4.5 Hours in Havana


A photographer friend heard I was heading to Havana and shared info about a man she had met there.  She told stories of time with him and how Mohammed  and his mother did not have a refrigerator and gave him money to buy one.  She later saw him carrying bread and yogurt whereupon he came running to greet her pulled his wallet out to show that he still had her money for the fridge (having not spent it on the food.)

I was heading to Cuba in a few weeks for a street photography workshop with David Hobby (aka “Strobist”) and Joe Newman the trip organizer.  Our anticipated schedule had ample time to explore on our own, so when the idea of visiting Mohammed came up, I was amenable to the idea.  She sent details on where he lives as well as a letter to print out and take to him. Continue reading “4.5 Hours in Havana”

Photo as a Sentence

As I was sitting and watching a photo competition, I had a thought about how to figure what might make one photo “better” (or score higher) than another. I ruminated on this more and more and realized that it might be another way to look at one’s own work more objectively.

So, what if you have a handful of well executed images and want to figure which ones might do better in a competition?

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Make mistakes? No, never! (said no one ever)

It is a rare shoot or project that I come away from feeling that I nailed every aspect.  Even when I have confidence from looking at a teathered laptop or chimping the back of my camera, invariably I see things that could have been better when I start my processing.

The worst kind of mistake for me are the settings or configuration errors.  Sometimes these are inadvertent dial moves, and sometimes just sloppiness.  Face it, there is a reason why so many people use a point and shoot, or even keep their DSLR in auto mode.  The reality is that the camera will most likely make a decision on settings that are likely to work.

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between – the beginning

I have shot street many times over the years.  I did the long lens thing, the big DSLR thing, and even the mirrorless thing.  In each case, while I got a lot of great shots, there was something missing for me.

I am a daily commuter to manhattan, and after moving  offices last summer, I have about a mile walk from Grand Central Station to 53rd and Broadway.  While my old commute was a walk up Madison Ave, I could not help but notice the incredible diversity of people I would encounter during this new route.

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Tortured Fruit Still Life

Have you ever had an image in your head that you just had to realize somehow?  As a photographer, I can sometimes visualize an image with lighting details and setup and just need to implement it.  My still life series definitely falls into this category.

I can’t say for sure where the inspiration comes from for these images, but my guess is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I have tried to study the lighting in the old masters – why not look at a Rembrandt when trying to create a “Rembrandt Triangle”?)

Pieter Claesz (Dutch, 1596/97–1660)
Pieter Claesz (Dutch, 1596/97–1660)

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Why and how to backup your work.

I don’t care if I lose all my pictures and edits.

That is what you are effectively saying if you don’t have an effective backup plan in place.  How would you feel if you spent an hour working on a picture and it just vanished from your computer never to be found again?  What about all the work you did last week?  Last month?  What if you lost every picture of your family that you have – and those pictures were gone forever?

I have been working in technology since the early 1980s and have built and managed more computers, networks and storage plans than I can count.  I have designed and built computers – and I mean circuit board design and assembly language coding to boot the computer – not just putting together a PC.  I have built Apple clones, Windows clones and have helped develop a supercomputer at IBM’s T. J. Watson Research Labs.  Today, among other things,  I manage the IT infrastructure for a registered investment advisor – which means that the SEC, FINRA and institutional investors check on our data infrastructure to make sure their data and our data is safe.

I tell you all this just to put my views in perspective.  Everyone has a viewpoint, and so I think it is helpful to see where I am coming from.  Want to know my philosophy on protecting your work?

Continue reading “Why and how to backup your work.”

There is always more to learn

When I initially got interested in photography, the resources I had available were limited.  There was of course dad who shared his experiences, loaned me his film camera and helped build a home darkroom where I could process and print B&W film.  I also would go to the library to read books on the subject.  I even had the great experience of taking photography classes at camp with the very talented Scott Lerman.

David Warren
David Warren circa 1973 – Currently a TV and Broadway Director (B&W Print from a Tri-X negative)

My educational path took me down the road of technology where I studied Engineering and Computer Science.  There was no room for photography, so my education has been self-directed ever since.

I was fortunate to be working at IBM’s T. J. Watson Research labs in the early 90’s and was able to start playing with the Internet when you could just about count the number of websites on your fingers and toes!  Well, the good news is, the Internet seems to have taken off since then, and I think it is one of the best tools for photography education today.  Want to know why?

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Head Shots – Rapid Fire

One light portrait

As a way to improve my portraiture, I volunteer to shoot head shots for my daughter’s school music productions for use in their programs.  Now, I know that these will be tiny B&W images printed from a laser printer or copied on plain paper, but I also know that they will give the programs a much nicer look and there will be a lot of very happy parents.

When I first did these, I experimented against a white board as background with a one light setup (umbrella and speedlight with radio trigger) and a single reflector (white) and made adjustments to position of lights for student height as well as for male/female lighting.  The changes were subtle, but I was pleased with the results.  The first shoot I think I shot close to 30 kids in barely an hour – so very rapid fire.  Was a good exercise in managing light, time and subjects.  (If you think getting 30 14-year old girls and boys to feel comfortable in front of the camera for a portrait is easy, then you have not done this!)

A few months later I was asked and then shot some older kids – but experimented against a black background for a low-key version.  The images looked great – but as I suspected, did not print well at all on the mediocre laser technology the school used.  I ended up re-processing to try to match the tonal range (bump up the blacks) and they actually looked decent in the programs.  For this shoot – I went with a three light setup – all speedlights with radio triggers – hair/gird – fill / umbrella – key / umbrella.  Shooting high schoolers was a tad easier than the younger ones, but I also learned (thanks to an observant assistant I brought along) to work more on my “bedside manner”.

Want to learn what I figured out?

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Capturing Student Orchestras

I have the privilege of being invited to shoot several student orchestras that perform annually at a large venue which for the past several years has been Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York.  To be frank, my daughter plays in one of the orchestras, and I actually played in the same orchestra’s when I was growing up, so I have a fondness for the groups.  I know some of the conductors either from having played with them myself as well as playing with them today in other groups.  It is for this reason that I take on this project – as after doing it for several years, this is something that one should think carefully about regarding the amount of work involved!

The day is filled with three rehearsals/sound checks for the three orchestras and then three concerts.   I am given free access to shoot during the rehearsals both from the stage and anywhere in the hall (with proper credentials and prior clearance from the appropriate folks).  That is the good news, and the bad news – as one wants to get as many angles as you can – and that is where it can get tiring.

On Stage
On Stage

How does this all go?

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