Saturday, February 27, 2016

Abandonment Engagement Portraits

Chairs - Tehachapi, California
I don't generally like photographing people, and I think it's mostly because people have an unrealistic idea of what they should look like. People want the pictures of themselves to be perfect--that is, they want to look perfect in the photos. But everyone has "flaws" and scars and such. Nobody is perfect.

I think it is our imperfections that make us beautiful. I find photographs of "broken" people to be far more interesting than pictures of "perfect" people. It's the photographer's job to highlight the beauty that other people miss in the brokenness.

If I were to say that to a potential client I would not get hired for portrait work.

While I don't like photographing people, I do have experience photographing people. I've done weddings and portraits and even some corporate work.

Recently I photographed Christina and Christopher's engagement portraits. I tried a few different styles and went to several different locations. I also convinced them to go to an abandoned place nearby that I've photographed before.

What I like about this concept is that people are imperfect and broken, and so their relationship is going to be imperfect and broken. Most engagement photographs show a beautiful seemingly perfect location. But that's not truth, it's not genuine. It's unrealistic.

The abandoned site is symbolic. These two people love each other despite the problems and scars of life, despite the imperfections. That's real.

I used a Sony RX100 II to capture these images. They were post-processed using Alien Skin Exposure X.
Purple Car - Tehachapi, California
Yellow Oven - Tehachapi, California
Mobile Home - Tehachapi, California

Monday, February 22, 2016

Getting Yelled At For A Photograph

Trash Mover - Tehachapi, California
This driver was upset that I took his picture.
Have you ever been yelled at for photographing? Ever had someone act aggressively towards you for no other reason than taking a picture?

I have.

The first time was about five years ago. I went to Starbucks to get some coffee. I pulled into the parking lot and, since I had a Holga 120N medium-format film camera with me, I decided to snap a picture before heading in.

Just as I clicked the shutter open I heard a voice, "You can't take pictures here! Put your camera away!" I took the camera down from my face and looked to see a Starbucks employee (perhaps the manager) coming towards me.

"I can't take pictures here?" I asked.

"No! It's against our policy," he replied. "Starbucks does not allow people to take pictures on our property. No photography!"

I wanted to point out that where I was standing was not likely Starbucks property, but the property of the shopping center where Starbucks was leasing space. But I decided to let it go and simply answer, "OK."

With that I left. I didn't buy coffee, and I never again returned to that particular Starbucks.

When I got home I researched Starbucks' position on photography. Turns out that they once had a no-photography policy, but by the time I was confronted by an employee their policy had changed. This person apparently never got the memo.

I got the last laugh, however. Holga's are notorious for their light leaks, and somehow "666" managed to get burned into the image from frame six (or perhaps frame nine, I'm not sure). It was completely unexpected, yet perfectly appropriate for this scene.
666 Coffee - Avondale, Arizona
Starbucks didn't want me to capture this image.
A couple of years ago I stopped to photograph an abandoned house in the Mojave Desert. I got out of the car, camera in hand, and began heading towards the house. The place was obviously abandoned and the house was so dilapidated that nobody could live in it even if they wanted to.

Suddenly a voice came booming from behind me, "Hey! Get out of here! You don't belong here!"

I turned to see someone on the other side of a dirt road behind a fence. I didn't even notice the person when I drove up. I held up my camera and replied, "I'm just here to take pictures."

"Get out of here! I'll call the cops," he yelled back, looking quite angry and waving his arms around. "You don't belong here!"

I didn't stay to find out why he was so angry or if he really was planning to get the authorities involved. I left. No big deal. There are tons of other abandoned places in the desert to photograph.
Broken Gate, Broken Home - Mojave, California
An abandoned home near the abandoned place that I didn't get to photograph.
Last month I had to take a load of trash to the local dump. I had my camera with me. After emptying the bed of my pickup truck I decided to capture an image of this tractor that was pushing the garbage around.

As soon as I made an exposure the driver stopped his tractor and yelled down to me to stop taking photographs. "No pictures!" He looked quite upset.

With a smile, I simply responded, "Sorry!" I got into my truck and left.

I never attempt to anger anyone. I don't go around trying to get people mad at me and what I'm doing. I don't want to encounter aggressive people. But no matter how much one tries to avoid it, it's inevitable that someone will act angrily at one's photography. It's going to happen.

When this happens the first rule is to not exacerbate the situation. Don't engage anger with more anger. Don't push the person any further. Even if you are completely in the right and they are completely in the wrong. Have that argument when heads are cool.

A warm smile and calmly spoken polite words can go a million miles towards diffusing a hot situation. Show that you are friendly and intending no harm.

Finally, don't put "getting the picture" above your own safety or above your humanity. If you don't capture the image you want, that's fine. Let it go. It's not worth the risk. There will be other photographic opportunities. Don't be a jerk, even if the other person is being a jerk to you. Just leave. Get the heck out of there! You don't want to be around someone who is that angry.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

RAW or JPEG

Keep Out The Sun - Tehachapi, California
Captured using JPEG format.
I've been asked many times which format should you use, RAW or JPEG?

Most digital cameras nowadays have the ability to save in RAW format, JPEG format, or both at the same time. It can be confusing to know which you should choose. What's the difference, anyway?

RAW files are unprocessed data from the sensor. Without the right software you cannot view these files. They're not even real pictures until they've received some processing. RAW files are like undeveloped film. The advantage of using this format is that you have more flexibility and control in post-processing. The disadvantage is that it requires more time (and editing skills) to achieve a finished picture.

JPEG files are photographs made by processing data from the sensor. Your camera will edit the image automatically based on how you and the manufacturer programmed it--no computer software required. The advantage of using JPEG format is that it's much faster than RAW because you don't have to do any further post-processing. The disadvantage is that you have less flexibility and control of the outcome.

In many ways it comes down to time and control. Do you have the time (and skill) to sit in front of a computer and edit thousands of pictures? Do you require complete control to achieve the look you want? The answer to these questions will dictate which format you should use.
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Captured using RAW format.
And the answer may vary from image to image. One photograph might require the use of RAW. Another might not require RAW so one shoots in JPEG format. I use RAW sometimes and JPEG sometimes, it just depends. Each situation is different.

There are people on camera forums that will tell you that only amateur photographers shoot using JPEG format. That's not true. There are many professional photographers who don't have time for RAW. Their clients require the photographs ASAP. They'd be out of a job if they shot RAW.

The key to successful JPEG photography is to make sure that all of the camera settings are just as you want them prior to opening the shutter. You must take a little more care in the field. There is less room for error, so it's critical that everything is set just the way you want.

If you are lazy like most photographers, it's better to shoot RAW just for some mistake breathing room. So what if the white balance isn't correct? You can fix that later. So what if the photograph is a little underexposed? You can fix that later. This is probably the #1 reason people use RAW format. You have more room to make errors in the field and still come away with a good photograph. But no matter which format you choose, a little care prior to exposure can go a long ways later.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Abandonment: Inland Truss Company - Mojave, California

I visited the abandoned Inland Truss outside of Mojave, California in July of 2014. I like to occasionally return to places to see how they've changed and perhaps capture some better photographs. I was excited to revisit this place because the first time around yielded some of my favorite images.

What I found, however, was pretty disappointing. The place had been ransacked pretty thoroughly, and plenty had been taken. Vandals destroyed a lot. I found it in pretty rough shape. This is not to say that it was in great shape in 2014, but it's much worse now. It almost didn't seem like the same place.

It made me appreciate the original experience exploring and photographing the site.

Below you'll find some of the photographs captured (using a Sigma DP2 Merrill) on that hot summer day in '14. Below that are the photographs I captured last month (using a Sony RX100 II) on a mild winter day.

2014:
Modular - Mojave, California
Two Modular Windows - Mojave, California
Passageway - Mojave, California
The Sound of Silence - Mojave, California
Old Coffee Cup - Mojave, California
Copy Machine - Mojave, California
Desk - Mojave, California
Leaning Pattern - Mojave, California

2016:
Workshop Desk - Mojave, California 
Forgotten Soccer Champs - Mojave, California
Emptied Desk - Mojave, California
Broken View of The Desert - Mojave, California

Monday, February 8, 2016

Sony RX100 II & Urbex Photography

Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II
After publishing my review of the Sony RX100 II last year, I've been asked several times if the camera really is a good choice for urban exploration photography. After all, it has a 1" sensor so high-ISO isn't a strongpoint, and this genre often requires shooting in dark locations.

I have two quick points, which will hopefully answer the question for you. Then I'll add a several additional thoughts in closing.

The RX100 II isn't the best camera at high-ISO, but it isn't terrible, either. I used to use a Sigma DP2 Merrill, an excellent camera that's limited to a maximum ISO of around 400. The RX100 II has an upper practical limit of ISO 1600, which, in comparison, is quite good. While it might be nice to be able to bump the ISO just a little higher, the majority of situations don't call for an ISO above 1600.
Illuminated Window - Tehachapi, California
ISO 1600 handheld with a 2/5th second exposure.
One area where the RX100 II shines is image stabilization. I've been able to get sharp photographs with the camera handheld using a shutter speed longer than a quarter of a second. With good technique, it's possible to make up for the lack of high-ISO capabilities with longer exposures.

Exposure is a combination of aperture (how much light is allowed in), shutter (how long the light is allowed in) and ISO (how sensitive to light the camera or film is). Adjusting one effects the others. If a camera is exceptional in one area it can make up for shortcomings in other areas.

The RX100 II has a maximum aperture of f/1.8, which is great, but only available at the wide-angle end of the lens, increasing to f/4.9 at the telephoto end. So aperture is mediocre to great, depending on the focal length. ISO is good-but-not-great, topping out at ISO 1600 for practical purposes. Because of the exceptional image stabilization, the slowest useable shutter speed handheld is really slow on this camera.
Bathroom Door - Lancaster, California
ISO 1600 handheld with a 1/20 second exposure.
What make the RX100 II great for urban exploration photography is that it's small and lightweight. It doesn't get in the way as one carefully explores abandoned buildings. And it delivers versatility similar to using a DSLR with a zoom lens attached.

Besides that, the camera isn't expensive. If you shop around you can find it for around $500. That's about the same price as a cheap DSLR without any lenses. The Carl Zeiss lens that is permanently attached to the camera is sharper than most DSLR lenses that cost under $800. That means that this camera is a good value.

So, yes, the Sony RX100 II is a good choice for urban exploration photography. It's a good compromise of size/weight, image quality, versatility and price.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Contentment & Wealth (...And Photography)

Abandoned Interior - Mojave, California
"Poverty is a state of mind."

I read that quote this morning. It was credited to an unknown ancient philosopher (whatever that means). But I believe it is a true statement.

Both my wife and I grew up poor at different times in our childhood. Our parents had financial troubles and we certainly spent time below the so-called poverty line. But as kids we didn't know that we were poor. We didn't grasp our family's financial situations and didn't really care, either. We were just happy kids.

If you are poor but content, are you really poor? If you are rich but discontent, are you really rich? Have you ever noticed that many poor people are happy and that many rich people are miserable?

Contentment is the key to wealth. Not wealth as society defines it, but inner wealth, which is true wealth, and the only one that matters.

People want more. More, more, more! We never have enough. If we just had a little more money. If we just had a larger house. If we just lived in that nicer community. Drove that better car. Ate dinner at that nicer restaurant. Had that new camera. If only, then we'd be happy.
Hole In The Wall - Tehachapi, California
But if you had those things would you really be content? Probably not, because things are empty and the joy is very temporary. You'll soon be looking for that next thing. That next pay raise. That next shiny new toy.

Contentment is found within. It's not wanting more things, but being happy with and enjoying what you already have. It doesn't matter that it's not the newest or best. Whatever it is, it's yours, and you are fortunate to have it.

Instead of focusing on what you don't have and what you can't afford, look instead at what you do have. Find the positive things in your life and realize that you are blessed to be in your position. There are people who are envious of you, who would love to be you.

You need the basics--food, clothes, shelter--and friends and family. If you have those things then you have everything required for happiness. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake. In fact, those "above and beyond" things can get in the way of your happiness if you are not careful, like too much frosting ruining a tasty cake.

Less is more in life (and photography). Simplicity is better than complexity. Have a positive attitude. Be content. Then you'll experience true wealth.