XS Computation

Oh, hello! How about we take a moment today to talk about the state of mobile photography as it pertains to the iPhone XS because it seems like its on the tip of everyones tongue as of late. Advances in computational, machine learning, super HDR, photography have certainly been blowing a lot of smoke as Apple and other mobile phone companies are trying to mimic, lets call them, full bodied, cameras using technology to overcome very clear and obvious limitations in size and physical ability.

First off, it’s worth noting, as of this writing I have only had a few days behind this camera, though what I’m going to discuss here I feel confident in my initial takes on the tech, I did want to mention this. Also, let me say up front, it’s nothing short of incredible how far these tiny sensored cameras have come through the years. Using technology and tricks to mimic and in some cases enhance the behavior and capabilities of full bodied cameras is brilliant and one can take truly delightful photographs with an iPhone, yet, and heres a key point I’m poking my head in today to address, under the right conditions.

After finally jumping in with the rest of you lot and moving to an iPhone with two lenses I am able to try and see what all this fuss is about.

I knew what to expect going in and figured I could simply take a few straightforward portraits right off the bat just to see how things faired with this selective virtual “aperture” post photo, so while at the park with my daughter I set off with my natural instincts behind a camera and went to work as though I had a 5D in hand. This is where things quickly fell apart and I had a firm realization that I had maybe slightly overestimated its abilities.

As we approached the playground little Milla was super excited to head straight for the swing and as luck would have it the afternoon sun was giving us its last several minutes of lovely golden backlight, my favorite! I knelt down low to capture the first scattered fallen leaves of the fall as she darted across to the swing set and upon an initial cursory glance at the results I thought to myself, cool! This could be pretty fun.

Next up she was loaded up on her swing and was kind of patient enough for me to snap a couple of shots before it was time to start pushing her along so I popped the phone into portrait mode and had at it. Again, at first glance, results seemed kind of nice but quickly I realized what felt so off about the shot, the chains in the swing had vanished into the backgrounds emulated blur. This and the lovely lens flare I chose to try and incorporate into the shot was totally lost to the effect.

At this point I gave her a push or two and purposefully pushed my luck trying to capture her in portrait mode while she was in motion swinging but that was far and away beyond possible. The phone made some weird attempts at capturing something but it automatically cropped it in strange ways to make the best of what I was trying to push it into and I quickly decided to give up forcing portrait mode to work with a moving subject.

A short while later she had made her way up to the top of the slide platform, another chance to have a little creative fun by framing her face using the safety bars around the top of the slide but again was quickly denied as my attempts and curiosity lead to a confused and messy algorithmic mask attempt, even with a relatively still subject, because of the shots vaguely complex nature. (See photos above and notice the confusing “focus” on the bars.)

I did this because I was curious if I could use objects in the foreground to frame my subject but because the technology is simply masking out what it thinks is in the foreground I was left in the cold as the bars and Milla’s face were sort of awkwardly stitched together into what it thought was the subject.

So then I figured I would move on to more of a softball shot, she was at the top of the slide hanging about, being as cute as ever, and i simply snapped a few shots that I figured it could handle easily. Still again the masking attempts were confused by the busy leafy green background and the bars which left a number of weird looking spots the mask didn’t quite cut out properly (on the right below). This was compounded by the failure of this tech to fully measure the distance from the camera lens to different parts of the frame leaving bits of the playground bars in and out of focus in seemingly random fashion (also seen above) as the software simply made its beat guess at what it should do. There was also one shot that left strange artifacts on her face from what I assume was mismatched layers from the auto HDR attempt (on the left).

So I gave up taking photos and simply enjoyed taking orders from a giggling Milla as she pushed me down a slide I was way to big for and left the shots to check back on later.

Using the new camera in portrait mode during this short time in a park was a pretty quick and clear reminder that while it’s a cool idea at its heart, it is a marketing gimmick and in a way a more advanced set of the same concepts brought on since the dawn of apps being on the app store which layered effects and post processing onto photos to hide and enhance the shortcomings of the cameras physical limitations. I also tried to use a couple of simple objects on my desk at work, again to see what I could accomplish with this mode or not and if you look at the corners of the book and the area around the glasses you may notice what I would call a failure. Close… but not really.

All that said, I don’t honestly think there is anything at all wrong with these results. It’s a ton of fun to shoot with the device you always have in your pocket and the more tricks they add to make it more enjoyable the better. It’s just that, like with any camera and lens ever made, there are compromises to be made in the way they can be used to the best of their ability and in this case there are a few takeaways I have from my early experience shooting with this camera that I will leave you with today as well as a few more of my attempts at finding ways to utilize the portrait mode in ways that weren’t as jarringly meh.

In general, I think its best to stick with the standard photo mode using one lens or the other, you won’t get to play with that aperture placebo slider but you will have a more stable image to work with in post work. On their own, depending on the distance from the focused subject, etcetera, there is some genuine potential for taking great photos with this alone. The way I see it (and a lot of others out there from what I’ve seen online), the smart HDR features really are the most clever and useful part of the newest advancements, not the portrait mode. Also, Live Photo’s after the fact are a really charming way to go back and revisit passing memories.

The portrait mode is really quite fun but to use the effect in a natural, realistic way its best to use it in places where the subject is in fact the singular visual focus of the photograph meaning, don’t place anything between the subject and the camera and keep a good healthy distance from the background of the subject as well for the best results. Minimizing other details and objects surrounding your subject helps quite a bit too and it’s also worth noting that the more visual contrast between your focus point and the background the better. If you have a light object or light edge on your subject and the background is also white or brightly lit, chances are that masking algorithm is going to get confused. Contrast is key here. In essence, put your subject front at center without anything else to distract at the closest distance away from the camera before the phone starts bugging you to back off and snap away.

Coming from years behind the prime lenses this technique emulates, it’s pretty easy to spot impossible depth added into photos using this kind of faked approach by looking at surrounding objects such as tables, chairs and the like but, does that really matter? Sometimes, when its really obviously wrong but usually its just a side effect that most will never notice is off. I do wonder though why they bothered to try and label the depth effect as aperture settings because its so far from being anywhere close to accurate, why not just have a slider with “more” on one end and “less” on the other?

Last but not least, it’s important to remember which mode suits the circumstance best! Don’t miss a great opportunity for a shot fiddling with portrait mode! Keep that ready for when its best use case scenarios line up and the modes namesake need is in play, a simple, well lit portrait.

Was I expecting the iPhone XS to match a full bodied camera? No, of course not, but even still, I was hopeful it could be used in quick, fun, creative ways while out and about in day to day life. Their marketing hyperbole would love you to believe otherwise but as I have been reminded here today, no matter which camera you shoot with there will always be compromises to be made and the value you extract from your camera of choice will depend on the balance between fitting your needs and the cameras ability to embody them.

I have a feeling that down the line, after a couple more years of this tech developing, we will start to see smarter and smarter realization of the portrait masking concept and the lines between full bodied cameras and mobile ones will continue to (pardon my pun) blur. For now, I for one know that I’m going to have a lot of fun playing around with a new set of tricks available but keep my full bodied cameras close for when I really want to dig in and take full control of a scene.

Also worth noting, all of the above photos were shot on an iPhone XS and edited with the built in photos app which I have never actually used much for editing on iOS and while it’s a little fiddly and limited can generate some nice, quick edits and is worth playing around with if you have not dug into it already. Can come in handy for simple little tonal adjustments on a snapshot. I look forward to seeing what else I can capture with the camera down the line and if your curious to see more mobile photo shots, my instagram feed is usually only fed with images from the iPhone. See you there!

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Don’t Forget To Remember This

Does a photograph always need to tell a story? Are the only truly great photographs ones which change the world, record a decisive moment, or leave you with a sense of technical accomplishment? Is the practice and art of photography really so tightly defined that we must seek a deeper truth either in the philosophical understanding of its history or the urgency of its continued relevance in face of a seemingly larger audience?

There are some who would have you believe that the only moments worth capturing are those which make a statement, tell a story, or bear some variety of emotional weight. This, of course, is only partially true. Photography has grown bigger than its heritage. Every photograph has potential value if you are able to convince others of its worth. Its subjectivity is its biggest ally as it continues to grow exponentially.

Photography has no rules or boundaries, what bores one onlooker may fascinate another. Up until the past few years, the core concepts of capturing a photograph were based on its technical limitations. This has quickly changed in the digital world and so has the way many people view photography in general.

If you look closely you can start to see legions form, all of which make attempts to put a cap on what it takes to be a real photographer. There are the gear heads, addicted to an imaginary technical perfection; those who shoot their lives with purpose as they hold onto photography as a fine art; the film pushers, hanging on for dear life; the minimalists that shoot only with their iPhones out of principle, or because they are burnt out after years behind “expensive, cumbersome” cameras; and of course others who fancy their approach to be the one true path to photographic enlightenment.

I hope you realize I am making over-generalizations on purpose. Each is noble in its own right and no matter which part of the pie chart you squeeze into the fact remains that the core of photography is simple, immediate, and the same for all of us. No mater what our personal aspirations or beliefs are, we all share something in common, a way of life lead by the allure of capturing its beauty one frame at a time.

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If your camera is a weight on your shoulder that causes you to miss the truly great moments of your life while hiding behind a viewfinder, you may have some priorities to reconsider, or maybe your taste in gear at least.

For many of us, life and photography are not mutually exclusive, but this isn’t true for everyone, some people get mixed up with fancy cameras because they think they need one which will make their photographs look on par with that of a professional. This can be a successful venture if the person buying in is able to creatively use the full capabilities of a camera without it getting in the way of actually taking photos.

This assumed need is a symptom of wider issues at work, partially due to the marketing of early affordable DSLR bodies before we all had such great cameras in our mobile phones and partially because of the DIY revelations that so many of us collectively had when digital cameras started to flood our daily lives.

It all happened so quickly, and with such sweeping force that it left us in a world where the skills needed to be competent with photography have become increasingly ambiguous and the pressure to take photos that appear “professional” has left many spending nonsensical amounts of money on gear that they don’t particularly need or fully understand.

Photography is a privilege we are lucky to have, but it should never get in the way of our happiness, it should pull us toward it like a magnetic force. The secret to great photography has nothing to do with your philosophy, your choice of format, or your pedigree. Let your camera be your compass. Live first, then shoot.

If there is one thing I can thank my photography addiction for, it’s the wonderful experiences and places it has taken me in the spirit of capturing my life on film. A camera is always going to be just that, a camera. Be it an iPhone, DSLR, Leica, or a point and shoot plastic lomo camera. The best camera is the one that leads you to happiness. If having a camera in your life is a burden, it will continue to be one no matter the size or format.

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The challenges present in photography today are not in the devices we use to capture, it’s not in our approach, skill level, or what we think we need to create good photos; the problem today is in social pressure. Photography has quickly evolved in its short lifespan from revolutionary, to useful, to ubiquitous and full of expectation.

Like the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, or the houses we live in, our photographs are another vehicle to which the world judges us because the world expects to see proof of our beautiful, happy lives and we have grown to crave that attention. In this light, photography has grown vain in its old age.

We shoot, we shoot, and we shoot… and then we share. Sometimes to prove our good taste or creative ability, but also, in many cases, as a means to feel alive because we have generated this need to prove something to others and to ourselves.

It’s not quite vanity because it’s not as simple as that. It’s something entirely new to humanity that we are still trying to define and understand and it has fundamentally changed photography as we once knew it. So how do those of us still holding onto photography as an art form handle such pressures and threats of irrelevance?

Our theoretical perspective or personal vision is what separates us from every one else with a camera in their hands at any given moment. What happens then, when every photo of an apple starts to look like every other photo taken of an apple? They pile higher and higher until the very concept of photographing it becomes insignificant. Who gives two shits about your apple, or mine?

We have long passed the point of no return in this regard. The saturation of our visually recorded modern lives is unbearable at times. A smile is a smile, a tree is a tree, drama is drama. No matter the staggering beauty, cultural relevance, or technical prowess of a photograph, most eyes will only glance at our hard work for but a few short seconds unless there is something else to connect them to what they see such as a story, memory, or legend. A trend which foreshadowed the growing popularity and creation of photo essay platforms to combine writing with photography.

Our ability to appreciate beauty is being commodified, vacuum sealed, and turned into a competition. I have discussed this among these pages before. Our attention spans are delicate.

I imagine us as a flock of birds drifting through the sky. Thousands focused and flying in the same direction, then, without warning, a sudden and collaborative shift sends us soaring in a different direction as though we are all collectively lost and fighting just to keep up with everyone else in fear of being left behind. By breaking away from the flock we risk being left behind so more often than not we find ourselves soaring right back into line.

A quote from a fictitious newscast on the show ‘Louie’ just came to mind, “A small bird died today due to sadness. He was six years old.”

The solution here is obvious and most of us are already well aware of this tune, don’t shoot to share, shoot because you love what your shooting. Shoot to remember. Make your photographs in your own image and personality. Use photography to tell the story of you.

If it’s so easy then why is it so hard to break away from the flock? When you create something you are proud of you want to plaster it on the moon for the world to see. The validation a “like” gets us is a good old fashioned addiction. Deny it all you want, you know you love it, as do I. It’s validation, fuel for future fires.

Art evolves, always, as do we, so its important to adapt and create a mental space where you can challenge yourself to be great at what you do. Not by anyone else’s standards, but by your own. Make photography more about you and less about everyone else that may be watching.

Don’t forget what makes photography so great, the joyfulness it can bring and the vitality it gives those who get lost in the process.

Though we are faced with the odds stacked against us any time we pull out a camera, I still believe that there is room to use photography to better our lives and the lives of others. I only dig deep into the criticisms and fears of photography today as a means to pull it all to the surface so its easier to brush away.

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What then about motivation? It would be impossible to know where to start without inspiration from other photographers we admire. It’s good to trace the steps of those who captured their lives before us on film, fleeting and unknowing of the impact they may hold on the next generation of photographers. Understand their motives, learn from their goals, and find ways to use their creative spirit to explore your own. Learning the roots of this field is indispensable. Having a working knowledge of what makes a camera tick and what worked and didn’t work for others in the past is vital in any field and it’s no different here.

Your tool of choice is your choice. Spend money on a camera, or not, but don’t do it to feel more confident or to fit in. Buy a camera that suits your lifestyle. If you can spare the space at your side to carry an SLR and you feel this will help you somehow then go for it. If you have your hands full with diaper bags and toys then your iPhone may be all you could ever need. Personally, my go to suggestion these days are in the land of mirrorless cameras or for the more adventurous, a film body like an Olympus Om-2.

I chose some older film shots to go along with these opinions because I thought they were telling of the vein of thought I have been stuck in, one where format or approach is irrelevant in the long run, it all adds up into a greater narrative over time. The format and approach I have taken through the years has varied a fair amount but has always been a big part of defining the feelings I carried while shooting. I shot film when I feel a deeper connection to what I am shooting, I shoot digital when I simply want to remember. My compositions and developing have similar fingerprints in that they tell me a lot about how I felt when I made the photographs. Every click of the shutter for me is a moment worth remembering and it’s the memories that make photography so gratifying for me. I find so much to be thankful for when I look back through the images I have captured through the years.

Alright, well, enough for today. I started writing this a couple of weeks back after listening to a podcast about photography and it turned into a state of the union essay of sorts on how I see the art of photography these days. Part of me, in the back of my mind, thought I could nurse this into a small book but I’m not quite to that comfort level with my writing just yet and I feel so many of the ideas worth debating in this space have been discussed and directed to death and often wonder if I have enough fresh ideas to add to the conversation. So, till next time, may the wonder of photography to continue to take you places you never imagined. Get out there and shoot.

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Dust

Dust

For years now one of my biggest inspirations to start working on more print projects has been the enduring and creative output of Phil Elverum through his P.W. Elverum & Sun record label/shop. Most know him through his work as either Mount Eerie or The Microphones as he creates music that straddles calm frozen landscapes and roaring oceans. I saw him perform years ago at a free show in the lawn of a university and after casually picking up a cd that night I was hooked. His music and philosophy sunk into the emotional mess that I was at that time in my life and pushed me along in surprising ways.

I followed along as he broke away from K Records to pursue his own independent label through which he has released a number of albums of his own music and others. They are often paired with photography and art inside books, on oversized prints, or through other creative printing techniques. I have often looked on with a fond admiration that has left me with a number of ideas for projects that I am still patiently waiting to have time and resources to get off the ground.

Dust Inside

His most recent release is a book of photographs called Dust. Inside you will find a loose yet cohesive collection of images taken all over the world, no doubt during his travels as a musician. In the rear of the book you will find a list of the locations for each photograph as well as an addendum in the form of a smaller softcover book also full of photographs.

To describe his photographic work I feel the best place to start would be by examining his music and the emotions he explores therein. He has long examined loneliness and the joy of being found by getting lost and coming to terms with the ghosts that surround us from day to day. The beauty of his vision of the world is not always seen through rays of sunlight but through foggy landscapes where nature and man collide.

The photos in this collection are dark and seem to stray away from current trends in photography and processing offering a viewpoint all their own in a delicate way thats hard to put into words. Both candid yet well considered he explores dusk and the fine line between light and darkness. The places he explores seem nearly forgotten and un-noticed by most that pass them by with exception of a handful of beautiful landscape photos of mountains lost among the clouds and moments stolen with friends.

It’s a wonderful book that I’m excited to have in my collection. The cover is bound in a semi-course linen on which the cover and spine graphic were pressed with a somewhat rubberized texture using a process I have not come across yet as far as I can remember. The printing is gorgeous considering the challenges involved in printing these photographs, many of which are dark and low in contrast, a tricky combination to get right.

I can easily recommend that any fans of Phil’s other work not even think twice about picking up a copy and anyone who loves independently printed and distributed work as much as I do have a closer look. It’s a beautiful collection well worth your support. For more information and to order this book (and a few records while you’re at it)  visit his online shop here.

Dust Inside Dust Inside Dust Inside Dust Addendum

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Rockport

Well, mostly Rockport. Late last year YoungDoo and I took a road trip north during which our friend Stephanie took us from Boston to her hometown Rockport, MA for a day. It’s a beautiful little town on an island that I would have loved to have a little more time to explore. It was a chilly afternoon when we visited so our time walking around town was brief but I did manage to find a few shots I thought my underused Hasselblad would be perfect for.

I only recently had these developed because we realized that we had a small stockpile of undeveloped film tucked away in various corners of our apartment that were long overdue for their chemical bath. After noticing slowly declining quality from our local film lab we decided to give Richard Photo Lab a shot after seeing the endless praise they seem to get in all corners of the film loving internet and we were not disappointed. While color film has officially broken that threshold of being modestly affordable to shoot too casually, I still feel its worth the investment. These days I reserve my film use for either paid jobs or while I am traveling. My day to day shooting has been narrowed down to being 95% digital which is why you have not seen as much film work out of me lately.

Richard Photo Lab is unique among many labs in that they take extra care in the scanning process to be sure you get the highest quality available from your negatives after developing. Their scanning work lends itself to a slightly over exposed negative or high-key style of shooting because of their tendency to treat the darkest point in each frame as a dark grey rather than absolute black.  This leaves any noise in the film to be amplified  in areas you may have underexposed but leaves you with that now classic “film look” that many of us love so much.

Their tale tell colors and tone have been popularized by a number of different photographers, primarily in the wedding/portrait market, and they also offer a service that allows you to tailor your scan results to fit your needs. For an exhaustive look into the company and their scanning have a look here at this thorough piece by Johnny Patience.

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Classic

Instax 90 Fuji Neo Classic

I have had a soft spot for polaroids for a long time yet never invested a lot into the art of shooting with them. Years back I shot around with an old clunker of a Polaroid Impulse on which I had to tape the flash off to keep it from mucking up too many photos. It worked well enough but what I always thought I would end up with was an old foldable SX-70. Once Polaroid closed up shop I gave up on the idea and moved on with other film cameras instead.

I tried using an old Polaroid Land Camera for a while and still shoot with it from time to time but it’s far too bulky to be practical most of the time. I eventually bought into a Hasselblad system which I really love and was excited to discover had polaroid backs available. I took it on its first big adventure when I traveled through India with it and a Voigtlander R3M. While traveling I often pulled the polaroid back out not only for fun but as a means to give something back to those who I was photographing. Many children or shop owners looked at me and my strange looking cameras with a confused sideways glance because I was unable to show them the photos immediately after shooting. The polaroid enabled me to not only share a photo with them but leave a copy of one as well so even at times when there was an obvious language barrier I was able to show my good intention by sharing something in return for their time.

I also took the chemical covered side of the pull apart instant film and made crude image transfers into the journal I was carrying with me on the trip. Looking back on these I found that even when the transfers were only partially successful I was still left with a fuzzy stamp of the moment I captured there in my journal so despite giving away the photo I was still left with a memento which, like the idea of memory itself, is a slightly distorted view of the original but plenty to remember the moment later on.

Some of you may recognize the idea of sharing polaroids like this from photographer favorite, Zach Arias who recently took along a Fuji Neo Classic 90 on a trip to Morocco and used it as a means to break the ice with people he would meet and photograph. I bring all this up because after holding out as long as I could manage, I finally went ahead and bought one of these handy little Instax cameras myself.

I avoided Fuji’s Instax cameras for a long time because I always thought they were too goofy looking and all to clunky to drag around with me in my camera bag. This conception quickly changed when I noticed the little Neo Classic 90 come onto the market. They did away with all the goofiness of their previous models and made something that would fit right in with my day to day shooting habits.

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I was surprised to discover just how small the camera is. While I can’t shove it into my pants pocket, it easily slides into a jacket pocket or into the corner of a camera bag. While it is made from plastic the construction is sturdy in a way that you feel you can trust it. The design of the body seems well considered in that they included two shutter release buttons depending on how you want to shoot. The film itself lends itself to shooting a portrait composition but an additional button was added to make it easy to shoot landscaped as well.

While it is a fully automatic camera in regards to exposure there are a handful of shooting modes to help you get the most out of it including multiple exposure mode and one for bulb exposures. It also allows for basic exposure compensation by allowing you to choose one of four different settings, dark, standard, light, and extra light. I love this ability because while I love the bright annoying pop of a built in flash at times, it lets me have enough control over the exposure to shoot creatively without the flash getting in my way.

Sample One

Sample Two

The photos I have taken with it so far have been well balanced tonally and sharp though they do have that hazy instant film look which I realize not everyone is into. Having a collection of these little prints around is a charming way to look back through memories. There really is nothing quite like using real instant film in both the joy of watching it appear in front of you and having these singular prints around to enjoy. No amount of digital emulation will give you quite the same feeling as using actual film which by now most of us already know.

As long as interest holds strong I have hope that the cost of film won’t soar too much any time soon. At around $14USD for 20 exposures (or less depending on how much you buy at once) it’s more than reasonable unless you’re a particularly trigger happy kind of shooter.

I bought this for YoungDoo and I to share but its quickly becoming obvious that we will end up with two of these around because I am having way too much fun shooting with this joy of a camera. I can easily recommend one of these to just about anyone who enjoys making photographs, digitally or otherwise. If you have any questions about it I would be happy to answer them below.

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One Year

Most of you know by now that last February I started a project to share photos every day as a photographic journal, not limiting myself to one photo a day or any particular theme, I set off with the simple idea to capture and share my life as a means to closer examine and remember the day to day happenings in my life.

At this point, one year has passed and a limited run book is on its way featuring the images selected to share with everyone on Yesterday Was Only from day to day. Speaking of which, only one week left of pre-orders, that’s it! If there are any additional copies available beyond pre-order it won’t be many so if you would like a copy, now is the time!

In the process of finding nice enough photos of my life to share there were plenty that did not make the cut. Piles of photos that theoretically would never be seen by much of anyone at all unless you happened to be looking over my shoulder as I scroll though my Aperture libraries.

The thought crossed my mind toward the end of the first year of the project that maybe some of you would be interested in seeing the uncut version of my photographic output from 2013 so this is exactly what I have prepared in the most chaotic way possible, at 24 frames a second in a quasi stop motion video. (I tried 15FPS which allowed you to actually make out individual frames here and there but it drug on for too long)

The end result is a six minute video that you may or may not be able to sit through to the end without your eyes rolling into the back of your head. 8,212 frames in total it may be a bit on the indulgent side of my bright ideas but I figured why not. No scheme or theme like some self portrait photo a day guys pull off, this represents my entire photographic output for one year.

So, aside from a handful of personal photos and commissioned work that were omitted, have a look below to see every single photo I took last year. The good, the bad, the embarrassing, all of it.

A clearer, full definition version can be seen over on Vimeo.

Watching it is almost overwhelming for me in some ways. It represents one year of my life of which I only am allowed a finite amount of, so seeing it all compacted into this frantic rush of images makes it feel both small yet exponentially expanding. It’s like having my life shoved down through a funnel.

My reason for sharing this is not to show off a bunch of photos. Most of these were never meant to be seen, they are the test shots, the trash bin, the debris left on the cutting room floor. My reason for sharing is to illustrate how much, as a photographer, I don’t share with the world (and I know I’m not alone here). Photographers have this trick where we only share our best work, our best light, the brightest and most welcoming side our lives. There is a lot that gets brushed under the rug as we put our best foot forward to come across as a well adjusted, unique personalities on the web worthy of your time and attention.

There is a lot that gets embellished in the viewers translation of an image, what you see is not always exactly what existed in front of the photographer. The photographs we see and love represent the peak of what life is able to show us, sometimes to impossible levels of perfection. It’s often a showcase of almost imaginary moments even more grandiose than life can honestly give us. A photograph is not life itself, but a photo copy of it which this isn’t a bad thing, not at all. I think that photography, as a modern trend that has all but consumed our day to day lives, is a gift. Not particularly because we get inspired by the photos we see but because in the act of making photos we are driven to live better lives in order to capture and share amazing things.

Whenever you take the long way home, crawl into weird positions with your camera to get just the right angle to make a scene more unique, or prepare your food as beautifully as possible so it will look delicious when photographed, remember that photography drove you there. Just don’t forget to look beyond the viewfinder from time to time and soak in these beautiful things that pull you, camera in hand, along in life and on occasion set it aside and do something just for yourself from time to time.

I look back through these photographs and I remember just how many places I have seen not only because I happened to be in the right place at the right time, but because I took the time and energy to put myself in these scenarios in the name of finding great photos. I owe a lot to the fact that photography has taken me to such beautiful places in my life and sharing this passion with my wife, YoungDoo, has multiplied this magnetism ten fold as we explore together. For that, I am thankful.

The life of a photographer has long been thought to be one of adventure, travel, and privilege. It’s easy to look on with envy as you see other photographers that always seem to find such amazing places to photograph. There is no big secret to this though, these amazing places, people, and circumstances are all around us. The only way to turn these stories into our own reality is by getting out there and getting lost. Go ahead, buy a ticket, shut down this device and grab your camera, I’ll wait…

OM2

Retrofit

Has anyone stopped to think for a minute that “retro themed” cameras are actually not so retro at all? Outside of an obvious strength as a marketing tool. When you think of camera design there are a few obvious concessions that need to be made. You need to be able to see the image you are taking in order to properly frame it and, if you are even a modest hobbyist you are going to want some creative control over the exposure of the image. This means control over aperture, shutter speed, ISO and focus. For years manufacturers have buried these controls deeper and deeper into on screen menus in an effort to simplify the use of the camera.

Yet, as any creative photographer knows, these few simple controls are the bare minimum for any photographer to capture photographs in a controlled or unique way. If you at least have these basics at hand, the rest will fall into place and this is exactly what we are starting to see in many popular new cameras. A renaissance of easily accessible manual controls which also just happens to be the antithesis of the casual point and shoot nature of mobile phone cameras that have all but dominated the general public’s mind when it comes to photography in general.

It’s only natural for manufacturers to look back to the roots of the craft as a means to pull in photographers who crave more than what their mobile phone can offer them in regards to in camera creative control. That said, when you imagine a camera in your mind with full exposure control you imagine a box with knobs that allows you to adjust these key values quickly. In this regard, these supposed retro themed cameras are not retro, they are obvious. No touch screen or series of buttons will give you the same quick uncompromising access to control that simple task specific knobs do.

The first camera I remember offering what could be considered a “retro” body with a digital sensor was Epson’s R-D1 which was, from what I remember at least, not created as a marketing gimmick, but as an honest rangefinder with a digital sensor. To this day I would still love to see Cosina step back into the market and release a Voigtlander branded digital rangefinder with lens/viewfinder focus coupling that could simply use M-Mount lenses.

Once the RD-1 failed to pick up any traction in the market due to the stampede of DSLR bodies at the time we didn’t see anyone else pick up where they left off until Olympus showed up with their updated Pen series. The pen cameras are a hybrid of sorts, borrowing the form factor, size, and interchangeable lenses of older Olympus Pen bodies but moving previous manual control to menus and multi purpose knobs. It wasn’t until Fuji’s X series and to some extent, the Olympus Om-D that we started to see manufacturers realize the potential for more manual control on camera bodies again rather than less.

Manufacturers are banking on the essence of what made older cameras (many of the memorable ones at least) intuitive and usable for photographers to begin with. Hoping to catch the eye of those who are pursuing the art deeper than what the point, click, enhance emotion later habits of mobile phone photography by offering simple offerings with a more broad range of possibility. Just look at Nikons marketing strategy with the new Df. Their leading subtext pulls you into the advantages of using classic camera body design and how you can “Rediscover the joy of photography” with the simple manual control the body offers. Sure, may be marketing rhetoric but they certainly have a point.

A cynical mind may jump to the conclusion that it’s all a gimmick but the evolution of the modern camera will continue to putter along either way. I can only hope that simplicity will win in the end, both for the brilliant little point and shoots in our phones and for feature forward prosumer bodies and this hope is why I decided to stand up in support of this trend.

Speaking of which, have you seen the leaked photos of the upcoming new Fuji X body? Gorgeous. It’s why I decided to move to the Fuji X system, I feel as though they are the most connected to the essence of what makes photography great, not only by keeping up with the latest technology but offering bodies that focus on the essentials. Should be interesting to see how things continue to develop as the market navigates the smartphone camera onslaught.

Oh, Hello

Of Cameras

“Hello photographer, the report of my death was an exaggeration.

Yours,
Camera”

The latest ad from Apple about the usefulness of their iPads got me thinking, for whatever reason, about cameras, photography, and articles that pop up from time to time to declare ambitious statements about photography.

Another has popped up recently as I’m sure many of you reading have already come across, where another journalist decided to declare the end of the camera as we know it. However, until I see a mobile camera share the same level of technical precision with which one is able to capture the same emotional depth and clarity of their more sophisticated brothers, I am not buying into these baitish articles about how traditional photography is dead. Traditional meaning, in this case, using a device designed only to make photographs, not share them.

Is photography evolving? Sure. Is it becoming more accessible to anyone? In a way, of course, software is able to gloss over most any cameras shortcomings these days to some degree. But to declare it’s figurehead, the stand-alone camera, dead or even starting to die is a gross over-exaggeration. To me, these sentiments always come across as oversimplified, wishful attempts at making a statement about the field in general. It’s like stories I read last year about still photography becoming irrelevant in the face of such capable video camera stills, really?

In the early days of commercially available cameras there was not a lot to distinguish those created for the general public versus the professional. A camera was a camera, and advancements were made as a whole so big steps such as the introduction of 35mm film and smaller, easier to carry cameras were obviously created to spread the technology to a wider audience by making the process more convenient.

As time went on a dividing line started to appear between cameras made for consumers versus those designed for professionals. Cameras such as the first Olympus Pen series cameras in the 60s or later the Minox 35 EL in the mid 70’s paved the way for the modern consumer friendly point and shoot which slowly but surely became more and more capable until the boom of digital swept us all off our feet.

The race for the smallest or most capable and/or convenient camera is nothing new, it’s history repeating itself and all the hyperbole about how no one will need or want any cameras other than their mobile phones? It’s nonsense.

In many ways, the landscape today is no different than it was in 1975, only the technology has changed. There will always be the simple, snapshot cameras that anyone can pick up and use and there will always be surprisingly great photos that come out of those simplified little cameras. Nothing has changed here, it’s just that the act of sharing the photos has changed and of course that is no small matter.

It’s not the personal satisfaction of making photographs and sharing them with others that is changing, it’s the expectation of the end viewer that is constantly shifting as the act of sharing grows exponentially. The easier it becomes, the more people we find interacting with the medium, and with mass adoption we see a lower point of entry in general and thus connoisseurs of the craft are born of a different mindset and existing hobbyists attempt to fold into a new way of approaching their favorite hobby or profession in fear of being left behind.

Photography will continue to be a popular and increasingly simple way to communicate and tiny digital cameras attached to our smartphones will surely continue to grow as the dominant source of output but I have this funny feeling that I’m not the only one out there who isn’t ready to toss their cameras into a shoebox in the back of their closet.

There is nothing uncomfortable or strange about getting back from a vacation and realizing your iPhone photos are looking good enough for your needs. You’re still taking the same photos, just with a smaller camera and in the process realizing your style and photographic voice doesn’t require any gear beyond a point and shoot. There is nothing wrong with that, obviously. But it is no reason to get on a soap box and claim the camera is dying. The truth is far from this claim. It is simply evolving, as it always has, and the ebb and flow of those who want creative control in camera vs those who get enough creative inspiration from adding software filters will continue to fluctuate in time.

Personally speaking, using a camera is not simply a means to reach an end for me. Just because it would be easier for me to shoot using my iPhone’s camera doesn’t mean that I should. Photography is a force larger than one style and one lens can be held responsible for and all the software tricks in the world could not mimic the emotional fulfillment and gratitude I have for photography in a traditional sense. The future may lay with a digital dominance and that is perfectly fine, but the tools used to capture light in a creative way by passionate photographers can not all boil down into one automated click of the button.

That said, this is by no means a dismissal of mobile photography or the direction it is continuing to take photography in general. I myself love shooting around with my iPhone as much as the next guy and support the technology that it propagates.  The future of photography is great, I’m positive of that and no matter what you choose to believe I can’t in good conscience stand by and let a fellow wandering photographer looking to plant flags in modern trends try to sell you snake oil. Not when it’s a subject I am so passionate about. Even with a passionate mind one can still manage to lose sight of the sun.

Hello camera, you’re looking good for your age! Still as capable and challenging as you ever were. Let’s go see what light we can find today.

Best,
John

Waiting

Admiration

Tell me, how much is a photo worth to you. How often do you feel so connected to a photograph that you come across online, on instagram, flickr, Tumblr, anywhere really, that you come back to it a second time. In the age of being bathed in images day in and day out you can’t help but get a little numb to what you see scroll by in front of you. Mass photo sharing sites are the worst for this epidemic. Instagram? Sure you may scroll along endlessly and double tap photos till your hearts content but what does this process mean to you personally? What images speak to you on an emotional level?

Some say portraits are more engaging, for others it’s street photography or photojournalism. No mater what type of photography really tugs at your interest I am really honestly curious when the last time you went back to look at a photograph a second time after coming across one you enjoyed and more importantly, why did you come back to it? When you tap a like or favorite button do you do it because you want to see the photo again or perhaps is it more a means to let the photographer know you exist and appreciate their work? Most of us have never stopped to ask ourselves these seemingly basic questions.

Personally, as I have mentioned in the past, I am typically quite stingy when it comes to the use of the favorite buttons on various social photo sharing sites. I don’t know about you but I put a real value on the photos that I choose to call favorites online. I didn’t always do this but over the past year or two I have grown increasingly picky. This is because I decided to become much more aware of my own taste and made a conscious decision to be more constructive with my online viewing habits.

To be honest, and I don’t think that I am alone here, during any given day I am likely to come across around a dozen or so photos that I stop for more than a single second to appreciate. I have seen so many photos at this point that I can quickly read into them and it is rare that I find a photograph that holds my attention for long. Many photos that seem delightful on the surface are only that, a surface, with a pretty filter applied to it to gloss it up a bit, images that only exist to further a trend, to collect their due and fade into the noise. Even beautiful, majestic scenes seemingly pulled from a fairy tale are ripe to fade into obscurity if they don’t hold anything that truly sets them apart.

Recently the thing that stops me from scrolling right on by is when I see a photograph that makes me wonder what is just outside of the frame. I find my favorite photographs to be ones that do not simply hold a moment in time, tidy, obvious, poetic, and ready to be easily digested, but ones which leave me wondering why I am so drawn to them. Photos are inherently obvious yet the photographer has the power to capture the things he sees in a way that invokes curiosity. Even family photos can hold this quality. I think the best word to describe this characteristic is a photograph is its level of honesty, something I have talked about before among these pages.

Sure, some photographs try so very hard to tell us a story within a fraction of a second, and so many writings glorify this ideal of the decisive moment but fact of the matter is that the story behind a photograph is but a simple ruse, an illusion. A photograph is not telling you a story, it’s your imagination that is telling it to you. The story is an assumption and we all have slightly different perspectives when it comes to these assumptions based on so many variables. Our emotional connection to the subject matter, our education and background, our expertise in taking photographs ourselves, it all folds up into a neat and tidy thought within a fraction of a second and judgement is made based on these personal assumptions. The most successful photographs are able to find common ground across a wider scope of possible assumptions.

Many of us view photographs with an absent, distracted mind as we play into social networking games and click through like buttons as though it’s advancing us through levels of camaraderie and mutual respect for others out there shooting. Photography to many is digested simply as a means to climb the ladder and that’s a real shame but there is no way to avoid it outside of, as a viewer, knowingly distancing yourself from these habits.

Therefore, as photographers, the only way to stand out is to break away from the zobification of our shooting habits in the same way. The best process for discovering your true voice behind a camera is to ignore the noise and create photos from outside of your network bubble. Following trends is all fine and good until they shift and you’re stuck constantly trying to keep up with whats next. Thats no way to be noticed because your photos will always lack honesty.

In shooting outside of what comforts us, beyond what we feel others expect us to produce online we can free ourselves from the assumption that we must produce photographs that get in line with the others we so mindlessly flip through day in and day out. It is perfectly normal to feel inspired by other’s beautiful work but it’s vital to ask yourself WHY you enjoyed it as much as you did and rather than duplicate your favorite photos and styles, try instead to find ways to share your unique viewpoint on the life you see around you in a way that represents the honesty of the moments you capture. Of course it is impossible to completely ignore other photographers who inspire us, it’s a natural evolution, but we can at least do our best to fight through what we think people would expect of us and create images that radiate with life and mystery like only we can see it.

As viewers, the next time you choose to give a nod of approval, take an extra few seconds to sort out exactly why it is that you like the photo so much. It only takes a moment and getting into the habit will lead you to become more self aware both as a viewer and as a photographer.

To whom it may concern,

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

DO:

• Enjoy the images! It’s a labor of love, thanks for your support!
• Share fiftyfootshadows.net with friends.
• Send me a quick mail if you are interested in using an image for commercial or personal use other than wallpaper.

DON’T:

• Post desktops elsewhere online.
• Share links directly to images.
• Pass them around in mass.
• Make prints.
• Use images for web banners or graphics. (send a quick email to ask, I’m pretty easy going about this with permission.)
• Use them in commercial work.

If you help me out with these I will be able to keep doing what I love to do. Thanks again, really, for your support and understanding. -J

——

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Use your best judgement and we will get along just fine.

Thank you for your understanding and support!

John Carey (curator, owner)

fiftyfootshadows.net

fiftyfootshadows@gmail.com