Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Recurring Themes

I just finished reading Joe Buissink's book "Wedding Photography from the Heart," and I immensely enjoyed it. He is a talented photographer and seems like a genuinely decent human being.

The book was chock full of interesting insights and advice, but I found a short section in the back where he is candid about the mistakes he has made the most poignant. He makes many interesting points that any aspiring photographer should be aware of, but I found this one almost a personal warning to me:

"There is no career field I'd rather be in than photography and no business I could love more. Even so, my business isn't who I am."

So many times in my life I have made the mistake of letting my career and occupation dictate my greater identity. Hopefully, this time I can learn from the past and move forward into a brighter future.

It is also uncanny how much of the wisdom found in Joe Buissink's words are also communicated to me at my studio, though in slightly different words (and usually punctuated with the word 'bitches.'). This is where I need to be. At this very moment, there is no better place for me. And that is a very valuable realization.

On a final note, I find it encouraging that while Joe Buissink doesn't enjoy taking posed photographs, he finds that his early training in such work is most helpful to him and serves as a solid foundation. If a deeper understanding of lighting, posing, and composition are the end result of my recent depressing attempts at portraiture, I am even more inspired to keep trucking along.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

the curse of Photoshop and Lightroom

The first time I tried Photoshop and Lightroom, I felt this incredible rush of possibility. All of a sudden, nearly all of my photos could be turned into what I then considered refined pieces of art. Composition off? Exposure off? All-around crappy photo? No worries. None of these seemed to be problems given the range of tools at my disposal.

I went through a phase where I went pre-set crazy. And then one day, the pleasure of altering my photos beyond recognition ceased to feel so good. It was the realization that my reliance on digital enhancement wasn't pushing me to improve my photography chops. My shots straight from the camera were actually getting worse.

There are purists who recommend that you shoot with film for 6 months before you even touch a digital camera. While I wish I could have learned photography through film, it is a little too late for that.

There is no question that the digital revolution has forever changed photography; it has provided a way for people to learn much more quickly but has also created an army of pseudo-professional photographers. Unfortunately, most of these photographers are too prideful to recognize how mediocre their work is. Having a website/blog doesn't qualify one as a good photographer. Neither does having shot a wedding. I've even met a few "photographers" who shot dozens of weddings, but as it turns out didn't even understand basic principles of lighting (nor did they shoot in manual mode). These individuals are essentially cheating themselves and their clients. Though I am not sure if it technically counts as cheating a client if the client is not refined enough to know they are being cheated. That's a discussion for another time.

There really is a difference between taking shortcuts and learning the right way, albeit at a much faster pace. While the shortcuts available seem tempting, I hope that I stick to my original plan and continue to patiently approach my training. I believe taking too many shortcuts is something that will haunt aspiring photographers in the long run.

During my first session with my mentor, I remember him telling the small group that meets on Tuesdays that we were not to even call ourselves photographers until we had completed a year of training. As my training continues, I am starting to see the wisdom in that statement and just how much room for growth there is in my work. Most days I can't help but fight the feeling that my stuff sucks beyond repair. And then, once in a while, I will see some improvement. Boy, does that feel good. Then I look at the work of other talented photographers, and I am reminded again of how much my photos relatively suck and am simultaneously inspired to continue on my journey. 

If I fail, it won't be due to a lack of hard work. It will be due to a lack of talent.

And I can live with that.

Monday, February 22, 2010

the canyon between good and great


Photography is art. Which means, at some level, photography is subjective. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? However, I still feel that there is a clear difference between not just good and bad photography, but between good and great photography. Seeing the difference between the latter, I believe is possible for everyone with a little education and exposure. I hope to get there in the next year. I think I am making progress.

As a photographer, getting to good takes a lot more effort. Getting to great, at minimum takes a decade, but even that is not guaranteed.

The deeper I get into photography, the more I love it. Channeling this energy and passion has become an ongoing obsession. I want it so bad. I love telling a story, capturing a moment, having an outlet for creativity, and the satisfaction of seeing someone enjoying and appreciating the end product. And I want to do it better.

So I'll be heading to Vegas for the WPPI Convention in a few weeks. Now, I love Vegas, but the fact that I have already decided not to play poker until the workshops are over says something to me. If I ever get good enough, I want to make photography my life.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Random Dribble (Crossover)

I've got stories to tell, but how I share them has yet to be determined.

Writing, photography, and poker are things that I do not tire of. I have lots of other hobbies, but these have floated to the surface of my life time and time again.

I have long pondered the difference between confidence and pride. Today, I have settled on a personal distinction. Confidence is rooted in humility. Pride is rooted in insecurity.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Some shots of my nephew from this past weekend:

Lately, I find myself getting a little impatient with my progress in photography. I want to be so much better than I am. Even though I could not take these shots a few months ago, I've also been exposed to a much higher level of photography that I want to get as close to as possible. I might not get there, but I do not want to stay here.

There is an amazing photographer named Joe Buissink based in LA that I follow. His work is pretty classy, and he seems like a remarkable man. What inspires me and challenges me is that he didn't get into photography until he was 44. Inspirational because I think I got a late jump on photography, but challenging because not everyone has the talent of Joe Buissink. I am certain he worked hard to get where he is, but I know hard work alone cannot take one to that level. Having said that, without dedication, there is no way even Joe Buissink could have reached his current level of success.

Instinctively, I enjoy taking more of a photojournalistic approach to photography, but in order to stretch myself and continue my progress, I need to work on setting up more shots and directing my subjects and the action. Photography really is a lot like the movies, just one powerful frame at a time. Taking control of a shoot is something I will keep working on. Rather than waiting for something to come to me (and ultimately running the risk of never getting the shot), I am going to start making it happen. I will see it in my mind and then turn it into reality.

Where this all ends, I do not know. I only know that I have a dream, and I will chase it wherever I have to.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On Writing Honestly

Been reading the autobiography of Mark Twain again and came across interesting comments he had about writing honestly. Twain believes it is only possible to do so, if something is published posthumously. I tend to agree with him, and one day hope to reveal all. Even if no one reads it, I suspect I still want to write it. Otherwise, what the hell was all this about?

What might seem like petty and personal venting in real-time, could possibly serve a nobler purpose once we return to dust. Perhaps writing about my experience could be my final act of public service.

It is somewhat unfortunate that we live in a world where we cannot say the things we think. Essentially in an adult world, we are constantly being asked the equivalent of "Do I look fat in this?" Unfortunate indeed. One of my new goals in life is to get myself to a place where I can say and do what I want... 75% of the time.

Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold in Entourage and Meryl Streep as that crazy lady in Devil Wears Prada have it real good. But it takes lots of hard work, sacrifice, and dedication to get there.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


DC was hit by a ton of snow the past weekend.

Unfortunately, there is more coming over the next few days.

However, one of my neighbors used nature's icebox to inspire me.

A classic example of "turning lemons into lemonade."

For his/her creativity, I resisted the urge to crack it open and take a swig.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Fresh Start

I used to blog much more regularly, and I am not quite sure why I stopped. Heck, I used to blog before there was such a thing as a "blog." I haven't stopped writing, but I just haven't felt the urge to regularly update my little space on the internet universe for the last 5 years or so.

This blog is a little more focused on photography, but I am sure I won't be able to help sometimes writing generally about life. I could try to stop, but that just wouldn't be me.

Writing has been a passion of mine since high school. I learned early on that I could get away without framing, editing, or generally trying too hard on assignments as long as I could entertain my teachers. Since those days, I have matured, see value in, and enjoy polishing my projects, but the idea of considering and writing for an audience has stuck with me.

Some might say writing is art. I tend to disagree. Writing is merely a means of communication. We all see the same thing. Some process what they see and dwell upon it a little bit longer. Writing is a vehicle that allows us to share some of these thoughts, messages, and vision. Ultimately, because there is no visual component, a reader's imagination has to take over. The writer has no control over the final "product" that resides firmly in the reader's mind.

Photography is much more direct. I can show you exactly what I see through my camera. Better yet, through manipulation of my equipment and the resulting image, I can show you what I want you to see. Ultimately, I consider photography art because the creative process rests solely on the shoulders of the creator. I can't rely on a viewer to turn a crappy image into a good one. Something about that is refreshing and challenging.

Life is interesting, and I just want to share unique moments that I happen to come across on this journey.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

It's the climb

For the record, I do not enjoy Miley Cyrus music. Taylor Swift I can tolerate. I used to dig Britney Spears, but I feel I am getting a little too old for most cheesy pop music.

However, driving home from the studio tonight, I heard this song on the radio. It really struck a chord.

"There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose

Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb"

As much as I want to get to the top of my mountain, I hope I remember to appreciate and enjoy the climb.

Signs of Progress

I attended a two day seminar at the studio I am apprenticing at this past weekend. Even though most of the topics covered are no longer new to me, I still enjoy going to gauge my progress. I think I am improving, because I don't think I could have taken these photographs a few months ago. There is always something new to learn with regards to posing and lighting. Once I really get those basics down, I will be able to venture out more and get creative with my shots.

I also enjoyed meeting the other attendees of the photography workshop. Some of them claimed to have shot over a dozen weddings and even operate their own photography business. Yet, some of these same people didn't even understand basic principles of lighting. Those types of things puzzle me, and I am committed to staying the course during my training and not actively looking for paying gigs until I am ready to confidently churn out excellent work.

My mind is always thinking about lighting and composition. Whether I am reading a magazine or watching tv, I am always thinking about how shots were set up and what could have been done to improve them. I hope all of this pays off, and even if it doesn't, I don't mind. I enjoy learning about photography.