Posts Tagged ‘Photography’

29th August
2012
written by Jeff

I know, it’s been a while, but the truth is I didn’t want to write a long rant on Facebook and this seems the best place for it, even if it is so long abandoned it feels like a ghost town. Woooooooooo…

This image was posted on Facebook today by a photography group called Light Stalking. It was reposted by a friend and I added a couple of comments. It dovetails nicely into an argument I’ve had with people for the last five to ten years about the suspicion and even outright disdain many show for experts. I’ve noticed it a lot in music and photography, but it is clearly visible in science, for example, as well. The recent gaffe by Todd Akin would be a good example.

For the purposes of this particular post, I’m going to focus on photography and the idea that it isn’t the gear that makes a photographer good, but the skill of the photographer and I agree in the most simplistic sense that the logic is accurate. There is no more annoying comment to a photographer than, “That’s a beautiful photo. You must have a nice camera.” Um, yeah, dipshit, that’s what it was. It had nothing to do with my abilities, just a really expensive camera.

It reminded me of a gig years ago. After I got done playing, another musician approached me impressed with the sound of my bass. She and another person had been debating what made it sound so good. They speculated I tuned it differently or that the bass and/or amp were very expensive, none of which was true and, when I told them this, they just shrugged and said, “Yeah, we couldn’t figure it out.” I guess it’s not possible that it was THE MOTHERFUCKER PLAYING THE BASS.

Anyhoo…

My only concern with the logic in the graphic is the implication that anyone with an iPhone can be Ansel Adams. It is true that great photos can be taken with very inexpensive and technologically inferior equipment. People have been doing it for decades. There were wondrous images embossed on tin types from the 1800s that were taken with something akin to a magnifying glass attached to a cardboard box.

However, as I pointed out in the post on Facebook, NASA astronauts traveled to the moon using technology not even powerful enough to power a decent calculator today, but it doesn’t mean they would pass on using modern technology now simply because they COULD do without.

The essence of being great at anything is the ability to combine real talent with creativity, intelligence, work ethic and the right tools for the job. The best athletes to ever play sports had serious talent, competitive drive like few others, incredible awareness on the court or field and constantly evolving creativity. But, they were also blessed with real, God-given machinery in the form of musculature and reflexes that the vast majority of us simply don’t have. Their equipment was vastly superior and they spent their lives learning how to master the use of it.

In photography, the best of the best not only take great shots, they know how to replicate them and how to react quickly to changing environments. And, yes, they could probably take a substantially better photo with an iPhone than a novice could with a $3000 camera, but pros don’t show up at photo shoots with point-and-shoot cameras because they want to be able to have every tool at their disposal. You COULD build a house with a hammer and hand saw, but why wouldn’t you use power tools if they were available to you?

I guess this sort of thing tweaks me because I know how much time and effort and money is put into being great at something and it is often overlooked because technology has expanded so dramatically in the last decade. Virtually anyone can make music or shoot photos or create logos or manage a sports team using modern technology, but it doesn’t mean they can do those things well.

And even if someone produces a stunning work of art with a mobile phone, that doesn’t make him/her a great artist. A great artist could do it again and again and again. To reference sports again, it isn’t a single great performance that defines and athlete. It is the ability to duplicate and even improve on that performance over and over and over again. Photographers are no different.

This is not to discourage anyone from following their creative instincts. In fact, just the opposite. If you like to take pictures, GREAT! Welcome to the club. But bear in mind that while gear isn’t the be-all-end-all of photography, it is an essential aspect of growing both as a skilled technician and an artist. Very few true artists are able to do what they do without the benefit of good gear. Maybe you are one of those exceptions, but it is more likely your best bet is to get some good equipment and learn how to use it.

It won’t necessarily make you great, but it will make it tougher to suck.

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12th July
2010
written by Jeff

It’s been a while since I did one of these kinds of updates – you know the kind where I tell you what I’ve been doing, you doze off and then wake up after a dream where I stabbed you in the arm only it wasn’t a dream because I was really just upset that you – a good friend like YOU – would fall asleep reading my story. Really, it’s just shameful.

But, here goes.

In the past month, I’ve spent a lot of time on the road. Some of it work. Some of it pleasure. That trend will continue going forward. First, let me just get the work part out of the way.

A couple weeks ago, I got a call from the Art Director at the Houston Press. I have taken photos for them in the past – mainly slide shows for the blog, but one or two shots for inside the paper as well. I was asked if I was available to do a shoot the following day (a Thursday) that might be used for the cover of the paper. It was explained to me that the photo would require some travel and that it might be a little odd.

I was also told that I’d be working with John Nova Lomax, a writer and person I respect a great deal, so I didn’t hesitate. Turns out, he and I drove deep into Cajun country in central Louisiana in search of a man named Kenneth Page who was determined to drive his riding lawn mower from his home in Waco to Florida.

John didn’t know exactly where Page would be because he didn’t carry a cell phone, but he believed that Page would travel on a few specific roads based on previous information and the fact that the roads were passable on a lawn mower. We spent hours driving and asking questions before finally finding him in Eunice. He spoke at length with John and the end result is a touching story about an odd gentleman with a strange dream.

I was fortunate enough to capture this man’s image for the paper. Page asked on numerous occasions if I was certain I wasn’t going to break my camera shooting him and laughed. He was a good-hearted guy with a ton of character in both his words and appearance.

The trip with John was as much fun as the resolution. He and I talked about friends and music (he used to be the music editor for the Press and is still what I consider to be the best there has been at his position as I’ve written several times). We listened to Zydeco music and laughed about encounters with locals pointing us in the right direction. It was a long, really enjoyable day.

Most importantly, the photos did make the press and the cover shot is one of my favorites.

Speaking to fellow photogs out there, that shot could not have been more fortunate. I found a spot for us to shoot the photo that looked appropriate with a good background. The clouds really played nice and gave me a good sky. When I got the shot for the cover, I had done a couple quick test shots to get light and told him just to be comfortable. He kicked up his feet, flashed me the peace sign and the first shot I got was absolutely the best one I took, bar none. He never flashed the peace sign again. He never had the same expression. The lighting was never better. Pure luck, plain and simple.

The story John wrote is fantastic – worth the read for sure. There’s even a sidebar that includes the story of our trip to Louisiana, which is pretty cool as well. In addition to the cover story in the Houston Press, the Dallas Observer ran it in their actual paper and the South Florida Village Voice affiliate apparently put it in their blog, though I can’t find it at the moment.

You can even see a video with Mr. Page filmed by John here.

Overall, it was a great experience and I’m thrilled with the results.

Ok, besides work, I’ve spent quite a bit of time at the beach. Weird for me, right?

Two weeks ago, C and I went to Port Aransas to stay at a lovely beach house belonging to the family of one of our friends. A group of us went and had an absolute blast from a 1am swim in the Gulf to much good food and silliness.

Fortunately for me, that scene would be repeated this past week. C and I rented a beach house in Surfside for the week – a really nice rental from BeachHouses.com (how did they get THAT domain name???)┬áthat we found when we randomly went to Surfside for the day several months ago. We were there for a few days just the two of us relaxing, swimming, reading and eating good food. By the end of the first day, we were like overcooked noodles, so intensely relaxed and de-stressed.

Despite the rain from a lovely tropical depression, we got in much beach time (C even managed quite the nasty burn, though she handed it with typical ease) and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

By the weekend, the weather had gone from ugly to positively perfect and friends joined us. We ate way too much good food, relaxed on the beach and laughed ourselves silly. It was, in short, a fantastic experience. From bonfires and sparklers to wave riding and drunken sing-a-longs, it was just about the most perfect vacation ever.

Even the thought of having to get back to the regular work-a-day world of home didn’t dampen my spirits, especially since we concluded our week on the patio at Maria Selma, soothing ourselves with margaritas and Tex Mex.

In the next few weeks, I’m going to spend some more time shooting photos and hanging outdoors. I’ll be traveling to College Station to shoot a food event for Robb Walsh on Wednesday and going up to the Guadalupe River at least once in the next few weeks to enjoy more time on the water.

In the midst of all of these things, I’ve shot two weddings and done an engagement shoot. Plus, the band is back and gigging again.

If nothing else, this summer has been eventful!

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28th December
2009
written by Jeff

Another year, come and gone. Like most years, I decided to recap what was my year in photos. For me, this was a year of changing directions in photography. Instead of things like weddings and skylines, there were portraits, concerts, events and food. I took a lot of shots for the Houston Press, for which I am quite thankful, and had a lot of fun doing it.

There were fewer shoots this year for pure enjoyment, but a lot of photos I loved and, despite shooting a lot of concert photos – South by Southwest, Houston Press Music Awards, Ingrid Michaelson, Rob Thomas/One Republic – you won’t see any straight up concert shots in my stream as they just didn’t make the cut. You also won’t see any shots of the skyline and only one of a somewhat familiar Houston landmark.

Like most photos I take, I’m am happiest with those where the subject is glorified rather than the photo and there are rarely subjects as glorious as people (or animals), which is why 7 of the 10 include living, breathing subject matter.

Oh, and I discovered a love for the golden glow of the 70’s, a theme you’ll see repeated in this batch. Hope you enjoy them. Click on any of the photos to be taken to the image in my Flickr stream.

10. Sunset Over Home Slice

Sunset Over Home Slice

My band got to play South by Southwest this past year in Austin. I’ve been to the event numerous times and the crowds and sheer force of music is insane. The night of my arrival, my guitarist and I wandered around South Congress ending up in a long line at Home Slice Pizza enjoying the crowd and the really nice weather. I got this shot of the sun setting over Austin and the SXSW revelers. As I mentioned above, this is but one example of my growing love affair for the golden glow of dusk and the beauty of 70’s styled imagery. I’m quite thankful to the gentleman in the foreground who provided some excellent depth of field with his head as well. Oh, and the pizza at Home Slice is awesome.

9. Ike the Bulldog

Ike the Bulldog

A year after Hurricane Ike tore up the Texas coast, it seemed only fitting that an adorable bulldog with the same name get some face time (literally) this year in my stream. For the third straight year, I attended the World Series of Dog Shows at Reliant Center and, once again, was not disappointed. This photo was one of many that became a Houston Press slideshow and this particular photo ended up in the print edition as well. Ike was extremely friendly and this is one of my all time favorite animal photos for many reasons. Like many of the shots in this top 10, it’s more about the subject matter and the moment than the actual photo which is, frankly, rather mediocre.

8. Chocolate Cake with Raspberries

Chocolate Cake with Raspberries

My good friend, Katharine, has been responsible for many important parts of my 2009. Without her, I never would have gotten so many great photo gigs from the Press, nevermind the experience of the Dr. Pepper Museum in Waco. More specifically, she introduced me to food photography, something I fell into as the result of her inviting me to food related events she wrote about. Whether it was the opening of La Toretta Del Lago (where this photo was taken), the Houston Press Menu of Menus or a random restaurant event, I made a lot of new friends and discovered a talent for shooting food I didn’t really know I had. This ridiculously tasty item was one of my favorite food shots of the year.

7. Trapeze Artist

Trapeze Artist

In addition to food photography, Katharine introduced me (if indirectly) to my girlfriend, whose niece, Jade, is both brilliant and sweet. Seen here lashed into some crazy flying contraption at the Texas Renaissance Festival, this is the only black and white photo in my top 10 this year, but very deserving. I snapped a smattering of photos as she bounced high in the air and this one happened to be framed perfectly and, as luck would have it, overexposed to the point of a starkness that I probably wouldn’t have done on purpose but worked out PERFECTLY in this shot. Happily, I have printed and framed two copies of this. One is hanging in my girlfriend’s apartment and the other I gave to Jade at Christmas. I’m far more happy that they love it than the fact that I love it, but it is one of my favorites.

6. Look at Us!

Look at Us!

Rarely am I asked to do a portrait photo shoot where I feel like I had as much or more fun than the participants. Mostly, I worry about getting exposures right and capturing moments, but this was an entirely different animal. The Houston Press, in parody of the Houston Chronicle’s full-page announcement of their new society writers, asked me to shoot their music writer, Craig Hlavaty, and one of their feature writers, Mike Giglio, in silly poses they could use for a similar write-up to be featured on their blog. The goal was to be as silly as possible and Craig and Mike were happily willing to oblige. Monica Fuentez, the art director for the HP, had all the ideas ready to go making it really easy. The shoot only took about 30 minutes inside like the one above and outside in the back of a pickup truck, but it was easily some of the most fun I’ve had taking pictures in a long time.

5. Snow Angel

Snow Angel

Shocking is the only way to describe the fact that Houston has had measurable snowfall two straight years. Unlike last year, the snow this year came during the daylight hours AND my good friend, Katya, and I were prepared. Her choice of Glenwood Cemetary as an ideal location for snow photos was inspired and produced probably my favorite of the day. The combination of the iconic angel many have brilliantly shot at Glenwood, the snow and the autumn colors of the trees makes this a near perfect photo for me.

4. Right Side Kiss

Right Side Kiss

Yet another photo shoot for the Press included Halloween night at Oni-Con Houston, an anime convention at a hotel on the west side of town. The vast majority of the participants were well under 25 (most under 20) making me either a creepy old man with a camera or an official photographer with a badge…or both. Honestly, I had little to no idea who any of the kids were supposed to be, but I can tell you their costumes were about 1000 times better than any costumes I’ve seen on Halloween. This was clearly a labor of love and they enjoyed every minute of it. Unlike some events where visitors are camera shy if not outright indignant about having their photos taken, the participants at this event WANTED you to take their photo making for a lot of fun for me and my camera.

3. Forgotten But Not Gone

Forgotten But Not Gone

The title of this photo is a take on the line “he’s forgotten but not yet gone” from the Ben Folds song “Fred Jones Part 2,” where the described is fired from his job at a newspaper and the sad story of his lonely life to follow. It awkwardly fits the subject matter. Earlier this year, a friend and I snuck into the Wilshire Village Apartments prior to them being condemned to take some photos and explore. What we found were beautiful apartments in horribly sad disrepair. In one of these was this bicycle floating in the light from the bathroom window. Now these apartments are completely gone, torn down in favor of a big empty lot that will probably become condos or some other urban monstrosity.

2. Golden Girl

Golden Girl

This was taken during a photoshoot for the daughter of two of my dear friends. Phoenix wanted some senior portraits and because she is a model, she wanted something different. Sure, we got some headshots as well, but this was my favorite of the bunch. There’s something about someone so dressed up and fancy looking (that’s Texan, partner!) set against the backdrop of the warehouse district and an abandoned field. Phoenix was a trooper and her mom helped me hold the reflector which gave me the amazing golden light in these photos. It is still one of my favorite portrait sessions ever.

1. The Golden West

The Golden West

Yes, my model is lovely. Yes, she is also my girlfriend. But, no, that is not why I chose this image as my favorite of 2009…not entirely anyway. Cathy lives across from an abandoned lot just south of midtown and I kept telling her I wanted to get some shots of her, particularly around sundown. We finally got a chance on a BEAUTIFUL afternoon and this is one of the results. I love this photo because it combines some of my favorite things: a great model, wonderful light, golden glow and an off-center subject. As you can see from the photos above, the golden 70’s glow has become one of my favorite things to shoot. Fortunately, we get about 8 months of that kind of light twice a day here in Houston. Cathy was a good sport as I asked her to stand in an empty field, but she’s also a natural and these photos weren’t just a joy to shoot, they were also remarkably easy.

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