Friday, December 31, 2010

Slouching Toward 2011

When I was a mere lad starting out in the world, liquor ads were (and apparently still are) a kind of holy grail for commercial photographers. Miles of prose has been written about lighting them, how to shine the glass properly, the brands and watt second ratings of various and divers lighting rigs used to glitz up bottles of hootch.

We go to amazing lengths to glamorize things like booze and cigarettes, when, in fact, they need no hype at all to sell.

The bottle in the shot was disposed of by our local "character", i.e., wino. Who promptly resumed asking for change for "food".

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Not Quite All the News...

Today's NY Times has an article, sweet, gentle and nostalgic, about the last roll of Kodachrome being processed - NY Times Kodachrome article.

While it's touching and all, and some of the reasons Kodachrome was so well liked are mentioned, there are a few glaring omissions. First of all it was incredibly fine grained film, coming in two daylight speeds - 25 and 64 ASA (ISO) and one tungsten version (40 ASA). It was remarkably accurate as far as color went as long as the contrast of the original scene was low, and most startling of all, it offered real permanence, something which the Ektachrome type and Kodacolor type films could not guarantee (see all those prints from the 1970's, or not, since they all turned orange). The special quality the reporter refers to is simply the fact that the film boosted color in low contrast situations.

It was far from perfect - there were drawbacks... For a long time only Kodak would process it. When independent labs were finally allowed to run Kodachrome, a Kodak trained technician had to be present. Later on, labs could, and did, buy table top processors. It was not a rapid access film, and was not great for fast turn around. It was contrasty as hell, and required great care in exposure and printing (if you needed prints). But again - IT WAS PERMANENT. Slide form the 1930's still look pretty damn good. Oh - yeah - it wasn't cheap. Thirty six exposure rolls used to run me about $15.00 with processing. When you calculate the cost of film (because you had to bracket like mad), shooting was a pretty pricey affair.

In my personal opinion, Kodachrome was doomed the minute high speed, stable, fine grain color negative materials - like Fuji 800 - came on the market. When scanners and digital conversion hit, slide film was pretty much doomed, when the last generation of digital cameras arrived - buggy whip time.

"You pick up contrast and lose detail" - a sentence not heard anymore. This is what would happen when you made a second generation image from film. The blacks would go blacker, the highlights blow out, noise (grain) creeps in, and colors go out of whack. Duping Kodachrome was a real struggle.

Not anymore...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Come and Gone

Park Avenue and 92nd Street today at about 11:30 am.

Rinsed the shot through the new NIK HDR filter. Yeah, I hate hdr. But this filter actually seems to pull out details without getting obnoxious about it.

The hasn't been a hell of a lot of traffic today, what there was just seemed to slip, slide and spin around a bunch.

Wind was pretty fierce, took the camera bag off my shoulder a couple of times.
Made it a bit into the park, but my snow boots, fancy Eddie Bauer type, kept untying themselves and dumping snow around my ankles.

Mayor Mitchell (the golden chap on the left) seems to be taking the whole thing in stride, however.

The contrast range presented by the snow was easily handled by the camera. Good old 16 bit raw files.

The challenge of shooting snow is in keeping the tones light enough to look like snow, retain detail, and not just go gray and blah...

Although, as has been pointed out to me by my kindly old mother, pure white and pure black just don't exist as pigments or pixels. We are dealing with approximations.

And yes, gang, we have found the joy of panoramas! No more moping about not being able to afford panorama cameras! Stitching software that works!

Apparently, the thing that helps the most is not to shoot with a wide angle lens, but glom together a whole set of telephoto images (again, on the left...).

These guys are probably wishing they were wearing something.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Myth of Lighting Equipment

Or, more aptly, the myth of spending a fortune on lighting equipment...

Do you have a a window? Does it let light in? Do you have a tripod (this is one piece of equipment that is absolutely essential)? Something neutral colored to use as a background?

Well, then, hold onto your socks, Bunky, you are all set to make really good "studio" photographs.

The idea that great photography mostly comes from highly equipped studios (you know the type - $40k worth of strobes, four or five nervous assistants, and one smug sob at the head of it all) is a palpable falsehood, and a lie, even.

If your desire is to over light and over style whisky or perfume bottles, make women look like plastic, or generally aid and abet those who would mulct and addle the public, you do need all this stuff. But then your interest ain't in art.

Put a single flower in a vase and make a beautiful photo using window light and a tripod. Make a portrait using window light, keep it as simple as you can, and concentrate on the image, not on the equipment.

Intent, tools and technique - all combine to make the image strong.

See what you want, then take the picture.

Happy Holidays...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

All That's Wrong With American Culture..

I was riding the subway today, and for the third or fourth time saw an ad for Norman Rockwell and his photography at the Brooklyn Museum. The ad shows a photo of a sailor getting tattooed and the subsequent painting Rockwell vomited forth. Everything that's wrong with American Culture is distilled in Rockwell's nauseous output.

His work is a staggering, highly skilled, manipulative sham. representing an America that never existed.

Jingoistic, racist, hideously condescending to both subject and viewer, it makes Socialist Realism seem as fresh as an iced glass of sparkling water. Smarmy, mean spirited, coy, commercial, reeking of falsity from it's very bones, easy to swallow and impossible to digest, his work should be consigned to the toxic waste dump history, perhaps to be studied as a something to avoid at all costs...

To show his work in a major museum is an abomination - and cloaking it as an examination of the connection between the camera and painting is a joke.
Actually, it's a money maker, a revenue generator, and panders to a false nostalgia hiding under the guise of intellectualism. Which was something that neither Norman Rockwell or The Saturday Evening Post were examples of.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Slithering Into the New Year

It's getting close to the end of the year, fear and loathing are running rampant through my little brain, as I wonder where the money is going t come from.
One of the perpetual woes of being in the art world without a trust fund, day job and being over fifty...

Well, hell - if I did this for the money alone I woulod have stopped years ago.

One of the many things that the digital era has freed me from, however, is the expense of film, paper, chemicals, duplicating fees, shipping charges, insuring images, and wondering when the images shipped will be returned, and if they will be returned unharmed.

Anyhow go here and buy something, dammit!:

or here:


It was about 17 degrees when I saw this today... Romping around midtown amongst the altars of commerce.

There is a strange mix of pseudo-nostalgia and sterile glass and metal.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Hate HDR

It's true. I hate HDR. The only kind I can stand is the sort that doesn't look like HDR but shows a full range of tones. Most of it looks FAKE with a capital fooey. They remind me of the ghastly English illustrators/photographers of the late 19th and early 20th century who leaned heavily on romanticized, idealized and morally uplifting techniques. Allegory may have it's place (not sure where) but not in the visual arts.

Mediocre images seem to top the list of candidates for the HDR treatment. Mediocrity, even when steroid driven, is still mediocrity. And when artists want to "tell a story" they damn well better be using a word processor or a pen.

It is a question of need - we no longer need illustrators to bring us the news, as we no longer need minstrels to sing it to us. And visual artists are freed to produce compelling, non-didactic, politically incorrect art.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Oh The Humanity

Tulips are one of my favorite subjects to photograph. They change rapidly, and become more and more beautiful. Got some Parrot Tulips the other day, set up the lights, and blazed away. Was all technical and careful and low ISO and all.

Later on the afternoon light came through my window and lit the little fellers better than anything I could have thought of.

Not a lot of light, and it was changing rapidly what with clouds and all, so I dialed up to ISO 2000, then 3200, took a deep breathe and shot and shot and shot (the light was changing fast).

I promptly printed a couple of 11x17 prints...

No surprise - the hand held, low light, iso 3200 image looked better.

If there is a lesson here it's probably that you can see a lot just by looking and the hell with
technical overkill...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Language, Language

When did photographs start to be be called captures? Whenever someone refers to a photograph of mine as a capture I get all nervous.
I feel like I'm sneaking around with a net and trapping stuff. A photograph is a photograph.... it means writing with light fer chrisakes!
When you capture something it also implies that it can get away again. Imagine that - all of those captures getting together and running away. Going home, reunited with their loved ones.

I sure as hell did not capture the moon (above). Even if I did - where would I keep it?