Well, I did it. I joined Instagram. Astute readers and close friends will realize this also means I finally got a smart phone. Yes. True story. No worries though, my number is still precisely the same. I fought this smart phone thing for a while, but you know what? It's actually kind of cool. And so is instagram (except that I really don't understand why so many people are posting photos of their nail polish...it's nail polish...I don't get it... are we supposed to be seeing something special about the nail polish...am I missing something?...I'm confused). I'm also really enjoying this hashtagging thing. Apparently it's pretty big with the kids these days. I guess all you do is put the # symbol in front of stuff and people think your witty. Seems easy enough. Anyway, you can follow me on instagram now as "hiredlens". And make sure to check in every Tuesday to see my new weekly addition to #tuesdaytaxidermy. Can you believe no one had used that already? Weird, huh? Enjoy.
Bones of the Land has been getting some really great attention the last few weeks in the media including this awesome spot on WPR's Wisconsin Life. Special thanks to Daneille Kaeding and Tom Fitz for helping put this all together. You rock! Ha. Get it? Ha. And thanks to everyone who has come to see the show or checked it out online, I'm truly honored by all the support and kind words. Thank you.
Now I just need to find somewhere else to hang this show when it closes at Northland College in the end of February. Any ideas? Any other Wisconsin galleries interested? Give me a call.
Do you like art? Do you like science? Do you like when the two meet and at first it's kind of like an awkward middle school promenade where the boys and girls stand against opposite walls of the gym, but then the music builds and Art and Science come together in a magically beautiful breath-taking dance? Yeah, me too. I like it when that happens, too.
So, great. We'll see you this afternoon at 4 p.m. in the Dexter Library for the opening reception of Bones of the Land.
** PLEASE NOTE: There will not actually be any dancing. That was a metaphor. I'm sorry if it was misleading. There will probably be some cookies though. And you can stand by one of the walls and not talk to anyone if you want to. Totally your call. See you there.
Light is the key to photography. And controlling that light to tell the story you want to tell is the key to making the images you want. For Bones of the Land I wanted to tell a story about something really small. Which meant I had to take the same lighting concepts that I use when I shoot big things like people and cars and angry bears, and apply them to something really small, like minerals. And that turned out to be way harder than I thought it would be.
For each diptych, the photo on white (like the one below) was shot by placing the rock sample on a piece of plexiglass suspended 2 inches above a white background and lighting from slightly above the plain of the plexi with one mono block firing into a 36x48 softbox. That created big soft even light across the whole sample and I could use the feathered edge of the light to control the slightly offset shadow and gradient that I wanted on the white below the rock. It took a little tinkering with each sample, but, all in all, pretty simple. (These photos were shot with a 70-200mm f/2.8L, mostly around f/20 handheld standing above the samples).
The second photo of each sample (like the one at the top of the page) was more difficult. Like, a lot more. And here's why: when I diagrammed my lighting concepts, it was based on the idea that I could put my light source anywhere in the hemisphere of space from the plain of the plexi up into open space. Which I could, but I forgot one thing: the camera. Which, as you may know, is kind of important. Critical, in fact. And shooting with a 5d MKII with a stacked 2x teleconverter, an extension tube, and a 16-35 f/2.8L or 70-200 f/2.8L on a ball head tripod perched over the sample, not small.
But regardless of the bulkiness of the camera setup, the real problem is all about apparent size. Apparent size? Okay. Say you're shooting a portrait of a person. You stand 10 feet away and even with the biggest, most ridiculous lens you can find, the camera blocks out only a tiny percentage of the hemisphere of space around that person. Its apparent size compared to the subject is relatively small. That leaves a huge range of options for where to place the light source. If your working with a large light source, you can even put the camera between the light and subject with minimal impact on the final image.
Next, try to photograph something from less than an inch away from the subject, and the camera now blocks out a massive portion of the hemisphere of available space. The exact same camera now has a huge apparent size. In fact, most of the angles from which you could light the subject are now eliminated because of the shadow cast by the camera and lens.
Still a little fuzzy on apparent size? Okay, here's an even simpler description. Hold your hand out at arms length. It takes up a tiny portion of your field of view, right? Now hold it one inch from tip of your nose. Now it takes up a huge part of your field of view. Same hand, different apparent size. Got it? Good.
This is a pretty basic photo concept (it applies to light sources too), but I'll be honest, the impact it would have on my lighting setup for this particular project didn't really occur to me until I looked at my first test shot for macro portion of the series. My work flow at that point went something like this: take photo > review photo > face palm > return to drawing board.
But after that trip back to the drawing board I came up with something that worked fairly well. I ended up putting the light source next the camera, very close at roughly a 90 degree angle to the lens axis, so that it could pitch light into the small gap between the end lens element and the sample. This would result in a fairly severe look for a portrait, but for the relatively flat surface of the samples it accentuated the texture of the surface. Then, by adding white reflectors on two sides very close to the sample (or perched on top of the larger samples, just outside the frame) I could lighten the stronger shadows cast by the very steep angle of the light. And there you go: directional light, controlled shadow, texture; all the stuff your looking for in a good macro image. All it took was a little trial and error.
**Don't forget to join us on Friday, January 17 from 4-6 pm in the Dexter Library on the Northland College campus for the opening reception of Bones of the Land. And stay tuned for more.
It's been a bit of scramble this week, but this is all coming together. Here's the poster for my next exhibit, Bones of the Land, opening this coming Friday, January 17. Come check it out (there's reception from 4-6 p.m.), and stay tuned for another post later this week about how I shot the photos in this series. And watch for the new collection of cards with images from the show available in the our online gallery & store. In the meanwhile: keep it real out there, people.
Big news this week. Earth shattering, even. The Oxford English Dictionary, a long-standing pillar of lingual excellence, has named seflie the word of the year. And then I cried. And here's why:
To those of us archaic enough to use whole words in dazzling combinations to describe the world around us, there was already an existing phrase for recording ones own image. It was called a self portrait. It's been a called a self portrait for centuries. We had that covered. But, apparently, once you supply millions of people with smart phones, it needs a new word. With fewer characters. And this brings me to my second point.
Paul McCartney did not invent the selfie. Neither did Kim Kardashian. Or Ashton Kutcher. In fact, the selfie has been around since...well, since art has been around. Though we can't be certain, a good argument could be made that the simple human form represented in the cave paintings at Lascaux is, in all likely-hood, a selfie. Maybe that's a stretch, but you see my point: it's not exactly new.
Great artists throughout history have created self portraits. So have a whole host of lesser artists. They litter the walls of galleries and museums the world over. And regardless of the medium used to create them, they were called self portraits. While the duck-face is an interesting new addition to the genre and may merit some choice words of it's own, an entirely new genre it does not make. Neither does the fact that people are using a smart phones or digital cameras to record their self portrait. They are still self portraits. Mostly badly planned and poorly executed self portraits, but self portraits none the less. Am I just being persnickety about this? Yes, probably. Okay, definitely yes, but I have my reasons.
The underlying implication is that digital art is somehow different than other media, less artistic in a way. And this bothers me. While it may be more prevalently used than say watercolor or sculpture, this does not make it less valid. Just because more people choose to be mediocre practitioners of the form should not denigrate the entire medium. If we all started making really bad oil paintings would we start to think less of Rembrandt and Vermeer? Would we start calling them "paintsies" instead of paintings? I hope not. But I'm less sure about that than I once was. It's important to recognize that it's not the tools that make the art, but rather the artist, good or bad, using those tools. Great digital art is still far more about concept and technique and delivery than the 1's and 0's that give it life.
None of this is to say that the Oxford English Dictionary is at fault. By reporting the 17,000% increase in the use of the word over the last year, OED is merely the messenger bringing us the tragic news of our own downward spiral. The one silver lining, I suppose, is that selfie beat out twerk for word of the year. But not by much. We're doomed.
This vaguely photography related rant was brought to you by caffeine and the letter S.
And why no one should care...at all...ever.
I got an e-mail recently asking how I name files and organize folders to archive my photos. It's not the first time someone's asked about that, and as an avid reader of other photo blogs I've seen a lot of posts about similar things: Name your files to optimize work flow, what's the best program for photo sorting?, how to archive your photos. Some are helpful, most are not.
Over the years I've found good ways of doing things, and bad ways. I've improved my own process and habits to make my work flow more efficient. I've tried this and that. I'm a big believer in sharing information so when someone asks a questions, I'm happy to share what I do. If you really want to know how I number files in a project folder I can tell you. And you, in turn, can fall asleep and drool on your keyboard. That's fine, but to be honest, no one should care at all about how I or Joe McNally or Annie Liebovitz (do you like I how I lumped myself in with that group, pretty sweet huh? You get to do that when you have your own blog) name files. Ever. And here's why: it doesn't make the photos any better.
At the core of these questions (and a lot of other questions I get about photography) is the the underlying notion that there is a right and wrong way to do it. There is a way all the professionals do it and that's what makes them professionals. Let me reveal the big secret: there is no wrong way.
There is only what works for you. And what doesn't. Figure out the difference and stick with the first one. This applies to all kinds of things. Don't like carrying around all kinds of lighting equipment, get good at shooting ambient. Don't like processing images in photoshop, set your profiles to your style and shoot straight to JPG. Don't like telephoto lenses, shoot everything wide. Astounding images have been made in every way you can imagine, and probably some that you can't. Your file names are not your limiting factor.
Want to get better at photography? My best advice is to spend more time shooting the things that you love to shoot. Become obsessed. Then when you're famous, let your assistant figure out how to organize the files.
Photography is awesome. I love it. And, over the past several years of working as a photographer, it's been pretty fun to see how the rest of your life can drive your career. Several years ago, when all of our friends were getting married, I shot a lot of weddings. A lot. And because I was posting a lot of wedding photos out on the old world wide webs, I got a lot more calls from people I didn't know about shooting weddings for them too. Business took off. Then I delved into cooking a lot more. Food and commercial work started to dominate my portfolio. And I got more calls about that. Then I started to play with lifestyle photography. And guess what I got calls about that too. You can see where I'm going with this.
Now, everyone's having babies. Like, everyone. Like, I think Sarah and I might be the only people in a tri-county area who are not currently pregnant. So naturally, I'm shooting a lot more maternity and baby photos, like these for our friends Katie and Dave. If the historic pattern holds true, I suspect I'll be getting more calls about these sorts of photos soon. And I'm ready for it.
Why? Because it's something new. If all I ever shot was weddings or food or whatever, it would get old. Stagnant. Boring, even. It's the change that keeps me excited about doing this everyday and keeps it challenging. So bring on the bumps and babies.
And what's after babies? Who knows. But I bet it'll be fun. Stay tuned to find out.
We managed to sneak in one more late-summer photo shoot last week for our friends at Solstice Outdoors. Lucked out big time with the weather. After some fairly cold days, a few frosty nights, and one rain delay on this shoot, we ended up with a perfect blue-sky afternoon and some reasonably warm temperatures to be on (and for me, in) the water. This shoot definitely reminded me how much I love shooting outdoor sports. The movement, the colors, the scenery. It's hard not to enjoy. Plus, I get to do all kinds of fun stuff just to get myself to the locations. Gotta love that. Stay tuned for more.
Looking for a good way to lose 5 months and spend all your money? Buy a house. We closed on our property April 1st (how's that for an auspicious date?) and went straight into "put your head down and work" mode to get it ready to live in. I finally looked up last week and was shocked to find that the summer was over. Over. It disappeared in puff of of sawdust and a swirl of bent nails. Now, I don't mean to complain. We've been lucky enough to have a ton of help from friends and family all along the way and the house is looking pretty incredible. But still...Holy #$%&. What happened to summer? It's just...gone. And I hardly made any photos. That's the worst part.
On the up side, the end is in sight. I'm not saying the house is done. It's not. Maybe it never will be. But it's done enough that we can give up for a while, and do something else. And that means I'm getting back to doing more photo work in the next month. I've got a handful of shoots scheduled already and more in the works. Keep your eyes peeled for some new work. I'm almost back on the map.
We are freshly back from a quick trip through the west: Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota. When you add in the handful of Midwestern states we hit en route it works out to seven states in six days. While a stop in Colorado was our main objective, I was reminded that South Dakota doesn't always get the credit it deserves.
If ever a landscape cried out for the wide angle lens it is the South Dakota Badlands. Of the more than 2,500 miles we covered on this trip, the 30 or so on Highway 240 through Badlands National Park were easily the most striking and filled with wildlife. Bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs (and for some reason all my wildlife photos look like museum dioramas, why is that?). A close second was the drive through Custer State Park in the Black Hills just west of the Badlands. Absolutely amazing.
If you've never been, go. It's worth it. Skip Colorado. Skip Wyoming. For God's sake, if there's any possible way, skip Nebraska (My formal apologies to the people of Nebraska. I'm sure your state holds some wonderful things. I just didn't see them. Clearly, you have done a masterful job of hiding them among that blank expanse of cornfields. Well done.) Go to South Dakota. It's pretty great.
Sure, there's still some snow on the ground, but summer is just around the bend. I promise. So, let's brush up on a key summer photo skill:
There are a few things as iconically estival (Yes, estival is actually a word. For God's sake look it up, people.) as the great American past time of finding something sort of tall-ish and then jumping off of it into something sort of cold and wettish. It's tradition. And more than that, it's frickin' awesome. Ideally, the distance to the water will be greater than or equal to the height at which you feel slightly uncomfortable. And the water will be less than or equal to the temperature at which you gasp slightly upon entry. If either of these factors is not in the optimal range, the equation can still be balanced by attempting to invert one's self in the distance between the take off and landing. All complex math aside, jumping off of stuff is neat. And so is having good photographic evidence of said act. So here's a few summer photo tips for capturing the perfect cliff jump.
***WARNING: Jumping off stuff is dangerous. Always make sure you have a safe landing zone clear of obstacles and with enough water to cushion any fall. Also, try not to be dumb. You have been warned. Anything you do now is your own fault.***
Choose an angle- Pick a location from which to shoot that gives your audience some context information. Let us see the jumper, the water and the rock. Also keep in mind where the light is coming from. A jumper silhouetted against a bright sky can be cool, but it may not convey much information about what's going on. Try changing your angle to show us more of the scene.
Set your exposure- The key here is to choose an accurate exposure that has the capacity to freeze fast motion (which means you need a high shutter speed) and enough depth of field to accommodate a moving subject. Based on the standard principles of gravity and acceleration the average person will fall at a rate of...um...hang on a second, carry the 2...fast. They'll be going fast. So you're going to need a shutter speed in the range of at least 1/1000 of a second to truly freeze their rapid downward motion. Not to mention capturing the epic curtain of water caused by their often less than graceful entry into the drink. This is one of those activities where a faster shutter speed will never fail you. Aim high.
Lock the Focus- The auto focus system on most cameras will struggle to lock onto a moving subject and fire off a frame in the time that it takes a person to exit a cliff top and enter the water. That means you'll miss the shot. So you're better off switching over to manual and focusing on something that will be the same distance from you as the jumper at the optimal location in their descending arc. With the camera pre-focused, you can fire off frames with no delays. Now you're ready.
Time your shot- Don't just set your camera to rapid fire and machine gun frames as your screaming friend careens towards the water. Even high frame rate bodies miss moments in between the frames. Instead of trying to capture every moment, watch for the perfect moment, and try to capture just that. One great image will always be better than 10 mediocre ones. After all, how many are you really going to hang on your wall? This kind of timing takes practice. But with a little work you can start to anticipate when the greatest moments will happen. Combine that with good composition and you'll have a great photo.
Now get out there and try not to hurt anybody!
This winter has gone on long enough. So, Nick and I finally decided to do something about it. Take that winter. Happy Friday, everyone.
Got the chance to go up in a plane again yesterday for Northland College thanks to some scrambling from friend, co-worker, and fellow blogger Julie Buckles (Honest Dog), and I never say "No" to a plane ride (see here and here). Special thanks to pilot Tom Bouchard of Ashland for some excellent flying. It was a beautiful day to be in the air and absolutely amazing to see the ice breaking up from above. Gotta love that Big Lake.
Hired Lens Photography is proud to announce the launch of our new online Gallery & Store. It's brand new and we've still got some work to do adding more products and images and all that great stuff. But right now we've got a few of our top selling prints available in a couple popular sizes. Keep checking back to see more prints, cards, and other merchandise (I've got a couple sweet ideas up my sleeve). Plus watch for special offers on new products as they launch.
Want something you don't see in the store? No worries. Just contact us here, and tell us what you're hoping to find. If we've got what you're looking for we can add your item (or items) as a custom option in the gallery. Then, you can place your order through the store with your credit or debit card, and you're stuff will ship right to your home, office, van down by the river, or mud hut. Wherever you want it to go, really. Awesome.
Now go buy stuff... I'll wait here.
This is Chester Nez. Chester is 92. He is a United States Marine. He is a veteran of World War II. These are all amazing things. But there's more. Chester is also the last of the original Navajo Code Talkers. He and 28 other young Navajo men developed the only unbroken verbal code in modern warfare. Based on the language of their people, that code in no small way shifted the tide of the war in the Pacific theatre. Chester changed the world. And yesterday afternoon, he smiled when I asked to take his photograph. I am deeply honored.
Do you ever ask yourself: gee, what happened to that nature film Bob was working on? Probably not. But if you did, the answer would be this: "LAY OFF ME! I'm working on it, OKAY? God, some peoples kids..." Or something like that. As last year got busier and busier with paid work, this personal project got pushed to the back burner, but it certainly didn't disappear. As items on the back burner tend to do it's been percolating softly. Just plugging along in the background. Now that I've gone through a full cycle of seasons, I'm going back and getting more footage of things I missed the first time around. Filling in the blanks, as it were. More ice, more fish, maybe a couple birds if we're lucky, better light, better sound. Not to mention a bunch of new help from friend, photo aficionado, and wildlife biologist Travis D. Bartnick. Ha, I said it. Now you're really committed, Travis. It's public. That means all 6 regular readers of this blog now know that you agreed to help. Can't back out now, amigo. Just kidding...I only have 5 regular readers.
Have a great weekend, everyone. Stay warm.
In light of this recent cold snap (-16 at our house yesterday morning), I thought it might be a good time to start a little series on how to protect your camera from the elements. I've been meaning to do this for a while and now seems like as good a time as any. Every year, I get a handful of e-mails from people wondering how to protect their camera from extreme cold or heat, humidity, dust, snow, and a bunch of other conditions that are hard on cameras. It also seems to be one of the biggest concerns that people have when I teach workshops.
Yes, the world can be hard on cameras. But some of the roughest situations also offer some of the best images. So instead of just leaving your camera tucked away safely at home, there are a few simple things you can do to help it survive the elements. In this installment we'll cover COLD:
- Keep the batteries in your pocket. Cold eats up batteries like an angry little hedgehog eats...um...I have no idea what hedgehogs eat. Hedges, I guess? May be not. I have no idea. Anyway, cold is bad for batteries. In sub-zero temperatures you can pretty much watch the battery meter plummeting to zero. Usually the camera will die just before you get the best shot of the day. If you can keep the batteries in your pocket (preferably an inside coat pocket close to your body) and then put them into the camera right before you start shooting, you can get a lot more life out of them. Some people try to keep the whole camera and lens tucked inside a warm coat, but this can cause condensation on the lens or viewfinder, which can then turn to frost when exposed to the cold again. Not ideal. And even more problematic, if that moisture gets inside the lens and body it can create spots on the sensor. By keeping just the battery warm you avoid this problem. It also helps to have a few batteries to rotate in and out of the camera. If one gets cold enough to die, switch it for a fresh one and warm it up, they'll usually recover some power as they thaw and can be used a little more later on. Especially if I'm shooting with a tripod, I get the entire shot lined up and even focused before I pull the battery out of my pocket and put it in the camera. The warmer it stays, the longer it will last.
- Carry a drybag (or a big zip lock freezer bag). Obviously, a drybag is great for protecting the camera from heavy snow fall or other precipitation in the field. But there's a less obvious function it can serve. It's important to protect a cold camera from condensation when you bring it back into a warm space like your house or car. If you bag and seal it outside in the cold dry air and then leave it in the bag indoors until the camera has warmed up to room temperature you can avoid getting any condensation on the camera. A weather proof cloth camera bag is not enough. You really need a fully waterproof/airtight container for this to work. (A pelican case can work great for this too, but drybags are a much cheaper solution.) Condensation on the outside of a camera or lens is mostly annoying, but relatively easy enough to clean up. Condensation on the inside of a lens or on the camera sensor can cause water spots after it dries. Those spots will then show up in all your other images. This is a real bummer (but fixable, watch for another post about sensor cleaning later in this series).
- Change your strap. If it's cold enough that you're concerned about your camera, it's a safe bet that you're not out there in your cut-off jeans and a sleeveless Mötley Crüe t-shirt. In fact, you're probably wearing something rather bulky and something on your hands (gloves, mittens, old socks with holes cut out for your thumbs, etc.). This can make slinging the strap for your camera over your shoulder a whole lot harder.
Now, let me preface this advice by saying that if you talk to ten different photographers, all ten of them will have a different idea about the ideal camera strap. This is just my preferred method. Try it and see what you think. I like to run two small pieces of cord through the strap mounts on each side of the body and knot them each into a loop. Then I use small clips to connect the shoulder strap to those loops. Now instead of wrestling the strap off of your shoulder and getting hung up on your hood and thrashing around like a drunk monkey trying to punch itself in the back of the head, you can hold the camera, unclip one side of the strap and slide it neatly off your shoulder.
Added bonus: You can also completely remove the strap for long exposure shots where just the slightest breeze can cause the strap to shake the camera and ruin your shot. And finally...
- Don't leave your camera in the car. Cameras can get cold. That's fine, but when they truly freeze you can do some real damage. There's a tiny amount of liquid in the LCD display on the back of a camera (and I believe in some sensors) that can, under very cold conditions, freeze and crack the glass. This is bad. And expensive. I've never heard of it happening while a camera is outside for even a lengthy shoot, but it can happen over a long night in a very cold car. This problem can easily be avoided by not leaving your camera in the car. The same is true at the other end of the spectrum when your car becomes a broiling summer inferno of camera melting rage. Perfect segue. Stay tuned for another post in this series about HOT.
Wow. I blinked for a second and it was 2013. Right before I blinked it was Thanksgiving 2012. I was eating turkey and little carrot tarts and sweet potatoe pie and then BAM! It was 2013. And it's not like it's January second or something. We're well into it. It's the eighteenth. Damn it, now it's the twenty-first. How does that keep happening? Well, a much belated Happy New Year to everyone. (P.S. Pretty glad that Mayan-Calendar-End-of-the-World deal panned out for the best. Congrats on that one, everybody. We handled that one really well...for the most part.)
Every year, that little patch of days after New Years and before the year gets into full swing is my time to reflect. It's introspective and centering and it puts my whole next year into perspective. I look back and figure out what went well, what didn't, what I intend to differently this time around. That sort of thing. Turns out 2012 was a kind of a big one. My business grew (maybe more than I was ready for, but that's another story); I expanded my offerings to include graphic design, logo development, and illustration; my truck passed the 200K milestone and kept rumbling along, I became an uncle. And, oh yeah, I got engaged (see above). That was kind of a big one. Snuck that in right at the end of the year. For any one that knows us: yes, it was about time. I know. **Sidenote: Not bad for a self-engagement portrait, right? Do you think I can shoot the whole wedding myself? I think I can do it. Sarah is dubious.
Already, 2013 is shaping up to be no slouch of a year either. For one thing, we bought a house. Okay, we're buying a house. Turns out that's sort of a long process, but we're into it now; accepted offers and inspections and insurance quotes and everything. All the crazy things that come with being a home owner. I'm going to be a home owner. I am alternately ecstatic and terrified. For the most part, I still feel like a little kid and I can't believe that people are letting me do all these things that real grown ups do. For example: I still can't believe that they let me drive a car. And I've been doing that for well over a decade. I have these sneaky little moments where I think I better not mention it to anyone because for some reason I'm getting away with it. I don;t want to ruin it. And then I remember that I'm almost 30. THIRTY. 3...0. And that sounds like the age that a real grown up would be. So I guess I must be a real grown up now. Weird. Who saw that coming? To those that know me: yes, it's about time. I know.
Well, I'm mostly rambling at this point and frankly I'm even losing the coordinates a little. I guess that's what happens when you get to be my age. My real point is this: 2012 was Awesome. 2013 will be Awesomer. I can't wait. Stay tuned for some great new stuff coming up in the next couple weeks. More design, more photos, more awesome.