Tuesday, July 28, 2015


I occasionally wonder just how profitable photography workshops are. Michael Reichmann has helpfully provided some useful information for us!

Check this out Reichmann and Biggs Galapagos Workshop.

The price for the workshop is $9995, for a maximum take of $119,940 gross.

If you google a little, you will find that the charter company runs two web sites. The one Michael doesn't link to has prices. You can buy this exact cruise rack rate for between 5 and 6 grand, depending on cabin. You don't get to wander around with Andy and Mike, though. You do get to wander around with the naturalist in all the same places, though. Andy and Mike are paying $72,450 for the charter, which includes pretty much exactly what they're calling out in their glowing description. There's a little ambiguity surrounding alcoholic beverages (not included in the charter, but Andy and Mike say "all meals and drinks"). Basically all that crap they talk about in the description of the awesome cruise is just included by the charter company as part of the basic package. I can find no extras, apart from possibly booze, that Mike and Andy are arranging. They're buying a charter for $72,450, and attempting to resell it for $119,940, which is pretty nervy, I'd say.

So anyways this looks a lot like a net of $47,490 to Andy and Mike, if they can fill the workshop. Note that there will be 14 (12 paying, plus Andy and Mike) participants, and there are 9 cabins. I wonder who'll be getting cabins to themselves.

"There will be no classroom sessions, no lectures, no slide shows, and most importantly — no unnecessary egos. We will all work closely together, sharing our knowledge and experience." Or to put it another way, "We won't be doing much of anything except wandering around with you. You'll be paying about a $4500 premium over rack rate for the pleasure of our company, and possibly a T-shirt."

Now, according to the web site with prices, they had to front 20% to nail down the dates, so they're out of pocket $14,490 right now and they could lose it. If they need to cancel, the charter company is gonna take $7245 and pocket it, and they'll take the rest if they can't resell the charter week to someone else. So, there's a legit risk.

Notice, though, the incredibly stringent terms. The charter company wants payment in full 60 days in advance, Mike and Andy want it 90 days in advance, and so on. So they're hedging and leaving wiggle room, throughout. These guys need to sell 8 spots to make their nut and get a free vacation to the Galapagos. If they can sell all 12 spots, they're gonna clear 30-40 grand for handholding some rich wannabees for a week and making a few phone calls.

Nice work if you can get it.


Next time you see some dude photographing kids in public, consider some of these alternatives to 'AAAAA! PEDOPHILE!' Next time someone you know freaks out on facebook about some creep photographing children at the playground, consider these possibilities.

Maybe he's doing research on how kids play, to design a better and safer play structure.

Maybe he's doing a book on the innocence of youth.

Maybe he's preparing a report for the city on playground usage, to justify increased funding.

Maybe he's actually photographing the moms in yoga pants, and shooting the play structure from time to time as cover.

Maybe he's just messing around with his camera.

Maybe that little girl reminds him of his own daughter who died of brain cancer.

These are pretty much all more likely scenarios than PEDO! Feel free to use them on your freaking-out friends.

If you're feeling brave you could also try out 'So what? Are we now thought police?' but you may want to buckle in for backlash if you try that one out.

Monday, July 27, 2015

App Land

I'm going to prognosticate. In fact, I'm predicting the imminent death of the internets. Well, not quite.

One needs neither wisdom nor courage to speculate that the web will be different in five years, in ways we can't imagine now. Change is a constant, in this game. The tricky bit is in guessing what the change will be.

Here's what I am smelling in the breeze. The increasing dominance of Mobile as a thing (fucking around on your phone, instead of on a computer) is leading increasing toward Apps and away from general web browsing. Don't let the bastards lie to you. An app is generally pretty much just a web browser that only goes to one web site. It's the holy fucking grail for web-based businesses. If they can just get you to download and use the App, now it's a gigantic goddamned problem to go to any other web sites. So, if my web site isn't utterly crappy and broken, and if I can get you to fire up my App, you're a whole bunch more likely to just stay put while I sell you to advertisers.

What's this mean?

Well, in theory it means less cross-fertilization in photographic style and method, perhaps?

Are we actually going to see anything other than the current complete homogeneity across the entire interwebs (inter-apps, whatever)? I dunno, it doesn't take very damn much cross-fertilization to create homogeneity. If you want grizzly bears that don't look pretty much like all the other grizzlies, you need to completely isolate them for quite a while. And then, zowie, white bears. WTF?!!!

There should be some more differentiation, at least. And perhaps even a little renewed enthusiasm, as people stop having it forced upon them quite so obviously that there are a billion Joes Just Like You out there.

I dunno. Cautiously optimistic. I don't see how this could be bad for photography.

Terrible for everything else? Oh, hell yeah. Definitely.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


I am back and forth on this one.

On the one hand, most contemporary photography is ephemera. Something to post to my social media presence, liked or ignored, and then we're on to the next thing. Photographs persist, but down the timeline, where they might as well not.

On the other hand, perhaps one should aspire to do something else, something not ephemeral. I make prints, and I stick them in to books. That's more permanent, more solid. Wherever the book is, it's a present object that is there, not lost in some digital history, 17 clicks out of sight. It's right there on the shelf. I can see the spine of it.

But still I embrace the ephemeral nature of it. Ultimately, despite the best efforts of Ansel Adams, selenium toning, and archival washing, we're making pictures on paper, a substance not really well known for its properties of longevity. Sure, a couple hundred years or so, if you're careful. But the stuff rips, it burns, it doesn't like getting wet. We're not talking bronze here, it's not marble. It's paper.

Books? Also paper. Also flammable, don't like getting wet, and so on.

I use a lot of machine prints from down the street, 19 cents a copy. The print will look fine, most likely, when the book bites the dust. And it if doesn't? Well, that's OK too. The point is to have made it, not to have it endure forever.

So I continue to waffle, or perhaps to straddle some line. Ephemeral, but solid, physical. Ephemeral, but not too ephemeral.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

"How do you capture emotions?"

I ran across a thread entitled "How do you capture emotions?" in a forum I skim from time to time.

The stock answers to this and all other essentially artistic questions, all questions which don't resolve to some immediate technical solution, are:
  • Practice, practice, practice!
  • Horizontal lines create feelings of... yellow makes people feel... etc

Regular readers will be able to predict accurately that I think these are bunk. Well, not quite bunk, there are germs of truth.

To address the first one, undirected practice is almost completely worthless. Even focused practice, where you shoot and examine your work, is nearly useless. To get places efficiently, one can go quite a bit beyond that. Spending 10,000 hours taking 'properly exposed' photos from eye level will teach you very little.

To address the second, well, these things are all neat ideas, but presenting them as fixed rules is quite harmful. They are not fixed.

The correct answer is directed practice. You want to try things out, specific things. You want to learn what the visual effects actually are of the technical things you can do. What does this cactus look like up close? in B&W? What if you shoot it dark? Bright? In the morning? From far away with a very long lens?

This develops a visual vocabulary. By doing and looking, you learn at a visceral level what is possible, visually. You may learn some trends about horizontal lines and the color yellow along the way, but more usefully you will develop an intimate photographic idea of what it looks like when you do that, or that, or this other thing.

Practice thus, look at lots of other photographs (and maybe some paintings), and you'll develop a deep vocabulary of what is visually possible, together with the technical mastery to employ that vocabulary.

Now look at the thing you're trying to shoot, and think about what you're trying to say, what emotion you're trying to capture. Riffle through your vocabulary "words" of visual effects, and visualize roughly what they look like. You will, with luck, get a couple ideas. It's possible that you'll suddenly see that enhancing the yellow colors will make the place feel cold, and that the horizontal lines will make it feel dynamic. That's not usually how it goes, but maybe it's just what will happen with the rock you're trying to make feel happy.

So, the first one is true, as well as false. Practice, but don't just go poke keys on the piano at random. Learn your scales and chords, and listen to them.

So, the second one is true in a way as well. It's about knowing what diagonal lines, dark shadows, and the color red look like. They're gonna do something, it's up to you to see what they're gonna do.

There's a bunch of exercises over on my Introduction to Photography thing that might help here. They're supposed to.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Making Archetypes, Imagining Workshops

Every now and then I resolve to go shoot a pile of those awful archetypes that clutter up Flickr and 500px. Generally street/urban, so I don't have to drive all over tarnation and wait for the damned golden hour. My idea varies. A portfolio cranked out one afternoon to prove how easy this shit out to grind out. Sometimes I'm going to open a Flickr account and work my way up to thousands of followers which I will then monetize or whatever.

It always ends the same way. I go shoot for an hour. I load up 150 shots on the computer and sift it down to an A list of 3 or 4 or 8 or whatever, and a slightly larger B reel.

Then I can't bear to look at them any more. Usually I've got a small handful of photos that would serve. 'Process' them a bit, edit the EXIF so they look like they were taken with an expensive camera, and I'm good to go. I dunno if I can grind out terrible landscapes, but I can produce urban observational quasi-street at a rate of probably 3 or 4 an hour. Counting 'processing' and so on' I'm confident that I could pump out 2 an hour more or less forever. Except that I'd kill myself.

I just can't do it. It's not that I'm an honest guy and can't bear to go through with a scam. I'd love to scam a bunch of people on 500px. I can't bear to look at these photos. I can't bear to spend my time polishing these pigs up in the approved fashion. They're pointless stupid photos, by design.

So the whole project goes in the dumpster and I go back to something that's just going to cost money, with no chance of making any.

What makes this thing something of interest to me is that I have no problem at all doing precisely this at the piano.

Grinding out a decent rendition of Bach's Prelude in C (a very beautiful, very easy to play, piece of music) gives me great pleasure. I'm not trying to express anything, I'm just trying to bang the right keys in the right order, with a respectable approximation of the force indicated on the sheet music. Grinding this thing out respectably is, surely, pretty close to the same achievement as crapping out some terrible Urban Contemporary photograph.

There are a few differences.

Nobody listens to me noodling at the piano and suggests that I ought to take it up as a profession. People looking at photographs are notoriously wont to make just that suggestion, based apparently on the observation that your pictures are "clear" whatever that even means.

I do not kid myself that I might someday become a professional piano player. That simply isn't going to happen. I don't know much about piano playing, but I do know enough to visualize the vast gulf that exists between me and the lowest paid piano player.

I do not kid myself that I can teach the piano to anyone else. Sure, I have a few simple suggestions for the genuinely ignorant, based on memories of my own lessons, but it turns out that teaching piano is a profession in its own right. Again, I am aware of the vast gulf, etc.

Photographers are weirdly unaware of the same vast gulfs. They'll cheerfully start offering up workshops, and even more weirdly other photographers will sign up for them. Most workshops appear to be travel to a beautiful location and take an metric fuckton of snapshots while there, and every night get together with a bunch of like-minded twats to drink and "critique" one another's work. In other words, it's not really about learning anything. It's about hanging out with other gearheads on vacation.

There are no workshops offered in Bellingham, WA, although there are 100s of workshops being offered to photographers every single day of the year. They're all in Venice, or Hawaii, or Antarctica.

I try to envision the same thing for piano players. Go to Vienna, and hang out at the Bösendorfer factory, noodling away on pianos with other people who also cannot play very well, while receiving lessons from some dope who has no idea either how to play the piano, or how to teach people how to play? Then go get drunk?

Doesn't that sound awesome?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ming Thein is an Idiot

Jesus H. Christ.

Check this out: Repost: Defining cinematic.

Note some distance into it these words: I’m not aware of any other photographer who’s actually spent time shooting in this style which he qualifies in a footnote, blabbering about some guy whose name he forgets.

While not everyone on earth should necessarily be familiar with this sort of thing, I am pretty sure that some jerkoff who offers Masterclasses and Workshops all over the world, and styles himself an artist, and all that other stuff Mr. Thein does, ought to have heard of Cindy Sherman. One of the, I dunno, top 5 or 10 most important photographic artists over the last, say, 40 years. You know. That woman who rose to fame on the basis of a series of 69 photographs, a portfolio entitled:

Untitled Film Stills

which incidentally are a lot more cinematic than Mr. Thein's. Mr. Thein, despite his posturing, is simply taking horizontal shots of the same stuff he always shoots, and fiddling with the color balance until it looks like something he saw in a movie.

Maybe what he means is that he doesn't know of any photographers who shoot horizontal shots of nothing, in which case I think he really needs to get out more.

I may have to introduce a tag "theinwatch" or possibly "nottheinwatch" so people who don't want to don't have to read my ranting.


Oh look, you can see in the comments that he's looked Sherman up, and hurriedly invented a bunch of reasons why he didn't mention her. Anything to avoid looking dumb.