Monday, March 29, 2010


I took my Seriously Fun Photography class over to The Highline on a cold and clear Saturday. There's a not a lot of in the way of flowers, yet, but the grass is beautiful and energetic.

This week is the last class of the current "Seriously" series. On Wednesday, a new Advanced Seriously Fun Photography is scheduled, so if you're interested get in touch with Hunter College Continuing Education today.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

So No One Can Sneak Up On You

There are a lot of different lenses out there. This, I'm not so sure of. I suppose it makes a panoramic image. I tried to ask its owner, but he was really not much help.

If you look closely, you'll see some members of my photo class and also my 24mm lens depicted in the reflector.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

How To Travel With Your Pet

I took my photo class to The Highline today. I packed a 24mm f/1.8 lens -- I like a challenge -- and we met at 20th Street and 10th Avenue. It never occurred to me that I should zip a dog into a suitcase and wheel it behind me, but I'm still new to this whole "New York" thing.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

TV or not TV

I've enjoyed teaching TV production this term. Today, we did our fourth show for the term: an interview show. Essentially we were doing a copy version of "The Charlie Rose Show." It looks very simple, but I think by the second run-through many members of the class realized we weren't quite hitting it. The simplicity is deceiving, and pulling this off requires focus on every detail from the director and every member of the crew. As Director Ferrand says in Day for Night:
What is a film director? A man who's asked questions about everything. Sometimes he knows the answer.
Ah well: a very good learning experience for everyone. Above: an iPhone snap of today's Television Studio class.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

East 75th

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I always am: there's a really strong impulse in the photo community to conform. It's never said out loud, but look around a bit and you'll get the picture.

You'd think it would be the opposite: "I see a lot of zigging, perhaps I'll zag." But it's not. Zigging leads to more zigging.

I could be wrong, but I feel like photographers a few decades back took more pride in being out of step with the trends. I also feel you saw more "weird" images, and more breaks from the expected.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wide Angle Wednesday

In my last post, I mentioned how you might use a telephoto focal length to shoot a portrait of a person. It's usually a great idea.

Don't think I don't love wide-angle lenses, however. Again, of course, you have to work purposefully to use them well. Here's my main tip: don't leave your wide angle lens trying to do the thinking for you. If you just point it without using your eyes and brain, its main characteristic is that it will just lump everything together into a jumble. Sometimes, by chance, a fantastic jumble. More often, a confused jumble. It will include objects near and far, and without much relationship between these objects.

To use it at its most photographic, think flat or think deep.

The shot above -- just a snap from my iPhone from Tuesday, nothing special -- is about thinking flat. It's two large elements in relationship to each other. There's no jumbled confusion because the image has been conceived as a flat space. The relationship is "this shape against that shape." What's left out of the shot is more important than what's in.

An even more exciting way to use a wide-angle lens is take advantage of its depiction of space and get something in the foreground in relation to the rest of the image. That's really an idea that should be in your mind as soon as you move to wide focal lengths. Let something close fight with the large background. Put a person close to you and the space they exist in behind. Put an object close by and some sort of opposition behind. Let a visual story develop: this against that. Let the wide field of view show more than we're used to seeing (a repeated pattern, an overwhelming amount of something, a vast space) and give us a close element to make that pattern / space / aggregation seem even vaster.

Don't think of your widest lens as a way to "get everyone in the picture." Think of it as a way to depict depth.

One last note: play with what happens when you tilt the lens down. If you study some of the Garry Winogrand street photographs you'll find that he often used the strategy of getting right up to a person, using a wide focal length, and tilting the lens down a little. That puts the viewer right into the photographic subject's space -- a feeling quite different than that provided by the "normal" lens of Henri Cartier-Bresson's street photos.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday Tele Tip

Most DSLR cameras are sold with a "kit" lens included. That's usually a zoom lens, almost always with a focal length of 18-55mm or 18-70mm. That can be a useful lens, but often our first impulse in how to put it to work results in disaster. Here's what I mean:

I ask one student to photograph another. Almost every single time, the student will stand up, point the camera at the other student and -- without thinking -- zoom out. That leaves them a few feet away from their subject using a focal length of 18mm. The resulting portrait isn't great.

Here's the thing: an 18mm focal length provides an "expanded" space. To see this, stand in a corner of a room and look with your eyes. Now look through your camera with the 18mm focal length and look at the space: you'll get the impression of a much deeper space. Zoom to a longer focal length and you'll feel as if the space is more compressed.

That "expanded" space is not flattering to the human face, generally: there can be an impression of a larger nose and larger chin, for example. The "compression" a longer focal length provides tends to create a more flattering image. Take a look at the next magazine rack you walk past: most of the faces you'll see there tend to be photographically compressed.

Try a further experiment: using the 18mm focal length, frame a person from just above their head to just about the second button on their shirt. Take the shot. Now, move yourself backward, change your focal length to 55mm (or 70mm) and get that same "two-button closeup" framing. Take the shot.

Compare the two and you'll see: focal length can have a transformative effect on a face. The same person may look quite different in these two shots. Usually, the longer focal length is perceived as making a significantly more flattering portrait.

Also, notice that most likely you'll now be throwing the background out of focus when using this longer focal length, depending on the distance between you, the subject and the background.

So consider forcing yourself to automatically zoom to telephoto when you decide to take a picture of a person. That 55mm or 70mm length can work just fine -- but you have to decide that's what will work best and, as always, force yourself to take control of the photograph you are making.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Recent Good News

Two nice news briefs:

First, Mrs. New York Portraits passed her orals, meaning she's one step closer to her Ph.D. in Art History, specializing in the history of Photography. No more exams, no more classes, and a chance to now focus on her dissertation. And the stacks of books have (mostly) been moved out of way.

Second, I found out today that my short doc To Get to the Other Side will be screening at the ASU Art Museum Fourteenth Annual Short Film and Video Festival in April.

So a good start to March, overall.

"Other Side" Screening at ASU Art Museum in April

Some good news just in via email: my documentary short To Get to the Other Side will be screening at the ASU Art Museum Fourteenth Annual Short Film and Video Festival on Saturday, April 17th.

I screened a film there last year, and in my opinion it's one of the best-run and most filmmaker-friendly festivals I've been in. They handled everything very well both before and after the fest. Also, for last year's event over 1,300 people attended.

I'm looking forward to it.

Manual Mode Monday

This week I'm posting just a few hints for photographers. There's a tendency to focus on the complicated elements of the field and to forget the basics, so here are some reminders / tips for using a digital camera. These are all topics covered in my "Seriously Fun Photography" course at Hunter Continuing Education.

Using Manual Mode with a DSLR

One topic many photographers find confusing is how to work in manual mode on a digital SLR camera. Let's demystify it:
1. Turn the big knob on top of the camera to M.

2. Point the camera at your subject and press the shutter halfway down. You'll see in your viewfinder if the camera thinks you are underexposing or overexposing -- there's a little indicator that will let you know. (Your camera may have a little triangle, or a light or another indicator that tells you if it thinks you are over or under on your exposure.)

3. Your camera will either have two wheels -- one in front for your index finger and one on the back for your thumb -- or just a single wheel.

3a. If you have two wheels, turn one of them and notice if it is changing your shutter speed or aperture. Then turn the other. Now you know the two elements you are controlling in manual mode (you've already set your ISO setting).

3b. If you have one wheel on your camera, turn it and see if you are adjusting shutter speed or aperture. On most cameras, you then press and hold the "+/-" button (Canon) or the Exposure Compensation button "AE-L" (Nikon) and that will allow the wheel to adjust the other element. In other words, if you turn the wheel and it changes shutter speed, press the "+/-" button (Canon) or the Exposure Compensation button "AE-L" (Nikon) and now the wheel will adjust your aperture setting.

4. Adjust aperture or shutter speed until your camera's indicator is in the middle (or at zero).

5. Take the shot.

6. Then look on your viewscreen, and see if you've got it right.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Thursday Theory

Picasso thought: "You'll feel a mix of lust and shame standing in front of this painting. You'll be attracted and repelled. It will disorient you, both spatially and morally."

Nah. People just take pictures of it as if it were a bowl of fruit.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Wednesday Whirls

What has happened in museums? No one is looking at the art. They're all taking terrible pictures of the art.

I do not understand. You can buy the museum's catalog, with good pictures in it. Maybe ... while you are there, standing between me and the painting, you could ... look at the painting?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Tuesday Title Test

Ah. Black on black. It's an abstract painting by Ad Reinhardt, but what's the title? C'mon, you ... know ... this ... one. Look closely, you'll figure it out.

Post answers in the comments.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Malevich Monday

Ah. White on White. C'mon, you know this one. Post the correct title and year in the comments.