Friday, February 28, 2014

Chris Jordan

Chris’s work is unique in that the idea is not to create some stunning landscape or beautiful portrait. No he creates photographs out of the objects, sometimes garbage that illustrates a large complex number. Chris’s website, Chris Jordan Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait shows his latest works followed by facts about the subject of each photograph. In one he has letter blocks that explains how important education is. Once you click on the image it zooms out to reveal that each block is made of many blocks to eventually illustrate what 1.2 million children that drops out of school each year looks like. And that is his point.

Chris explained in an interview with Chase Jarvis, that someone can tell you that 1 million cups are used every 6 hours on American airway each day but do you really understand what 1 million looks like? That is what Chris has set out to show us. We hear big number but we don’t know how to comprehend it.  And most of the subjects and numbers that he creates in to art are, unlike his images, disturbing.

On project photography the dyeing and dead birds full of plastic on Midway Island Chris moved from the realm of stills to moving picture. Again listing to his interview I felt that the subject matter was so compelling those photographs were not enough to convey this story. With donations he started to create this documentary that shows the beauty and grief of these birds on to the big screen. At last news update Chris was showed the film last April. Any further news of the film I will be sure to bring it up.

What attracts me to Chris’s work is the fact he is able to create his large panel art using a photo repeatedly to show you what a statically large number looks like. I have never see one in person but I would image, like Chuck Close’s work that the majority of people walk up close to see the finder detail. Chris, at least to me, motivates me to look at my life and how I impact all that is around me. Overall Chris shows the unintended consequences of our actions and that is very appealing to me. I also feel that need to show the unintended consequence of those around my little world.

But don’t just read my words about Chris please follow the links and watch his interviews and talks about his passion. I hope you find it both educational and motivating to you

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Shooting in the Cold

This winter, unlike the past few, has been very cold and because of that I would bet that the majority of you have not ventured out with your cameras. Understandable, it is hard to get up early knowing that the arctic wind can find every seam in your clothing to crawl through. Not to mention that the cold is hard on your equipment, but that should not hold you back from photographing the beauty of winter. You just need to prepare well with warm cloths and a zip lock bag.

Before you go out for your next session you must pick up some one or two gallon zips lock bags and put a couple in your bag. I like zip lock because they are much easier in the cold to open and close than the regular bag. The reason you need these bags is to save off condensation when you go back in the house.
As hard is the cold on your camera, so is condensation. Your camera is cold and will help draw the moisture out of the air much like a glass of ice water does on a hot summer’s day. That moisture finds its way into the electronics and sensor of your camera wreaking havoc and eventually turning it into a brick. Preventing this is simple.

Fist; once you are finished photographing power down the camera, take the battery out then open the bag and slide it in.

Second; before closing it squeeze all the air out of the bag. This way if there is any humidity in the outside air it will be purged from the bag.

Third; it is ready to bring into the house, but don’t open it yet. You must wait until the camera has warmed up to the touch. Then inspect to make sure there is no sign of condensation. If it is all clear then it is ready to use.

This technique works well for the summer. Late last summer there was a vigorous lighting display that I wished to capture. Because the air in my house was cool and the humidity outside was so high, condensation formed on my camera. Had I been in possession of a large zip lock bag I could have sealed it up, taken it outside and let the camera warm up to the outside temperature without condensation.

So don’t let winter’s cold keep you from your photography. With a little planning you can still have a great time getting shots of the winter that seems to never stop. Shoot well and Shoot often. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

A camera does not make the photographer

It doesn’t matter what kind of camera you use or how much you plunked down on the counter for it. The camera does not make the photographer. It is a tool that one uses much like the carpenter uses a hammer to craft his cabinets. The camera, in its most basic form, captures light through a lens onto a sensor or a strip of film where it is stored for the artist to process. It is as simple as the job of a hammer for driving a nail into wood. It is the human element; the brain, eyes and the heart that makes the photographer as it is for the carpenter in their craft.

Noted in caption.

As you look over the extremely large collection of images on the internet you begin to notice the need for people to note what camera was used in their captioning. For the most part if the image is stunning why then should we care what camera was used to capture the image? Wasn’t it the photographer that created the photograph? Wasn’t it the photographer that worked the image until it matches their vision of what they saw in their head? I have yet to find a camera that goes out on its own and take the picture.  I know that I am sounding a little obtuse but really do we need to be so gear minded?

What makes a photographer?

A true photographer knows their craft. Photographers learn how to balance the exposure equation by using the meter and the histogram. By understanding this balance they get it right in the camera first and not relying on PhotoShop to bail them out later. PhotoShop can’t always fix all your mistakes in your images. And if you were able to fix it in PhotoShop, how much stronger of an image would have it been had you taken the time to do it right in the first place?

A photographer studies all the elements of composition not only in their own craft but others as well. Looking at how Rembrandt use lighting to move your eye through the painting. By creating what is known now as Rembrandt lighting he is able to tell a story and move you through the painting. Vincent Van Gogh’s use of his brush and pallet knife to create motion in his “Starry Night.” By adding motion to a static scene he adds a new element to painting that later becomes part of the impressionist movement. By learning how other artist who work outside photograph handle composition in their subject, one can then apply that to better their work.

A photographer has passion to get up everyday and wonder what to create next. To look at the world with different eyes and show the possibilities, the beauty and the ugly. Engaging their audience to feel the aw of the wonderful planet we live in. To bring other people from other places into your space and on the walls to create an understanding about them you may have never had otherwise. To create something so unique it fills you with emotion that moves you  to do something. Passion is what drives a photographer.

None of these qualities have ever been built into a camera. I have never scrolled through a menu on the back of my camera and found Knowledge, Passion or Creativity. What I have found it the programs that will help me make a better decision about an exposure but  rest is up to me. So remember, next time when you are typing information into the title or comment page, skip the part about the camera and instead give yourself credit  for the image. If someone really wants to know what camera you used, they can find it under the photo information.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Second Round

It is early but I know that my efforts will be rewarded the more I get out photographing the eagles. I put my layers of cloths on and make my way downstairs to make coffee. My wife is up already and has, to my delight, started the coffee. Once it is finished I drink a couple of cups in hopes to warm and wake me up. I eventually work my way up to putting the dogs out for their morning constitution.

After feeding the dogs I pack my bag and head out the roller dam on the Cedar River. The air is cold and the light of the sun is on the horizon as I make my way. “This time I will park a small distance from the river and walk in” I thought to myself. “This way I will hopefully not disturb the eagle or the rest of the wildlife.” Arriving, I parked the car and got myself situated for the walk. The sun is now just below the tree line so I quicken my pace to the spot I want to start shooting.

I entered the river bank area by an opening that seems to be a boat ramp. It is just less than a quarter mile from the dam and where the eagles like to hang out. I figured on hiking into the area they are roosting and take photos along the way. The sun is now just breaking over the trees. The warm light catches the steam lifting off the water and bathes the duck and geese on the river. I stop and set up to squeeze off a few frames.  Taking this moment I sit a listen to the river rushing downstream, the ducks and geese calling out, alerting every one of my presents. A that moment I caught a faint sound of the eagle cry in the distance. I turned and up in the trees next to the dam I could see them.

The sun was up and the light caught 5 white heads of the eagles as they sat in the tree. Crying out they took flight on the crisp morning air. The hunt was on. For them fishing was first priority but for me I had to hike some distance over uneven snow packed ground before I could start photographing. I quickly switched my lens to the 500mm mirrored, secured my bag and made my way slowly to a good safe spot.

As I made my way I ran across a crow that tolerated me being very close. So close in fact I could almost touch him. Surrounded by twigs I slowly put my view finder to my eye, focused and started to take photos. Slowly moving around the crow I got three different shots with the third one being the best, a head shot. “My wife will like this one.” I thought with the click of the shutter and with that I made my way to the eagles as the crow remaining undisturbed.
With the eagles on the hunt I moved in quickly to a spot halfway to my intended destination. Pulling the viewfinder up to my eye I started my exercise of fixing on a target and keeping it focused. This time I had a plan. As the eagles flew away I turned the lens focus to the left and to the right as they got closer. I fired off a few frames and watched as they retreated back into the trees. After a few minutes I started slowly making my way to the spot close enough to get good shots. 20 minutes and 80 yards passed and I reached a place where I was close enough to photograph the eagles but not spook them. Now the waiting begins.  

In between flights I would turn my attention on the other birds that occupied the area. Just out of sight I hear a cardinal, blue jay, and chickadee calls but always at a distance. The duck and geese continued to call and fly in and out of the area. Then out of nowhere the eagles would take to flight again and the exercise would begin again. I worked the lens as I trained my eye on the targets. They would fly close but not close enough for that one money shot similar to the one I got my first day shooting. And as soon as it started, it would be all over and the eagles would return to the trees waiting for the next flight.

The eagles did not seem  keen about getting too close so I took my shots were I could. The cold was getting to the lens so quickly focusing was becoming a problem which in turn yielded a lot of missed shots. I did however get a few more photos of them perching on the trees. One in particular had the eagle framed by the branches in the foreground which turned out to be the best of the day shot for me.

Time passed and eventually the cold got to me so I made my way back to the parking lot. I managed to grab one more photograph of geese swimming on the river in the fog rising out of the water. Up the ramp and to the parking lot I put my camera in the gallon bag and sealed it up tight. Stuffed it back into the bag and made my way home. It is 0930 and the sun is now warming up the trees and the snow is falling off of them. It is bright and colors have been washed out from the sky as I make my way home. I think I will try a late afternoon shoot next time that could be fun.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Eagles on the Dam

It’s 7am and the temperature has reached a balmy negative 3 degrees as I pack up my camera bag. The sun is just starting to broach the horizon as I climb in to the car and start to make my way to the roller dam on the Cedar River. The eagles have gathered there for the winter and today I am going to try my hand at photographing them. I have a 500mm Mirrored lens that I borrowed from my father that I plan to use for this adventure. I haven’t really shot with it so I my expectations are low on a lot of sharp images coming out. Nor have I spent anytime down by the dam to know where I should be to get the best angles for this time of day. I am starting out a bit behind the eight ball, right?

As I get close to the area I realize that my quick glance at Google maps was not helping me in anyway. Lost and loosing time I rush around trying to find a sign pointing me to the dam. The sun is now up and I can feel the pressure mounting. If I arrive too late the eagles will not be as active and I will have missed my opportunity to photograph. I eventually find a road that leads a little farther south from my position and follow it. Pay dirt, I get lucky and follow it to the dam. Just before I hit the parking lot I see them, hanging around in the trees waiting like old men with fishing poles for the fish to arrive.

I quickly but quietly get out of my car. I move this way knowing that they can see me but hoping that by not making too much noise I will not spook them. I head down off the parking lot and on the banks of the river when the first one takes off, spooked. So much for my plan, so I hang around putting the lens on and planning my next move. The eagles are east of me as well as the sun. I need to move east and photograph them looking west but getting around them will not be easy. There are only a few left in the tree, two adults and one Juvenal. I move into the trees and up to the road where I will cross in back of them. For some reason they were okay with me walking behind them but not on the river bank.

I found a place and tried to work my way down a steep incline to the river bank. I wish I could say I did this gracefully but I did land hard on my ass and cause the ducks and geese to scatter. This was not helping my effort in not disturbing the eagles. None the less I gathered up my tripod and my pride and set myself up to start photographing.

The eagles did not disappoint. They flew majestically over head searching for fish to catch. Because the lens is a manual focus lens and fixed at f8 I had to squeeze off a few photos to get the exposure right. I set the ISO at 1250 and shutter speed between 640 and 1600. I was not thrilled about the noise I was going to get but again I also knew that I would miss a lot of shot due to miss focusing.

Shooting with this lens was hard. I could have my subject locked on and just a smallest movement of the lens or the eagle and the whole image was soft. But damn how close I could get with it. The first half an hour was spent getting use to the lens while following the rapture. I found myself loosing the bird every once in a while in the middle of panning or focusing. I would peek over the view finder then lock on and reacquire it again in the viewfinder. Missing a lot of shots doing this I reminded myself that I have time and I am just getting the feel for the whole situation.

As the hour past the warmth of the sun was not enough to keep me from shivering while I was photographing. This proved problematic in focusing because of the amount of movement in the viewfinder I was creating was not helping me focus this touchy lens. So between the Arial show the eagles put on I turned my attention to the geese and ducks that were bathed in the steam coming off the river. I got down low and through the viewfinder composed images of them against the rising vapors. I loved the shadows the trees were casting on the river and found them helpful when composing the shot. I snapped a few frames off and turned my attention to the eagles once again.

I lasted about two hours before I got too cold. In that two hours I got to see an Arial display that shows why they command the skies. The sound of the river and cries of both eagles and crows still echo in my ears as I write this post. Just before I left I looked out over the dam and reflected on the event and how important these areas of open water are to these birds of prey.  By keeping these ice free areas clean from debris and chemicals we can continue to enjoy the beauty of the rich wildlife that seek out these open areas. These are great places that are close by to see animals that you might normally not see in town. So get out and enjoy them. Seeing these birds in person is much better than seeing them on TV or even in my photographs.

Enjoy and remember, leave no trace.