Saturday, 19 July 2008

The Evolution of a Photographer

The LaughJanaka Rodrigue posted an intriguing thread over on Flickr a while ago called "Evolution of your photographic abilities". I read the thread just after the second of two paradigm shifts I have had in my photography. Both of these occurred in the last two years, so the title stuck with me and I have been thinking about it quite a bit. This post is an introspective look at how my shooting has evolved over the years.

I have been taking photographs since I was 12, having picked it up from one of the teachers at my school. Kevin Major (who has since gone on to be a fab author) not only took photographs for the school, he processed the film and made prints in a small darkroom just off from his classroom. I starting shooting with my Mom's Voigtlander rangefinder that used a 126 format cassette. She kept me supplied with film and got me every issue of Petersen's Photographic for the next 3 years. Kevin occasionally let me use his darkroom so I could try the 'magic' myself. The bug took hold and I've been shooting ever since.

The ThinkerI began to take pictures of family get-togethers such as the one above, trying to capture "decisive moments" like Henri Cartier-Bresson. I also started shooting abstracts and landscapes and fell in love with "Tri-X", which let me highlight graphic elements more easily than colour. The result is an archive of of my life and I continue to shoot "postcards" of my life as a primary passion.

I went digital only two years ago and I was not happy with the result. I found I suddenly could not "see". To try and get beyond my mental block, I attended a workshop by Freeman Patterson, who I consider to be right up there with Ansel Adams as one of the greats in nature photography.

Holy ArchesFreeman's week-long session with Andre Gallant in nearby New Brunswick gave me my first paradigm shift. Feedback from Freeman forced me to revisit what I knew about composition and Andre's comments got me to rethink everything I knew about light. Thanks to digital technology, I was able to shoot over 10,000 images in the following year, all the while working on getting my compositional eye back and improving my understanding of light.

As I was researching photographic lighting on the web, I stumbled across a new blog called Strobist that Baltimore Sun shooter David Hobby had started. David was blogging about using off camera flashes and using cheap modifiers to creatively light photographs. I found the most insightful post by David to be this one about "The Lighting Journey". I think the title should really be "The Photography Journey", since light is such a fundamental part of our art.

Besides the zen-like counsel, I've learned a lot about off-camera lighting from David's blog, his new DVDs, and from the advice from fellow 'strobists' on the Flickr group. It was through the Flickr group that I learned Tanya was organizing a lighting workshop in Halifax featuring Don Giannatti.

As good as blogs and DVDs are, nothing beats hands-on experience with a guy who knows his lighting. I picked up lots of tips and continued to be challenged on what I thought I knew about lighting. Don brought Briana along to the workshop (they also attended the strobist meet-up we had the day before his workshop). Briana, along Dominque, Josh, and my friend Tara were very patient posing for us as Don took us through a variety of lighting situations (both with flash and with "found" light).

I was quite happy with the learning and the shots I was able to take during the session and I close off this article with my last shot and an example of my second photographic paradigm shift.

The Shoe On the Other Foot

The photo is a continuation of a theme of "role reversal" that I started the day before. I had suggested that for our group shot we reverse things and the models pose taking a photo of the shooters posing for the models. When we were shooting Dominque and Josh down at the Halifax waterfront, I decided to try the same thing and play up the wonderful colours in Don's shirt and Dominique's dress. I knew I could get some nice contrast with a grey background by dropping the ambient portion of the lighting.

Make no mistake, I had a lot of help in this image. Dominque and Josh caught on right away and posed with very little direction from me and I was able to take advantage of the lighting Don had already set up. But this photograph is a life's journey distant from the first photo above.

The paradigm shift is this: when I take postcard shots, I use timing and composition to interpret what I see. The last image is created from scratch. Instead of being an interpreter, I am a storyteller. Working with models or taking portraits means you have to think about where to put people, how they should pose, and then create the light to illuminate the scene.

Thanks to Mom for encouraging me to start this journey and to Tricia who has encouraged me to continue.

A slide show of my shots from the lighting workshop are here.


Sunday, 13 July 2008

Halifax June Strobist Meet-up

A few photographers got together to try some off camera lighting, Strobist style. I had arranged to have some models from Model Mayhem participate on a "time for CD" basis, but they didn't show up. I had been warned that this would probably happen, so I asked three friends (Tara, Lindsay, and Angie) to step in front of the cameras. Don (Wizwow) Giannatti was in town to run a lighting workshop and he and Briana joined us, which gave us 8 shooters and 4 models. Trish and Sheryl (Kevin's wife) came along to help.

I had been worried about rain and what to do in that case, but the weather turned out to be wonderful and we were able to start shooting right after breakfast at the Bluenose Restaurant downtown. We paired off with two photographers shooting one model and headed down to a parking lot that had lots of graffiti on the walls. I spent the morning working with Lindsay and I was quite happy with the shots I got.

Briana 4We then went to the Public Gardens and switched people around. I shot with Don and Briana. I was looking for an "action" shot, hoping to freeze her with strobe lights. I took a lot of shots and even with Don's guidance, only one came close to what I was looking for. Most were blurry, so I think the problem was my shutter speed was too low and let too much ambient light in. While I regrouped, Don took Bri and the lights over to the seats behind the bandstand for a few shots. He knows his light well enough to just drop the stands down in place and start shooting.

Briana 1He only chimped after he had taken quite a few shots and since he had quite a few to review, I hopped up on one of the benches and shot looking down on Bri. Ever the pro, as soon as she saw I was going to shoot, she posed and I love the result. Both this shot and the previous one are B&W because when I regress in my photography, it is straight back to the womb -- I can only see in terms of lines and tones until I get my head back in the game.

We then wandered over to a bank of trees where Don once again just dropped the stands down in place and started shooting. I took a couple of frames at the same specs and sure enough, the exposures were dead on! Don had Bri, who is a dancer, try a few dance moves while shooting her from below. That lead to an embarrassing "wardrobe malfunction" so Trish lent her a top to wear. You'll see in the second pic that her top is now black instead of white! When my turn came, I continued with the theme of "jumping", which lead to the second "wardrobe malfunction"!

Briana 3

Tara 2After we regrouped, everyone agreed it was past time to eat, so we walked up the road to the Saege Bistro for some wonderful food and even better desserts! Following a food intermission, Angie had to leave, but the rest of us went out by the Rotary for a few more shots. I shot Tara, who I have shot before. Don was showing us how to wrap light around the model, a la "Dave Hill". It produces an interesting effect and one I'm sure Tara and I will explore a bit further. It certainly helped having Sheryl and Trish along. We shooters tended to jump right into the scene and forgot about out gear. A few passers-by slowed down for a look that was a little too intent for Trish, who immediately sat down next to the gear.


Big hugs to Trish and Sheryl for giving up their day to tag along with us. Kevin, we are two lucky dudes to have wives like this! Also many thanks to Bri, Lindsay, Tara, and Angie for agreeing to pose for us and having a world of patience as we worked through our lighting process. You guys were awesome!

A slide show of my shots from the day are here. Shots from all the photographers who were there and who have posted their shots on Flickr are here.