Blog #64 Summer is for More Travel (Miami)
In the second of a series of three blog posts on travel. The previous post was about travel with the intention of giving you some food for thought on how to approach making images while travelling. Looking from the outside in can only reveal so much. As travellers we have some natural limitations that we need to try to overcome in order to capture the essence of a place. Meeting people and experiencing places that are off the beaten path can reveal more about a place than the typical tourist might see.
In my case, on a recent visit to Miami, I stayed with family and was able to shoot some images of nature at my brother’s house that most people would never get to see. These, I have posted in black and white along with some color images from around town that I thought worked for various reasons. Travel is great and travelling with a camera gives a new vantage point for the traveller.
For the record, I did ask permission of the cigar store owner to make his portrait. I chatted with him for a bit and learned that his son was also a photographer working in New York. He was a nice guy and if you’re ever on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, check him out. The smokes are primo! I would also highly recommend the NSU Art Museum and Boca Raton's Art Museum as well.
The light is always right.
Blog #63 Summer is for Travel (Denver)
As mentioned in the previous blog post, this is first of a triple series, Summer is for Traveling. In the last blog, I posted some photos that were made from my window seat on the plane. They were mostly of clouds and some particularly interesting farm lands around the middle of America that look like a patchwork quilt. These were shot while flying from Denver to Miami. The world looks much different from 35,000 feet and the fresh perspective is cool and different much like the new trend of drone photography. Have you ever wondered how long that trend will last?
Here, I’ll share some photos of Denver, the Mile High city in the first of a three-part series on travel.
A few relevant questions to ponder while traveling is what type of images will you shoot? Of course there is nothing wrong with the quintessential travel snapshot that we all shoot as regular human activity. However, some of us seek to push that boundary and go beyond.
How does one capture the essence of a place? There are some characteristics of the people from a place that may describe some of this essence or spirit of the people. Fashion, dress, or occupation can provide hints as to the nature of a sense of place and its climate or at least the climate at that time of year. Getting close to people, or hanging out with friends from a place can give a unique perspective and “insiders vantage point”. While this can be a real challenge as a foreigner and that challenge is compounded by language barriers, but it comes with the territory for the professional photographer.
Architecture and building façades can reveal the nature of a place as well. The building styles, shapes of the roofs, colors, and building materials can give hints about the uniqueness of a city, region, or country. Of course landmarks are an easy way to communicate elements of a city, but that’s taking the easy road. Give the viewer a little more work to do to figure out the context of the image. Keep them guessing. Make them work a little, but not to much. Avoid being too obvious or stereotypical in your images. There are some universals in many cities that could be anywhere, or at least anywhere USA. Might see the image and think “Somewhere in the mid-west of the USA”. That’s close enough. If the image screens “DENVER”! You’ve gone to far. Dial it back a bit.
I made these images in this post on a recent trip to Denver, Colorado, USA. There are both black and white and color. In general, I avoid posting both together as there seems to be some photography faux pas for doing so, but sometimes you need to break the rules to tell your story in the way that you want to tell it.
The final task in making travel images is deciding if you want to share them, with whom, and how many. Most would agree that 10-20 is plenty of images and appropriate for anything other than a book. I chose 19 that illustrate my adventures in Denver for about five days. I did see some friends while there and really enjoyed the place. Notice this post mentions cameras, lenses, and gear exactly zero times. This is intentional. Sometimes, it’s best to divorce ourselves from the discussion of the technical aspects of photography and focus on the story and the place, and the people. The rest can be rather academic. For more on this topic, check out Blog #58 on the subject of Micro & Macro Education.
Until next time, remember, the light is always right.
Blog #62 Shooting (from) A Plane
July 4th is the unofficial start of summer in the USA. In Hong Kong, 1 July is HKSAR Establishment Day. This year, the event marked the 20th year of the infamous 1997 Handover [of Hong Kong from the British back to China (sniff!)]. Big Boss Man President Xi from Beijing was in town to oversea the transition from Chief Executive CY Leung to Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s first woman Chief Executive. There were lots of protests and rain (as usual) so venturing outside to brave the crowds and photograph the fireworks was a PASS (no thanks!) for me, this year.
However, as the regular school year and summer are ushered in by the heavy rains, my thoughts are drawn to making images now more than ever. Summer is the time for travel. In May I went to Denver (for my other work) and then Miami for a few days to visit my family. Of course I wear a camera so I was happily snapping away pretty much the whole time. In two days from now, I will start my summer travel plans with a brand new destination (for me). That place is Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city.
Over the the next few blog posts I will reflect on travel and making images along the way. In this blog, I will post some images that I made en route to these places, from the plane. I usually carry my cameras, lenses, film, and gear onto the plane since the temperature and conditions are generally more hospitable for sensitive equipment compared to the freezing cold belly of the plane. I generally request a window seat since there are really cool things like cloud formations [not to mention the earth from 35,000 feet] that I don’t get to see on a regular basis. Plus, I’m admittedly addicted to making images, so it goes.
The images here I think work well to give a fresh perspective and pilot eye’s view of the world.
There are those that advocate for buying experiences through travel and photography books rather than gear. Of course you need all three ultimately but every dollar spent on travel and photography books is worth ten (or more) spent on gear.
Where are you going this summer? Will you bring a camera, smartphone? How about your imagination or photographic vision or plan? Don’t leave home with that.
The light is always right.
Blog #61 On Assignment
All creatives in various fields face similar challenges. As photographers, to continue to create or to be motivated to continuously create can be quite a challenge. What project shall I work on next? How do I know if my current project(s) is done? These are typical questions that most of us will face and to varying degrees, struggle with, over time.
Avoid the trap of buying another camera or lens since this is not likely to lead to improvement in any measurable way. Sure, you can eBay any new camera or lens, unpack the box, smack a roll of whatever film and head out to the wild blue yonder but that’s a false approach to creativity. It’s bogus and unlikely to result in any real personal growth let alone artistic progress.
National Geographic has assignments that anyone can submit to for free. There is a plethora of sources for contests and assignments online through many sources. Ted Forbes (YouTube) holds photo assignments every other Monday that are worthwhile and free. Friends are great for this sort of thing as well. During those “in between” times between personal or commercial projects, it is critical to continue to hone one’s skills with the camera as well as with their eyes and creative mojo.
For example, a friend and avid photographer, Mike Epstein and I went on a self-imposed assignment this month. There were some pretty strict rules: we would shoot different brands of colour film (and later develop it at home ourselves), and use a 35mm focal length lens on one roll and a 50mm focal length lens on another roll. Mike suggested that we shoot images using the theme of transportation, and I obliged. So after our obligatory coffee we went out with our bags filled with colour 35mm film and camera loaded, and we got to work. Mike was kind enough to give me a roll of Cinestill 50 as well so of course we burned that one as well. The target rolls were Kodak Ektar 100 (shot mid-day with the 50mm lens) and Kodak Portra 400 (shot afternoon with the 35mm) lens.
The fairly strict rules forced us to work within these parameters. Actually, there are still quite a range of subjects that one can shoot on the streets of Hong Kong within this set of rules. There are tons of bright red taxis, road signs, trams, busses, bikes, and road signs. Having limits is actually helpful because we immediately eliminated more than half of what was going on. Without buildings, people, nature, rubbish, or things in general, our choices of subject were narrowed considerably.
The images herein were the result of that one-day color film two-lens self-imposed challenge. It’s a good experience and I would encourage any photographer to use the “On Assignment” mantra in between their other assignments or just for the hell of it.
The light is always right.