Friday, August 26, 2011

Capturing or Interpreting?

A lot of people who have a camera in their hands attempt to capture what is around them: the pretty scene, the silly child, the playful dog, etc. They want to show their friends and family what they saw as a way of sharing their experience.

Almost all of those pictures fail to relay the experience successfully. One often hears, "You really had to be there."

Photography is a form of non-verbal communication. The images themselves speak to the viewer.

Understanding photography means understanding communication. What are you trying to say? Is the viewer getting that message?

With verbal communication, if the person you are talking to didn't understand what you said or didn't understand what you said in the way you intended, then the communication failed. You either walk away with misunderstandings, confusion, and perhaps frustrations, or you state whatever you are trying to say in another way so that the person might better understand.

With photography, if the viewer doesn't understand what you are non-verbally stating through your image or doesn't understands it in the way you intend (perhaps they think they understand, but it could actually be much different than what you are really trying to say), then your image failed. The viewer is left confused, bored, maybe frustrated--certainly not moved, inspired or awed.

With a photograph, the non-verbal communication you make is permanent. Unlike verbal communication, you cannot restate whatever you are trying to convey without making an entirely new image. Whatever your photograph says cannot be changed. So it is important to non-verbally make as clear of a statement as possible.

If you are simply capturing the scene or moment that is in front of you, then you are a snapshooter, and your images will look like snapshots. Snapshots rarely communicate anything meaningful, because little or no thought is put into them. A thoughtful image will at least communicate something.

If you don't place thought and care into the photograph, then it will show. And if you do place thought and care into the photograph, then it will show.

The way to successfully non-verbally communicate through photography is to interpret what you see. Yes, you must first interpret the scene or moment in your mind before you can do so on film or digital capture. You have to ask, "What about this or that?" You have to dive a little deeper and understand what made you want to photograph it in the first place. What about the pretty scene? What about the silly child? What about the playful dog?

If you don't even know what you are trying to say or are unsure of what you want to say, how is the viewer supposed to understand it? If you speak nonsense or gibberish, you will never successfully communicate to the listener, and if your photograph is nonsense or gibberish, the viewer will only see nonsense and gibberish.

It is only after you know exactly what you want to photograph and why that you can go about composing an image that best speaks whatever it is you want to say.

Cheap Tripods

I've talked before that most photographers don't need anything better than an inexpensive tripod. Most cameras nowadays have image stabilization, allowing the photographer to use longer shutter speeds without tripods (I've successfully used as slow as 1/8 handheld). Even if you do require a tripod for your shot, almost all cameras (new and old) have self-timers and many newer cameras are remote capable, so as long as you are not touching the camera when the shutter is open and as long as there is not a strong wind, there is no need for a heavy, sturdy tripod.

In fact, as long as you have a hard, flat surface, you don't even need a tripod for long exposures.

I've been using a tripod that I purchased from Walmart for $29.99 over five years ago, and it has worked well. It's light and compact, which (for me) are the two most important features. It's adjustable in many ways and even has a built-in level.

Even so, it has started to show some wear-and-tear (mostly because I throw it around and don't take good care of it). The time to replace it has been slowly approaching.

I recently found a really good deal on a cheap tripod, and decided that now is the time to replace the Walmart special.

Right now Amazon has the Dolica 62-inch Proline Tripod on sale for $39.99 and even includes free shipping (at least the shipping was free for me, it may be location specific). Regular price is $65.99 (or $59.99 if purchased direct from the Dolica). That's a heck of a deal for what is probably the best tripod you can get for under $100.

So if you've been thinking about purchasing a new tripod, now's the time.

Monday, August 22, 2011

September 2011 Issue of Arizona Highways Magazine

If you haven't picked up the September 2011 issue of Arizona Highways magazine, then do so. It is packed with great photographs. Even if you don't live in Arizona or have never even been to the state, if you love photography then you'll love this issue.

Arizona Highways magazine has a long history of great photography, with Ansel Adams being the most famous contributor.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Daniel Amos In Concert

Daniel Amos is one of the all-time greatest American rock groups.

Two bands that have sited Daniel Amos (also known as DA) as an influence are U2--one of the most successful (and copied) rock bands ever--and Collective Soul, who recorded four multi-platinum records in the 1990's.

Other lesser known artists who claim influences from DA are the indie group The Ocean Blue, multi-instrumentalist Phil Medeira, pop/rockabilly singer Crystal Lewis (who had some short-lived commercial success at the end of the 1990's), the Grammy-nominated alternative band The Choir, Canadian singer Carolyn Arends, guitar virtuoso Phil Keaggy, the indie band The Throes, singer/songwriter/producer/film director Steve Taylor, the punk band Scatered Few, the alternative band Fold Zandura, the alternative/indie band Starflyer 59, the rock band The 77s, and a number of other musical artists.

Award-winning ventriloquist/comedian/singer Terry Fator and award-winning animator/author/voice-over-actor/musician Doug TenNapel have also named Daniel Amos as an influence.

All of that is to say that Daniel Amos has had an important impact on the music industry (and some other arts), even though most people have never even heard of them.

And it's really a shame that most people have not heard of DA nor have had the pleasure of listening to their music. Since 1975 they've been recording quality, creative songs with deep, meaningful lyrics. Much of their music has been considered ahead-of-it's-time and sometimes expermintal in nature.

This is not a band that followed.

Daniel Amos just completed their first tour in 10 years. The final stop was Phoenix, Arizona on August 13th, and I was honored and priviliged to attend. About 150 poeple showed up (although I did not count, that's just a guess) and a local band called NovaLux (more on them in a future post) opened the concert.

It's possible, although I hope untrue, that this was their final performance together. Whether it was or wasn't, it was indeed a great show and I photographed the event to share here.

You can click on the photographs to view a larger version.

Guitar And Drum
Shutter 1/13 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 80mm
In post-processing a made four different versions of the same photograph by adjusting the color curves, and then placed them together on one image.


Green Triangles
`1/125, f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 90mm
I probably should have used f8 instead of f5.6 for optimal sharpness, but the difference is minor so I did not worry. I also could have used a lower ISO to reduce the digital noise, but (again), there's not a huge difference so I did not worry. But if I had used f8 and ISO 800, the shutter speed would have been 1/30, which would have been fast enough to prevent camera shake (with this camera, anyway). Ideally that is what I should have used, but the image would not have been noticeably different than the one above.
 In post-processing I inverted the colors, so this is a type of "negative" (it would print "normal" on reverse photo paper); however, I like this version better, which has a "lightness" to it. The triangles were purple with a dark background.
 
Greg On Guitar
1/15 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 80mm

Paul, Ed and Greg
1/25, f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 55mm
Using a slow shutter speed allowed me to capture the movement of the bass player.

Terry On Vocals, Jerry On Guitar
1/30, f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentak K-x, 90mm

The Mad Scientist
1/15 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 90mm
I used a stipple effect in post processing to make the image look more "grainy".

Bass Button
1/30, f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 90mm
Using layers in post-processing, I kept the DA tour botton in color while converting the rest of the image to black-and-white.

Moving Hand
1/13 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Smile
1/25 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 90mm
I used a stipple effect to make the image more "grainy".

Daniel Amos
1/13 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 55mm
Note that the slow shutter speed shows the movement of the musicians.

Rock Music
1/25 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 75mm

Paul On Bass
1/50, f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Jerry and Terry on Vocals
1/20 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Flesch In Motion
1/10 (handheld!), f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Fuzzy Glow
1/10 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 90mm
Sometimes a little camera shake can make an interesting image.

Rock 'n' Roll
1/20 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Drums
1/25 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 90mm
In post-processing I used a stipple effect to give the image a more "grainy" look.

Endless Summer
1/50, f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Terry Taylor and Guitar
1/15 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Terry And Elvis
1/10 (handheld!), f5.6, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Playin' Guitar
1/20 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Paul Averitt
1/80, f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Bass, Drum, Voice
1/50, f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 48mm
Inverted the color to make a negative.

Terry Taylor on Vocals
1/25 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Black Rock
1/15 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 90mm
I inverted the color and then changed the image to black-and-white.

Energy
1/30, f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Crazy Bass
1/50, f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Jerry of Daniel Amos
1/40, f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 80mm

Jerry Chamberlain
1/30, f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Negative Rock Music
1/40, f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 65mm
I inverted the color to make the image look like a negative.

Ed McTaggart On The Drums
1/25 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Guitar, Bass and Drum
1/25 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 55mm
I inverted the colors then turned the image black-and-white.

Greg Flesch
1/25 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 75mm
Again, I used a stippling-effect tool in post-processing to give the image a more "grainy" look.

Following Ed
1/80, f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 75mm

Terry and Paul
1/50, f6.3, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 60mm

Bass Emotion
1/30, f6.3, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Vocals
1/60, f6.3, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 90mm
Note that the higher shutter speed froze most of the movement while the slower shutter in the previous photograph shows the movement.

Harmony
1/40, f6.3, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 55mm

Guitars and Drum
1/40, f6.3, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Electric Blue
1/30, f6.3, ISO 3200, Pentax K-k, 90mm
Again, I inverted the colors to make a "negative". Doing this made the image go from dark and moody to light and cheerful. Not something I'd want to do with every photograph, but it's interesting when used sparingly.

Two Fingers
1/60, f6.3, ISO 3200, Pentex K-x, 90mm

Terry Playin' Guitar
1/13 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 800, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Terry and Jerry
1/13 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 800, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Jerry, Terry and Paul
1/15 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 800, Pentax K-x, 60mm

Terry Scott Taylor
1/8 (handheld!!), f5.6, ISO 800, Pentax K-x, 90mm
I used a shutter speed of 1/8 to capture the movement of Terry's hand. 

Greg's Guitar
1/13 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 90mm
This is both a color and black-and-white image.

Bass Guitar and Drum
1/15 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 55mm

Terry's Guitar and Ed's Drum
1/13 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 80mm

Guitar And Amp
1/13 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 90mm

Terry Taylor on Vocals
1/25 (handheld), f5.6, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 90mm
Again, in post-processing, I made four different versions of the same photograph by adjusting the color curves, then I combined them into one image.

Daniel Amos is:
Terry Taylor - vocals and guitar
Jerry Chamberlain - guitar and vocals
Greg Flesch - guitar
Ed McTaggart - drums and vocals
Paul Averitt -  bass and vocals

Note: Tim Chandler is DA's bass player, but was unavailable for this tour. Paul filled in nicely.