Blah, Blah, Blah


You know blogging is not easy. I have started this blog, stopped, and started again. What I have found is that, I will have a good run of things I feel I need to say… You know, a bunch of stuff I’ve just got to get off my chest and then… I don’t.

So rather than force myself to sit down and just write something, I’ll find that I’m suddenly just toooooo busy to sit down and write. And then one month of not writing can turn into two months and then to three and four and so on and so on and so on.

So how do you combat this? The solution is probably much the same as when I tackle photography and art projects. Sometimes you do have to force yourself to simply create, even when you just plain ‘ole don’t feel like it!

That’s why I started my other blog Exposure365. I am, by nature, a visual learner, thinker and creator. So I needed to challenge myself to create imagery everyday. The easiest, most expedient method of  creation for a visual 365 day project is using my cell phone camera.

Though, I have many other cameras, both film and digital, I have found that to be (relatively) consistent, I have to be able to make the image quickly and then edit and post quickly as well. With the use of mobile apps, such as Shoot and Snapseed, my mobile photo flow has been a breeze!

I might need to do the same with a written blog. Follow a 365 day post, everyday plan in order to get myself in the habit of writing or create a writing habit. Essentially, that’s what this post is – a get back on the horse writing exercise since I missed my post deadline last month. =)

If you’ve got an idea for next’s month’s post, let me know!

 

The Burden of Creativity


As artists and creative thinkers, we may long for the day or days when we will be able to be “creative” all the day long. Perhaps we day dream about it while at work, or pursue jobs that allow us to be creative or at the very least allow us the time and energy to make and create in our free time.

At the end of the day, our desire is to able to do what we love and live a life which is richly fulfilled by our endeavors and creations and become financially secure because of our own making.

On the flip side, however, being creative, carries with it a burden. The day you find yourself in the position, THAT very position you’d dreamed about, holy moly!

It’s not so much a heavy burden or a cross bearing burden, rather it’s more like an insatiable drive that must must be fulfilled, a burning desire to be constantly in a forward moving state. Then there is also this pull to sit still because there are so many things you could be doing and want to be doing, things you could be sharing and want to be sharing with the world.

It can be frustrating. In his talk (by the same name of this article) at the 2012 Interlink Conference, Cameron Moll, suggests that this frustration might be the result of grappling with the misguided idea that originality is creativity. It’s the subtle notion that the product is more important than the process or all the various inputs it takes to get to the final destination.

He suggests that creativity is NOT the same or synonymous with originality. Our creative efforts certainly can be original but being original is not the pinnacle of creativity rather it is a part of a bigger equation.

I like the way Cameron thinks.

One of the things you need a lot of when being a creative individual is, as Cameron calls it, GRIT. This is truly where the rubber meets the road.  Execution + Persistence + Passion = GRIT. Creativity includes persistence in the face of obstacles and problems, synthesis of or even out right re-envisioning (oh, you mean stealing, yes that right!)  of ideas that already exist and putting your own spin them and finally, organizing all the little a-ha moments into something uniquely you. These a-ha moments can happen anywhere at any time, and maybe even when you are not aware that it is happening at all.

Creativity is a process which involves you, your ideas, the information and ideas you witness each day by many other persons and things, and perhaps also in bringing an idea to its final fruition it may be a process that involves many, many hands. It doesn’t happen over night, and it doesn’t always happen cataclysmically but rather creativity can happen incrementally.

Somewhere in his presentation, Cameron Moll, he says it best:

CREATIVITY IS AN ACTION VERB!!!

I highly recommend watching this video, I found it informative and insightful as I am on my own journey of creativity!

And…

Carpe Diem!

Pilar

Check out: 

Exposure365 – this is 365 day photography project I am working. I am using cell phone, medium format and 35 mm film formats throughout the year. Possibly also some antiquarian processes.

vparthur2002 – Instagram feed.

SO HERE WE ARE.


If you have been following my blog, you may have guessed by now, particularly when it comes to photography, that I believe creativity and skill win over equipment and technology.

In point of fact, we are living in a time where consumer photographic equipment and most entry level pro-photography equipment can compete almost side by side in terms of image output and quality.

Professionally and personally speaking, I own and use a wide array of photographic equipment, from digital point and shoot cameras to large format film cameras. I love each camera I own for its individual capabilities and features.

The cell phone camera can be used as a legitimate photographic tool. In truth, cell phone cameras have all but replaced point and shoot cameras due to their portability, ease of use, and nowadays, their image quality (both still and video capture). What I love about my cell phone camera is the immediacy with which I am able to edit and post my images online. Though, I print all my own images, the ease in uploading images from your cell phone to a print service is another strong point.

Nevertheless, there is one drawback or caveat to using your cell phone camera and that is the temptation to completely ignore the basic elements of “good” photography that we have previously been discussing. To be a better photographer you must first know the rules before breaking them and this applies to using your cell phone camera as well.

To that end here are a few ideas to help you maximize the full potential of your cell phone camera:

  1. RULE #1: It’s (STILL) all about the light.

Because your cell phone flash is pretty one directional, ridiculously bright, and at it’s best truly unflattering, leave the flash off. Always. I’m not kidding.

It’s best to shoot in the most natural light as possible when using your cell phone. If you are indoors, turn the lights on. If you are outdoors find a well-lit location.

You can move around, move your subject around, move the light around if you can and need to. The key is that YOU are the boss of the light not the other way around. The number one rule of photography is; It’s all about light!

  1. RULE #2: Use the power of the *APP*

Cell phone cameras employ the same technology as a point and shoot, film or DSLR camera with one crucial difference. The key critical important difference in a cell phone camera versus your point and shoot or DSLR is that the aperture is fixed. It cannot be changed. Your cell phone will likely employ a wide aperture such as f1.8 or f2.2 in order to maximize the amount of light coming through.

Your cell phone camera will shoot on full auto unless you choose to use a photo app like Shoot by ProCam (for IOS) or VSCO Cam (for IOS or Android). Now with the power of the *app* (cue the horns), you can turn your camera into a more useful tool by controlling the shutter speed, and even the ISO.

Shoot by ProCam is a pretty powerful little app. It allows you to shoot TIFF files, which is similar to shooting RAW files on a DSLR. It has an HDR function, a level, and histogram. Additionally, Shoot allows you to employ white balancing, auto exposure lock and auto focus compensation as well.

  1. RULE #3: Zoom with your feet.

The digital zoom on your cell phone camera, to put it unscientifically, sucks, therefore, zoom with your feet. If you want a better angle or if you want a closer view of that building, flower or whatever, best to simply get closer to your subject. On the flip side, if you need to you can shoot a wider angel shot and crop in during the postproduction phase.

  1. Rule #4: Push the Limits

Understand the limitations of your cell phone camera. Again, digital zoom and low light situations are two areas where your cell phone camera will not perform spectacularly. The reason that digital zoom does not function like a telephoto lens or a set of binoculars, rather, the digital zoom on your cell phone camera is extrapolating data to make the image look like what it thinks the image should look like. (That’s as sciency as I can make that explanation.)

Low light is problematic because of noise. The darker the scene is the more noise you will see in an image. Again, noise results from the sensor trying to make sense of data, changes and gradations of light and dark. Camera phone sensors are just not designed to be highly light sensitive (YET).

This doesn’t mean that you can’t use your digital zoom and/or a low light situation to your creative advantage.

  1. RULE #5: Think BEFORE you shoot!

That said, you need conceive the shot before you shoot it. We’re not talking hours of preplanning and storyboarding but a general idea is helpful. Did you want you subject to backlit? Do you want a grainy, grungy look or do you want an image that is bright and cheery? Do want a big ol’ glob of light coming through (otherwise know as lens flare)? This will inform some of your choices as you are shooting and show off your creative control!

  1. RULE #6: Make it Pretty!

There are two schools of thought in terms of post-production when using cell phones. One is to throw a filter on the image and poof, whalla! And the other is to edit as would on your desktop.

Personally, I think you can do either or depending on what you are trying to achieve. It goes to bolster the last point, and that is what are you trying to achieve. Also, it depends on the level of control you want over the post-production process.

For filters, Instagram, Hipstamatic, and Camera Awesome are favorite apps.

For editing on your phone and just a little bit more editorial control, there is Snapseed (for Android or IOS), iPhoto (for IOS), Photoshop Express (for Android or IOS).

I have used all three of these apps and I like Snapseed the best. It has a simple interface and it allows you to make general adjustments such as brightness, structure, contrast etc. But also allows you to make selective adjustments such as dodging and burning. (Lightening and darkening particular areas of a photograph respectively.) Snapseed also allows you to separate version of your original photo.

  1. RULE #7: Keep it Clean

Finally, and simply keep your camera lens clean. Our little fingers have all kinds of grime and crud on them not to mention that our phone is in our pocket and our purse jumbling around, so make sure the camera is clean. Use a soft cloth to wipe it gently.

I hope these tips have been helpful! There is certainly a bit more to be said and there are some finer technical aspects to shooting with your cell phone that could be pointed out. However, because there are so many phone models and variations, I thought it best to keep the tips general in nature.

One final point is that not every shot is going to be a masterful rendition of your creativity. The point is to know the instrument you are using and to push its capabilities to meet your needs!

I’ll be back again next month. I am not sure what I am going to write about yet! But please be sure to join me again!

And…

Carpe Diem!

Pilar

P.S. If you want to see some examples of my cell phone photography please visit my other blog or follow me on Instagram!

Exposure365 – this is 365 day photography project I am working. I am using cell phone, medium format and 35 mm film formats throughout the year. Possibly also some antiquarian processes.

vparthur2002 – Instagram feed.

 

Good in the Beginning, Good in the Middle, Good in the End


Last month we talked a bit about where “good” photography starts. Briefly, to review, we talked about the need to slow down and observe our surroundings. We also talked about photography and light i.e. good light equals good images. And finally we talked about composition.

Today, as promised, we’ll cover the fundamental basis for how your camera works. I don’t want to get too technical here because, ultimately, my goal is to help you to apply this knowledge to the easiest to use, most immediate tool, at our disposal and that is a cell phone camera.

Since photography is all about light, the key to understanding how our camera works is understanding how the camera captures and uses light to make an image or photograph. One way to understand how a camera works is to look at how the human eye works.

eye2
Image Collection: Human Anatomy, Picture of the Eyes, WebMD

Looking in a very rudimentary way, we can recognize the pupil of the eye, as the hole through which light passes. As the pupil widens more light filters through as the pupil shrink less light filters through. In general, we see better in well lit situations than in dimly lit situations. The eyelid of the eye, when open allows us to see, when closed we see nothing. And finally, the lens just behind our eye refracts the light into the back part of the eye where what we “see” is processed by the optical nerves and electrical impulses delivered to the brain. If everything is functioning properly we see the world in full color and with vivid detail.

Similarly, your camera has three variables that determine how to get the right amount of light for the just the right exposure. These are:

  1. Aperture
  2. Shutter speed
  3. Sensitivity

 

Aperture

Aperture is the hole through which light passes; light passes through the lens to expose the film or camera sensor. Aperture is measured in f-stops. F-stop numbers are represented like so: f1.4, f2.8, f5.6, f11.2 etc. These numbers can be confusing for people, however, because the smaller the number, the larger the aperture or hole through which light passes and larger the number, the smaller the aperture or hole through which light passes. The f-stop number is determined by a mathematical formula involving diameter; honestly I cannot even begin to explain such a formula and while its nice to know such things it’s not completely necessary to understand the formula to understand aperture. Visually speaking, here’s how the inverse relationship of aperture would illustrated:

versatile-school-of-photography-aperture-f-stops
Versatile Photography School, Aperture Article

The thing to understand about aperture, in addition to the fact that the aperture controls how much light passes through the lens of the camera, is that aperture also controls depth of field or how much of your image is in focus.

A shallow depth of field is produced by a wide aperture, which in turn, is represented by a smaller number i.e. f1.4, f2.8, f.4.0. A shallow depth of field will mean that a certain portion of your foreground and background will be blurry or out of focus, the wider your aperture the shallower your depth of field. Using a shallow depth of field produces what is called “soft focus”.

Conversely, the smaller your aperture the sharper your image will be. With a smaller aperture more of your foreground, middle ground and background will be in focus. This is represented by a larger number i.e. f5.6, f8.0, f16.0 etc.

Shutter Speed

There is a shutter or curtain that covers the film or sensor of your camera. The shutter does not open unless you click the shutter button.

If we want less light to hit the film or sensor then we want a “fast” shutter speed or we want to open and close the shutter for a shorter duration. If we want more light to hit the film or sensor then we want a “slow” speed or we want to open the shutter for a longer duration.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds and fractions of seconds i.e. 1/20 (slow), 1/60 (fast), 1/100 (faster). When day photos with flash or in bright light, fast shutter speeds apply. When taking photos in low light or even at night, slow shutter speeds apply and a tripod is likely in order.

“Fast” shutter speeds stop motion while “slow” shutter speeds blur motion. This is important to keep in mind if taking photographs at a sporting event or assessing whether or not a tripod might be needed to avoid motion blur.

ISO (Sensitivity to Light)

ISO, simply put, is sensitivity to light, whether we are speaking about film or a digital camera sensor. Sensitivity to light means how fast or how slow an image can be exposed using that particular ISO setting or film speed.

As with everything else in photography, ISO is measured in numbers. ISO films and settings can go as low as ISO 25 and in this digital age camera sensors are pushing extreme limits with ISO’s at 25600 and above. Digital cameras typically have a base ISO setting; usually this base ISO setting is ISO 100 or ISO 200. The ISO settings will then double in increments to the highest ISO setting.

The lower the number the slower the film or less reactive to light it is, the higher the number the faster the film or more reactive to light the film is. So ISO 100 film or your ISO camera setting will be best used in daylight situations and for still photography while ISO 800 film/camera setting will be best used in low light situations or for action photography.

Finally, ISO affects film grain and digital noise. Ideally, you should use the lowest ISO setting or film your shooting situation allows in order to get the clearest, grain or noise free images as possible. But for creative reasons and simply because you have to, you may need to “bump up” your ISO to get the results you want.

So there you have it folks, these are the key components to getting good images. Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. Here’s a really great illustration highlighting how each of these components works together:

photography-shutter-speed-aperture-iso-cheat-sheet-chart-fotoblog-hamburg-daniel-peters
Daniel Peters, Fotoblog Hamburg

Now the work of putting these three things together to produce great images is in order. Obviously, on a DSLR it is of the utmost importance to understand how to apply these concepts to get what you want if you wish to make the switch from auto to manual shooting.

If you are using a point and shoot camera or your cell phone, these things are helpful to know in terms of pushing the limits of the technology to get what you want.

I will be doing a 45-minute webinar on how to get better photos from your cell phone on March 29 at 12:00 noon. There’s a nominal fee for the session but guarantee you will walk away with some brass tacks on how to use your cell phone to good effect. Here’s how to register for: How to Get Better Pictures from Your Cell Phone.

Until next time

Carpe Diem!

Sincerely, Pilar

Good Photography Starts Here!


When people find out that I am a professional artist and photographer, generally, the conversation automatically goes to one of two subjects:

  1. The kind of camera I use (how many megapixels it captures etc.)
  2. Whether I think film or digital is better (and which do I shoot with)

And I must confide, here and now, that I find conversations about photography framed in such a way, supremely boring and somewhat annoying. I’d much rather discuss the depth and breadth of photographic history and what concepts impact an artist’s choice of photographic method than discuss camera brands and equipment, or rehash the film vs. digital debate. I just think that photography, as an artistic practice, is more than just the camera you use. Also, why should one have to choose between film and digital? There’s no reason not to use every tool available to you.

Furthermore, in this day and age, in 2016, you can probably make a good image using virtually almost any digital camera out there, even your cell phone. The quality of an image, goes beyond megapixels and film, and rests squarely on the shoulders of the image creator.

There are several basic principles and skills you can master to get better images. Good image making, even at it’s most technologically savvy, is a creative process by which an individual is able to use what’s available to them and make the best out of it.

In brief, here are the three elements which I think are key to making good images better.

  1. Stop & Look

Photography is about seeing and understanding how you see, discovering what interests you. Is it color, patterns or movement – the sky’s the limit really. An important part in the practice of photography is slowing down and NOT snapping a picture but rather appreciating moments as they happen.

  1. It’s All About the Light

The word photography derives from ancient Greek; the root phŏtos or phŏs means, “light” and graphé means, “ drawing” or “representation by line”. Therefore, photography literally means “drawing with light” or “light writing”. Good light = good images.

  1. Composition

Composition encompasses a lot, but basically, it’s using all the rules of photography to your advantage or breaking them all together. But armed with basic compositional knowledge you can do virtually anything when shooting an image.

 

These are, I think, the most basic principles of getting better pictures. If you want to know more, specifically about getting better photos from your cell phone, please join me on March 29 at 12:00 noon for a webinar entitled: Get Better Pictures from Your Cell Phone.

In my next blog segment, (March 17), I’ll talk a little about knowing and understanding how your camera works. Of course, this is also critical knowledge for getting better pictures, even on your cell phone.

In the meantime:

Carpe Diem!

Sincerely, Pilar

Exhibitions, Competitions, Juried Shows, OH MY!


Have you ever wondered what the difference is between an art exhibition, art competition and a juried art show? You will often hear all of these terms used interchangeably, but at the end of the day there is one crucial difference that we shall remark upon here. The difference lies in whether the exhibition is curated, juried or judged.

Curated Exhibitions and Shows

To begin with, a curated exhibition is a group of art work that has been carefully selected by, you guessed it, the curator. The curator has a significant amount of input and control over the final grouping of work shown. Typically, and more often than not, the curator has not only selected the theme and conceptual focus of the exhibition, but they have also titled the show, and selected all of the artists’ work included.

A curated exhibition takes more than just a decidedly firm liking of a particular brand of artwork; it takes forethought, knowledge and time.

Curators can be individuals who work within large scale museum spaces or within smaller galleries and they can also be independent or freelance. A curator may have also studied, deeply, within a particular field of research such as 19th century ceramics, Bauhaus or the Pictorialist Movement. A cohesively curated exhibition is not only well researched, but will also typically give us insight into the curator’s interests both professionally and creatively.  Have you ever been to an exhibition where every piece just seems to better highlight and inform the next? This is what great curators do and why they are highly sought after.

Curators will also oversee how and where the artist or artists work is shown. They will often work directly with the artists’ and venue to “hang the show”.  They may help to arrange artist talks or even give a talk themselves to discuss their vision in constructing the exhibition. They will also be responsible for creating the exhibition catalog.

All things being considered, and perhaps a point of confusion for art world novices and outsiders, the curator may extend a “Call for Art”. S/he may do this in an effort to find previously unseen artists or work or even to garner a fresh perspective in the work, “the work” being the exhibition itself.

Juried Exhibitions and Shows

A juried exhibition or show, on the other hand,  always stems from a Call for Art. The gallery or “exhibition host” or sponsor will issue the call, as well as set the theme or premise for the call. They also select the jurors or judges, who will in turn select artists’  work;  they will select work which best represents the theme or premise of the show.

As with the selection of curators for a curated exhibition, jurors or judges are selected for their knowledge and expertise within a particular area of art. The gallery is not usually not involved in the jurying process but the call for art will speak to the host gallery’s particular interests in working with artists and in their niche or market.

The jury process is often blind, meaning that the jurors do not know who the artists are that have submitted work. In this way, the jury process can be seen as “fair” and perhaps “unbiased” since the juror has not invited (ideally) specific artists to submit to the call with the intention of selecting their work. Jurors may also be responsible for awarding “Best In Show” or rankings of artist work which results in 1st, 2nd, 3rd places (and so on) and “Honorable Mentions” etc.

Once the selection process is complete, the juror’s job is typically complete. The gallery or exhibition host will produce the exhibition catalog, publicity, and work with the artists to hang the show.

A Brief Note About Competitions

Aren’t juried exhibitions or shows the same as competitions?

Yeah, well, my knee jerk reaction to this question is, no. The difference, in my mind, is audience. Whether this is truth or bias, I tend to think that juried exhibitions or shows are targeted toward self-professed, working artists, whether they are working part or full time. While, on the other hand, competitions are for the masses: for the weekend warrior, the amateur or professional etc. For me, the distinguishing factor between a competition and a juried art show is “skin in the game.”

All this is not to say that competitions are bad and juried shows are good. I just think they are different, albeit subtly so. And at the end of the day, technically speaking, a juried show is indeed a competition.

Carpe Diem!

Sincerely, Pilar

 

 

 

What Does Meditation Practice Have to do With Photography Anyway?

What Does Meditation Practice Have to do With Photography Anyway?

Last week I attended an intense two and half day Buddhist practice. Practice begins each morning at 5:00 am. There is a 3 hour break in the middle of the day and then practice resumes again at 3:00 pm and ends at about 6:30 or 7:00 pm.

On the first day we practice until about noon, then, lunch is served. Lunch on the first day is precious because it is the last meal eaten until about 7:30 am on the third day. Also, after leaving the table, one may drink only clear fluids until going to bed.

On the second day, there is no eating, no drinking fluids, no talking. This practice is physically grueling because there is the added dimension of preforming many, many prostrations during this two-day period.

I actually love this practice. It seems quite insane but I do. Aside from the spiritual or religious significance of the practice, the opportunity to become inwardly focused for a day or two is refreshing.

But what does meditation practice have to do with photography anyway?

The question should really be what does meditation practice have to do with “professional” photography or “fine art” photography or “documentary” photography anyway?

A meditation practice such as the one I went through last week requires a high level of commitment to see through to the end. That may seem like a statement of the obvious, nevertheless, how else do you get through 36 hours of rigorous physical and mental activity sans food or water without commitment? I am not pointing this out to say that I am special in any way, just that you have to decide at the outset that you will complete the task, no matter what.

It gets tough. And, when it does you will be tempted to quit.

So it goes with professional photography. You know, you are living your dream and “doin your thang” and then a major snafu comes along and the question will be, Are you committed? If so, How much or to what end? Well, we’ve talked about commitment before in other posts so I won’t go on about that topic.

Beyond all that, photography can be meditative practice.

These days with cell phone cameras, digital cameras and the like it is very easy to be snap happy. I, of course, say that with love! I am guilty as charged. I think my cell phone might explode I’ve taken so many pictures on it.

But if you use photography to slow down and really look – you will actually see the world how it is.

So before clicking the shutter next time, take a long, deep breath. I mean, really breathe. Feel the air going into your nose and out again. Close your eyes if you have to and visualize the image you want to capture in your mind. Now, reframe in the viewfinder, zoom with your feet, step left, step right and….

CLiCk!