Wednesday, September 10, 2014

If it feels good, do it

Scroll down to read about the Algonquin Park photowalk at the end of September...

I don't usually do this, but after I wrote this article for Haliburton County Living, I thought it might be appropriate to reproduce it here.

Tell Me a Story

Photography has 1000 rules. And you have to learn and follow all of them if you want a successful picture. Bull. There are only two.
  • (1) You can’t take pictures if you don’t have a camera with you. 
  • (2) If it feels good, do it. 
Let’s talk about equipment. There are those who believe you can’t take a good picture unless you have $12,000 worth of cameras and lenses and a Sherpa to lug them around for you because they’re so big and heavy. Tell that to the photographer who made a Sports Illustrated cover photo with his iPhone. In fact, there are gurus out there I don’t read anymore because that’s the line they spout. Now you have to understand that I DO have expensive and high end camera gear, but there’s a picture attached to this article that I took with a $100 point-and-shoot.

This was taken on a warm, relaxing sunny afternoon on 12 Mile Lake, with a small pocket camera. I want to be one of those guys enjoying a paddle on the calm water.

Why? Because I was out in the boat (and it’s just a teeny-tiny little boat) and I’m a little afraid to take my D800 and big lenses out there. I threw my old point-and-shoot in the dry bag – I love dry bags, you should have one even if you don’t have a boat – so I had something with me. Truth be told, I had two cameras with me because my iPhone was in the bag too, but for other obvious reasons. I couldn't do the world’s greatest high resolution image, but I got something, and I was able to make it say what I wanted it to back in the computer. But that’s just me – you don’t have to be a post-processing freak either, although I admit it helps.

So why have expensive gear? To give you a better chance to make an image that looks like what you saw in your mind’s eye. You can eliminate some of the limitations and capture that feeling or memory. Which leads me to point 2:

Photography shouldn't be about making pretty postcards. I take that back, there are people who make a living selling pretty pictures and I don’t want to belittle their efforts. That guru I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago said, “If you want to make beautiful pictures, you need to take pictures of beautiful things”. Bull, again. Some of us can’t go to the Taj Mahal or Antelope Canyon or Iceland. We take pictures of where we live and our friends and family, who may or may not be professional models.

 Maybe I'm mellowing with age, but photography should be about capturing emotions and memories. It has to bring you back to a place or time and it has to communicate what was special about that event to whomever looks at the picture. Otherwise why would we have photos of our long gone parents or ancestors, and why are the most meaningful ones the pictures we took ourselves?

It’s easy to teach people how to take better pictures, that is if you can avoid boring the students to death. The first part is purely mechanical, what buttons to push, how to set up the camera, some insight into how it works and what you can do so your image will look technically correct. The second part is to familiarize them with some of those 1000 rules so that they can instinctively use them and know what to avoid. Teaching composition, and even post-processing is also not tough, it just requires a bit more concentration on the part of the student.

Teaching people how to see… that’s the hard part. To use their right brain, to make, not take a picture. Just to put them in the right frame of mind, on the right path. Maybe this will help: figure out how to capture the moment so you can look at the picture later and remember how you felt at the time.

If it feels good, do it.

FWIW, you've already seen the other two pictures that accompanied this article (click them to blow them up if you haven't): the one of the paddler on Maple Lake  last week and one of a racer at the PanAm Games test event from the week before.


The caption on the Paddler picture makes the point in the title of this article. It said,
Because it’s a wide angle shot that includes the landscape and the sky, this image, taken where Maple Lake meets Highway 118, tells a story more than the other images. Available as a large format print, if you’re interested.

I have to admit that I haven't figured out how to teach people to see. In fact, I can't do it either myself sometimes. Something to work on, hoping for an epiphany.

A little Nostalgia

Who remembers this bag?

If you've ever played Scrabble, was there any other bag you ever kept the tiles in? The bag in this picture dates back probably 60 years. I have a couple of other versions as well. It's the perfect size to hold my camera sensor cleaning kit!

From the Crown Royal website:
The first exquisite blend of Crown Royal® Canadian whisky was meticulously crafted from 50 select whiskies, dressed in the finest cut glass and wrapped in purple robes, to commemorate the first grand tour of Canada by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, in 1939. And in truly noble fashion, this bottle of Crown Royal® was placed on the Royal train as a symbol of the hardworking and genuine nature of the Canadian people.
Apparently the design of the purple bag was originated by Sam Bronfman himself. The bags were produced by Montreal Swiss Embroidery Works, Ltd., founded by his colleague Jules Springer (my grandfather. I don't know if they were ever friends). When he died in 1958 the company was taken over by my father, Robert Springer and his two brothers.

It's interesting that Seagram's has brought the bag back for their 75th anniversary. I still have some original bags, found among my father's effects when he passed away in 2010. FWIW, a Manhattan, made with Crown Royal and vermouth (and a dash of bitters, which I usually omit), was my father's favourite alcoholic beverage and is still mine (although I admit I'm quite taken with some well-aged single malts as well!).

PS: Seagram's had a very creative ad many years ago. It was a picture of a Crown Royal bottle smashed on the floor, with the caption, "did you ever see a grown man cry?". Remember it? If you're under 60 you probably won't, it was a long time ago.

Early Influence

I got to thinking about my early influences as a graphic artist. Probably the best example was this 1959 ad:

Attribution: "Think Small" by Magazine. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Think Small via Wikipedia -

This is one of my favourite images. I have a print here that was on display at the Rail's End Gallery for a time. I'm having framed as we speak. It's pretty clear what influenced me when I created it. 

Sensor Cleaning followup

As I mentioned last week, it was time to clean the sensor on the D800. I have some 11,500 shutter actuations on the camera without any visible signs of sensor dust – a testament to Nikon's improved design and technology, a far cry from the D600 issue I had last year. A few spots appeared last week.

I had heard great things about the new Eyelead Gel stick and tried to buy one. The manufacturer was backordered, so I shopped on eBay and found one from the Far East. Turns out it was not an original (although it was priced the same). However the technology looked identical. Turns out it may not be.

The Gel stick has a sticky surface which you press (lightly!) on the sensor and it's supposed to pick up dust. It does, but unless I'm mistaken, it leaves a trace of adhesive behind. I won't be using that again. So I took out my SensorPen and used it. It was effective: I got everything I could see in about 5 minutes.

If you are careful and delicate, you don't have to worry about damaging your sensor (DISCLAIMER: I'm not telling you to do it yourself. If you do, and you damage the sensor, it's YOUR FAULT, NOT MINE). I think you have to take much more care when you do a wet cleaning. I found the kit that I bought at B&H the most effective, it includes a rocket blower, an illuminated loupe so you can actually see those bits of dust, and the SensorPen. Here's the link to where I bought it.

Photowalk planned

Last year I did a photowalk up to Algonquin park at the end of September. I'm doing it again this year, together with the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club. I'd like to invite my friends and loyal readers to join us.

Last year, on the beach behind the Frost Centre 

Also at the Frost Centre last year 

I'm usually pretty good at remembering where I was when I shot a picture, but this one is eluding me. Could be the Oxtongue River Rapids... Shot in 2011. 

There's no charge. This is not a teaching field trip, just a guided visit to some sites we know about that are 'photogenic'. However, in fairness to the Club, if you are not an HHCC member, if you join us, we're asking you to buy at least one HHCC coffee mug at $10 to support the club.

We're working on the agenda as we speak. Our tentative plans are:

  • We are NOT going on a weekend. Algonquin Park is a ZOO on weekends during fall colours season. I refuse to sit in a 20km long traffic jam.
  • Dawn shoot at the Frost Centre just South of Dorset on Highway #35. If you're not an early riser, you can join us at one of the other stops
  • Breakfast in Dwight
  • Come into the park at the West Gate on Highway 60 and meet somewhere, somewhen! (Maybe Mew Lake campground, we'll see). You have to buy a parking pass at the gate on the way in, I think it's about $15. We should carpool...
  • Visit a few good spots for photography. We can go as a group or split up, as you wish
  • A quick lunch somewhere, maybe at the Canoe store.
  • Exit the park and go to Ragged Falls
  • Gluttons for punishment might stop at the Kawagama River Rapids on (ready for this?) Kawagama River Road out of Dorset
  • Go home and sleep.
Tentative Date: Monday, SEPTEMBER 29
Rain Date: Thursday, OCTOBER 2

I'm HOPING it's not a bright, sunny, clear blue sky day. Last year it was and I came home with very few good pictures. If it's an ugly, rainy day, we'll postpone, but otherwise it's a go.

If you want to join us, YOU HAVE TO LET US KNOW WHETHER TO EXPECT YOU. I'll send additional details as we go along, including where and when. If you do not complete the survey, we will NOT send out details to you. If you're not sure, do the survey and add a comment at the bottom. 

That's it! Until next week...

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