure and the interplay of the stone’s permanence with the life growing around it can be eye-catching. Secondly, water is always a great starting point for an image. Light, motion and form, water has it all.
In this particular shot, I used a tripod and a long shutter speed for the ever-popular “blurry water” look. While some find it to be an artistic affectation or an overused technique, I happen to think it does a better job in an image like this of representing what moving water actually looks like. There’s a balance you have to hit with just how blurry you want to get, you can overdo it. I might have been brushing up on that here. I think it works, but if I had it to do again, I might try shortening the shutter speed by at least a full or half stop. I also used a polarizing filter to cut down the glare one the water. Polarizing filters are a quick way to improve a lot of “water” images. If you haven’t tried one, I would encourage it.
The bridge being offset works for me. The weight of the arch on the left side is balanced by the waterfall on the right. There is an argument to be made for centering the bridge, but I like this composition better. The tree branches….sigh. If I’d had some loppers and were a more inconsiderate person, I would have loved to chop down some of the branches that are on the left side. But that’s the way photography goes. Some things we have control over, some things we do not.
Overall, not a bad photo considering that it is a genre (landscape) that I don’t feel is my strongest. Not award winning perhaps, but not something that you’d mind hanging on your wall.
Canon EOS 5D, 24-70/2.8 with polarizing filter, Unknown Exposure
2013, Portrait of Jack
As I have mentioned before, there is a special power to images where the subject is looking directly at the camera. There are many theories out there as to why this is so. I myself subscribe to the idea that having a photography subject looking directly back at you changes the viewing experience for most of us. Instead of a passive overview of a moment in time, we somehow feel more drawn in and connected to the person we are looking at.
This photo is one of those that won’t mean a lot to anyone who doesn’t have a connection to the subject. Oh, it’s a nice enough image. A cute engaging face, soft even lighting, blurred out background, catchlight in the eyes. But still, unless you know the boy (or perhaps just really like kid portraiture) it probably doesn’t mean a lot to you standing on its own. Now, if it were one of the images in a magazine story on child prodigies or autism or even the “American family”, it might be considered a moving image. But on its own, with no frame of reference, it’s just a photo of a kid.
That having been said, I will tell you that because I do have a connection to him, this image means a lot to me and to those close to him. There are precious few of these images of this particular kid engaging with the camera in this way. So it retains a lot of that power I talked about earlier. I shot it with a nice big bank of windows at my back, giving the soft lighting that is so nice for portraits. The shallow depth of field helped isolate the subject from a fairly busy background. Most importantly, the focus being right on the eyes gave this image the feel that I was going for. For some reason, however, I find the catchlights distracting. I wish they weren’t right over the pupils of his eyes. It’s one of those tiny things that it is hard to remember when shooting candid images. Other than that, I wish the background was a little more even in tone. There isn’t much you can do about that sort of thing in some locations (in this case, a small kitchen in a small house) and it is blurred nicely. But as far as a critique, it is fair to mention it. Finally, I’m not sure if it is because I know that his hair isn’t quite that color or just because I am picky, but his hair looks dark to me. If I were a portrait shooter, I might have tried to bounce the tinniest bit of flash off the ceiling or maybe have a small reflector bounce some light in there. But I’m not, I’m a candid shooter and these are the types of tradeoffs you make when you choose to operate outside of a controlled setting.
Canon EOS Rebel SL1, 125 ISO, 1/60 @ f/1.8, EOS 50mm f/1.8
2008, Smoke Break in an Alley
Street photography can be very hard. It takes a particular skill to get out there and make images of strangers doing things in an engaging way without them being annoyed at you. It is one of those things that I can do if I put my mind to it. I have the communication and social skills to talk and smile my way into the situations I want to be in. But I also find it tiring and difficult, so it isn’t my default style of photography. This is a well known alley in my part of the world. It’s near a public market, so someone wandering around with a camera isn’t exactly a strange site for those who live and work in the area. This woman had ducked out of one of the nearby businesses for a smoke break.
I like the way that the lighting worked out for this image. She is little more than a silhouette, with no significant detail to tell the viewer any more about her aside from her body language. The walls and nearby signs have excellent tonality. And even the exposure of the city in the background serves to keep it from being distracting. I do wish I could have done something better with that light hanging down. I kept a piece of the “ceiling” in there in hopes that anchoring it would help ground it in the image (and eliminate the “open V” that the background would then have had). But I’m not sure that it worked. Perhaps I should have moved to the right significantly. That would have allowed the row of lights on the left side of the frame to be a stronger element, might have included the doorway for the Alibi Room, and perhaps would have moved the hanging light out of the center of the image. But without standing there again, it’s hard to know. It also appears that I placed critical focus on the signs. Understandable, but I wonder if placing it on the woman would have been a better choice?
Canon 5d, 24-70/2.8 EF L, unknown exposure
Hey look, it’s someone doing something wacky! The “silly” photograph is kind of a cliche genre that is more at home as Facebook click-bait or a mall-kiosk wall calendar (Underwater Puppies are so cute!). But on the other hand, images like this still catch our eye. I wouldn’t fill a portfolio with shots like this, but on the other hand, I’d probably have at least one in there as an eye-catcher.
This shot is just “okay” in my book. The guy looks crazy enough, that’s for sure, and is the strength of the image. His leg position, facial expression, and even the fact that he’s on one hand all work well together. But the background is really distracting. I wish I had tried to use a much more narrow depth-of-field and blurred the background out. I was somewhat limited in where I could have positioned myself to get this shot, since I wanted him to be looking right at me. But still, I think all the junk in the background really weakens the image. I’m also unsure if the focus was a little off, the shutter speed was a little low, or if I didn’t sharpen enough. A good example of an image with potential that didn’t quite come together, but is still worth a look and a smile.
Pentax *ist, 50-200 f/4-5.6, unknown exposure.
Andy – Burnside Skatepark, Portland, OR
This is one of my favorite images from the time I spent shooting extreme sports stuff. It has a lot of the reasons I love this type of photography all rolled into one. The rider is a good friend of mine and I was happy to get the shot published. The place is Burnside in Portland, one of the first spots I shot BMX. The memory of the day is important to me, the two of us were there together and had the place to ourselves one morning. And the image itself is really neat. The whole bit about “death” looking down at the guy on the bike, the bright colors (in an otherwise drab skatepark) of the newly painted graffiti, and the simple elegance of the trick itself. The whole thing came together in a the way that I, as a photographer, most hope for.
Lighting was simple, just one flash pointing up at the rider from low camera left. This is one instance where the Canon 1D’s 1/500 flash sync came in very handy. I miss that camera sometimes. Looking back at the image, I could wish that the rider had different colored clothing on. The red hat and bike pop out nicely, but the grey shirt and pants don’t stand out enough from the concrete and background. I could have tried for better separation by blowing out an edge flash from the right or underneath. But at the time, I believe I couldn’t find a flash location that worked and decided to just go for that big shadow from the single flash. That having been said, I’m not sure why I cropped so tightly in camera.
Canon 1D, 1/2500 sec, f4.0, ISO 200, Canon EF 400mm f2.8 L USM IS
2014, Family Selfie
On the one hand, selfies can be considered a somewhat low form of photography. They all tend to look the same, they frequently show little compositional effort, and for better or worse, they seem to live in the world of cell-phone preteens and annoying celebs pouting at the lens. On the other hand, sometimes you can catch a pretty special moment simply by turning the camera back around on yourself.
We were at a local music festival having a picnic in the field. It was a beautiful sunny summer day and we were with good friends enjoying a great time. Given that I’m the guy with the camera, the four of us are rarely in the same image together. There’s some wide angle distortion and I’m not sure that the focus point is exactly where I’d want it to be as far as maximum sharpness. While the tight framing gives us a sense of family closeness, I think a slightly wider lens would have helped overall. But even so, it turned out to be a photo that ended up being important to us as a family. And while making a stunning image is a fine goal, making a special one sometimes means more.
Olympus OM-D E-M1, 125 ISO, 1/100 @ f/3.5 Olympus 12/2
2004, Wedding Sparklers
This was a moment that I’m not sure I captured in the best way I could have. But it was also a moment that meant to much to the people involved, that the image is loved. It was the wedding of two friends of mine and they were departing the reception for their wedding night. All their friends had lit sparklers and created a, rather dangerous, gauntlet for them on the way to their car. I was walking backwards and shooting with a wide angle lens and a speedlight. Folks had has a few drinks, and I was fairly sure that someone was going to catch my hair on fire.
I love their expressions. As I said, I know these folks and thus know that this is an image of them being truly happy. Looking back, I’m not sure what else I could have done as far as the framing, it was kind of a fluid situation and difficult to be exact. I do wish I had dragged the shutter a bit more and perhaps used rear-curtain flash. I would have liked to have gotten some more light trails from the sparklers. At the time it seemed important to capture some of the wedding guests faces, and there are some nice expressions there. But with a single flash in the dark, it wasn’t ever going to be a strong point of the image. I might have traded that for some smeary light-streaked background to give the image a bit more “feeling”.
But at the end of the day, I still see photos from this wedding on display at the couple’s house. So that means the world to me. In fact, they just asked if I’d shoot some 10th anniversary portraits for them. Which is pretty cool.
Canon 5D, ~800ISO, 1/30? @ f/2.8, 16-35/2.8 L
2011, North Waiting For His Food
There is always a special power in images where the subject is looking directly at the photographer. This power is amplified when the image is a candid rather than a posed portrait. Why? The most obvious reason is that many believe that the eyes are the window to the soul. Even if you don’t subscribe to that particular idea, the fact of the matter is that having a photography subject looking directly back at you changes the viewing experience for most of us. Instead of a passive overview of a moment in time, we somehow feel more drawn in and connected to the person we are looking at. The most famous example of that would probably be Steve McCurry’s “Afghan Girl” image for National Geographic.
This image of a boy waiting for his food in a restaurant isn’t a particularly strong image in comparison to the greats of the genre. But it does have a sense of patience and perhaps frustration. The slightly off balance horizon probably feeds into that a little bit. I like the softness of the lighting. Though in retrospect I might have tried to dodge the exposure in his eyes a bit to bring them out a bit more. Having a catchlight in both eyes would have helped also. But that is the sort of thing that is really hard to think about when you are trying to catch a fleeting moment. Finally, I might have liked to see how this image would have looked with his arms to the table in view. Little kids with their chin on their hands is a very cute pose. But having the arms in there might have given even more of a sense of “waiting”.
Canon 5D, 800ISO,1/60 @ f/5.6, 16-35/2.8 L
2007, Flasks For The Groosmen
While pretty obvious on the surface (someone is filling flasks for a group of people), this is an image that benefits from a bit of context. On its own, it’s an image about drinking. When told that is it an image from someone’s wedding day, we can start to imagine all sorts of stories that might stem from this point in time. We might remember our own weddings, or the drunken fool that the best man became, or even a wedding that ended with kissing a cute bridesmaid that you ended up traveling to France with. Now, I don’t subscribe to the idea that every picture has to stand alone as a complete explanation of that moment in time. But it is good to keep in mind that understanding context can significantly change the viewers understanding of an image. Sometimes that matters, sometimes it does not.
As for this image in particular. It isn’t anything spectacular and it isn’t anything terrible. It won’t hang on anyone’s wall, but it could have a spot in a cherished photo album. I do wish I had rotated a bit to my right to eliminate some of the dead space on the right hand side. But maybe I could have just cropped it a bit tighter. That would also eliminate the annoying bit of white in the lower right corner. Somehow, I also get the feeling that I didn’t sharpen this image enough. Or maybe that’s just the booze making things blurry…
Canon 5D, 800 ISO (?), lens unknown probably some sort of 28-70/2.8
2012, Olly in the Bath
Like the kitten-looking-cute image from the other day, photos of kids in the bath are cliche and common and very popular. Your response as a viewer is going to depend on what your connection is to the kid. Are you related to him? You’ll probably adore it. Are you a parent yourself? You may enjoy it as a sort of “I remember those days” recollection. Don’t have kids? You probably think to yourself, “Man I’m tired of seeing photos of kids. Why can’t this photographer make an effort to, you know, leave the house to find a subject.”
I happen to like this photo a lot. Hey, it’s my kid. So there you go. However, while I think it’s pretty obvious what is going on, I wonder to myself why I didn’t bother to include any of the water in the shot. I mean, yeah, you SHOULD be able to figure it out. But I think ideally it might have been a better idea to not require any assumptions by the viewer. On the other hand, I like how he is looking upward, the catchlight in his eyes sparkles, the water/drool drop off his chin is pretty funny, and even the towel in the background adds something.
Olympus OM-D E-M5, Olympus 12/2, 1/200 sec @ f/2, ISO 3200