Somewhere between starting a photography business and real life, I lost my way photographically. I can’t honestly remember the last time that I just picked up my camera for fun, and that’s a shame. Photography is something I dearly love, and need in my life, and I get a great sense of fulfillment from creating photographs. So, I’ve decided that pick up the camera again, for love. Not for money, not out of a sense of guilt, but because I want to. I went for a hike today and took some photographs. Not that any of them are spectacular or portfolio worthy, but I was reminded of why I got into photography in the first place and what a great sense of happiness that it brings to me. I promise to post more photos soon. Enjoy!
A little less than two years ago I was preparing to go on my first real photographic workshop, Italy Within The Frame, put on by Jeffrey Chapman and David DuChemin. Little did I know how much the trip would mean to me or how much it would change my world photographically. Nor did I ever think that I would meet and stay connected with the people that now mean so much to me. Sure, we don’t get to see each other enough, or talk enough, but that doesn’t matter. I could sit down over a beer with any of them tomorrow and it would probably feel like we’d been talking every day since.
I now run a photography business. I take photographs for money. I love what I do, but when I look back at these photos, I’m reminded that I need to get out and shoot just for the sake of shooting more often. Read (actually, buy) Stuart Sipahigil’s book Close to Home and you realize you don’t have to go to Italy or a foreign country to take good photos or to be inspired, just open your eyes to your own world. I get so focused on what I shoot for my business that I sometimes forget to just enjoy my camera, which my son Leo helps with.
These are some photos that I didn’t post before. They’re not the best of what I took, but, as I was looking back through my images each one of these reminded me of something special on trip, be it a funny moment, a learning moment or just a good memory.
This past week, David duChemin and I spent a few days catching up and adventuring with Jessie. Our choices were limited by rain and more rain, so we made the best of our time by starting out at The Pinnacles National Monument.
It was cold, but mostly dry, so we set up Jessie’s accoutrements and just relaxed, drank beer, some wine and some scotch for good measure. The following day we took a spectacular drive through the Santa Lucia Mountains to the coast where Carmel greeted us with more crappy weather, but, also more good wine. From there we snaked up Hwy. 1 looking for locations to shoot some and to camp, but rain forced us back to Mountain View. We didn’t do any serious photography, but I did manage to take a few snapshots along the way. Jessie is quite the gal, I hope you all get a chance to meet her someday.
I mostly blog to talk about my learning to be a better photographer and to share photographs that I have taken. Today I just want to talk about the friends that I’ve made because of photography. I’ve only been serious about photography for a few years, but, in this short time I have become acquainted with people that I consider to be good friends, even if I have only met them a few times.
I got to thinking about this because of the recent events in Egypt, and my good friend Marco who lives there with his wife Francesca and his son Max. Marco and I usually touch base every other week or so by email, Twitter, Facebook or Skype. I met Marco on the day before the Italy Within the Frame Workshop this past April. We spent the day “warming up” for the workshop, shooting around Genoa. We
immediately hit it off and spent a lot of time together during the workshop, shooting, talking, processing and drinking Ardbeg. I consider Marco not only to be a friend, but also someone who has helped me a great deal in my photographic journey, especially in my pursuit of pet photography. Since the protests have started there has been very little contact with Marco as internet service has been cut, including all social network sites and cell service. Many a tweets were sent out with well wishes, and the other day Gavin Gough was finally able to reach Marco by phone and graciously relayed the message via Twitter to the rest of us. It was a relief to hear that he and his family were safe.
It’s amazing how much caring there is amongst the photographic community. I guess it’s the bond that we create in pursuit of the craft that we all love.
Amongst the people that I have been lucky enough to get to know over the past three or four years, all have been nothing but kind, generous and giving. Whether through reading each other’s blogs or actually getting to spend some time shooting together here’s a short list:
So thank you to all of you for making my journey into photography and my life richer. I can’t wait to see you all again. And, cheers to Marco. Let’s hope that all turns out well for him and has family.
I’ve been lucky to spend the past five days exploring San Francisco and Yosemite with Stuart Sipahigil, a friend and the author of Close to Home. In San Francisco we photographed a Fort, the people of Chinatown and the landscapes of the Marin Headlands, but the real purpose of the Stuart’s trip was visit Yosemite and to do our best Ansel Adams impersonations. I have never focused much on landscape photography, so, I was very excited to spend a few days learning some new skills.
I was excited to show Stuart around San Francisco and to spend the day photographing the city that I love. I never tire of showing the city off just as I never tire of photographing it. Our first stop was Fort Point. Built in 1853, the only brick Fort on the west coast, it is located under the western side of the Golden Gate Bridge and offers a great perspective of the bridge. It was raining when we got there, but we went inside and made some images of the interior anyway. The fort’s architecture provides for some wonderful arches, curves and shadows. At first glance I didn’t think the light was all that great, but, the more I looked the more I realized that the soft, diffused light from the storm was actually really nice. The cold rain also felt right for the place, as the many soldiers who once inhabited the fort had to brave many cold, foggy, windy and rainy days and nights here while protecting the entrance the San Francisco Bay. While there, a bride and groom came to the Fort to have their photographs taken. Stuart and I followed at a distance and waited for the right moment to capture some photographs, hopefully they didn’t mind too much. As he always seems to do, Stuart got a great image of the bride just as she walked in.
The next day we started out in Chinatown. Now I’ve photographed Chinatown many, many times, and I always like to take visiting photographers there as I did with Sabrina Henry, Ray Ketcham, and Dorothy Brown a few weeks ago. Not only is Chinatown jam packed with sights, sounds smells and culture, it is a tough place to photograph. Its streets are compact, its shops are filled wall to wall with goods and the people there are not always welcoming to your camera lens. I generally don’t like to be coy about photographing people, I’d rather ask for permission from my subjects first, but, in Chinatown this mostly gets you nowhere. Here, a little patience and perseverance goes a long way.
After a little lunch we went to see the majestic Golden Gate Bridge. I’ve always heard that the Golden Gate Bridge is the most photographed landmark in the world, something I’ve never verified. And, while visitors I take to the bridge, or myself for that matter, are probably not going to take a unique photograph there, I think it is okay to make some trophy images for yourself wherever you travel. Besides, to see the Golden Gate Bridge glow in the afternoon sun and to walk across it is a great experience.
We crossed the bridge and made our way up into the Marin Headlands. There we were greeted by the fog, which came rolling in allowing us the chance to make some nice landscape photographs. I’m lucky to have such a place this close to my house, just 15 minutes from downtown San Francisco, yet in another world. I have photographed in the Marin Headlands before, but not nearly enough, and, as Stuart points out in his book it pays to approach the areas surrounding your home as if you were showing them to someone who has never been there before.
We set off early the next morning for Yosemite, just about 4 hours from my house by car. I hadn’t been to Yosemite in about 5 years, and I’ve never been to the park in the winter or for the purpose of taking photographs and I was excited to enter the hallowed ground of Ansel Adams. After entering the park, and after getting pulled over by a nice ranger(my excitement got the best of me and I may have been driving a bit too fast), we made our way to Bridal Veil Fall and to Tunnel View where the view of El Capitan, Half Dome and Cloud’s Rest is world class. It is here where Ansel made some of his most famous photographs and where Stuart looked for the holes from his tripod. It is also here where many tourists stop, jump out of their car only to snap a photo or two and move on in much the same was as they do while visiting the Louvre and the Mona Lisa. Not everyone is going to stay for hours waiting to make a photograph, I understand, but, it just baffles me that people don’t take at least a few minutes to experience this view of what should be one of the wonders of the world. Staring at a rock wall that is 3,000 feet tall has a way of humbling you.
The next day we planned to photograph more of the valley, including Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, the weather had other plans, however, as we were greeted with a gray, lifeless sky. We made the best of the day, hiking up Tenaya Creek to Mirror Lake, spending time photographing the rushing creek and rocks. It was frustrating that Stuart had come all this way only to have uncooperative skies, but it reinforced the fact that photography takes patience and that your expectations need to be flexible.
Our last day in Yosemite was much the same, but we were lucky to get some nice fog drifting through the valley making for some nice images.
Other than snapping the quick landscape while hiking I have never focused on landscape photography. After the past few days though I’m really excited to focus more on learning some of these new skills. Anyone who knows me knows that my attention span sometimes matches that of a 2 year old and photographing landscapes really forces me to slow down and to think. I’ve rarely ever even used a tripod and that alone has been great for me, allowing me to think more about framing and exposure more than ever before. So much of the photography that I’ve been doing lately, especially dogs, happens so quickly that you almost have to shoot instinctively, so slowing down has been like a vacation, albeit a learning vacation. Working with Stuart has also been a great learning experience, as his depth of knowledge, especially when it comes to landscape photography is a great resource.
I leave Yosemite excited. Excited to nurse these new skills and excited to approach yet another aspect of this art. I also leave here vowing not to wait another 5 years to return. Being so close to home, I have no excuse not to come back sooner.
I was out wandering Crissy Field and the Fort Point area this morning with my dog and came across this shot of the Golden Gate Bridge starting to peek out from a blanket of fog. In the summer I tend to hate the fog. Probably because it can be cold, foggy and windy at home but 80 degrees and sunny just 20 miles down the road. In the fall and winter, however, I just love the fog. I love the way it feels and smells, and the way it shrouds the city and landscapes. I particularly enjoy shooting in the fog since it tends to reduce everything to the basic elements of tones and shapes. There’s just something spectacular about the simplicity of a great photograph taken in the fog.
Photography is a huge part of my life, too huge my wife might say, but, like most photographers that I interact with I have a “day job” to pay my bills. Fortunately, I happen love my day job as a firefighter/paramedic and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. That being said, like every job, even great jobs, there are aspects of being a firefighter that aren’t so enjoyable. I love fighting fires but I hate getting up in the middle of the night. I love helping people but I hate getting vomit on me. I love the friendships that I’ve made but I hate the emotional toll that a hard days work can have.
Yesterday was one of those days.
At about 7:30 in the morning as we were preparing to finish up a very busy shift we got a call for a 3 week old baby not breathing. This is the kind of call that every single firefighter, paramedic, EMT, doctor, nurse and police officer dreads. We arrived within minutes to find a mother performing CPR on her child. My crew of 4 plus the ambulance crew of 2 did everything that we could in our scope of practice including providing CPR, IV drugs and an airway. We had the child in the hospital within about 15 minutes from the time we arrived on scene. The emergency room staff continued attempts at recusitation for about another 20 minutes but nothing could be done and the child was pronounced dead.
These types of calls, fortunately few and far between, can really effect those involved. We did an informal incident debriefing with all those involved where we talk in confidentiality about how we thought the call went and bring up any concerns that we might have. Everyone on scene on the call performed professionally and did an excellent job, I couldn’t have asked for a better group to work with under such adverse circumstances.
Throughout the day I reflected on the morning’s events and couldn’t help but think this is the type of call that is the reason my job exists. This is why we train so hard and constantly work on our skills. 95 out of 100 calls may be non-life threatening, but this type of call completely affirms what we do. That affirmation, at least for me, was the one bright spot in this otherwise completely horrible situation and it helped me cope with the circumstances. What does this have to do with photography?
Well, as my mind wandered I began to think about my work as a photographer. Learning photography is hard. I spend many hours reading, shooting and toiling with sliders in Aperture. I’ve spent many hundreds of dollars on gear. Of course I could settle for a nice point and shoot and a little bit of post processing in iPhoto and get some good snapshots, but I don’t. I labor over my work, I critique myself and push myself to get better. What affirmations do I have for working so hard at this craft?
While in Kenya we visited the Mpong school in the Masai Mara to donate school supplies that my wife had collected back home from her students. The few hours that I spent photographing the kids there were the best that I have ever spent with a camera in my hand. When I look back at the photos they affirm all my hard work. Now, I’m not saying that they are the most technically perfect photos ever taken and I may have too much emotional connection to them to judge them objectively, but, if nothing else, they provide the affirmation for me that I need to keep pushing and working on my photography.
What affirmations do you have?
Recently I was reading a personal finance blog called The Simple Dollar. In the post the author, Trent Hamm, talks about the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. In the book, about success, Gladwell discusses the role that practice plays in becoming great. He references the Beatles, for example, and estimates that it took 10,000 of practice by those individuals to become world class musicians. Trent notes that Gladwell used many more examples for evidence and that the magic number of 10,000 hours comes up again and again.
This got me to thinking about the craft of photography. Photography, being a multifaceted discipline, is tremendously difficult to become great at. Sure, you can buy a nice camera and take “nice” pictures, but, to take great photographs takes years of practice. Does it take 10,000 hours of practice?
I would argue yes. Anyone who takes a lot of photographs will sometimes get lucky and make a great image, but to consistently produce great photographs takes work. It takes work to get to know your gear, to develop your vision and to learn how to edit. It takes work to learn how to see the light properly, how to tell stories and how to frame scenes in the best possible way. Most of all it just takes time to take lots and lots of photographs. Backgammon, my dad always said while teaching me to play, is a game of skill and of luck. To consistently win you must be in a position to take advantage of luck that comes your way via a good roll of the dice. This explains how I feel about learning to take great photographs.
If you were to shoot 3 hours a day, everyday, it would take you 10 years to get to 10,000 hours. While I’m not even close to that, I’m doing my best to get there. How about you? Have you practiced for 10,000 yet?
My friend, and seriously talented photographer, Eli Reinholdtsten, just released her first e-book Chasing Reflections through Craft & Vision. I met Eli on the Italy Within the Frame workshop this spring. Her talent and vision amazed us all from the first day, and the workshop was lucky to have her. Eli taught everyone in the group something about “seeing” reflections and soon she had us all stopping to look at puddles and windows with new eyes. I was amazed at what she could find. We could be walking past a window and she would stop you to point out 3-4 different photographs that you could take with different layers and perspectives. Eli has worked on her photographs of reflections with an almost obsessive passion, and the results of the hard work show in her photographs. Eli also has a Blurb book on sale called Folk.
In honor of the release of Chasing Reflections I went out yesterday to chase my own reflections. Now, it may be easy to walk by a store display window and take a photograph of a person walking by or a cable car passing in the distance, but it is very difficult to capture the layers and intertwined stories that you’ll find in Eli’s work. To show a connection between the subjects, to have good composition and the right lighting-all in a reflection-adds an element of difficulty to photography.
If you’ve never gone out with the goal of photographing reflections, do yourself a favor, give it a shot, you’re guaranteed to learn something. Oh yeah, do yourself another favor, buy Eli’s book too =)