Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jack of all / master of none

Everyone is talking about photographers becoming cinematographers. Art buyers are encouraging it. Vincent Laforet seems to have become a full time teacher, and is on a nonstop tour giving DSLR Video Workshops. And sure, he can run a 5D better than most. But his videos are just ok. His stills are kick ass.

Anyone with a few G's can now own a 5D, and take the plunge into FCP. I recently bid an ad shoot that needed a bunch of stills, and "oh yeah some video for we don't know what, it just might be kind of cool to get." The shoot was going to be a ton of stills for one day, and the video was going to push it over the edge. It was pretty clear that the extra video work was going to detract from the quality of the stills.

I am skeptical about tackling the video project. I feel that to shoot stills really, really well requires a lot of focus and technical skill. Not to mention knowing how to communicate with art directors, photo editors, retouchers, stylists, and assistants, while keeping clear the end goal of a kick ass image. It's a complex dance, that takes lots of practice, concentration, and creative energy. After a still shoot, I am utterly and completely drained.

It's hard to imagine bringing another ingredient into this already complicated recipe without making a mess. Thinking about stills is very different than thinking about video. Shifting gears erratically can lead to expensive mechanical breakdowns.

So the question that has been keeping me up at night, with respect to the whole video thing -- is it better to diversify your skill set, add complexity, and work really hard to be good at a variety of things? Or do you put all your creative eggs in a single basket and work really hard to be great at one thing?

Robert Yeoman has mastered the art of capturing motion. Is he working as a still photographer on the side? I don't think so. Seth Godin had a great post about this with regards to specialization. I love the Chai Wallah comparison.

So, would you rather listen to music from a one man band, or the music of three virtuosos?

I know which one I'd pay to see.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

David Foster Wallace -- ways of seeing

Back from 4 days of beautiful, uncrowded, scorchingly hot, chest to head high surf in Mexico. Feeling rested, recharged, and ready to get back to work.

I took my camera, and snapped a few pics on the way, but spent much more time listening to music (fell in love with
The Clash all over again -- thanks Justin) and reading nonfiction by David Foster Wallace. I brought along one of my favorite books, a collection of his stories called A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never do Again. Thought it would be interesting to reread it now that DFW is gone (he committed suicide in 2008).

One of my favorites is about the Illinois State Fair. Harper's Magazine sends DFW there without any real guidance or creative direction. The story is called
Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from it All (click to download PDF) and it is gut bustingly, pee in your pants, howl out loud funny.

DFW's unique, hilarious perspective has me thinking about photography, and on a broader level, what it means to be creative and prolific. Any writer can go to the Illinois State Fair and write a story about it. There were lots of writers and reporters there with DFW. So why is his story so much better? Why is his version able to make me laugh out loud and inspire me to tell others about it?

Ultimately, the real value of anything creative comes back to the core concept. Without some sort of interesting idea at the heart of a project, there is really no way to make it interesting. DFW was an insanely smart guy. He saw the world differently than most writers. Had he decided to put down the pen and pick up a camera, he would have killed it as a photographer as well.

A shift in perspective can be all it takes to stand out. I feel like this is the guiding principle behind staying productive as a photographer. Setting up the lights and releasing the shutter is the easy part -- the hard work is constantly finding new ways to see.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Off to Mexico...

...for a few days of sun and surf.

Painting of Nine Palms by Karen Griffiths.

The Color of Me

I was looking through the Picasa album where all the pics from this blog are stored. They are in chronological order. I started posting here in April of 2008, so there are about a year and a half of images in the album.

It's interesting to look at everything all at once, together on one page. I can see a binding aesthetic, and start to understand what it is that I lean towards visually.

My friend Sam Yates did a pretty insane public art project that consumed his life for several years. He photographed every structure in the city using a very strict formula for composition, light, time of day, and averaged them together to find a single color value for Palo Alto.

The project is called the Color of Palo Alto. The site and the amount of work that went into it is truly amazing.

I wonder what color I would get if I averaged every image that I ever took into one color value?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Extraterrestrial Activities

Two MIT students send a camera high enough to shoot the curvature of the Earth for a total cost of $148. See the article in Wired.

What were you doing in college?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sunday Styles Cover

We canceled our subscription to the Sunday Times.
With 2 kids there just isn't time to lounge and read the paper anymore. Which is a bummer -- the Sunday morning coffee/paper ritual is tops. I miss the Magazine, and T, although I've been reading them online instead. However, I don't miss the giant amount of paper that went in the recycling bin each week.

I heard that I had an image on the cover of this week's Sunday Styles, which my editor at Corbis emailed to me (he art directed the shoot). Although I'm curious to know what they paid. I've shot assignments for the NYT over the years, and their contract (unlimited everything) and their day rates ($200/day) are just plain insulting. But the assignments are always interesting, so it's a trade off.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Washing the Elephant

My RISD design nerd friend sent me THIS. AND I CAN'T STOP WATCHING IT. I love the part where they wash the elephant.

Gotta love / hate the internet, time suck that it is / can be.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Spike Jonze, just a child

“There is no difference between childhood and adulthood.”
“We’d skate ramps. We’d build rails. We had everything. It was, like, way better than any college.”
“Just come up with an idea, and make it.”

Good article in the NYT about Spike Jonze.

And a commercial he shot with Brad Pitt. Having a 2 year old that is allergic to food, I can relate:

Softbank Dining from We Love You So on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fight it or Embrace it?

Interesting article in the NYT about riptides. An oceanography professor in Monterey has made a few surprising discoveries:

If you are stuck in a riptide, and getting sucked out to sea, you should not swim parallel to the shore, as we have been taught our whole lives by parents, lifeguards, etc. On the contrary, you should just tread water.

If you try to swim parallel to shore, there is a 50% chance that you will just end up swimming into another current. If you relax and just tread water, there is a 90% chance that you will be returned to shore in about 3 minutes.


Assuming that mother nature doesn't lie, this poses some interesting questions. Think of the current economy, or any business climate for that matter, as a swirling, unpredictable collection of waves, wind and currents. We are all floating in it together. No one wants to drown. We just want to be safe and comfortable in the water, and have the ability to get back to the beach when we want.

Right now, our economic environment is unusually turbulent and unpredictable. Lots of us are being swept out and around by currents that we can't control.

So, do you fight the current with everything you have?

Or do you conserve energy, tread water, and have faith that cyclical forces will return you to the beach?

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Power of Color

Beautiful set of Walker Evans Polaroids over on American Suburb X. This image above has me thinking about color. When these old images shift pallettes, they become more precious and nostalgic for me. And the closer they are to the "70's pallette" the more they resonate.

Color is powerful stuff. The difference between a new blue sky and a cyan sky that has aged for 30+ years is hard to explain. Ultimately it comes back to the idea that all art is subjective, and our individual perception of it is based on our life experience.

Maybe it says something about how much I enjoyed growing up in the 70's. Or that seeing images that are as old as me hits home when I see that age is changing them too.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tomato, Tomato

Ever wonder who does all those beautiful hand crafted movie titles and insanely complex motion graphics? Chances are it was someone like Tomato.

Graphic Design has always been difficult for me, but I love looking at it. It's just so open ended, and there are no boundaries, other than the dimensions of whatever media is being used.

In photography, we are somewhat limited by what cameras, lenses, sensors, film, light, and the 3 dimensional world around us offers. In design, anything goes -- which is what makes it so amazing, and also so difficult to do amazingly well.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ideas for Personal Work / CA Annual

I have a ton of irons in the fire right now, but no jobs have come through yet. Which has me thinking once again about personal work. In addition, the CA Photo Annual showed up in the mailbox, without any of my work in it (again, rats.) The Annual isn't online yet, so I am sitting here trying to recall which images I liked. The first that come to mind are aerial specialist Vincent Laforet's images of Olympic divers. So simple, unique, photoshop-free, and just plan kick ass:

Personal work. It's a never ending process, and the reason we do this for a living -- for the joy of creating images that resonate with our creative cores and bring us happiness, both in creating them and sharing them.

Often shooting personal work is the most difficult job as well as the most rewarding. Time spent on personal work is precious, and needs to be well thought out and honest. There's no knowing when there will be time, money, or resources to do it again. That said, here are a few of the ideas I am considering right now:

-- Continuing the Freemasonry Project
-- Cyclocross as Fine Art
-- Recreating images from the 70's in an old ranch house
-- Memories of growing up in Ohio
-- Fraternity / Sorority still life + portrait study

I'm pursuing all of these right now, I'll have to see which one picks up momentum first and just go with it.