Sunday, February 28, 2010

What's My Line Again?

I was hoping to get one short documentary out into the world each month during 2010. Ambitious, I know... but I did get To Get to the Other Side out the door in January and screened, and now it has been submitted to a few other festivals.

We're at the end of February, however, and I'm officially behind on that schedule. Also, I'm not going to be participating in this year's International Documentary Challenge -- so can I get anywhere near that goal?

We'll see. Some projects are in fact moving forward, so maybe there won't be 12 new films this year, but ... well, just check back soon.

Sam Francis Sunday

Above: Friday Night at MoMA.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Snow Day

Today is a snow day -- no teaching in The Bronx -- so I'm trying to catch up on several projects.

One decision I wanted to note, however: after three years of participating in the International Documentary Challenge I won't be part of it this year. The timing just wasn't going to work out, and while we will be making a film with one of the subjects we met in planning for the event, we won't get the excitement of trying to make a documentary in five days. Good luck to everyone who participates. Maybe next year.

Above: Old Yankee Stadium yesterday, as seen from the 4 train.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Despite the bad weather we've had the last few days, I managed to make it over to Park Avenue and teach -- and now the first "Seriously Fun Photography" for 2010 class is ... ahem ... behind me.

That's good, as I continue to use a dumb acronym to force students to remember the three elements we need to master to understand and control exposure.

A. S. S.

That's right: we need to work with three related elements: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and Sensitivity.

The f/stops to memorize are f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22. If you forget these, make two columns, and at the top of the left one write 1.4 and at the top of the right one write 2.0. Now double each number as you go down the column (rounding off when needed). Changing one stop lets in twice as much light (or half as much, depending on which direction you go. f/2 lets in a lot of light, f/22 lets in very little light. So if you took a picture using f/8 and it seemed a little too dark, you would switch to f/5.6. If you took a picture using f/8 and it seemed a little too bright, you'd switch to f/11.

Shutter Speed:
The common shutter speeds are:
1/1000th of a second
1 second.

-- As a rule of thumb, if you are moving and you're subject is moving, you'll want to be shooting at 1/1000th of a second to get a sharp picture.

-- If you are still but the subject is moving along, it would be good to be at 1/250th or faster.

-- If you and the subject are both relatively still, you can probably handhold the camera as slow as 1/60th, but slower than that and you'll get a soft picture because of camera shake caused by pressing the shutter.

-- At speeds that are slower, you'll need a tripod to steady the camera, and probably want to trigger it using the self-timer or a release.

-- Many decent cameras have higher shutter speeds, and these are very useful for action or sports.

Notice that the relationship of these shutter speed settings is also doubling (or halving) the amount of light that hits your sensor.

This is the ISO "speed" of a digital sensor or of film. ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200 are available on many cameras (but not all), and you should take some test shots with yours to find out if the higher ISO settings are usable or not. Figure out the fastest ISO speed you find produces acceptable shots on your camera -- you'll need to switch to it sooner or later. Notice that each ISO speed is twice as sensitive (or half as sensitive) as the next.

At this point, we experimented with finding a good exposure for the lighting in our classroom. It turned out to be: f/2.8 and 1/125th of a second at ISO 1600.

Then we decided to start applying our general knowledge about the relationship between apertures and depth of field. While we start to get the idea when we say "f/2 -- shallow depth of field and f/22 - deep depth of field" actually trying this out in with some real world shots is always a good experiment.

So we set up an experiment: we set our aperture at f/1.4 and and focused on the eyes of a person sitting close to us. Upon reviewing the photo, we found that the that the person sitting further behind was out of focus. So, to see how depth of field changes, we ran through the whole series of aperture settings available finding the person in the background more in focus as we changed our aperture -- f/2 to f/2.8 to f/4 to f/5.6 to f/8 to f/11 to f/16 to f/22.

Since we were in manual mode, we had to change the shutter speed to keep our exposure the same while we ran through these apertures.

But then we realized changing manual settings can be slow -- so we explored using "Shutter Priority" and "Aperture Priority" as a quicker way to choose the factor that is most important to us, and let the computer choose the other setting.

We learned that a faster way to try this experiment was to switch to Aperture Priority mode -- then, we would pick the aperture and the camera would select the shutter speed -- so when we changed aperture, the camera would change the shutter speed and we were able to keep the same exposure.

We finished our class with an experiment in learning to see the environment around us -- finding assigned alphabet letters in our seemingly boring classroom -- and then with a game of photographic "telephone" -- about learning to communicate complex ideas through visual images.

Our homework: shoot a manual exposure, getting the best exposure you can and then checking this by looking at the image's histogram.

Then: try a series of shutter speeds with a moving object -- such as a spinning umbrella, a bouncing basket ball, or a hula hoop.

Next week we'll begin to look at composition, framing, and related issues.

Above: an iPhone snapshot from Tuesday. In Manhattan, it's important to be able to coordinate animal prints in any weather.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

EgoFest Followup

Well, EgoFest was fun to follow from afar, and it seems like it must have been a blast to be there. Great to see a festival that is so focused on doing things right for the filmmakers and the audience.

I made a post linking all of the films screening at EgoFest -- or at least, all I could find -- to their pages. I did this for two reasons:

1. If you were there, you can give the filmmakers a rating. They really really want you to.

2. If you were not there, a good number of the films are viewable online, linked from the IMDB page -- so you can watch either the full film or a trailer and get a sense of what screened. And then give a rating.

So, go to it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

World Freaking Premiere

My short documentary To Get to the Other Side is screening at EgoFest Film Festival today.

If you are there, enjoy the film (and the full day of programming -- over 40 shorts are screening). If you get a chance, sign in to and give my short film an honest rating.

If you are not there, but want to follow the day's events, you can follow 18 of the filmmakers on this Twitter list of EgoFest Filmmakers. (Or you can follow the hashtag #EgoFest or festival organizer Phil Holbrook.)

They say the question-and-answer sessions and the awards ceremony will be streaming, so be ready to watch live.

You can also follow me on Twitter for the latest updates.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Photo Class Postponed to Feb 25th

My Seriously Fun Photography class has had its start day postponed one week. That means you can still enroll if you like. (More details soon, or you can look at previous posts on this blog.)

Above: an iPhone snapshot from today at Bronx Community College.

Photography in the News, Please Do Not Shake It Edition

Are there any horribly inappropriate uses of instant photo technology in the news today?

I'm glad you asked. Of course there are.

Mortuary Techs Caught Head-Handed
"Mortuary technicians have been caught playing with the dead—and they even documented their deeds on Polaroid. According to the NY Post, the photos that have been released—allegedly by someone who was trying to blackmail the employees—were taken around 2004."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Photography in the News, Shake It Edition

Is there any news from the world of photography involving a world-class collection of photographs being sold off piece-by-piece rather than going to a museum? Unfortunately, there is, so now's your chance to purchase one of the 1,200 items up for auction...

Sotheby's to Sell Off Polaroid Collection
"The bankrupt Polaroid company will be selling off the highlights of its photography collection. Sotheby's has scheduled the auction for June 21st and 22nd, following a six-day-long display filling the entirety of Sotheby's headquarters."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

In NYC? Take my Photo Course at Hunter CE

Photography sure can be fun. If only there were some sort of class about that, taught locally starting next Thursday.
Build on the basics and master the skills and ideas advanced photographers use in a fun, low-pressure class. Open to anyone able to shoot a photo and import it into a computer (and welcoming advanced students as well), in this class we'll use the digital camera as a fast way to learn the essentials of photography. We'll learn-by-doing, exploring professional techniques while creating a portfolio project (on any topic of your choice) to show your advanced skills. If you've always been interested in photography, but have put off becoming great at it, this is your chance.

Course/Section: SERFUN/1 6 Session(s) 12 Hour(s) Tuition: $250.00
Day(s) Meet: Thursday Date: 02/18/10-03/25/10 Time: 06:00PM-08:00PM
Location: CS, 71 E 94 ST./
Instructor(s): FISHER, TED
You can register online at Continuing Education at Hunter College

Above: an iPhone snapshot taken today.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Winter Blunderland

Finished grading about 3 a.m. last night, as the snow started to fall. Today: it's pretty. Until the wind drives it, like tiny flying shurikens, directly into your eyes.

Yesterday ... and Today

What a difference 24 hours can make. Above: iPhone snapshots: yesterday at Bronx Community College and today in the Upper East Side.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Blind Faith Screening, Egofest Schedule Posted

Over on my other blog I've linked to two February screenings: Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing at Picture This Film Festival and the World Freaking Premiere of To Get to the Other Side at EgoFest Short Video Film Festival.

EgoFest has now posted a schedule of the films with my short documentary in Block 3. I really really wish I could go to both of these events.

Two Upcoming Screenings

February? Already? Unbelievable.

This weekend Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing -- a film I co-directed in a sort of co-op approach -- will be screening at the Picture This Film Festival in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I really really really wanted to go, but with so much going on will have to watch from afar. The film received an Honourable Mention, and if you visit the festival's site you can see the festival jury provided some lovely comments.

February 20th, my brand new film To Get to the Other Side will screen at EgoFest Short Video Film Festival in Brainerd, Minnesota.

I love the way EgoFest has developed -- it features 40 shorts by 30 directors, and has shown a truly indie approach: many of the filmmakers became aware of the festival on Twitter thanks to the efforts of festival director Phillip Holbrook. With a no-application-fee / filmmaker-friendly approach (including a smart deadline extension), the festival has set the bar high for openness. I was able to get questions answered about the fest almost instantly, and the tone has been all about the fun of independent film.

I won't be able to join any road trip to Brainerd this time, but you can bet I'll be watching for next year's fest.