major minor

Major Minor

From time to time I work inside interesting buildings on installation jobs, old churches, schools, or theaters, and there are times I come across things that make for great photography subjects. Old closets full of decorations, stacked chairs, dated technology, I come across all sorts of interesting things sometimes. Recently while working at the chapel of a local college they had a grand piano on stage opened up and I simply had to take advantage. The beautiful, soft natural light gave this image a lovely tone that accented its aging innards. I love how the shallow depth of field allows you to see details underneath strings in the foreground.

I figured there must be some piano lovers out there such as myself that would enjoy this as a wallpaper. Sadly, I never did learn how to play but I sure do love to sit in front of a nice piano and play a few invented chords. The way each note resonates in the large instrument in front of me is calming and the reason it’s among my favorite instruments. So, until next time, enjoy!

eyesdontlie

Eyesdontlie

I have been a long time fan of the music of Travis Stewart who is most commonly known as MachineDrum. He and I have crossed paths a few times in the past but in the time since I last spent any time with him he has since moved his way up the electronic music food chain and now seems to constantly be on the road moving forward and upward. Years ago I remember talking to him about how so many electronic musicians at the time were simply treading water, following trends and that it felt like the genre in general felt a bit lost. He then mentioned that he just wanted to make the music he wanted to make, despite what others were doing at the time. From what I know, he has always looked to push his own abilities and has never been anything but humble about it along the way. Musically he has had a long winding history within electronic music, from his roots in IDM fused hip-hop to his more recent ventures into footwork/juke and darker early dub step influenced tracks as one half of Sepalcure.

I have to admit his last album Rooms was easily my favorite new album for at least two years running and now sits among my favorite LP’s. With Rooms he accomplished something many electronic musicians don’t do nearly enough these days, he takes chances, and in doing so creates music that helps move ideas forward rather than rest in a holding pattern with the copy cat producers of the world trying to keep up with what is popular at the moment. It was a near perfect collection of songs with a lighthearted depth that gave it a timeless appeal. I could easily see myself coming back to it 10 years from now and enjoy it just as much.

At any rate, Travis recently signed to NinjaTune, home to a long history of amazing music and I am excited to see where he goes next. The record photographed here is the first single from his upcoming album which is a conceptual affair where each track takes place in different districts of an imagined city. Eyesdontlie and its b-side Body Touch have been stuck in my head all too many times since their release. He’s taken an approach that feels more simplified on the surface than his work in Rooms yet it is sharply focused on layered rhythms and melodies that carry you weightlessly through the tracks.

While he seems to be taking a safer approach with this release I still see that same inventive character that has managed to break through what most producers these days are releasing. If I were you I would keep an eye out for Vapor City at the end of September, if you are a fan of electronic music it’s not something you will want to pass up.

eyesdontlie2

Unlocked

Unlocked

While wandering around a job site located within an old post office I came across a handful of well manicured yet slightly derelict corners hiding in plain sight. It was nice to have something new to explore, I feel like its been ages since I have been out to shoot somewhere new. I am itching for a trip and its looking as though YoungDoo and I will take off North sometime this fall or early winter if we can find the right moment to do it. Visiting family in London, Ontario and maybe taking the scenic route back through Detroit and Chicago. At least thats the plan. Though what I have really been craving this year, secretly, is a good five or so nights out in a forest somewhere with a backpack. Until then I still have moments like these that I manage to find in the day to day hustle and bustle.

Washed Out

Paracosm

I remember the first time hearing Washed Out a few years back, it was just before a road trip to NYC to see a few friends and check out a few of the events being thrown by Warp Records for their, I believe, 20th anniversary. Someone had shared his first EP, Life of leisure, with me and I was immediately hooked on its dreamy sun drenched grooves with a distinct lo-fi pop sentimentality. The EP is the reason the term ‘chill wave’ exists after a journalist coined the phrase to describe it’s sound. The newly discovered sub genera quickly grew to be mimicked and expanded up on over the years since its release.

His follow up to that EP was his first full length and while it lacked some of the original lo-fi charm I warmed up to it quickly and it ended up being another one of my favorites. Enter his newest release, Paracosm. Upon first listen I knew it would end up getting a lot of playtime as the rest of the summer heats up and moves out. He has moved away from his humble bedroom production roots at this point for sure, but the music still holds true to his trademark dream pop appeal. Layers upon layers of warm synths and meandering vocal melodies drive the music forward among his usual head nodding rhythms. It’s great to hear that he has yet to run out of steam and I easily recommend you check it out for yourself. This vinyl edition is in a gorgeous deep purple which I have included a second image of beyond the read more link. It’s the perfect album for the end of the summer. Take a day off, hop in your car, windows down, put Paracosm on the stereo, and get lost.

(more…)

Live

Live

There are a lot of things you pick up in the live audio industry. In a lot of ways it’s a bit of a jack of all trades sort of job where you are required to have a number of different capabilities and hiding back behind a mixing console is only part of the equation. The job has taught me a lot about people, musicians in particular, and the simple, often overlooked fact that there is no such thing as a rock star. In reality musicians, no matter how popular, are just people like any other. I no longer look starry eyed at any musician no matter how famous they are due to that realization.

The event photographed above was a hip-hop show at the venue I work at in town, the headliner, who I won’t mention the name of, was running late to the event and not by accident as far as I knew. He was playing the role of the pop idol, showing up late for no good reason outside of fueling his own ego leaving those who work in the venue to stress and try to keep a visibly upset crowd from turning south. Twice beer bottles were thrown at the house DJ from audience members who somehow thought it was our fault the headliner was not on stage yet. To stand on stage and manage a crowd so close to collapse is not my idea of fun yet there I was because of one persons decision to let his arrogance rule his actions. At least thats the story told through my point of view.

The entertainment industry is, now more than ever, ruled by this mythology of climbing to the top, of making it to a fictional place where all you do is drive expensive cars and leave the commoner life behind. Your chances of getting there are about as slim as winning the lottery. I have seen and worked with more acts than I can remember at this point in the game and I firmly believe an artist has two options for themselves, you take the humble road or the high road.

At this point, after years of dealing with different bands, I able to judge an artists choice in this matter upon arrival at the venue or event site.Their attitude coming in (or staying in the bus until showtime) is all too telling of the type of event I will be working that night. I have learned to handle even the biggest egos with patience enough to get through a gig no matter the circumstance but I have seen plenty of techs crack under the pressure or frustration of a whiny musician.

My best advice to the performing artists of the world, learn at least the 101 basics of live audio so you are able to communicate your needs or concerns with engineers smoothly (but don’t be too smug about your opinion should you know a bit about it). As for other engineers out there, stay patient, your hired to provide a service and keeping the band happy is that service, no matter their level of self importance, your not the star of the show after all. There is an age old adage that states “never piss off the sound guy” and you would be surprised how true this is.

At any rate, I don’t often talk about my work as an audio tech but I figured, why not. It’s a weirdly closed community of old roadies and young ambitious minds. I have had requests to make more of the photos from this side of my life into wallpapers so I will see what I can do. This image seemed to fit into my focus-less series and was honestly an accident when I shot it because I had the manual focus switch on inadvertently. Still, I love the way images like this seem to sit in the background as though the true focus of the shot are the windows and icons on your laptop. Enjoy!

Q&A

Required Reading

In another new, hope to be moderately consistent, series of posts I will suggest photography centric books/zines or articles online to read or experience. Sometimes I will do the pull quote thing and use them as a base of discussion, other times I will simply post as a recommended read. This will be as often as I have time to dig and look for things that catch my eye.

I remember first discovering photographer Zack Arias through his OneLight video on using simple flash lighting. While I never kept very close tabs on his other work online, I recently realized I had seen him referenced a number of times recently by other photographers, mainly while researching FujiFilms recent digital camera offerings. I discovered he had been running a pretty fantastic and candid Q&A tumblr and released a curated book of entries within that blog.

The book, Photography Q&A: Real Questions, Real Answers, is what I am recommending today, it’s a surprisingly well rounded book about many of the little, more specific details of working as a photographer. In it he discusses things often overlooked by many classes, books, and workshops. In many of the questions he used the book as an excuse to expand on his original answers to give even more insight based on years of experience and trial and error. There is also quite a bit of additional content added in between sections. He discusses everything from advice for specific shooting scenarios to help with handling different kinds of clients.

His approach to answering questions are often quite blunt and straightforward which I admire. He speaks from his honest opinion unlike many photo books most of which read like a camera manual. Not that either approach is more or less valid for different needs but I do appreciate the level of honesty and humility he offers in his writing. The writing style is akin to sitting down across from him with a drink and having a conversation about photography where there is no need to be polite or hold back.

Here is an excerpt I am in total agreement with from a question about recourses for models to learn how to model, originally posted here and expanded up on in the book. He is speaking here about a camera as a lifeless object, a mere tool of which we forge and capture pieces of time and of the irrelevance of how easy modern cameras make it to take nice looking photos:

“They will never take a picture. Buy all the cameras in the world. They will never see… Nikon doesn’t give you vision. Canon doesn’t give you vision. That new flash you want won’t make you see. It won’t direct your subjects. It won’t do shit for you. You point it where it needs to be pointed. You control what sort of light enters it and how much light enters it. You direct your subject in that light you have decided to work in. You are in charge. You, and you alone. If you think for one second that the camera is doing something for you, then you have your brain turned off and you’re being stupid. Stop it. Take control. Do it all. No matter what crazy-ass thing they make these cameras do next, they will never, ever, ever see the world. That is your job” -Zack Arias

There is a printed version of the book as well as a Kindle version which I read on my iPad to see his example images in color. Of all the photo books I have read through over the years this is easily one of the more refreshing reads I have come across within the genera and I can easily recommend any photographer who feels they still have something to learn within this industry pick this up and digest a question and answer or two each day. You can read more about it and order it over on Zack’s site here.

Five D

Five D Mark

I am happy to share some news with everyone today, I bought myself a new camera! Well, a few years ago actually… seven to be exact, and I thought you guys may be interested in a review. I get the usual “what gear do you use?” questions on a regular basis, reason being that we all enjoy finding out the tricks of other photographers hard earned trade. Its only natural once you get into any craft in which you start to unintentionally become a connoisseur. I feel like I have answered this a number of times in different posts here on 50ft such as this post about my gear in general, but there is one camera that has transformed me as a photographer and rarely gets as much credit as I feel its due. That camera, of course, is the Canon 5D.

First, an abridged history lesson. The 5D was the camera that convinced professional photographers that digital photography was here to stay. The 5D Mark II was the camera that convinced thousands of amateurs and lost young minds with creative aspirations that they too could shoot like a pro. Then Nikon started to finally catch up, followed soon thereafter by Olympus inventing a new breed of smaller yet fully functioning mirror-less digital bodies with interchangeable lenses. Fuji took the idea a step further following Leicas lead and made a few digital cameras aimed at the film lovers. Then of course we have our current top of the heap mid-range DSLR’s such as the 5D Mark III which I will admit is a beautiful camera that is worth every penny should you need such capabilities as it offers.

At any rate, this much is known to most of you. My personal history with cameras played out a bit differently though and it’s something I have touched on before. After happily shooting with my 20D for a while I was lured to the 5D early in its life because of its big beautiful “full frame”sensor. One shot and I was hooked, there was no turning back. This combined with my foray into shooting and editing RAW files and an investment in one great lens locked me in.

When the 5D II came along I had a moment of, ooohhhh… but it was short lived as I started to realize there was nothing I needed from the upgrade, I was not a videographer by any means and the results from the 5D II’s sensor never impressed me all that much. So I stuck with my original 5D and happily went along shooting, buying up older film cameras instead of needlessly upgrading my digital kit. In todays marketplace I feel the original 5D is one of the most overlooked options out there for photographers just starting out or ones shooting on cropped sensor bodies that want to give full frame a go. I regularly see these available today for an average price of $600USD in camera shops and on ebay. Nice ones even.

Here is my short review, they are built like tanks, take beautifully vivid images, and utilize a lens mount with plenty of great options that shows no sign of reaching the end of its life. Now, lets break that down.

During the course of my years spent with this camera I have put it through an almost unfair amount of torture. While I do have camera bags to transport my gear it is almost always outside of the bag on my shoulder, ready to use. Because of this it has collided with its fare share of doorways, cement floors, mud puddles, you name it. There is a chunk of metal missing from the grip near the battery door from a particularly bad fall which had me worried at first but it just kept on shooting. Outside of a few much needed sensor cleanings it takes the same great photos that it always has.

The photos from this camera have always ben distinct and highly natural to me. Part of my love for the sensor in this camera is the fact that the images don’t have that unusual overly pristine digital look to them. Don’t read into that the wrong way, I get nice crisp images, they just hold true to an aesthetic that I love. One that closer mimics the feelings I get while shooting film than most digital cameras give me. Even the noise has grown on me over the years. The full frame sensor gives my lens room to breathe and reach its full potential.

There are technical limits to the sensor of course, such as a moderate 12.8MP image size but 12.8MP is plenty for just about anyone these days unless you rely on unusually large prints on a regular basis. The prints I have produced from these files have been wonderful. There was a time I printed a few images on a large format fabric printer at roughly 4′x5′ (1.2×1.5 meter) and while they were not flawless you would be surprised at how presentable they were.

My only gripe would be, as with most digital cameras still to this day, highlights can easily accidentally get blown out leaving you checking your histograms regularly while out shooting. Walking that line just before this occurs and getting well controlled exposures can get a little tiresome at times. In my experience getting an exposure that works sometimes involves exposing a little lower than I may want to in order to avoid this yet if this involves a higher ISO I am left with a bit more noise than I care for in my shadows as I bring up my levels in post work. While the dynamic range is not as strong some of what technology has brought us recently I have never had too much trouble working with images unless they are dark shots or shooting higher than 800ISO (which is my personal limit with this camera).

“But John, there is no video capability”, at which point you simply need to imagine the a blank stare I am giving you until you come to your senses. This is a still photo camera. There is no shame in that, just be honest with your needs.

Ah, and the lenses. While L glass certainly has its luster and an investment in a good lens will easily outlast the value of your camera, there are plenty of great options out there such as their great 40mm f/2.8 pancake or the underrated 85mm f/1.8 that has always had to live in the shadow of its f/1.2 brother. Then there is the option of buying a cheap lens adaptor and shooting with some vintage glass, something I discussed a while back here on 50ft.

So don’t be so quick to judge this still highly relevant gem of a camera just because it has two older brothers all doped up with marketing and street cred sheen. The original 5D is well worth a look if your in the market for a modest full frame DSLR. I realize most of those reading this now are so locked into one way of thinking that buying an eight year old digital camera seems crazy and to you guys, just keep on keeping on.

Another point I wanted to get across in writing this must be fairly obvious. Gear lust is imaginary, irrelevant, and can lead you down a path of misunderstanding and misplaced reasoning as you develop as a photographer. Lets turn it into a dying trend. I have shot happily and successfully with one camera and a select few lenses all these years only keeping my lust for anything new contained with a few old film cameras along the way. It is vital to understand the difference between wanting a new piece of gear and needing it.

I say this out of experience. I get the bug just like anyone else. There is something to be said about the refreshing feeling of shooting with a new camera but in the end one solid piece of gear will take you a lot further if you allow yourself to fully adapt to it. Just be sure to pick something that complements your ambition and needs and you will be set. It’s also important to realize when enough is enough and having the latest and greatest hanging around your neck will only bring that emotional satisfaction for a short while before the next great new thing rolls into view.

That said, looking ahead, whats that on my horizon? Something new to me, yes, but more on that when the time comes.

(the photo above was shot with my hasselblad a long while back, couldn’t find a nice high res copy is all, see the un-cropped image here on flickr)

Holden

The Inheritors

One of my favorite releases of this year snuck up on me, I had heard talk of what was said to be an amazing new record by Holden called The Inheritors for quite a while and upon its release I finally had a chance to see what all the talk was about. I initially thought it was interesting yet shrugged it off for other albums I was already quite into. Yet I started to catch myself wanting to hear it more and more often and slowly but surely fell for its avant charms.

While the music may not do much for those of you who typically only listen to pop music, I found that the release perfectly walks a line between experimentation, and accessibility yet never manages to weigh too heavy on either side of the fence. This left me with just enough sound design playfulness to appeal to my lust for new and interesting approaches to creating music while finding just the right melodies to hold everything together and feel connected to.

Loose interpretations of head nodding rhythms and vaguely danceable beats littler the album and despite the deliberate distortion of certain melodic layers there is a surprising depth and control in each track. The mix is fantastic and his compositions are often slow and steady and never resort to any hooky gimmicks to make a point. Finding creative new approaches to music feels impossible at times and this release has become a glass of clear filtered water among an ocean of cheap Coke ripoffs. Any of you who enjoy musicians who take us places we never knew existed should defiantly give The Inheritors a spin.

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IMAGES FOUND WITHIN THE FIFTYFOOTSHADOWS.NET PARALLAX WALLPAPER PACK ARE ©JOHN CAREY AND MAY NOT BE USED FOR ANY COMMERCIAL USE WITHOUT PERMISSION. 

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