Quick Tip: A Matter of Perspective

I’d like to share a series of photos that appear in my Twitter feed every so often with the heading “You won’t believe these aren’t Photoshopped!’, or something of that nature. The title has always bothered me a little, because, yes, I can believe it. I usually just roll my eyes and look at the images because I love these types of photos. I am usually not a fan of staged photos but I admire the imagination and simplicity of these. Perhaps you’ve seen them too:

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I think what I admire the most about these images is the simplicity and imagination that went into creating them. Too often we forget that we can tilt the camera. There’s probably a few of you out there that don’t even shoot the camera in Portrait view often enough. Pay attention. It can change a boring image into a keeper. Here’s one I took with my iPhone while visiting San Francisco a couple of years ago:

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You’re limited only by your imagination. Cliche, yes, but when you look at these examples, don’t you ask yourself “Why didn’t I think of that?” Yeah, me too.

 

 

(If you enjoy thought provoking images such as these, Philippe Ramette is an artist that produces great surreal imagery.  ((The second photo in the series above and the two below are examples)). It’s worth your time to take a look at some of his work.)

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That’s all for today, nothing too profound, just a little “brain tickle”.  As always, “Thank You” for reading. We’ll see you next time.

 

Have a great day. Now get out there and shoot.

 

 

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It’s Hip to be Square

Hello Zensters and new readers. Today I’d like to talk a little bit about composition and more specifically, the square format. Once available only to those that shot Medium format cameras, the advent of programs such as Photoshop and Lightroom let you convert those digital images without loss of image quality.

Currently, your camera produces images in an aspect ratio of 3:2 giving you a nice rectangle image and one you’ve been accustomed to using in your composition. You’ve learned the Rule of Thirds and compose all your shots accordingly. (Of course, I am making an assumption if you are not familiar with the Rule Of Thirds, click here for a Wikipedia overview).

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Things are a little bit different when you talk about composition in a 1:1, or square format. Subconsciously, we look at rectangle photos from left to right scanning the image for the subject. On a square photo we tend to look at the center and then around the image. The Rule of Thirds does not apply on 1:1 crops. Square crop lends itself to the subject being in the center of the photo.

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Photo courtesy of @allophile

Take advantage of geometrical shapes while you compose. Look at the photo above and Vivian Maiers photo below. Note the repetition of squares and rectangles in the photos…

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Vivian Maier/John Maloof Collection

…and the use of triangles in the photo below. Powerful stuff.

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Vivian Maier/John Maloof Collection

The square format works very well with black and white images because there are no colors to distract you from the subject and the geometric patterns in the photo. If you love shooting B&W, I would strongly encourage you to experiment with this format. The results can be stunning, especially when mounted and framed.

Look at some of your past work that you weren’t completely happy with. Try recomposing using the 1:1 crop, you might be pleasantly surprised and come away with a couple of more “keepers”.

Keep this in mind next time you’re out shooting. It’s a great tool to get those creative juices flowing and get you looking at familiar scenes in a different way. Get out there. Experiment. Have fun.

Weegee

The inspiration for the 1992 movie “The Public Eye” starring Joe Pesci, Weegee was every bit as colorful as Hollywood portrayed.

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Born Usher Fellig in Zloczew, Austria (now Zolochiv, Ukraine) in 1899, Fellig emigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1909 and moved to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was there he changed his name to Arthur because it sounded more American. Self-taught, Fellig took many odd jobs as a photographer and photographers assistant. In 1924 he became  a darkroom technician and part time news photographer and at Acme Newspictures which later on became United Press International Photos (UPI).

In 1935, Arthur Fellig decided to become a freelance photographer, says Fellig:

“In my particular case I didn’t wait ’til somebody gave me a job or something, I went and created a job for myself—freelance photographer. And what I did, anybody else can do. What I did simply was this: I went down to Manhattan Police Headquarters and for two years I worked without a police card or any kind of credentials. When a story came over a police teletype, I would go to it. The idea was I sold the pictures to the newspapers. And naturally, I picked a story that meant something.”

 

Arthur Fellig would soon become known as Weegee, the phonetic pronunciation of the word Ouija, because of his uncanny ability to often appear at crime scenes before the authorities. His photos were soon published by the Herald Tribune, World-Telegram, Daily News, New York Post, New York Journal American, Sun, and others. Weegee worked at night, developing his photos in the darkroom he set up in the back of his car in order to expedite getting his photos to the waiting press. He also had a great feel for what photos sold best.

“Names make news. There’s a fight between a drunken couple on Third Avenue or Ninth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen, nobody cares. It’s just a barroom brawl. But if society has a fight in a Cadillac on Park Avenue and their names are in the Social Register, this makes news and the papers are interested in that”

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Weegee based his photographic work around police headquarters, and in 1938 obtained permission to install a police radio in his car. This allowed him to take the first and most sensational photographs of news events and offer them for sale to publications such as the Herald-Tribune, Daily News and the Post
Photograph: Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

“Crime was my oyster,” Weegee wrote in his 1961 memoir, “Weegee by Weegee.” “I was friend and confidant to them all. The bookies, madams, gamblers, call girls, pimps, con men, burglars and jewel fencers.”

Weegee’s peak period as a freelance crime and street photographer ran from the mid-1930s into the postwar years. He took thousands of photographs that defined Manhattan as a nightscape of hoodlums and gangsters, Bowery bums and  tenement dwellers and victims of domestic disturbance, fires and car crashes. Aptly, he named it “The Naked City”. Weegee became a celebrity in his own right even creating a rubber stamp that he used to sign his photos that read “Credit Photo by Weegee the Famous”.

 

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Weegee worked at night, developing his photos in the darkroom he set up in the back of his car in order to expedite getting his photos to the waiting press.

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By the early 1940’s, Weegee was beginning to achieve success outside the mainstream media when in 1941, The Photo League in New York held and exhibition of his work and later in 1945 with an exhibit in the Museum of Modern Art. Weegee published 3 books of his work in the later 1940’s and his book “Naked City” inspired the movie “The Naked City” in 1947 which prompted him to move to Hollywood.

u_48_568015261676_09Weegee mingled with the Hollywood crowd, getting a couple of bit parts in small films, but by 1951, he was back in NY. Until his death in 1968, he spent his time experimenting with trick photography and distortions. He also toured the United States and Europe giving lectures and relishing in his fame.

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Weegee.Saxophonist (Distortion)
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Weegee Portrait of a Man (Distortion)

Weegee still remains popular today and is still shown in galleries and museums around the world. His work is now owned by the International Center of Photography in New York.

 

 

 

 

 

The Enigmatic Life of Vivian Maier.

In 2007, realtor John Maloof, purchased a box of old negatives at auction, hoping to find vintage photos of his old Portage Park neighborhood in Chicago. He later bought more negatives along with rolls of film, 8mm movies and other documents. In total, he collected more than 100,000 negatives and a few thousand rolls of film. in 2009, searching through the boxes he found an envelope with the name Vivian Maier and after a google search he discovered that she had passed away just a few days earlier.

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Vivian Maier self portrait

Two years prior to her death, Vivian Maier had failed to keep up payments on her storage unit and as a result, the contents were sold off at auction and sold to 3 different buyers. Maloof owns approximately 90% of Maier’s work including negatives, film, movies, and audio recordings. Realizing that these photos were good, he posted some of them on a blog in 2008 and received very little response.  In 2009, he posted them again on Flickr and soon he was flooded with comments and emails. The photos went viral. Vivian Maier was born.

Vivian Maier worked as a nanny between the years of 1950-1990. Her first 17 years in Chicago she worked for two families, the Gensburgs and the Raymonds. She also spent time in the 1970’s as a housekeeper for Phil Donahue. According to the families in later interviews, Vivian spent all her off time taking photos with her Rolleiflex camera, often bringing the children along with her. She never married and reportedly never even received a personal phone call.

In 1959-1960, Maier took a trip around the world photographing places like Egypt, Syria, Italy, Bangkok, Manila, Beijing and Shanghai. The trip was probably funded by the sale of the family farm in France.

She photographed the rich, the poor, men, women and children. Maier didn’t care if you were dressed in heels or barefoot, young or old. She captured everything. Her work is a stunning visual history of yesteryear. Vivian Maier did not even see most of the photos she captured and almost never showed her work.  The pictures “only needed to be made.”

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“She was a Socialist, a Feminist, a movie critic, and a tell-it-like-it-is type of person. She learned English by going to theaters, which she loved. … She was constantly taking pictures, which she didn’t show anyone.”- John Maloof
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According to Maloof, Maier almost never showed her work. Most of it she never even saw herself. The pictures “only needed to be made.”

Since the discovery of Maier’s photographs, she has attracted worldwide attention in the media and photography world. Her work is on display in gallery exhibits, the subject of several books and two documentaries.  In 2014, a legal case was filed to determine the ownership rights to her estate.

For more on the Vivian Maier story, watch “Finding Vivian Maier”, the Academy Award Winning documentary on the life and discovery of Ms Maier.

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” – Robert Capa

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War Photographer and Photojournalist Robert Capa is perhaps the greatest combat photographer in history.

Heavy statement from someone that shot combat scenes. I think when he refers to getting “closer”, he meant get more absorbed into the image, more visceral. This will in turn, make you better understand the force of what you are capturing and the essentia of your surroundings.

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During his career he risked his life numerous times, most dramatically as the only photographer landing with the first wave on Omaha Beach on D-Day.

My favorite advice to anyone that’ll listen me is to spend couple of weeks just shooting with a 50mm lens. (35mm if you’re shooting cropped sensors). This just about forces you to get closer to your subject and not rely on telephoto lenses. Not only with this build your self-confidence but will help you in your composition and your ability to “feel” the shot. Use your legs, get in there, absorb the energy. If done correctly, it will manifest itself in your image. This is what Capa was talking about. You’re a storyteller and artist. Flaunt that in your images.

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Barcelona, Spain. Running for shelter during an air raid alarm, January 1939

Once you understand the significance of Capa’s quote, your photography will improve. Keep it in mind the whenever you’re out shooting, let it become second nature. Think of it as a gift.

 

 

Although Capa said he was finished with war, in the early 1950’s he accepted an assignment for Life in Southeast Asia to cover the Indochina War. On May 25th, 1954, he accompanied a French regiment along with two other Time-Life journalists. While the regiment was approaching a hostile area under fire, he decided to leave the Jeep and go further up the road to photograph the advance. As he travelled up the road, he was killed after stepping on a land mine.

He was 41.

 

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

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Profound.  Read it again, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”  I’d like to use it as a talking point to discuss artistic development in photography.

Cartier-Bresson was not obsessed with the technical aspects of photography, his obsession was capturing the moment.“Sharpness is a bourgeois concept,” he once said, so having the latest and greatest equipment was of no concern to him. His statement refers to practice and developing an artistic eye and developing the intuition of capturing that moment.

FRANCE. Paris. Place de l'Europe. Gare Saint Lazare. 1932.

I’ve literally taken thousands of photos, many of those shot back in the days of film, where you might shoot a couple of rolls a week. These days, 10,000 photos is nothing. Looking back at some of my earliest images, it’s interesting to see my own personal artistic development and how far I’ve advanced. Photography is a lot more than taking a sharp, well exposed image, it’s about capturing a moment in time and being a storyteller. Henri Cartier-Bresson was a master at this.

 

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There is no substitute for experience, get out there and shoot. Evaluate, shoot again. Grow, develop your own style. Reflect on where you came from and watch your progress.

Thank you Mr Cartier-Bresson.