Oct 212013
 

Congrats to Neil Buchan-Grant for winning the AOP “Best in Show”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A while ago Neil posted an article about his love for Micro 4/3 and the OM-D camera. He posted a photo (above) that got quite the response and as soon as I saw it I knew it was special. Neil showed that yes, the little OM-D E-M5 could indeed take photos that not only excelled in quality but were able to be pushed and used by someone who really knew how to work a camera. His photo has now officially won the Best in Show AOP open award for 2013!

So let us give a big Congrats to Neil!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Over the years I have defended Micro 4/3 (ever since the GF1 and E-P1) while many bashed it and predicted its doom because it had a smaller sensor than APS-C or Full Frame. Today less and less are trash talking Micro 4/3 and I even know of quite a few who dumped their slower APS-C cameras for an E-M5 and they never looked back. With the E-M1 it goes up another notch and I will state right here and now that Micro 4/3 is going nowhere anytime soon because it offers the perfect mix of IQ, performance, speed, build, and lenses. The lens Neil used for this image was the Panasonic/Leica 25 1.4. One of the best overall lenses for this system.

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In any case, Neil has shown what this system can do in capable hands. Make sure you see his latest post here as well as his own blog.  I also want to thank him for his continuing contributions here where he shares his love and passion for photography with all of us here.

Thanks Neil!

Feb 132013
 

Beautiful Innocence – Cheetah vs 3.9 FPS

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Jake Hefner has released his newest book entitled “Beautiful Innocence” which was shot with one camera, one focal length and 32 beautiful models in natural and quite amazing settings. He has written about his experience below while shooting models with a cheetah..there is nudity here but it is all tastefully done and beautiful.

As Jake has stated: No make-up, no hair stylists, and definitely no retouching of photographs. One camera, one fixed length lens, one photograph at a time. Photographed on two continents with only natural girls, in natural settings, with the help of available light. Real, raw and with imperfect perfection.

Enjoy

“Don’t make any sudden movements. He is a predatory animal.”

Rocket, a hungry cheetah, was about to run past at full speed chasing a target in the form of a stuffed animal rabbit as I knelt at his eye level in some tall grass. “If he senses movement, or fear, he may release from the target and you will become the new target,” Luke, the animal wrangler, calmly reminded me. “Do not move at all when he passes you. He may even brush you during the pursuit.” What was I getting myself into?

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As it turned out, getting eaten alive wasn’t an issue, focusing on a breathtaking animal running straight at you at speeds approaching 60mph was. At the 5D II’s 3.9 FPS, I found the closest approach that resembled success was pre-focusing and then trying to time the moment Rocket would approximately pass the pre-focused spot, a technique that has often worked well with people, but didn’t stand a chance against the world’s fastest land animal.

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Although I wasn’t able to keep up with Rocket, our team did create some images I was very pleased with. As W.C. Fields reportedly once remarked, “Never work with animals or children.” I would agree that animals and children can be challenging, but if I hadn’t taken the chance I wouldn’t have created some of my most memorable images or shared the afternoon with so many unique animals and interesting people.

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Steve, thank your for sharing my story and readers, thank you for reading.

Additional photos I’ve made can be found at www.beautifulinnocence.com and you can preview the book at Amazon HERE.

Jacob

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About Jacob: I like traveling, so much so that I’ve been doing it for the last 1,227 consecutive days as of today, September 26, 2012, without any plans of stopping. What started out as a frequent flyer ticket to Europe and South East Asia has turned into a three year journey spanning nearly 50 countries and conversations with thousands of interesting people. Ambushed in a Cambodian jungle…that was interesting, and the broken arm has healed nicely. Running with cheetahs in South Africa…I kept up for about 1/1000th of a second. Ukrainian police “misunderstandings”…happy to still be alive. Wipeouts in Brazil…beach break on sand bars close out fast. All night parties in Milan…how many 5’10″ fashion models can you fit in a Fiat? It’s all been a lot of fun and I can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow. 

Aug 212012
 

The Noctilux 0.95 Unplugged

By Kristian Dowling

From Steve: This is a great piece with amazing photographs to show it off. Kristian is a talented photographer who I have been in contact with for quite a while through e-mail and I am pleased to publish this because in my opinion, these are some of the most beautiful photographs to come from ANY Hollywood photographer and really showcases what this lens can do ;) – Thanks Christian!

Many know the Noctilux 0.95 as a luxury lens, mostly suited to people with deep pockets, especially since lack of supply has pushed used prices beyond new prices. For me, it is a daily tool, which I used almost exclusively wide open at 0.95. Working in Hollywood, I have access to many great photographic opportunities with some great artists and talent. Having the right tools is essential, but I have to admit, I do not ‘need’ this lens. While it’s a tool, it’s one that is also quite extravagant and not easily justifiable because it isn’t essential to my work to shoot at f/0.95, and it doesn’t make me any more money compared to using a f/1.4 lens.

Quality

I won’t get too much into the build quality as Steve and others have already summed it all up nicely. Let me just say that build quality of materials, precision engineering and assembly don’t get any better than this. In terms of image quality, this would have to be the highest performing and most consistent ultra-fast lens ever produced. Consistency from wide open at f/0.95 is amazing and maintained throughout the aperture range until diffraction kicks in from f/16.

At 0.95, the image is very sharp, honestly very close to the amazing Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH at f/1.4. Using the lens wide open allows amazing isolation and fast drop off of focus to blur. So much so, that it’s almost too much, too fast at times.

One other quality to note is how well it controls flare and internal reflections. It’s amazing how well contrast, sharpness, and color are maintained when a strong light source is either inside or just outside of the frame. Make sure to remove any filters though if you want to totally avoid any signs of flare or reflections. In some of my examples you will see how the filter has caused a reflection that I actually like.

In use, and focusing accurately

While the Noctilux is large and heavy for an M lens, it handles extremely well. It’s focus ring is smoother than the f/1 and it’s focus throw is the perfect length. Not too short and not too long, making focus fast and easy to get right, especially for such a fast lens.

Despite being front heavy and large, it does balance quite well on the M9 and will intrude into the frame lines creating a blockage of your view. The key to accurate focus with this lens, especially in low light is to turn the focus ring past the focus point, then bring it back into alignment. I also focus bracket very important images, allowing me a choice of shots with slightly differing focus. This entails taking 2-5 shots of the scene while slightly adjusting focus for each frame, both in-front and behind the focus point.

See this video I made

 

Character and Signature of the lens drawing and bokeh at 0.95

This lens while being the upgrade from the f/1 version is not exactly what I’d describe as an upgrade. It’s more like a side step. I believe there’s room for both of these lenses in the marketplace but unfortunately, Leica discontinued it. While the f/1 version is known for it’s dreamy, swirly bokeh with a very distinctive signature, the 0.95 does not display these characteristics. Shooting at 0.95 doesn’t give the ‘appearance’ of a more obvious isolation as people would think, and this is because it’s a very, very well corrected lens. It’s aberrations are mainly obvious towards the corners, while the f/1’s aberrations are what made it famous.

Put simply, the 0.95 draws just like it’s smaller brother, the Summilux 501/1.4 ASPH. Both are highly corrected and produce bokeh that is very clean and corrected, representing the out of focus areas clearly and with little distortion of objects, lines and shapes. This is very important for my kind of work, because the environment in my backgrounds is usually important to my pictures and completes the story I’m telling. In contrast, the dreamy look of the f/1 version would distort the reality of my pictures, which can be great for generic portraits where the background is irrelevant to the subject or story.

I’ve been able to use the 0.95 for my work mainly because it is sharp enough at 0.95 and the M9’s sensor makes good use of the light entering that large aperture opening. Unless my clients wanted a soft dreamy look, the f/1 is not sharp enough at f/1 for most commercial uses, especially for today’s standards.

Need for speed or character?

Photographers buy these kinds of lenses for different reasons. Some for speed, and some for character. Most will say both. For me, it was about speed. If I wanted character, I’d buy the f/1 or the Zeiss C-Sonnar 50/1.5. Alongside my Leica, I also use the Nikon D3/D3s/D4 and lately the D800E, which all offer low light ISO qualities that easily surpass the M9’s sensor.

Therefor, when using the M9 in low light, the ‘need for speed’ becomes very apparent and there’s my justification for the 0.95 aperture. Hopefully, the M10 will improve enough that using this lens at 0.95 isn’t as important anymore. I say this because as digital camera ISO quality increases, I see thing differently to the general market.

Most people like high quality ISO so that they can use faster shutter speeds while shooting wide open. Whereas, I see the ability to stop down more, gaining extra depth of field and increasing the overall sharpness of the picture. I’m not afraid to bump up the ISO because I’d rather have a grainy sharp picture, than a smooth soft one due to camera shake and/or subject movement.

Issues with using the Noctilux

Some may see the size and weight and issue, but considering what this lens does, it really isn’t so large, and compares closely in size to most SLR 50/1.4 lenses.

All super-fast lens designs have compromises in the pursuit of perfection and the Noctilux 0.95 is not exempt. The biggest issue with the Noctilux is it’s purple fringing problem when shooting wide open against strong light sources, especially with bright backgrounds. While it’s an issue at times, I wouldn’t call it a ‘fault’ of the lens, as it’s not designed to be used in such conditions. Luckily, the new CA removal tool in Photoshop CS6, can completely remove just about any CA and purple fringing in its RAW conversion software – it’s quite amazing actually.

One issue I have with this lens is not due to it’s own fault or the fault of it’s designers. It’s about the mindset of the photographer when using this lens. Shooting at 0.95 can be very tricky and while it’s nice to isolate subjects, the urge to shoot wide open is very strong and may not always be the most appropriate aperture to use – but you do, because it’s right there in your face > 0.95!

I see way too many shots ruined by photographers because they’re in this ‘wide open’ mindset. The background in pictures is very important to telling the story in the picture and 0.95 may not always be the best decision when using this lens. I pretty much only used this lens at 0.95 because that’s what I bought it for, but there are some pictures I took where I wish I stopped down. Taking good photographs with this or any lens should be about choosing the most ‘appropriate’ aperture, and not the one you paid $11,000 for. Let me ask you this…..how many of the world’s best historical pictures were taken with backgrounds blurred beyond recognition?

Why you should and should not buy it

The Noctilux is a lens that is commonly bought and sold, sometimes 2-3 times by the same photographer. That is because it’s a huge expense and large size that many photographers find difficult to justify, especially in regards to keeping this lens over a long period of time. Once sold, the photographer often misses it and lusts after it once more.

I highly recommend the Noctilux to those who feel they ‘need’ the speed and know that they will use this lens on a regular basis for all kinds of work, shot wide open and stopped down. I cannot recommend this lens to those wanting to collect or use this lens for effect only. The effect of this lens is minimal in my opinion and if you’re interested because of the f/1’s rendering, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

The Noctilux 0.95 represents Leica’s ability to create an almost perfect high-speed lens. It’s rendering is spot on and out of focus is very clean with little to no signature – meaning it draws very accurately, even when out of focus. So for professional photographers or those after authentic and accurate representation in their photographs, this is the very best high-speed lens available, in any format.

Kristian Dowling

www.kristiandowling.com

Jul 162012
 

Camera Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop worrying About the Sensor and Love the Camera – by Craig Litten

A user report on the Nikon V1

Lightening the Load

I’ve always loved small cameras. Back in the early 1990’s while attending my second photo school I wanted a Leica M6 with a 35mm Summicron (f/2.0) lens, but unfortunately it was way out of reach for me. Many years later, while a staff photographer at my second daily newspaper, I purchased the amazing Contax G2 with the Zeiss Biogon 28mm f/2.8 lens. But unfortunately by this time digital photography had already begun to take over—all of my newspaper gear was already completely digital (the lovely tank-of-a-camera 2.2 megapixel, $11,000 Canon D2000). Back then we never even imagined that digital would be as good as it is now, and that film would all but disappear within 10 years.

I took a photo trip to Alaska back in the early 2000s and agonized for weeks over what gear to bring along. I finally settled on the Contax G2 with the 28mm lens and nothing else, not even a back-up body. My friend took all of his pro Canon gear (film) complete with a 500mm f/4.5L (big white) lens. He struggling the entire trip carrying all his gear, and I never regretted my decision. My love affair with small cameras was solidified.

 

Who am I Anyway?

Hello, my name is Craig Litten and I’m a freelance photojournalist and documentary photographer from the Tampa Bay area in Florida. I’ve had a camera in my hands since I was 15-years-old, and have been shooting professionally since 1991. I have been a staff photographer for four different daily newspapers, have won state, regional and national photography awards, taught workshops and lectured to college photography students, been published in several hard cover books including America 24/7 and Florida 24/7 by Rick Smolan, have shot for major U.S. and international clients, have photographed U.S. presidents and movie stars, and have covered more than 7,000 photo having over 10,000 of my photos published in newspapers and magazines (not including the Web).

 

Prelude to the Nikon V1

My first compact digital camera was the Canon G2. Many of you are familiar with the Canon G series; now up to the G12. When the newspaper I was working for bought it, I quickly latched on to it. I though I had myself a Leica (tongue in cheek). Early on I took the G2 with me to a football game on the road at Clemson University, and I decided to cover the pre-game with it. I know it’s hard to imagine now, but digital was still very new at the time and not many people owned digital cameras yet, let alone a smart phone with a digital camera in it. What I discovered as I shot all around the stadium, was that I was almost completely ignored. Who takes tiny cameras seriously anyway? Almost nobody. But tiny cameras are now capable of serious pictures. The G2 was small, light, fun and the image quality was “good enough.” I was hooked! Unfortunately though, I had to wait about 10 years for technology to catch up to my vision.

 

Along Comes the Nikon V1

Like Steve, who called his original Nikon V1 review: The Camera I Expected to Hate, I originally dismissed the Nikon V1. But I kept reading about it and was intrigued. Before purchasing the V1 though, I purchased and owned three different mirrorless camera systems, and have since sold them all. Each one had its positive points, but there was always something that I couldn’t live with. If you are looking for the perfect camera, it doesn’t exist and never will. Even the mighty Leica M9 has negative points (from what I’ve read even on this site). Is the Nikon V1 for everyone? Of course not! But it’s tiny, powerhouse-of-a-camera that is worth a second, or in this case, third look.

 

Nikon V1: The Noisy Cricket of Cameras (see: Men in Black)

I love the V1! It’s dynamite in a small package. It’s fast, responsive, has almost clairvoyant auto focus (really) and has a powerful processor. But most of all, it’s incredibly fun to shoot with! Fun, isn’t that why we all take photos? Since purchasing mine in March 2012, I’ve taken more than 13,000 photos with it. It hasn’t blinked, flinched, misfired or failed me once. It has served me well so far and I love it. I can honestly say it’s my favorite digital camera to date bar none, and I’ve owned and used many, many different digital cameras since 2000 when I want completely digital for work.

Not everyone’s needs are the same, but for me, I needed a digital camera that had good enough image quality to be published. Many of the current mirrorless cameras do. I also needed a camera that could perform and handle the stress that I would put it through. This is where a lot of other mirrorless cameras fall short

 

The features I needed most in a mirrorless camera are listed below in order of importance.

•Completely Silent Shutter – The V1 has a mechanical shutter, that has a pleasant sound and is fairly well dampened (not too loud), but it also has a an electronic shutter. Not many photography forums talk about this feature, but it is completely silent. The shutter makes no noise at all when you take a picture. For the type of photography I do, and for all of you who do street, documentary or photojournalism, this is a huge, huge plus. It allows you to shoot a scene up close and personal, and not be noticed (at least by your shutter giving you away). A silent shutter also lets you shoot more photos of any given moment without worrying that your subject will think you are totally nuts for shooting so many pictures of him.

 

•Incredibly Fast & Accurate Auto Focus

Steve, and many others, have already written about this, so there is no need to elaborate. The auto focus is so fast, that I thought I’d test it out on a high school football game. High school football is very challenging to photograph, especially as the light is dropping. Shooting Pro football is a total breeze next to shooting high school football (I covered NFL for 8 plus years). The V1’s auto focus kept up (not my best work but you get the point). See them here.

 

•Responsiveness

The V1 is super fast–pro camera fast. Enough said. It will keep up with what you shoot. It never lags behind when viewing images, writing to buffer, etc., even when shooting RAW. It’s always alert and ready.

•Small Size Including Lenses

Because of the smaller sensor size, the Nikon 1 series lenses are very compact, lightweight, but very well built.

 

•Huge Battery

I can get about 800 shots, maybe more, per battery charge. This is important to me. Also, the V1 takes the same battery as the Nikon D7000 and D800 (and most likely the upcoming D600 and the rumored D400). This is very cool and very unusual. Same battery, same charger as my other gear, nice! Most of the time there is no need for a second battery.

 

•EVF

Several cameras now have EVFs (electronic viewfinder). The V1’s is excellent, as is its LCD screen. I also like that it’s very low profile with a nice, built-in cushiony rubber eyepiece. I don’t use it exclusively, but when I need it, it’s there. I live in Florida, a state that has bright sun year round, which necessitates an EVF. An add-on EVF is too bulky and can easily get broken off. When figuring the cost of the V1, remember that add-on viewfinders usually cost about $200 and up.

 

•BONUS

It’s expandable and takes my pro Nikkor lenses (if I want it too) via the FT1 Mount adapter. Cool, shoot the moon!

 

The I.Q.

As you may have noticed, I never mentioned image quality. IQ is important to me but it’s not the most important thing. I’ll put it this way: the Nikon V1 is light years ahead of the $11,000 Canon D2000 camera that I used for three years a one of the newspapers I worked for. While initially testing the V1, I went back through a lot of film scans that I shot over the years to compare quality. I can honestly say, although film has a different “feel” to it, the V1 many times surpasses the film scans. What more are we looking for? Do I wish it had the IQ of a Canon 5D? Of course. But I have no problems with its IQ at all. In fact, I actually like the very tight grain that the files get at higher ISOs, it’s pretty and ‘more’ film-like to my eyes. I almost never sharpen them either, but had too on both my 5D and 5D MkII. Bottom line: The V1 image quality is very good. I shoot exclusively in RAW and the images are amazingly sharp. Also, the V1 RAW files will take just about any post processing that you can throw at them. I use Lightroom 4.

Currently I am working on a documentary photo project shot entirely with the Nikon V1 and the 1 Nikkor 10mm (27mm equivalent) f/2.8 pancake lens. I’m photographing daily life on a 100-year-old fishing pier along Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. I’m hoping to get the project published into a hardcover book when finished. I’ve shot at the pier 23 times so far since June 1st. I believe that the Nikon V1 image quality is good enough for a hard cover photo book. I’ve also used the V1 for certain daily newspaper assignments. Here is a sample. Pro golf shoot with the V1 here.

I did a V1 enlargement test on the mighty Epson 4890 Pro Photo printer. I made a 16”x20” print and the file held up beautifully. Rarely in my entire career did I ever enlarge a print larger than this. Personally I think that a 12”x18” print is the perfect size to frame and hang on the wall. So again I ask the question? “Just how large of sensor do we need?” I dare say that most of us do not print a lot of photos these days anyway, but view and share our photos on a screen. Technology is changing rapidly and it’s exciting. See: Nokia Pureview 808 smartphone or the new Sony RX100 reviews and be prepared to be wowed by small sensor cameras. Probably the one major disadvantage for the Nikon 1 for some photographers is the large depth-of-field the small sensor produces. It’s much harder to achieve nice, shallow bokeh with the one inch sensor. For the type of shooting I do I don’t mind. New, fast lenses will help in the future.

 

Daily Use

Believe it or not, the Nikon V1 allows me to get photos that no other camera of any kind has allowed me to get. Since I first started using auto focus back in 1986 (Minolta 9000), I have exclusively used only Center Point auto focus (the first AF cameras only had center point by the way). Even with all the pro Nikon and Canon cameras that I’ve used and owned, with their 51 AF points, etc., I only used and trusted the center point. When you make a living with photography and have to get the shot each and every time, you tend not to take many chances because it could mean losing your job. The Nikon V1 changes this. I have my V1 set to Multi-Point AF all the time with face recognition turned on. Again, it’s absolutely clairvoyant, or nearly so. Steve talked about the V1 being the only camera that he has ever tested which nailed the focus every time. This is a true statement. Can it miss? Yes, but very, very rarely.

Another thing I’ve been doing with the V1 that I have never done before is occasionally shoot without looking through the viewfinder or at the LCD. Yikes, did I just say that?! It’s true. I’ve gotten pretty good at framing without seeing. The amazing auto focus and responsiveness of the camera including the large buffer helps with this a lot. You are probably wondering why I’m Hail Marying with my V1. It’s mostly related to the fishing pier project I’m working on. The pier is not very big and has water on all sides so sometimes it’s impossible to get into position and raise the camera up to frame without being noticed. Also, if you’ve ever asked someone if you can take his or her picture, you already know that whatever moment or expression you saw seconds before has vanished. You got to be quick and again, this is where the V1 shines!

Why Shoot One Frame When You Can Shoot Five or More?

I do believe in the decisive “moment” and have made my living capturing just that. But now technology allows me to capture decisive moment(s) with my Nikon V1 (and without the distracting clanking—to the subject–sound of the shutter). When shooting in low light with my DSLRs, many times I will shoot multiple frames of the same moment to ensure that I have at least one good, sharp image. The speed of the V1 allows me to do this too. Experience has shown me that the slight movement of a hand, the mouth, eyes, body, etc. can turn a good photo a great photo. So again, the V1 shines for it’s speed and high frames per second rate to capture not only a sharp image in low light, but the decisive (peak) moment.

 

I love my Nikon V1 and feel that its simplicity is one of its greatest strengths. It doesn’t have some of the custom control or bells and whistles of other mirrorless cameras, but it has one of the best and easiest to navigate menu systems of any digital camera in my opinion. I purposely didn’t focus on the V1’s weaknesses though. It has a few things that a firmware update could change and make better, but none these bother me during daily use, and none of them are deal breakers. Steve’s two reviews of the V1 cover all of them pretty completely. Or you can easily find them somewhere online. I rarely bump the mode dial, nor toggle the aperture, but it does occasionally happen. My original Canon 5D wonder camera would get turned off all the time when I was carrying it, and I paid over $3,000 for it. My Canon EOS 1D MkIIn would rack focus sometimes at very crucial moments and I’d miss a touchdown play or something important like that. The RAW write times in an Olympus I once owned were excruciatingly slow. The buffer of my $11,000 dollar Canon D2000 would fill up right in the middle of a huge crash at the Daytona 500 and I would miss the peak action. My old $5,000 Nikon D2H looked horrid at anything above ISO 800. And my old top-of-the-line Nikon D4s would only take one film speed setting at a time. So when I had a roll of Fuji Velvia 50 in the camera and walked into somewhere with low light, I had to rewind the film mid-roll and put in some fast (then) ISO 800 FujiPress. Get the picture?

Full Size Samples:

1. Dusty plant shot at ISO 640. It’s an ugly pic but it shows the fine detail and sharpness at higher ISOs.

2. Greeting card shot at ISO 1600, 1/5th of a second with image stabilizer of the 10-30 lens. This is a great example of the beautiful, tight film-like grain which reminds me of Ralph Gibson’s work shot on film of course – http://www.ralphgibson.com/

ISO 640 – click it for full size

ISO 1600 – click it for full size

 

Chase Jarvis said “The best camera is the one that’s with you.” This is true. A former photo professor of mine, Gary Monroe, said, “You take better pictures when you’re photographing than when you’re not photographing.” Also true. I say, “There is no perfect camera” but the Nikon V1 comes pretty close (for my current needs anyway). A camera is a tool to capture the world, not an idol to be worshipped. Give it a try; great photos are waiting. Did I mention that it’s fun to use?

PS: Don’t be a hater, keep the comments positive ;-)

From Steve: Thanks Craig for this GREAT article on the V1! For all of the readers, do not forget to head over to youtube and enter my Nikon V1 set giveaway! 

Mar 092011
 

From Steve: Today I wanted to post this nice little guest post by a photographer that I have been a fan of for years. Peter has a charming way of capturing life’s moments that can make you smile, make you think and other times make you cry. He posted some before for us and he has now returned with more shots to share once again. Thanks Peter!

Life’s Little Moments.

“For me, photo-making is most enjoyable when I look at capturing life’s little moments.

 

A shy smile, the spangles of light reflecting off moving water, the floating elements of a scene converging just so….

 

Those infinitesimally small moments hold infinite beauty for me.

 

Life’s little dance is all around us, revealing the wonderment in us, and reflecting the spotlight back on us.

 

It’s up to us to see.”

 

—Peter | Prosophos

Peter’s Portfolio

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Aug 232010
 

Above: James Napier and Shelby

Steve Huff/Shelby Lee Adams interview – August 2010

Today I would like to bring you an all new Featured Photographer interview! This interview is with Shelby Lee Adams, a photographer who is most known for his Appalachian Portraits featuring the families who live in the mountains of Kentucky. He is also a Photography Guggenheim Fellow for 2010-2011 and I am honored to feature him on my website.

While some see his work as controversial, I see it as important documentary work that not only shows the skill of Shelby as a photographer and his passion for the art, but it also shows us a slice of life that many of us do not even know exists. I am a big fan of his work and it is my pleasure to bring this interview to you today. After reading the interview, be sure to visit Shelby’s website/blog that features more of his work. Please note that Shelby does not spend much time on a computer and is always traveling. Therefore, he will most likely not respond to any questions in the comments.

Also, his book “Appalachian Lives” can be bought at Amazon.com. Highly recommended!

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The Interview

Steve: Hi Shelby! First I want to say a big THANK YOU for agreeing to do this interview with me. I am a big fan of your work and I feel connected to it mainly because my Father was born and raised in the mountains of Kentucky where many of your photos were taken. When I was young we would visit the mountains and I always felt a sense of peace with it. The people were always friendly, always happy and seemed to enjoy their life even though it was much different than the life i was living in the big city of Chicago. Your photos take me back to those times and the stories you include with these photos really show me that not much has changed up in those mountains over the past 30 years and I find your portraits to be exceptional! So with that said, let’s get started!

How old were you when you first found an interest in photography, and what were your subjects when you first started out?

Shelby: Being an only child I received a lot more encouragement perhaps, I was drawing and painting at age five, studying art books that my mother and grandmother provided, working with oil paints and canvas before age 10. I was actually born in the town of Hazard, Kentucky and raised in an adjoining county called Letcher. I won the only art award in my high school class in 1968, not very competitive then. We did not have photography. After a year of floundering in college, I was accepted and attended the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1969. As a painting major, upon taking my first photography class in my second year of art school, I was 19 years old; I practically changed my major immediately to photography. My first photographic subject’s were my mother’s parents, my grandpa and grandma Banks and my maiden aunt Glade who was my childhood nanny. They owned a huge farm in a hollow called Johnson’s Fork in Eastern Kentucky where I was raised and they were all born. There was livestock and wild animals, farmland and mountains, creeks and ponds; all kinds of natural space for a child to play and grow up on, observe, draw and paint and later photograph.

On a deeper level, from the ages of 9 – 12 years old my grandma suffered from an eye disease that caused her to go totally blind within that 4-year period. We were very close. She encouraged my drawing and painting and it was “because of her” struggle that I committed myself to the visual arts. From that early childhood experience, I developed a strong belief in the visual arts as a transforming tool to help heal and uplift ones spirits, to inspire others too live a fuller life, no matter how difficult the situation. For me art and photography are a committed discipline and field of study.

ABOVE: Self-Portrait with Grandma, 1974

Steve: What was the first picture you took that you were really proud of?

Shelby: Probably “Self-Portrait with Grandma,” 1974

Steve: When did you start photographing for your Appalachian project and how did you approach the families to let them know you wanted to photograph them?

Shelby: In 1974 I started using a view camera. I grew up in the “War on Poverty” era when Appalachia was in the news daily. My community had been photographed and filmed a lot by the media, some people felt shamed by this exposure. Mountain people were generally suspicious of the media and photography, including myself. My first attempts with photography were with a 35MM camera as a student, one spring I took a 4×5 view camera and boxes of Polaroid’s home to KY to photograph with, folks responded openly, not guarded, they liked seeing and getting to keep instant Polaroid’s right away. Their enthusiasm was amazing to me. This changed my approach to photography in 1974 and was the beginning of my serious work, a more formal approach, but more appropriate for my culture. I always ask people to make photographs with me showing them the Polaroid’s as we make pictures and then I always bring back photographs to give and share with my families before making new pictures. Sometimes it is a full year between visits, but this is a very important responsibility, to return with pictures, to affirm what you are doing and then continue. In my high school days my uncle, “Doc Adams,” took me around with him making house calls, driving into the heads of the hollers. These experiences happened before I was interested in photography. He taught me a lot about mountain people, they loved and respected him and this world and its people immediately fascinated me. My uncle “Doc Adams” opened a door for me that would last a lifetime.

Above: Napier Brother’s with puppies

Steve: For the black and white portraits, what equipment did you use for the older photos, and do you still use that same equipment today?

Shelby: I started with a 4×5 Calumet student camera and soon advanced to a 5×7 Deardorff Field camera with a 4×5 reducing back. Later in the 80’s as my work became more complex, using more lighting equipment and various lenses, I purchased a more flexible Linhof bi-system view camera with a rear reflex viewer. With the reflex viewer I no longer needed a black viewing cloth that is common to view cameras and with this viewer you are not separated from your subjects visually. This is important in getting people comfortable and having good communications. I still use the Linhof today but have had other custom modifications made to this camera. For 35MM, I have always worked with Nikon’s and have always used Kodak Kodachrome 35MM film for my color work. Always documenting my sessions photographing and I have always made snap shots for my friends and subjects. Later changing to digital color when Kodachrome was no longer manufactured. My 4×5 black and white work has always been my standard forte for exhibitions and publications and most popular with my subjects. The film I used for most of my career I saw demonstrated by Bruce Davidson in a workshop in Ohio in the 70’s. He used Tri-X Pan Professional film packs. This was a 16-exposure 4×5 film pack that could be changed in daylight. The negatives are on a thin film base and delicate, the quality it produces is wonderful, but this film has to be printed through a glass negative carrier and handled carefully. All my negatives have been manually processed. When Kodak announced discontinuing this film pack in the 90’s I bought a freezer full and used until just recently. Now even 4×5 film holders are rare and discontinued, but I have a good supply and Ilford today makes a good 4×5 film and Fuji makes an excellent instant 4×5 print film. Further, now also working with CF memory cards, who would have “thunk it”?

Steve: One of your images that really sticks in my head is the one titled “The Hog Killing” – Is there a story behind this image?

Above: The Hog Killing, Spring 1990

Shelby: When the Hog killing was made I was Head of the photography program at Salem State College in Massachusetts, then living in Salem, Mass. I always call and keep in touch with my friends in Kentucky throughout the year. During Christmas of 89 I had started talking to my friends about making a hog-killing photograph. My friend a preacher Wayne Riddle suggested the Napier Family as a good family to work with in making this photograph. He said, “They kill hogs the old timey’ way.” We both knew them and I had been photographing and visiting them for at least 5 years then. It should be noted that I have been photographing seriously in this area spending 2 to 3 months each year, some years trips made shorter, but for at least 6 weeks each time, ongoing for now 36 years. Everyone knows me in the community.

The idea and concept for this picture and many of my photographs comes from my Appalachian childhood memories. I write and sketch in my notebooks throughout the winter, when an idea comes and really excites me I call my friends and we discuss. Sometimes my Kentucky friends call me with their ideas. I consider this a collaborative relationship; some photographs materialize this way, from our sharing stories and discussing what is happening currently in the hollers. An important concern is to make pictures of people who have lived this life. Each person in “The Hog Killing,” photograph of that spring in 1990 had multiple experiences from childhood and throughout their lives of hog killings as a part of their natural life and means to survive. John Napier the man seated in the front of photo reminded us, we should hang the hog from a tripod wood frame like he had always done and his son’s volunteered and constructed this tripod frame, something they had done many times. For those not familiar with this ritual, a hog killing is usually an all day affair that utilizes every part of the animal in preparing months of food for a large family, other domesticated animals and the making of bi-products like soap. This photograph actually illustrates the middle of the process when the meat is cleaned, washed and ready to be cut into sections, to make pork chops and ribs; even the head in the pan is saved to be prepared for cooking later. Harry Crews has written an excellent book about the ritual of hog killings called, “A Childhood, The Biography of a Place”.

My early personal experience with this ritual was from my grandpa’s farm in Letcher County. From my childhood memories, this was the most exciting day of the year, up before daylight, making fires, boiling water, the crack of the gun shot, the smells, watching the men work so fast cutting the meat, hearing the sounds the knives made, scalding the hair off the animal and watching water and blood mix and the steam rise, all fascinating. Eating fresh made cracklings later was rewarding and delicious. The woman made soap from the fat, prepared hams and souse while preserving yet other meats. Everything was utilized in some manner. Mountain people consider this a joyous occasion and it is often a community event. If ill will had sprang up between neighbors during the year, on this day-the giving of meat to that neighbor renewed friendships and made solidarity. All of us in this group shared these same life experiences around hog killings.

Even in 1990 in Beehive, Kentucky we discussed the fact that this ritual was changing and disappearing from our culture. So everyone was excited about this day, to have me photograph something that we consider important and disappearing from our culture. This was the mindset before and during the making of the photograph, I volunteered to buy a hog, if someone could get it delivered to the Napier farm in Beehive.

In the mean time I had Spring break coming up at my college job in Massachusetts and I asked two students to join me for the week. We brought two video cameras for the students to film the event. When we arrived and settled in we ask Wayne to find a hog and bring it to the Napier’s. He priced a hog at $150.00 and I gave Wayne the money. He was to bring the animal in his pick up truck on a specified day. We all agreed that the meat would be equally divided between the Riddle and Napier families after the photo shoot. This would provide both families with meat for their homes for probably three months.

The day of the hog killing I was lucky, weather was cool and slightly overcast. I had chosen a 90MM Schneider lens to fit my 4×5 camera. I chose to use a Comet 2400-watt sec. pack for a flash lighting source to mix with the daylight. We set up two light stands with each holding a light with a silver umbrella; each light was powered with 1200 watts of light. I made a few Polaroid’s and light adjustments and we shot film immediately while I engaged everyone to look toward the camera. The entire shoot did not take 20 minutes. I remember the F-stop was F32, my usual aperture setting. The shutter speed and daylight reading was probably exposed at 1/60th or 1/125th of a second, with daylight being the dominant light source. We made 4 exposures on 4×5 film then doing one final Polaroid check print. This method of working I call previsualizing the image, working toward the goal of constructing the composition you have in your mind and making it happen. It can be quite chaotic working in this manner, watching some things just happen naturally and directing other elements together simultuiously. The photograph is always better or worse than you expect and always some surprising element is recorded that you did not plan or even see.

The public’s response to this photograph has been varied. Some see this picture as a valuable contribution to documenting this culture that is changing. Other’s say it is the vision of myself solely. Some say this is a staged photograph, implying that something is not real or false. I call my work formally posed with my subject’s full corporation, seeing and sharing Polaroid’s through out the process, affirm this. I have established long term relationships with these people who do trust me. The final result is of no surprise to any involved, the picture is what everyone worked together to make. Throughout the history of photography portraiture has been mostly formally posed using view cameras. The difference in my work is I’m taking the studio equipment on location to make the pictures in more specific environments, not just where the light is good, where my subjects are more comfortable and intimate, working with lenses and lighting tools that reflect my own esthetic sensitivity and vision and very importantly seeking out only authentic cultural representation from my subjects, something outsiders working here may not always understand. The plentifully history of the media here again is 35MM photojournalism working where the editing, cropping of photos and accompanying words are decided by a committee removed, not necessarily concerned about the people photographed, but more their message.

My pictures are sometimes recreations of events and yet still part of the people’s real lives lived today. It is my belief that ones memories and thoughts held inside contribute greatly to the making of engaging portraits. Nothing is staged or added to, out of context. In making “The Hog Killing’’ for example, I asked Jerry Napier [second in from right] to remove his Michel Jackson cap for the picture. He did so then he placed it back, saying “This feel more natural with my cap on.” That’s the way I took the picture. Today, cultural representation is a mix of the old and new generations in Appalachia, as in most other cultures. You cannot simulate too much one way or another or then it does become a staged picture. Then viewers raise the question of what should be represented from a culture? Some Appalachian’s are offended by this picture and there is a lot of shame within my culture, caused by media misrepresentations and stereotyping over the last 60 years. In part, my intentions are to help right that misunderstanding and those photographs and show what was real for the Napier’s of Beehive, Kentucky, my memories of my own and grandfather’s life, the Riddle Family, among other’s. Not to portray these people as some Hollywood movie set with props and dressed up actors is important. It is a thin line to perceive the difference sometimes, especially if you are on the outside of a culture. The media itself conditions us all to view things in a certain way and we are affected either unconsciously or consciously. I’ve always said my work was done as an insider, subjective, as a native artist searching his native roots with his subjects as his collaborators. How you view the work depends much upon your own life experiences.

At this writing in 2010, three of the six people in “The Hog Killing” photo are now deceased. Berthie and John Napier are both gone, [the elder couple in the center of photo]. This photograph represents for me a part of their cultural lifestyle authentically with one son in the background wearing a Michel Jackson cap. James another son [left] also recently deceased, I valued as one of my closest friends, as do many people who knew him. All people represented here told me they feel true to themselves and are happy with the out come of the picture produced that is very important to me. How the viewer processes images is independent of the photographer and his subjects. Yet, from years of sharing my work I now think even the viewer is more a part, serious photographs mirror back more connection than we think if we allow engagement. At exhibitions, over the years I’ve had people come up to me to express their gratitude to me for the making of this photograph. With tears in their eyes sometimes, because this photograph would deeply resonate within them-recalling their own childhood experiences from for example: Eastern Europe, The Czech Republic, Spain or Brazil and they would be so passionate to share these memories with me. More importantly viewers tell me this picture opens doors for them to share this experience with their own children, something they may not have been able to articulate before. From my experience and feedback I’ve received, “The Hog Killing” has become a catalyst for other cultures with similar background experience. Because this photograph opens up a map to common familiarity shared by many cultures universally. This is the reward of making what I call a primal photograph. Many cultures feel their problems are unique to their situations and their specific holler’s, I’ve learned we all have similar conditions and attributes. If we could openly share more with each other and be less defensive – we would all benefit more abundantly.

Above: Fog Lift

August 2010

All photographs and text copyrighted – © 2010 Shelby Lee Adams, if editing and changing format or text, please contact and consult author/photographer.

Forthcoming Workshops:

Environmental Portraiture, 1 week workshop, International Center of Photography, NYC, Approximate time – Mid August 2011 [annually], Ph. 212-857-0001 www.icp.org

Environmental Portraiture, 1 week class, New space Center for Photography, Portland, Oregon, Dates: July 25th – 29th, 2011

Ph. 503-963-1935 www.newspacephoto.org

Look for part two to this interview in the coming months. Thank you Shelby!

Mar 012010
 

MARCH/APRIL FEATURED PHOTOGRPHER

Lara Rossignol – piewacketblog.com

It’s March 1st and as promised I am back with another photographer interview! I stumbled upon Lara’s website/blog a few weeks ago and have been visiting it ever since. I really was drawn to her style, use of light, color, and even her blog design. I soon found out that she is a successful commercial photographer and when I dug deeper into her website I was very impressed with what I saw. In other words, it inspired me! I soon contacted her to see if she would be interested in doing an interview and she accepted!

THE INTERVIEW

Hi Lara! Thank you for accepting my invitation for you to be a Featured Photographer on my site. I am a HUGE fan of your work and blog and find your photography to be some of the most beautiful work I have seen in recent times. Tell us a little about you and your work.

I have been working for over 20 years and shot primarily fashion and celebrity portraits while living in NY. I moved to Atlanta a few years ago and have expanded to include food, lifestyle and kids. Also more “real” people portraits. A smaller market allows more diversity. I still shoot a lot of editorial but also much more advertising.

When did you first become interested in photography?

In high school. My Mom gave me a little hawkeye instamatic she won in bridge game. The summer before my senior year, I asked if I could trade a trip to Hawaii she was planning to bring me on for a 35mm camera. She agreed.

How did you get started in commercial photography? You have an impressive list of clients!

The man that owned the lab I was using suggested I check out Art Center College of Design. I was starting to noticed photo credits by a woman photographer in Rolling Stone, Annie Leibovitz of course. I thought, I would like to take pictures of Harrison Ford and Matt Dillion. So I applied and got into Art Center. In my 8th term I met with an art director who sent me to see a rep and she signed me. I started getting work before I actually got my diploma.

I also am in love with your portrait work. What is your favorite camera to use for your portrait sessions?

I have a regular 5D (as apposed to the Mark II) and usually use a 50 L series lens. I am not a big equipment collector, I work very simply, you can always rent it, if you need something special for an assignment.  I really loved the M9 for portraits, I think this is what that camera was meant for, it is on my wish list now.

What is your favorite thing to photograph?

If you had asked me this question a few years ago, I would have said people but lately I have really enjoyed shooting food, travel & still lives as well.  In the end I am really just a portrait photographer … sometimes I take a portrait of a cupcake, sometimes a country singer, sometimes a dress on a model, sometimes an old pool hall…there are all just a kind of portrait to me.

One thing I like about your photos is the color. When you shoot digitally, do you use photoshop or filters to enhance the images?

Yes, I play with the color in post, sometimes a lot sometimes a little. It just depends. I will use filters, color correction and gradient maps to get the effect I want. I work with Lightroom to process my images then photoshop (CS4) to retouch and adjust the color or convert to b/w.

Did you go to school for photography or are you self taught?

As I mentioned above, I went to ACCD. I will add that if your looking at schools, make sure they have a full commercial program with instructors that have actually worked as photographers. A master degree means very little if you have no real world experience. Creatives do not ask to see a diploma they want to see your work, period. At Art Center my best teachers were working commercial photographers, art directors and stylists.

However, nothing beats real world experience, school is a great opportunity to learn the technical side and to create. Learning the business side comes from doing or assisting others. I admit I made a lot of mistakes early on which I might have avoided had I watched someone else make them instead.

What inspired you to start your blog? I think it is AWESOME!

Thanks. I have followed a lot of blogs, but very few photo blogs because I found most not all that interesting. Just more of what was on their site. So I decided I wanted to do something different, kind of my own magazine about the things I like. It has been a lot more work than I realized but it is fun and has really challenged me creatively.

Since we are on the topic of your blog, I noticed you have been testing the Leica M9 recently. What do you think of it, and how would you compare it to the film Leicas?

My experience with Leicas is a little limited, I only shot with a film Leica once and that was many years ago and then I had a the original Leica digilux, which was my first digital of any consequence. I think the M9 is am amazing camera, I loved it’s simplicity and compact form. I shot a lot over the two weeks I had it and my favorite results were with the portraits and a beauty shoot I did which I will post Monday. If I could afford to, I  would buy this camera tomorrow.

What is your favorite Leica lens?

I only got to test it out with a Summilux-M 50 so, I have no comparison. I would love to try a wide angle, something I could try shooting food with. For me, it really is mostly about the glass and just based on the one I tried, I was pretty impressed.

What would be your advice for all of those reading this who would like to get into commercial photography?

Photography is not just an art, it is a science and you must learn the science so you can create the art. Assuming you have the technical training, be clear about who you are and what markets you want to pursue. A good website is essential and so is a good printed portfolio. Though most people book me through my site, I still get requests for a book and this is usually for final client meetings.

It is also about good marketing and persistence. While talent is helpful, I have seen many a talented photographer fail, while a less talented but marketing savvy one succeed. It is also a business and learning this aspect, even if you have an agent is very important. Selina Maitreya has written some good books on this and a great blog every photographer should read is A Photo Editor, tons of good info there.

http://www.aphotoeditor.com/

BOOK: How to Succeed in Commercial Photography: Insights from a Leading Consultant

In your years as a photographer, is there any one image or session that was more memorable than the others? If so, why?

This is like being asked to choose a favorite child, too hard! Shooting for Max Factor and Vogue were definite highlights in my fashion career. While shooting Gary Oldman and Liv Tyler were favorite portrait sessions. I felt a strong connection with both of them while shooting, which does not always happen and the results were prolific. Honestly, I just feel lucky to do what I love for a living.

Lara, I thank you so much for this interview and want to say once again that I LOVE your work. It’s inspiring and beautiful!

To see more of Lara’s beautiful work, as well as some great images she shot while testing the Leica M9, visit her blog HERE at http://www.piewacketblog.com and you can also visit her professional site HERE.


Jan 252010
 

JANUARY/FEBRUARY FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHER

For 2010 I will have a new “Featured Photographer” interview bi-monthly where I will interview talented photographers and display their work on this website. I am kicking it all off with 18 year old Megan Baker who happens to shoot with a Leica M8!

Megan Baker is an 18 year old photographer living in Chicago, IL. I first found out about her photography through facebook and soon realized that she not only shoots with a Leica M8, but she has shot in some of the same locations as me during her outings and road trips to find abandoned buildings. Amazing! After seeing her images I was floored by the haunting beauty of them and realized that I better get an interview with her now before she is crazy famous :) She not only searches out and shoots old abandoned buildings in rural towns but she also photographs musicians. Her work is beautiful, soulful, and is full of emotion. True Art.

THE INTERVIEW

Hi Megan! I am thrilled to have you as the first featured photographer on my website. I have to say that when I saw your images I was hooked instantly. After you contacted me on facebook we realized that you have shot in some of the same places that I have and you shoot with a Leica M8! How old were you when you really got into photography, and what were your usual subjects?

I am glad to be your first featured photographer! I was around 3 or 4. My usual subjects were probably my toys, then I moved onto my pets. I usually dressed them in human clothing (against their will.)

What attracted you to the Leica M8? How long have you had it? Which lenses do you use and do you enjoy shooting a rangefinder camera?

I was getting tired of all the new DSLRs coming out that were all “This is so easy!” “It’ll do everything for you!” Where is the fun in that? They’re marketed to soccer moms. They’re made out of plastic… I was tired of it, I didn’t want to shoot with something like that. So I did some research on Leica, and I’m a big fan of history and preservation. Leica is timeless. The M8 is beautiful. It’s really hard to describe, but when I shoot with it, I’m not just holding a plastic thing that will be obsolete in a few years, snapping photos for me. I have a real camera, it just feels different. The other day I was riding around looking for shots with my mom, and she asked me why I couldn’t have an SLR (since it would be easier to zoom and everything like that) and I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was basically that when I shot with my old Nikon, a picture was a picture. Just a picture. With Leica, it’s different. There is soul… I can feel the grass blowing across the Midwestern field. It’s alive in my photos. There’s a whole other dynamic that the M8 has, that maybe not everyone can tell when they aren’t looking close enough… I think a good example of this is my ‘Stoutenborough’ photo.


I’ve had my M8 for a little over 2 years now. I was just thinking about that the other day, time goes by fast. I only have a summicron 50 mm now but I’m getting the summicron 35 mm soon. I’ve shot with the 28 mm f/2 a bit too.

I love shooting with a rangefinder camera. I’m more aware of my surroundings, more focused, and really paying attention to what I’m doing.

Yes, that Stoutenborough photo has that M8 magic but it also shows the skill of the photographer! Also, I am in love with the 50 Summicron right now. Great choice in lens! I love that you shoot these old abandoned buildings and rural scenes. What got you started doing that? I thought I was the only nut traveling to these tiny towns looking for these oddball locations!

Well, when I was about 14, I got kicked out of school. Some people told me that telling the story would probably alienate a Christian audience of whatever but what the hell? I’m an artist. I can say whatever I want, hah. I was in a small conservative Christian school and I didn’t agree with the things they were teaching. It was the kind of teaching that wasn’t about love or caring for people, it was, that person is this, so they’re pretty much less than human. I wasn’t afraid to say it wasn’t right. So they got rid of me.

I was a straight A student, almost always on honor roll, and I’d been going there for 7 years, since the year it opened. These people were like my family. It broke me up inside… I didn’t really have anyone else in my life. So in a way, I felt abandoned. I came across these buildings and something clicked. It was therapeutic in a way.

I have had some scary experiences while shooting locations out in these small towns. Do you have any fun stories to share?

Haha… I’m going to tell the one that just happened to me last weekend, or technically the weekend before last. I was in a town called Elisabethtown on the Ohio River. It was so strange, a total time warp, and even thought it was in Illinois, everyone there had the thickest southern accents I’ve ever heard. We stayed at the oldest hotel in Illinois and were the only ones there (not even the people who worked there were there) amazing weather… amazing spot. I recommend it. I’ve never heard so many birds or seen so many stars… anyway, we went to this diner for lunch and this conversation went down…

Waitress: Is that your camera? (referring to the M8)

Me: Yes…

Waitress: How old are you?

Me: I’m 18.

Waitress: Oh I thought you were like 12 or 13.

My mom would have never bought me a camera like that when I was your age.

My mom: She bought it herself.

Waitress: When I was 18 I had better things to do.

Then she walked off.

The next day the owner of the hotel made us breakfast and told us that some people there are very unwelcome to other people who aren’t from there.

I love the look of your photos. I assume you use photoshop to achieve your desired effects. How long does it take you to work on one photo, and how did you learn photoshop so well?

It is photoshop, and the time depends. Some are really easy. This one I’m working on now, it only took about an hour or two, but there’s still some tweaking. There’s some that take almost 10 hours. I used to work nonstop usually through the night and go to bed at 6 am, but now I normally take breathers and wait and see how it looks to me in a few weeks, so the time really varies. I actually don’t think I’ve learned photoshop well. I know how to do certain things, which was all just trial and error, I prefer to learn that way.

Your photo of the empty building in Kentucky is one of my favorites and your processing is amazing with this image. How did you spot this building and what made you realize it would make a good photo?

Thanks! It is one of my favorites as well. I was on a road trip down the Mississippi River to New Orleans and had just left this crappy motel in the middle of no where, it was still pretty early, about 7 am I think… Not actually at night. We were driving through this old little town and we’d actually driven past it before at night, but we were totally lost and freaking out and had just done a giant circle for about an hour in the total boonies in Kentucky. We bunked down at the only motel for about 3 hours and the next day went through the town again. I spotted the building and what really caught me was inside. Beautiful vines and colors, and it was a very floggy day, so that stuff really stood out to me. Although the area around it wasn’t too great (I am normally pulled into scenes where the whole photo intrigues you, not just the subject.) The building was too cool to pass up.

Many purists argue that photoshop is the devil and should never be used. What would you say to that?

I don’t get that at all. It is essentially no different than the darkroom. I think people have the wrong idea of photoshop. Oh it’s all filters and pressing buttons and it does everything for you. That’s not the case, at least not with me. I hand tweak all my shots similar to what one would do in a darkroom. A lot of people ask me, “so are these photoshopped?” like it’s a bad thing. Yeah, they definitely are photoshopped, and I’m unapologetic.

Your photos of the musicians are really full of emotion and feeling. How did you get started with it?

I was a big fan of Gavin DeGraw back when I was 12, and I went to a lot of shows and took pictures. Then I did the same with people they played with, and through the years I got to meet a lot of great people to photograph. I’m very lucky now to have found a band that I can tour with and that are supportive of my work, and I am a big fan of their music, so it’s all around awesome to work with them. I feel like the people I photograph want me around, and are comfortable having me around. They can be themselves and I photograph that. The shots are honest.

What is your favorite photo that you have ever taken, and why?

That is a really tough one… I don’t think I could answer that. I have a few favorites. Mainly, the first ones I’d taken in each series. They started something important for me. Also the ones where the buildings have now been destroyed.

Have you ever presented your images in a gallery? If so, are you interested in doing more of it?

I actually just took down a show in the West Loop today (well, yesterday, as it’s 2:30 in the morning.) I am definitely interested in doing more of it. I’d love to get in some more Chicago showings… some other cities… I’d like to expand into Canada and then even further, maybe Germany.

I think you are crazy talented for being 18 years old. Is photography something you plan in pursuing as a career? If so, what type of photography most interests you?

Thank you. I definitely already consider it a career, although a modest one compared to some others. I don’t know if one certain type interests me the most. I alternate between music and fine art. Some days I’m like, “man I love this. I love taking pictures of these bands. I feel like I should really concentrate on this.” And somedays I feel the opposite… loving doing fine art, no pressure, working for myself. I love them both.

What is the coolest thing that has happened with your photography so far?

Going on tour I think. May of 2009 was a crazy, crazy time for me. I was 17… moving from a small town to the big city, having never been away from my home for more than a week. I moved here alone, barely knowing anyone. And about a week later, I grabbed a cab to O’Hare and flew out to Pittsburgh to meet with the band (Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers) to tour and shoot shots for their then upcoming record. I’d never even flown by myself, and barely flew at all since I’d been deathly afraid of it. It kind of amazes me, that I managed to do all that. It’s definitely an adventure. I’m enjoying it a lot. I can’t wait for what’s to come.

Thank you Megan for sharing your awesome photos and taking the time to answer these questions! I wish you all the success in the world!

Thank you! Honestly, I don’t know if anyone would do anything without people showing interest and support in what they do, so thank you, it means a lot.

You can see more of Megan’s work at her website! Just click on over to www.mbakerphotography.com to check it out!


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