A few years back I developed an interest in street photography. It seemed cool to capture shots of everyday life, so I read up on it, even took a class, and very gradually started to do it. I practiced it for over a year and really liked it.
Last summer I made the decision not to be a street photographer.
But I really liked "street." It was great roaming around an area picking up on the street rhythms, feeling the vibe. Especially in NYC, it was easy to fit in where everyone had a camera and everything goes.
The best part was the feeling when you randomly came upon something that would make a picture. I called it "hearing the music" because it was a similar feeling to when you suddenly heard a favorite song that lifted your mood and put a smile on your face.
If you hesitated, the moment and the music were gone in a flash, and you lost the good shot. I hesitated a lot.
I guess the main reason for this was the "creepiness" factor of street. People get uncomfortable and even a little hostile towards someone taking their picture, even in a public place.
The creepiness factor even affects many budding street photographers. There's a lot of advice out there for novice street shooters about overcoming this uncomfortable feeling in themselves, of being a "creeper," as they practice this type of photography. It boils down to: Try not to be too obvious, fit in to your surroundings, and just do it until the feelings go away.
I certainly felt the creepiness factor affect me, even though I had made my living routinely talking to strangers and dealing with all kinds of people in sometimes difficult situations. It was somehow different when I was merely taking pictures of them in a public space without their explicit consent.
It felt like an unwarranted intrusion, and I definitely did not develop the "killer instinct" to get that shot no matter what.
Landscapes don't care if you take their picture. Bridges, cars, buildings, and other such objects won't judge you. Your portrait subject won't call the police on you (hopefully).
But I do miss that music a lot.
Even though I did street for only a short time it helped my other photography. I'm more aware of the little details that I might have missed before. My instincts are better and quicker - no need to be "killer" - and I get shots I never would have tried for before.
I probably don't have the psychological make up to be a great street photographer, or perhaps even a good one. But I could live with that.
And I do miss that music a lot.
"Support for a Dying Friend" 2011
#8: "Back to Reality."
We are back from our trip through the heart of Europe. And I think it’s safe to say that the trip changed both of us. (And I’m not talking about !Lorenz! and myself here!)
As the “Homebody” blog celebrates the wonders of photographing what’s in our back yard, it might seem incongruous celebrating the wonders of travel photography. I don’t see it that way, however.
We just spent a good amount of time discovering the wonders of other people’s back yards. What was new and different to us must seem very familiar, perhaps ordinary, to the residents of the cities and towns we visited. I can imagine some of those people scratching their heads at some of the scenes I was photographing in their hometowns.
I thought I knew something about the countries I was visiting. My ignorance shocked me. I’ve read about their histories and viewed their culture in books. I can tell you I was not prepared to see it in real life.
To stand in a church that had recently celebrated its thousandth-year anniversary was mind blowing. To tour a castle that had been partially carved out of the top of a mountain hundreds of years ago was to come face-to-face with the realization of our cave-man ancestry.
Who were these people who did all this with hand tools and human and animal muscle?
And so it’s back to reality in my little neck of the woods in the New World. Where the oldest structure is a little wood house about 300 years old. Perhaps around the age of one of the wooden pews I sat down on in one of the 800-year-old churches along the way in Europe.
But after all, it is the “New World.” And it is every bit as wonderful in its own right as any other part of the world. And a whole lot of history yet to be written. I hope that little wooden house is around to see its thousandth-year anniversary.
I will very soon start to post the pictures of our trip to the Old World. I hope you will join me and marvel in the power of photography to capture a moment in time and space in these foreign back yards.
#3: "Useless Debates."
There's much to love about photography, but one tiresome aspect of it is the willingness of many to engage in useless debates.
You know, Canon vs. Nikon, "SOOC" ("straight out of camera") vs. "Photoshopped" (post processing a photo); DSLR, vs. mirrorless vs. point and shoot vs. cell phone camera; JPEG vs. RAW. And the latest one I've come across, "But it's not a photograph!"
I understand this to an extent. We are a tribal culture and a zero-sum society. A strong urge to band together coupled with a winner-loser outlook and a need to say, "I'm right and you're wrong!"
Nothing wrong with all of this, it's probably responsible for our success as a society and a species. Just seems to me to be a little pointless to apply it to photography.
As I see it, the final image is the point in photography. And how the image is used.
Now, I think it's grand that you got that image SOOC. I appreciate your technical and artistic competence. You made every setting on the camera correctly and you got exactly the composition you wanted under the exact lighting conditions without one stray leaf in the photo. You never even touched a computer before you shared the image with the world. Bravo!
But please save your breath on trying to persuade me to do it like you do it. Please don't represent that you never "used a computer" to get that digital image. Please don't insist that this is the one "right" way to do photography.
Because, if truth be told, I think your image could use a little dodging and burning here and there. And if you adjusted that white balance a bit this way or that way, I think I'd have a greater emotional response to the image. And frankly, I prefer my judgement using editing software over the judgement of the camera manufacturing engineers who made your pre-sets.
Unless a photo is used in a journalistic or forensic context is the use of post processing really an issue?
And if you are not using the image in a documentary manner, and made a composite image from two different shots to make an artistic statement or communicate an idea, to then say "But it's not a photograph" making any point?
Isn't there room for all points of view in photography? Why the need to exclude and judge right or wrong on process or tools?
It's the final image that counts and the purpose to which it is used. Certainly not the camera type or brand, file format, or the editing done for non-documentary photos.
If you'd like to debate me on this, I'll pass.
#5: "Seeing and Feeling Pictures"
Seeing pictures was the first step.
Thirty-five years ago I got my first SLR film camera. I'd been shooting with a rangefinder for 15 years before that and was eager to reap the benefits of an SLR. It was no magic bullet. I got some good pictures, a few great ones, but most of them were blah.
I started studying and practicing. I read a book, Photography and the Art of Seeing, by Freeman Patterson (1979). He provided a lot of guidance about "thinking sideways," "learning to imagine." "principles of visual design." I tried, but I didn't get it.
Fast forward 25 years and I get swept up in the digital revolution. Bought my first digital SLR eager to reap the benefits.... More blah. I had to get a handle on this seeing thing.
More study, more practice, but this time with the instant feedback of digital. One day I was in my bathroom and noticed a sun light pattern on the tile. Bam, I get it now! Pictures are everywhere; you just have to be ready to see them.
Now I was walking around seeing pictures all the time. My photos improved and I was having a great time. I really felt like I was starting to learn and improve.
Still there was something missing.
I noticed that some pictures sparked an emotional reaction in myself and in other people. Many others were just nice pictures. Technically OK, surely not blah, way better than what I was doing before, but they didn't have that spark. I wanted more spark!
More study, more practice. I wish I could say I am there, but I've only recently begun to make a little progress on this front. I'll tell you what I've learned so far that seems to work for me sometimes.
It goes beyond just shooting what you are passionate about. It goes beyond technical competence, although that's very important in the communication of emotion.
Feeling pictures starts with feelings (duh!), but also thinking about these feelings. Trying to clearly identify in your own mind the reasons why you feel so passionately about this subject.
It helps to be in the moment with the subject, to slow down, even to put the camera down, and just absorb the environment. What makes this so special?
The seeing picture skill may then emerge, and something might jump out at you as a picture to take, or perhaps a picture to make. Or, you could just start shooting and give your subconscious time to work out the solution. (Ever notice how you might start shooting and getting the blah, but suddenly "feel it" and then get something special?)
Your technical toolbox is there for you. Composition techniques, point of view, line, pattern, texture, light conditions, and lighting options. And don't forget software and post-processing: Can a post-processing technique contribute to the communication?
The cool thing about photography is that even though pretty much everyone else has already photographed pretty much everything in the world, you can still make it come emotionally alive for yourself, and perhaps for others, if you do it right. And that's the rub.
Some may see this as a lot of work and not a lot of fun. I see it as a labor of love and more fun than a barrel of monkeys.
#7: "Fun Projects"
I’ve always been on the lookout for projects to do. Skills and creative-ability building activities designed to help you become a better photographer.
For example, for one month a few years ago I only used one lens for all my photography, an 85 mm portrait lens. Before that, I took a month to shoot only in Manual mode.
At first, these were very hard to do. It took a lot of effort to adjust to these constricting requirements, especially for a whole month. At the end of the month I had adapted and worked fine within these limitations. I learned a thing or two in the bargain.
Lately, I’ve come to participate in two fun projects. I was “nominated” to participate in a Facebook activity, the “Art in Nature Challenge.” You post one photo each day for 7 days on this theme. Each day you also nominate another person to take the Challenge.
I had fun looking through my archives and posting some of my favorite pictures over the years. I also reworked most of them in some way, either re-editing them from scratch, or modifying them, or using different editing software on them.
It was interesting to see how I made different editing decisions today. My editing skills had improved and my editing decisions had evolved.
The first photo here, "Stony Brook Sunrise 2011," is a favorite given a new crop. I think it is a big improvement over the original version.
I was “nominated” again and this time decided to post cell phone shots only. Although I probably will not re-edit these photos, the ones I pick will point to directions that I want to explore in my cell phone photography.
The cell phone has become more and more important to my photographic experimentation. Although many of these photos do not see the light of day, they can serve to stimulate creativity.
I’ve decided to “nominate” myself for a third week. This time I will be shooting new cell phone nature shots in square format. That’s a format I’ve wanted to explore for a long time now. It will be easy and fun to do using the cell phone. I hope to incorporate what I learn into my regular photography with the DSLR.
I’ve also taken on another fun project that will be on display here on an occasional basis. It’s combining the Japanese poetry form haiku with my photographs.
Haiku are short, free verse poems of no longer than 17 syllables. They usually are written in three lines of 5 syllables, 7 syllables, and 5 syllables again. Haiku very often concern nature, the seasons, and the contrast and comparison of two different ideas.
That’s a lot to pack into 17 syllables! It’s constricting, sort of like using only one lens for a month.
My haiku will probably be more doggerel than artistic, but you never know.
I did have a lot of fun making this haiku, paired with a summer sunset photo taken under challenging conditions.
I hope you enjoy it and consider taking on a fun project of your own.
Canon or Nikon?
"The River 2" 2012
Please scroll down for latest post : #8
"Stony Brook Sunrise 2011"
"Squall Line" 2014
bite while sun sets into clouds
I shall drink tonight
#2: "A Lesson is Repeated Until it is Learned."
I came across that statement many years ago. It referred to life lessons and rang a big bell for me. It did seem that I tended to make the same mistakes over and over again. Even in photography, I didn't get it until I ruined several pictures or lost several opportunities. I've tried to work on that.
This picture, "Squall Line," is literally the last photo I've taken where I have not been prepared for everything, good and bad, to happen. I finally learned that lesson.
It was a rainy day, but suddenly looked like it was clearing. I grabbed my camera, with a 50mm prime lens attached, and the tripod, and ran down to the River to chase the good light.
I fumbled around attaching the camera to the tripod and adjusting camera settings. The light was quickly changing. I turned on the camera and uh oh, two bars on the battery-life indicator. I didn't bring a spare battery.
I started shooting. Some people swear by the 50mm prime lens as a landscape lens. I was swearing at it. Why didn't I grab my 28 to 300mm all-purpose lens???
The clearing trend stopped and it got ominously darker. My lack of a rain jacket wasn't the problem. My lack of a waterproof cover for the camera was. There was a lot of money sitting on that tripod.
As the weather got worse the pictures got better. The wind suddenly picked up and I saw it in the distance: Squall headed right for me.
I shot away as the battery indicator now showed one bar. Raindrops were falling on my head. And on my camera. Time to run.
Suddenly, a Great Horned Owl landed in the top of a tree next to me to ride out the squall. Two thousand years ago that would have been seen as an omen. I laughed at that as I ran for my camera's life back to the car.
I could have gotten some great photos from inside the storm, as well as a shot at a wildlife photo, had I been prepared with the proper weather gear, camera gear, and battery power.
Haven't made those mistakes since.
You don't have to travel far to get great photos, your own back yard will do nicely.
Please scroll down for latest post.
#1 (1/5/2016): Welcome to the "Homebody" Photo Blog, where the premise is you don't have to travel far to get great photos. I'll be posting many photos taken around, or adjacent to, my home as well as photos taken in my town and nearby communities.
Although a "homebody," I do love to travel and will also post pictures taken from outside the local community. I've found that my travels make me appreciate my home town even more.
I'll discuss my pictures, talk about photography, and try to provide some useful information for beginning photographers.
I'll also try to persuade beginning photographers to take their cameras off automatic and to experiment, play, and take risks. And even to fail: A necessary stop on the way to success in most all endeavors.
Brooklyn, NY, 2015
Friendly Tourist, Amsterdam, NL, March 2016
Manhattan, NY, 2014.
seeing a new place
spring blossoms again in soul
harvest inner life
#4: "Why I Don't Do Street Photography Any More (Maybe)"
Riverhead, NY, 2015
#6: "The Tao of the Toddler"
One of my best friends in life has been Failure.
Not the kind of failure where you are attempting something and don't really care enough about the outcome. My best friend, Failure, has accompanied me whenever I really, really wanted something and didn't get it.
There was a time when I thought of him as an enemy, only bringing hurt. I have since come to know him as a friend, bringing healing.
OK, so if you are still with me you might be wondering, "what does all this have to do with photography?"
I see so much fear of failure in folks pursuing photography. This includes me too. So much resistance to learning and trying new things. When I put pictures out to share, often there is a pit of anxiety in my stomach about how they will be received. And I'm an amateur photographer with really nothing to lose. A little bit ridiculous if you really think about it.
As photographers, I think we should adopt "The Tao of the Toddler." You already know "the way of the toddler:" Toddlers are compelled to rise up on their legs and stumble around a lot in their quest to walk. There's a whole lot of failure in learning to walk and not an ounce of self-consciousness in it.
The Toddler shrugs off failure in the pursuit of a higher goal. The Toddler knows it's been great crawling around on the floor getting into stuff. But it looks like there are way better things to get into if you can stand up, walk around, and reach all that mysterious good stuff sitting on that table.
This walking thing takes a lot of effort and trial and error though. You fall down a lot and sometimes you hurt your backside. It's a huge advantage to not care if you've fallen down a zillion times and just get back up and try again.
But let's face it. We are Adults and do not have the Toddler's advantages. Adults operate in a judgmental, negative, fault-loving culture. Unlike the Toddler we may not have a lot of loving supporters cooing, "It's OK, try again, you can do it," when we fall down and hurt our backsides a little. If we feel we are judged as having failed, we hurt and are very self-aware of it.
When we share our photos we put a little bit of ourselves out there to be judged. Just like when we try to accomplish something in other areas of our lives in the Adult world. And so, the pit of anxiety in our stomachs.
So as Adults, it probably is best to follow the advice that we only put our best photos out to share with the world. Or as the humorist Steven Wright put it, "If at first you don't succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried!"
But if you follow the Tao of the Toddler you can choose to shrug off the failures. You can choose to not put such emotional weight on negative judgments and criticism.
You can even ask Failure what went wrong and then listen to those hints. They are really signposts to success. It can be very healing and motivating to know that perhaps you are not quite where you want to be at the moment, but you are certainly on the path to getting there.
And if you are really lucky you will have a supporter who can say, "It's OK; try again; you can do it."
Even if it's only yourself.