October 16, 2017

The Unposed Portrait – My Challenge

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I want to talk about unposed street portraits. I do not intend to start a debate, though this may indeed start one, it is just how I feel about the work I want to do.

When traveling to a “far away place”, whether literally far away, culturally different, or just to an event with dress-up costumes, there is a strong seductive pull to take posed portraits. You may ask your subject to move into the light, change to a different location, turn their head, or perform a particular gesture. These posed portraits can be striking and fun and I’ve seen many photographers fill their portfolios with these posed images of exotic faces in exotic places.

For me, however, posing has never been my thing. I’m not sure if it is because I am bad at posing and communicating with a subject or if I deep-down believe that the posed portrait is missing a more deeply authentic expression. So while in Mongolia I made myself a challenge – no posed portraits.

As we gathered around and photographed the beautiful and generous people of Mongolia, herders and families, many would freeze in a stern face as if they only new of slow film requiring long exposures. While the group began to photograph, I laid back  and waited for the release in the tension, looking for the in-between moments when they let their guard down. I looked for the breaks in the stoney expressions, a caring glance toward a family member, or the far away stare into the vast country side.

Here are a few of the unposed portraits that I captured.

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October 7, 2017

The Beginning – Impressions of Ulaanbaatar

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It is difficult to describe the beginning of an adventure while the end is most present in my mind and my dreams are still filled eagles, yak, and the sour-musty smell of dried yak yogurt-cheese (I have never before experienced dream smells.) Here, however, are my first impressions of Ulaanbaatar, where my 14-day through Mongolia began.

The trip started on the final sliver of moon mid-September in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. After 24 hours of mostly uneventful airline travel from LAX to Beijing with a transfer on to Ulaanbaatar (or UB as the locals say), I first met Buugii and Yonda at the airport on the east side of the city. I had yet to fully realize their role in our adventure: Buugii as guide and camp mom and Yonda as driver in Van #1.  In the parking lot on this pleasantly warm 70+F degree day, Yonda was greasing the front axle of his pale green-grey vintage UAZ 469 or “Buchanka”. To me it looked sort of like a VW van. They are apparently mechanically very simple, last forever, and, as I experienced, can traverse almost any terrain.

After being dropped off at the hotel, I went for a walk through downtown UB. I was hardly prepared for what I saw with its hustle and bustle and the contrasts of old Soviet buildings, shed-based shops, and modern high-rises with a busy street life showing both traditional and modern fashions. And the traffic! Mongolians are truly crazy drivers. I walked an hour or so to the center of town and back to the Kempinski Hotel Khan Palace and tried to capture a few scenes of a city and people very unused to seeing camera wielding visitors.

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September 17, 2017

Compose and Wait – A compositional How

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As part of my lecture series at Thousand Oaks Photo Group I have covered a lot of topics:

Light, Color, Line, Perspective, Gesture, Movement, Point of View, Layers, Scale, Placement, Simplicity, Figure Ground, Repetition, Framing, Still Life Linked to a Scene, Portraits of Place, Environmental Portraits, Personal Access

These are all things that can be observed in the final image. The “what” of composition. This past meeting, I wanted instead to talk about the “how”. How do you achieve one of those compositions that effectively use these compositional grammars. My answer, and the answer I have learned from others (including my photo mentor Sam Abell) is to “compose and wait”.

It is really quite simple to describe:

  1. Compose a background.
    • It must be interesting, aesthetically photographic, and include a opportunity for action to occur.
  2. Establish your position, framing, and settings
    • What will be in or out of the frame
    • What focal length will you choose
    • What aperture, shutter speed, ISO – will it require exposure adjustments?
    • Study the relationships between object and plan for where your action will occur
  3. Wait for the moment
    • Let the action walk into you frame
    • Identify the moment within the gesture that will best tell the story
    • Try to anticipate the next movement and be ready

Or if you want to see it in a cartoon (I had a little fun with this)

COMPOSE AND WAIT

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DON’T CHASE THE RABBIT

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I have already written a couple posts showing how I do this in action – go look at them now.

For another example, here is a set of images that I shot with a fixed 35mm lens while sitting on a bench at Laguna Beach. I was just sitting there, resting with my husband. These images were captured over the course of about 20 minutes. They show the varied kinds of resulting images that are possible when you compose and wait for the moment.

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August 19, 2017

Many Heads

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I’ve been spending a lot of time over the past few weeks preparing for a lecture to the Ojai Photo Club on personal documentary projects and editing and refining a set of 17 prints for a gallery opening at the Four Friends Gallery on Sept 7th (1414 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. Suite 111, Thousand Oaks, CA  91362 –  opening reception from 5pm – 9pm).

It always amazes me how different people get drawn to different photographs. Here is a photograph that was passed over for a project when I originally took it. However, while preparing the edit for the gallery display: City of Angels – casual observations of the life and life-systems of downtown Los Angeles, this image was a must have.

I remember being drawn into the repetition of heads and the three feet sticking up over the $1.99 sign.

Enjoy.

May 21, 2017

Something Different

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I’ve been watching the show The Mind of A Chef. Over the course of a season, about 8 episodes are dedicated to an in-depth, first-person, look into one of the pre-eminent current chefs-restaurantuer. These are chefs in the prime of their careers and each has an extraordinary focus and command on the detail and food experience. And although they have all found their unique expression through their unique food, the shows also document their thrill and joy in sharing other food experiences of both high and low food.

I thought about these chef’s ability to think beyond their focus and to appreciate other perspectives, as I prepared these three images for the Ojai Arts Center in 2017 Photography Brach exhibit this June. Each year the Ojai Photography branch hosts a month-long juried show. The shows are always themed and the themes are often conceptual and artists are encouraged think openly about their interpretation of the theme.

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This year’s theme is The Animal Kingdom, which seemed straight forward enough even for a street photographer like myself. Then I read the fine print. The emphasis this year is to pay homage and honor the animal kingdom during this time of ecologic uncertainty. Now I had a bit more of a challenge since most of my images of the animal kingdom show man’s domination over animals: dog shows, tagged cattle grazing on the side of the road, or giant swan-shaped boats on a lake.

Then I remembered a set of images that I took of three great Lusitano show horses being allowed to run off some energy and show their grace and power in a barn in Portugal. These horses were magnificent and, being a street photographer, I had to really put my thinking hat on in order to capture their magnificence with my limited horse-photography skills. What I arrived at was a series of abstracts. However, these images have sat dormant on my hard-drive as I never quite found a venue to show them off. Now, at last I have an opportunity to honor these horses and their trainer, Carlos Oliveira, who tragically passed in 2016.

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May 13, 2017

A Sense of Place – Composition Lesson

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When I returned from Japan, I wrote a blog post simply entitled “Portraits of Japan”. These images are of a genre that I call a sense of place. In contrast to images about individual things, these are images about the whole. These images convey the sense of being there.

I am introducing this concept to the Thousand Oaks Photo Group for the June Digital Composition Challenge – where every other month I introduce a compositional approach to help our members grow as photographers. A Sense of Place is an image that captures the mood, sensibilities, and essence. Think if it as a portrait of a place.

How to capture the Sense of a Place

What’s the message?

As a photographer, the first thing we need to do, for any image, is to determine the message we want to convey with our image. To capture a sense of place, this means trying to identify what makes it what it is and what makes the current circumstances unique. Years ago, I read the book “Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision” by David duChemin There is one particular topic he discusses in the book that I have carried with me since the day I read it. David talks about taking an inventory of what you see and feel and then using that to determine what to capture.

  • What objects are around you: natural, man-made, regular patterns or chaotic, filled or sparse?
  • What is the weather and atmosphere: hot, cold, misty, windy, dry, wet
  • What are the structures like: old, new, majestic, grand, tiny, dilapidated?
  • What do you feel: busy, crowded, lonely, forgotten?

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What visual tells the story?

Once you have consciously gone through this inventory process, the next step is to determine how to capture as much of this inventory in the images your are going to make.

  • How do you capture the heat? the wind? the calm silence?
  • How much do you include?
  • Are people a part of the story or not?

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Capture the whole

Finally, these images are about capturing the whole, not the fussy details.

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Portraits of Santa Anita Racetrack

Places have many messages and many stories. During the last Thousand Oaks Photo Group field trip to Santa Anita Racetrack, I thought not just about capturing the people (the people were wonderful), but also about capturing the whole – the sense of the racetrack. Here are a few images.

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Use all the composition all techniques

It is important to remember all the compositional techniques that you have learned – the inclusive approach needed for capturing the whole is perhaps more difficult than reductive approach of focusing on the details.

  • Look at the line, light, and color
  • Find an expressive point of view
  • Layer the foreground with the background to link things to their environment
  • Include many elements, but pay careful attention to the relationships between objects: “nothing touches”
  • Wait for an expressive moment

Here are some additional examples:

A simple, humble, portrait of a building

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Landscape

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City scape

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Neighborhoods and Scenes

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Havana Morning

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