It can be easy to forget how much we rely on modern comforts in our day to day life. When I toss a few essentials into a backpack and head off into the woods I give up some of those niceties and in turn have a great opportunity to re-tune my assumption that we are dominant among nature because of our ability to overcome it by being smarter than it is. Comfort can be overrated at times, the concept distorts our expectations based on what we think we need to be happy. The simplicity of camping and being away from modern living refreshes my state of mind. I wish I had time to get out more often! The moment I saw this sign swallowed whole by a tree I was reminded that nature has a way of quickly forgetting our interfering hands as it flows through time without us and I figured some of you may enjoy this subtle reminder as well. Enjoy!
Some of you may or may not know that I have long been associated with music, both in its creation and amplification as an audio engineer. My technical prowess revolves around concert audio but my heart lives in the music itself. While I have not actively made any music in years now I have slowly rekindled a love for playing out as a DJ.
In the past year I have started to play around town with a couple friends of mine who are fellow vinyl junkies. We get together with a few crates of records and trade back and forth through the night. On our recent weekly gig we started to invite others to bring out their favorite records to play as well which has added a lot of diversity and community to the typically singular act of DJing.
While digital DJs have taken over the landscape (for obvious reasons), there is something about thumbing through a small crate of records that I have fallen for. It’s not about being different, or being hipster about it. This is about an honest love for vinyl and music and the act of sharing with others what I love so much. No tricks, no set BPM, no theme, just unpredictable fun.
With this edition of 50ft Radio I wanted to share a few tracks that I have enjoyed playing out recently as well as a few that I don’t have on vinyl but wanted to share here anyhow. It’s an hour of laid back dance music for the end of the summer, Hope you guys find something to enjoy.
I know my most popular mixes tend to be my ambient, calm ones and I’m happy to say, I have a new one well on its way already and I will get that out in time for the calm days of fall. Should be a good one, its shaping up nicely.
On a technical note, I am back to using an Advanced AAC file with chapters, artwork, and artist names for reference. I will continue to use this format until its no longer supported. May as well!
Respect and support the artists showcased here! If you love a song then head over to your favorite online shop or streaming service and pick up a copy for yourself. To grab volume 12 simply click here. Spoilers here.
There are a handful of records in my collection that somehow never get old, ones that manage to feel welcome even after years of listening. One of those old standards in my book is M. Wards Transistor Radio, which I put on for the first time in a while last night. This record and the one that followed, Post-War, marked a turning point for M.Ward as he slowly gained a bigger following which reached a tipping point as he started to release music as ‘She & Him’ with Zooey Deschanel.
Transistor Radio is still my favorite album from Ward because of it’s eclectic mix of folk/singer songwriter ideas and experiments in sound/recording. It has a bit of a distant, otherworldly quality about it at times as it swings gently along. It is an easy recommendation and would fit nicely into any collection. It was released on Merge Records in 2005 but can be found on most modern streaming services or on vinyl through a bit of digging around online or at your local record shops.
During a recent camping trip, I re-connected with my old desire to shoot nature for the first time in a long while. Some days I feel like I have photographed it enough for a lifetime but being out in the woods away from the city it’s hard not to get inspired. On days like these my eagerness to shoot slowly builds. Every time I discover something beautiful to capture I get more excited and coming across challenging spots like this one leaves my head spinning with ideas.
With these photos I knew I wanted the water to have some personality by using a slower shutter speed but did not have a tripod on me so I made due with a balanced shooting position and steady hands. Despite the focused details in the moss and stone being shaky I still like the way they turned out.
One of my favorite parts of shooting is quickly weighing compromises when approaching a scene based on the natural light, gear on hand, and time constraints. Much of photography is based on compromise and an understanding of the tools being used and the puzzle is always so much fun to solve. So, as always, I hope you guys enjoy these as much as I enjoyed taking them. More soon!
Update: I found a little video clip recorded while I shot this spot, thought it was fun so I tossed in some music and posted it below. The audio is a bit louder than I meant to have it, just so you know. Funny, I remember shooting this and nearly slipped down the rock as I followed the water down. There was a split second that I considered letting it happen just to see what the video would look like but quickly reconsidered and balanced myself back out.
There is a great local arcade here in town with a rotating cast of pinball tables among other old arcade machines. While I have never been all that good at the game I have always loved the mechanical wonder of a good pinball machine. I shot these casually one night and thought their abstract, bokeh filled nature would make a nice wallpaper for any fans of the game. Enjoy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Back with another great guest desktop for everyone! This week we have an image from Dan Hawk, a photographer from the great city of Portlandia. He reached out to me showing interest in sharing a photograph in the guest series and after pouring through the beautiful photographs on his site I found this gem which he was kind enough to share with everyone as a wallpaper.
At first glance a straightforward long exposure of a beach at sunset caused me pause when I noticed the blurry outline of one of his children in bottom of the frame. The ghost like figure gives it a personality and vitality that I really love. As you know, I enjoy a story or a few thoughts about an images creation and Dan had this to say about the photograph:
“My wife and I took all three of our kids to Maui this year and this image is from their first Hawaiian sunset after a long day playing in the ocean. I tried to make it down to the water for sunset every evening as it seems so wrong to miss them. I made a couple of long exposure pictures that evening which turned out pretty good, but then my son decided to jump in the frame on this one and it became the keeper. I tried to get him to hold still, but he’s 9, so it was a lost cause. When making photos, I hope my images represent the way it felt to be there and this one succeeds for me.”
A story that rings true of some of the worlds best photographs, ones of serendipity and adjusting expectations to fit the circumstances to discover something even better.
Dan also had this to say of his technical approach; “I made this image with a single frame taken with a Sony NEX 7, the 18-55 Zoom lens (which is pretty good stopped down at 18mm) and a Neutral Density Filter so I could use a longer shutter speed. This is a ten second exposure at f/20, using a tripod. I’m usually more of a prime 35mm equivalent shooter, but I find myself reaching for the wider angle of the zoom for these big ocean sunsets. I generally shoot in RAW which gives me access to the broad dynamic range of light that the sensor is recording. All of my editing is done in Lightroom.”
You can find more of his work and follow along with future photos and stories here.
Changing things up with this object shot using a different approach this time around. I took the lens of of my X-Pro1 and messed around with a bit of “free-lensing,” a technique I had no idea had a name, more or less a following, until recently. I remember the first time doing this years ago with my 5D, I wanted to see if I could force an old pentax lens to work with the camera without having any kind of conversion mount. My only option was to manually hold the lens out in front of the camera. At the time it felt like nothing more than a novelty, something new to mess around with to get abstract images so I was surprised to see many people use it seriously.
At any rate, the technique is certainly fun to play around with if you are ever looking for something new to try. It works especially well with mirrorless cameras because you don’t have a mirror to contend with! Just be sure to do it in a clean environment where you don’t run the risk of filling up your sensor with dirt or dust.
While traveling in Inda way back when, I made a point not to buy too many mementos, I had only taken one small backpack with me after all and couldn’t spare a lot of room. There were a few things that I did end up buying though as a way to remember my time there, one of which was this Ganesh statue which I believe I bought while in Pushkar from a place that sold their statues all by weight. I chose one somewhere in the middle and it has been hanging around my apartment ever since.
I decided to include three variations on the shot, one of which has a nice healthy flare from all the light pouring into the sensor as I snapped it.
Finding new places to shoot is not always as easy as discovering a new abandoned landscape and relying on its unexplored decay as the focus of a photograph. Sometimes it takes the right set of circumstances to make something of it, such as the flowers that serendipitously appeared here, covering this piece of land one grey summer afternoon.
Which reminds me of something I was thinking about recently regarding patience as a virtue in the art of photography. While some days subject matter, interesting compositions, and beautiful light comes easy and obviously, there are times when nothing shows its face and rather than get down about not finding anything that stands out its important to realize that sometimes we have to be patient in the search. This is one thing that has really sunk in after pushing myself to shoot and share at least one photo every day for well over a year.
I often feel down when I go a few days without shooting a photograph but lately I have been quick to remember that I can’t always force a good photograph out of a day, especially busy ones with repudiative landscapes. As long as I don’t turn off my internal photo radar, I have started to let myself relax more when approaching photography from day to day. Its lead me to focus on shots that I want to take rather than ones I feel I have to take, if that makes any sense. Sure, life is short, but whats the rush?