Thursday, April 30, 2015


Don't forget to buy my book! Or leave a really great review! Or both!

Intermediate Photography

Just for fun I'll leave this at the top for a bit.

This is totally working! I have sold two more books! That's US$1.20! But mainly, an ego boost. Thanks, my new customers! I appreciate it!

New content is BELOW.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


This is a Work In Progress. Depicted here is a prototype book, two inches by two inches. No text. This is doing duty as a photobook of pictures of the granddaughters, for grandma.

Will be using the same design in six by six for another project hopefully over the next couple days. Pictures as they become available!

The Subjective Experience

Audiophiles, it is said, use your music to listen to their gear. It is well established that most of what audiophiles "hear" is subjective -- in blind testing, they cannot tell the difference between their solid gold cables, and cheap cables from Walmart. This doesn't mean, though, that they're not hearing something.

Hearing, like vision, is a construct of the mind. Just because we have to know some related fact before we can "hear" or "see" something doesn't mean we're not hearing or seeing it. The tricky bit is that you can tell an audiophile that the solid gold cables with the directional arrow on them are in use, and, whether they are or not, the audiophile will hear the more three-dimensional sound stage, or whatever.

There are, assuredly, things we can see in photographs that are not there. Photographs taken with a Nikon D800 and a Zeiss Otus Mumblefart lens (or, more to the point, with EXIF data which suggests this) appear on the internet, scaled down to 1500 pixels on the long side, and people will exclaim with delight. Shoot something with a cell phone, make sure the blacks are dark, and tell people you shot it on film, watch the cooing begin.

In short, people see stuff they think they ought to see based on what we tell them. Stuff that is not there.

On the flip side, "serious photographers" are fond of rattling on about "the light! the light!" which usually means either waiting for sundown, or using a really big modifier. Then they take a picture, and show it to people. If you tell your audience about how amazing the light was, they'll see it, most likely. If you don't, they'll see that you shot it at around sundown, and totally miss how "awesome the light is". That's because there isn't anything awesome about the light. It's sundown. Happens every single day. Also, we've all seen a zillion of these things. Ho hum.

In general, self-styled photographers spend a lot of time monkeying around with things that non-photographers won't see unless they're told about them. This is OK, because mostly self-styled photographers are shooting pictures for other photographers to look at, and those people will quite likely notice that you used short lighting on the plump subject, and will applaud approvingly.

So what?

Well, there's a lot of technical stuff that we won't consciously notice without foreknowledge. Either we get told about the Zeiss Zebulon lens, or we just know short lighting, or whatever. Without the knowledge, the technical feature is invisible. Either because it does not exist in any measureable way, or because we're blind to it.

There are technical things which do exist, in a measurable way, to which we are blind, but which may nonetheless change how we perceive the picture.

Try this experiment. Gather up some photos. Sort them in to pictures you think are "good" and pictures you think are "not as good". Now look at any real resource on composition, by which I mean, avoid resources aimed at photographers.  Take the ideas and principles you learn, and apply them to the pictures.

I bet you'll find that the "good" ones tend to align with the ideas and principles better than the "bad" ones.

Ugh, so now we're got a mess.

There's stuff that's measurable (real) and stuff that's not measureable (not real).

There's stuff we perceive consciously. There's stuff we perceive, but not consciously. And there's stuff we're completely blind to.

So, to summarize:

There are things we perceive consciously. These may or may not be real.

There are things we perceive unconsciously. These tend to be real, but there's probably some sort of continuum of consciousness, and of realness.

There are things we're blind to. These may or may not be real.

The magic is probably in the stuff we perceive unconsciously, which is mostly real stuff. If just anyone can perceive it consciously, they can probably just shoot it themselves. It's "obvious".

If most people are blind some stuff, who cares about that stuff?

If most people can feel something, but only unconsciously, well, now we've got something, don't we? This is the sort of thing that actual theories of composition are getting at.

If you don't know to look for it, you won't particularly notice that the most interesting thing in the frame (the "subject") is also the highest contrast point. You won't notice the way things are specifically organized by contrast, by position, into a heirarchy of importance. You won't notice the way complementary colors are used.

But these things will most likely affect you, you will mostly likely think the picture is "better" for them.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sensor Size and Depth of Field

Just do a google search for the title of this post.

This is practically the most favorite thing for would-be photographers to talk about on the internet. They seem to like to rush down the rabbit hole and misunderstand one another, and say stuff that is perfectly correct if you happen to understand there are seven separate things left unsaid which have to absolutely be a particular way.

Why? Who the fuck cares? These just no goddamned point to this shit. If you have a specific application where you need to have a specific depth-of-field, hie thee to a calculator and get your answer.

If you do not have a specific application, then surely your sensor size and focal length and where to stand are pretty much a given, driven by a thousand other factors. Then adjust the aperture to produce the desired depth of field.

And none of it has any point at all unless you happen to know how you're going crop the frame, what size the final print it, and what the typical viewing distance is.

If you don't know those things, at least roughly, then the entire discussion is pure masturbation.

So why to people waste so much time on this crap?

My theory is that it hits some sweet spot for the gearhead nerd. It's complicated enough that nobody can actually explain it perfectly - some tiny detail, or some not so tiny details, always get left out, opening the door to arguments. And who doesn't like fighting about bullshit on the internet?

It's simple enough that one can (mostly) understand it in full, if you struggle a bit. So now you have something to lord over the slightly more new, something you can use to pretend you know more about photography.

DoF "discussions", just say no.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Talking About Art

I see this sort of thing from time to time.

Well, what Art means to me is ... craft ... something something skill ... something ... but it's all subjective isn't it?

On the one hand it's nice to see people wrestling with ideas about what Art might be, and what the point is and so on. On the other hand it strikes me as, if not the height of hubris at any rate one of the higher foothills, to assume that nobody else has ever tried to think their way through these things.

Why should I care what Art means to you, any more than I care about what Wool means to you? Or Carrots? People seem to reason from the vague notion that Art is in part a personal experience to the concrete idea that any random thought anyone has about it is equally valuable, unique, and interesting.

When you can't even be bothered to spend 20 minutes with the Wikipedia page on Art before opening your piehole and starting to emit sounds, why should I even bother to talk to you?

Especially if you're going to trot out wrongheaded platitudes like "it's all subjective" in the end. And usually, you are. You idiot.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

I Know What I Like

Thurber is credited with saying something along the lines of "I don't know Art, but I know what I like". Which is typically witty, of course, but also a little problematic.

Being pithy and witty it gets quoted a lot, and this plants the axiom that "liking" stuff is somehow relevant, or even superior to whatever it is that Art is or does.

In the first place, what do you even mean when you say you like something? Do you think it's pretty? Do you like that it challenges and/or teaches you something? Do you enjoy the second-hand experience of breaking the taboos it breaks? Do you think it follows whatever rules you think it should?

In the second place, it doesn't matter if you like it. No matter what you mean by "liking" when I make some Art, you liking it is not on my list of desired outcomes, and it shouldn't be.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Obsession With Light

An oft-repeated adage in photography is that it's all about light. Learn to see the light! Blah blah blah. I've addressed this before.

There is an internet forum I used to frequent which I still peek in to from time to time for ideas. At this very moment they're arguing the lighting scheme used by a NYC headshot guy. It's painfully obvious that the subjects are facing a large window, the photographer stands dead center, and shoots. You can see the window and the photographer reflected in the subject's eyes. This was explained early on by one of the few members of the forum that actually knows anything.

The discussion has proceeded in two directions: first, the photographer is an untalented hack because he's using head on lighting; second he must be using giant octobox/parabolic reflector/v-flats/some other lighting gear.

The takeaway here is this: These self-styled photographers equate talent and skill with using complicated lighting setups and these same self-styled photographers don't actually look at the picture particularly closely. I theorize that they're examining the lighting patterns or something, and then thinking about what piece of gear they read about most recently.

Hold on to that for a moment.

There's a style of lighting for people which is, perhaps, becoming more prevalent. We can think of it as the Terry Richardson look, it's pretty much dead-on from the front, often somewhat harsh. See also Martin Schoeller, who is less harsh but still dead-on. Another example: I read an article on/interview with Novak Djokovic, the tennis player, in which all the accompanying pictures were 100% Terry Richardson style.

These pictures are all of a sort that is panned by the kind of low-level pro/half-ignorant amateur we find cluttering up the internet, because, again, talent and skill = complicated lighting.

To be sure, complicated lighting can be flattering, it can hide a multitude of sins. If you sell low-end portraits, you want to do this sort of thing. But it's not the same as "talent" or "skill", it's pretty much paint by numbers out of one of a couple of books. Or you can do it the hard way and sift through megabytes of misinformation on the internet. With dead-on flat lighting, there's no place to hide. Pretty people still look pretty, though.

The point about taking pictures of people is that it's not about the lighting at all. It's about styling, direction, and about finding the right moment. Eliminate "Camera Face" and find the picture that's a good picture of the victim, not a bad one.

The guy they're complaining about on that forum is actually pretty decent. His lighting is revealing, but not interesting. He makes his subjects look appealing as hell with posing, styling, and finding the right moment.

It's Not About The Light.