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So... What Are You Saying?

One of my favorite lines in the film La La Land (2016) comes when Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) gets fired from his gig as a restaurant pianist. Not wanting to accept his dismissal, Seb tells his boss, "I hear what you're saying, but I don't think you're saying what you mean."  It made me think about one of the most ubiquitous pieces of advice currently being given to photographers and others in the communications fields: "Engage your audience with compelling content."  The buzz phrase "Content Driven" is bandied across the Internet, and from the rooftops of skyscrapers by everyone who communicates a message, image, or concept to an audience of any kind. We are admonished to "...Tell a story to draw your audience in," and "reach them on a deeper level."
      While I would agree that these ideas are very true, I would also say that - left without any other qualifiers - they are vague. Let me put it this way, if you had a driving…
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Everything Old is New Again...

Due to events that would take far too long to explain here, I now find myself working with a camera that I have not used for more than half a decade. Granted, it will largely be used only as a back-up at this point, but the question of why anyone would 'go back' to using such "antiquated" technology as a 10-year old (at the time of this writing) digital camera that is only 12.3 megapixels and has a max ISO of 3200 has an interesting series of answers. Let me cite the method to my madness.

The camera in question is a Nikon D-90 with a vertical grip. At the time it was released it was considered a top-shelf pro-sumer model, and it was the definitive purchase that pushed me from film into digital. At 12.3MP, it was quite the heavy hitter for it's time, considering it was not all that many iterations down the line from the days of the "5MP cieling", where even high end DSLRs were still climbing out of the 3.2 range. To show you just how far things have come…

Turning Day Into Night

Shooting at night is like having a clean slate. A very challenging clean slate. Why do I say it that way? Because as far as the camera is concerned, there is nothing there. We may know there are houses, cars, or trees in that moonlit space around us - but without adjusting the ISO to extremely high (and usually noisy) levels, the camera sees a blank, black canvas. In order to make it come alive, we need to paint with light.
      In the world of big budget films, this means using huge amounts of lumens and wattage to create either a large wash of psuedo-moonlight, or pools of selective light shining on specific parts of the scene. Either way, it means having lots of lighting - and lots of power - at your disposal. Maybe. And maybe not...       There is an age old trick that has been used by Hollywood for decades, and is even seen  in large-budgeted modern films such as Jaws (1976), Peter Jackson's King Kong (2005) and Mad Max Fury  Road (2015) among countless others. In this techn…

Be 'Practical' With Lighting

In Hollywood cinematography, there has been a sea-change over the last thirty years or so, away from "Studio style" lighting setups, to scenes and shots motivated by practical lighting. Gone are the days when a cowboy enters a barn, turns on one single lantern, and is blasted with pure white light coming from 12 different sources. But what does that sentence mean? "Motivating light using practical sources?" It sounds confusing and jargon-esque to the uninitiated. And how does it apply to still photography..?
      To boil it down, "Practial lights" are any light sources that appear in the shot. A lamp. A streetlight. Car headlights. The idea being that if you have a person sitting next to a fireplace, or at a table lit by a lamp, that light source wants to predominate in the shot. So most of the light should look like firelight, or lamplight. And that [lighting] element should be clearly in frame. This does NOT mean that you should always rely solely on t…

The Lighting Tells The Story, and The Story Tells The Lighting

Those who have studied lighting - especially for theater or motion pictures, know well the mantra that "The lighting tells the story." Simply put: No matter what kind of camera or lens is used, who the actors are, or who wrote the script, it is the light that ultimately creates what we see. That is the cutting edge of the knife. However, the more I think about this, the more I would change it a bit...
"The lighting tells the story - and the story tells the lighting."
It is a reciprocal thing. The way something is lit does create emotion, and makes the viewer feel the story through their eyes. We draw conclusions and fill in details based on the way what we see is illuminated. But that moment itself must also dictate the lighting: What quality of light is needed to do the telling? Where would it be coming from? What color is this light? Is it one solid wash, or should it be broken up in mottled shadows?  All of these things are going to be determined by what story tha…

The Light on The Street is...

I love night photography. Something about a photograph made at night embodies the Cinematic. Traditional still portrait photos are shot in airy, well lit studios. Movies have night scenes on location. I want my images to look like movies. For me, that often comes down to creating the look of night, rather than capturing it using only whatever light is available and adjusting the camera accordingly.      Over the last few years, I have noticed a number of films where much of the action takes place in a night-scape lit by the orange/amber glow of sodium streetlights. While I had never been a fan of that light in real life, I decided to try my hand at creating the look for a photo project. Since using real sodium streetlights would mean either a very high (and grainy) ISO, or long, long, long shutter speeds, I determined pretty early on that I would be using flash. I will spare you all of the technical details of why using flash to replicate street light is a challenge, but I will say tha…

A Picture is Worth How Much? (Part II)

After a long two year absence from this blog, I feel the need to write a post on some recent rumblings which - by the time you read this, may be either old news, or a never ending story. In essence it is a follow up to my last post of February 2014, in that it follows the same line of thought, but adds a new variable to the equation.
Firstly, I took two years away from photography due to family responsibilities. While I could write a whole run-on blog post about being a care-giver for an elderly parent, it falls quite far afield of my purpose here, so I'll just say that the time away from the camera has allowed me to see my work for what it is (or was) more clearly, and to redefine what it needs to become and where I want to go with it in the days ahead. Call it a "forced introspection," it leads me to the point I want to make now.
In my previous post I ruminated on how the preponderance of photographic images has led to a 'devaluation' of photography. Sort of a…