Friday, May 30, 2008

William Wegman

The other day when I was on the plane back from visiting my family in western Colorado, I watched a show on Animal Planet – can’t remember the name, but it was about dogs. Each episode was a different breed, and this particular episode was about Weimaraners.

And one segment of the show covered photographer William Wegman, who is famous for shooting Weimaraners wearing human clothes and doing human activities such as fishing or sitting in chairs. The announcer spoke to the Weimaraner’s patience and docility as compared to other breeds.

Having been to a number of photoshoots in my professional life as an advertising guy, I have a deep appreciation for the mind-numbing tedium central to that type of photography. You have the photographer, the photographer’s assistant(s), the stylist, the stylist(s) assistant, the studio folks, the props, all the lighting, so on and so forth ad nauseum. (As you can probably gather this is definitely not my style of photography…lol) While I appreciate the end product, I can never see myself shooting commercially. And yes, the Weimeraner is an EXTREMELY patient dog to sit through that.

Either way, William Wegman’s site is definitely worth a look.

www.paulsearsphotography.com

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Listening Room

I was browsing through some books the other day and re-discovered “Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images” by Stephanie Barron & Michel Drauget. It’s the book from the exhibition of the same name last year at LACMA. Overall, I have to say that was easily one of the best exhibitions I’ve ever seen. Very well laid out/thought out, even down to a custom carpet for the gallery floor. The audio tour voiceover was done by Pierce Brosnan and, surprisingly it was actually insightful, rather than the typical monotone winding, off-topic interviews and such. The exhibition included not only works by Magritte but also those who he had influenced, such as Jeff Koons, Ed Ruscha, Worhol, and others.

One of my favorite pieces from the exhibition is La Chambre d’├ęcoute (The Listening Room), 1952. Magritte’s use of scale, juxtaposed imagery, light, and color in this piece have huge implications for photography. How often in photography is a subject juxtaposed in front of a thematically dissimilar background, using scale to make the subject appear larger than life. Or how often is the same juxtaposition created in photography through the use of light and color.

I always think it’s just amazing to see a piece of art which was so influential, not only in the “art” world of painting and sculpture, but also in fine art photography or even everyday snapshots.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blogger!

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately looking for new sources of inspiration, around town, around the web, going to museums and galleries, etc. And one thing in particular is starting to become a really good source of knowledge, different perspectives, and new thoughts & ideas. Blogger!

I’ve been hopping around quite a few blogs lately looking for local artists who can offer up a different perspective, a unique way of looking at things. And I’ve been finding quite a few really cool and unique blogs out there.

There are a lot of photographers, crafters, painters, quilters, knitters, beaders, jewelers, pottery-er’s and more. Even just day-to-day stories from parents about their kids and their pets.

It’s been really enlightening and great inspiration!

www.paulsearsphotography.com

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Wide Angle Lens

When I bought my Nikon D80, it came with 2 kit lenses: an 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 and a 55-200 f/4-5.6 with VR. From day one, I've been using almost exclusively the latter, doing more zooming and cropping than anything. And recently I borrowed a friend's 50 f/1.8 prime lens, and I've been using that as well. The 18-55, I have hardly touched.

I think it's because living in L.A. it seems like there's not a lot to shoot with a wide angle lens. Most of the time the sky is a little hazy, so shots with a lot of sky tend to wash out. And looking down at eye level, mostly you just find a lot of clutter - trash, powerlines, cars, grafitti, etc. The zoom & prime lenses do a great job in the city of isolating your subject and removing the clutter. And plus it's easier to just carry one lens, right?

But now here I am in Western Colorado, with a huge blue sky to work with. What a great opportunity to bust out the 18-55 and shoot wide angle at 18mm for a while. I wound up feeling just like a kid at a playground - so much to mess around with, and a whole new approach.

I spent a little time down at Grand Junction's abandoned train station, getting some wide shots of train engines and cars, with huge sky and tons of contrast. Then I drove down to an abandoned farm and pretty much shot everything in sight.

It was a whole new experience. Rather than being 5-10 feet away from a subject and zooming in to frame my shot, using the 18mm focal length I was always 1-2 feet away from my subject at the most. And even at that close distance, the shots felt totally panoramic with a huge sky behind them. So much fun and the pics turned out great - a whole new direction to add to my portfolio.

So, lesson learned - I shouldn't be myopic when it comes to lens choice. And I shouldn't be lazy when it comes to carrying around that bag of lenses. It only takes a second to change lenses, and it's totally worth it to make sure you have the right lens for the shot you want.

So now, I guess I have to grudgingly acknowledge that Grand Junction actually has more to offer than just my in-laws.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Revenge of the Goldfish

I was browsing through one of my favorite photography books the other day ("Photography: A Cultural History" by Mary Warner Marien), and came across one of those photos that always has been a favorite.

Revenge of the Goldfish (Sandy Skoglund, 1981) depicts a child's bedroom in wich everything has been painted a teal-ish blue-ish color. The furniture, the bed, the walls, the floor, the blankets, everything. Two children (normal color, not blue) are in the bed, one sleeping and one sitting. And hanging from the ceiling, all over the floor, on the shelves, and coming out of the dresser are dozens of bright orange goldfish. OK - it's a bit abstract, and hard to explain - so click here to check it out.

I've always been a big fan of the abstract - Worhol, Koons, Basquiat, Dali, Jasper Johns, Pollock, Picasso, etc. This approach to photography is cool as well. It really became widespread in the 1980's, the Directorial or "fabricated-to-be-photographed" approach - creating a piece of art, scuplture, etc - with the sole intention of creating a photograph from it. The art form was born out of cinema - creating sets and elaborate staging purely to be filmed led to the creation of elaborate staging of artworks for the still camera.

Side note - I was re-reading the page above this photo, and discovered I am apparently a Modernist Photographer: "Where Modernist photographers combed the visual field for delightful coincidence, poignant metaphors, or abstract patterns, none of which were (or should have been) contrived, the photographers working in the Directorial mode conceived and fabricated subjects, disregarding photography's traditional assignment of finding meaning from the look of the world.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Western Colorado

Well, this weekend I'm in Western Colorado with the in-laws, enjoying some time out of the city. We're in a small town called Grand Junction on the Colorado/Utah border. We flew from LAX into Denver yesterday, then drove ealier today through the mountains along I-70 (through snow - note today's date is May 22...wtf). It's about a 3-hour drive, but between the snow and my need to get out and shoot, I think we stretched it out to maybe 5-6 hours.

I actually lived in Colorado for 8 years before moving to LA, so it's good to be back. But as soon as I got out and started shooting, I was again confronted with the 2 major challenges you face shooting photography in CO. 1) Scale - everything is unbelievably huge - I found I was using my 18mm for a lot of the "beauty" shots, just to try and capture the scale of everything. 2) Color Palette - everything in Colorado seems to be some variation of green or brown - and unfortunately today the gray sky didn't help.

So given the challenges, I decided to look for unique things off the beaten path. I busted out Don's 50mm f/1.8 and looked closely at trees and rocks for texture. I went down by the Colorado river (massively flooding due to snow melt & rain), and shot the rapids at slow shutter speed. I played with the ISO, Sharpness, Contrast and Saturation in-camera. Anything to break free of what I always seem to come out with when I'm here: a mind-blowing vista which has now become flat and monochromatic as a photograph.

Hopefully it worked... I'll be posting some of my stuff here and on my other pages over the next few days. Let me know what you think!

www.paulsearsphotography.com

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Manual Color Balance In-Camera

So I tried a few new things when I went shooting this past weekend. I mentioned yesterday about keeping the aperture wide open (by the way a good friend lent me his Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Prime for the long Mem Day weekend - great guy & a great photographer, check him out at www.donlupo.com if you have a chance).

Besides shooting wide open, another thing I played with (and fell in love with) was controlling the color balance in-camera. I'm all about photography "in the raw," so to speak, so I shoot handheld only - on the fly - ALWAYS. I've never used a tripod and hopefully never will. And I've always liked to say I also shoot 100% manual. But to be perfectly honest if I'm using presets for color balance, it's really not 100% manual. So this past weekend, I gave it a shot.

I have to say it made all the difference. My Nikon D80 has a manual white balance setting using the K scale (2500 is way blue, 9900 is way red, and 5000 is neutral). So every time I'd come up on a shot, it forced me to look closely at the lighting and ask myself "what do I need to do in-camera to compensate for the lighting conditions?" Because I just don't believe in doing it in photoshop (minor adjustments only - calibrating for a printer, that kind of thing). So for example, if it was shady, I would shift a little higher towards red. If it was really hard sunlight, I would shift a little lower towards blue.

What a great new set of variables for my nerdly self to tweak and play with endlessly! I found myself shooting the same flower 5-10 times, at different points on the scale, looking at the subtle nuances between say 4000 and 4300 on the scale. I felt like a kid in a candy store...lol

Well anyway, one more thing I can claim I'm going "all manual" I guess. I'm going to Western Colorado this weekend to see the in-laws, their puppies, and of course the Rocky Mountains. So I'll take my new "sweet skills" and Don's prime lens, and have myself a blast. And hopefully, I'll have some good stuff to share when I'm back next week.

www.paulsearsphotography.com

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sunset and Aperture - The Ramblings of a Photo Nerd

This past weekend I went shooting around sunset, down at the Venice Canals. It was just wonderful, that dappled orangey-golden light throwing long shadows all around. Great reflections on the water and in windows, lovely color temperature, and also just a very peaceful and beautiful evening.

I also told myself, “today I’m going to shoot as wide open as possible” (I use a Nikon D80 and my favorite lens is a Nikkor 55-200 4/5.6 with VR). So while I guess “wide open” doesn’t really mean “wide open” because it’s not a prime lens with a huge 1.8 aperture, it was still fun to draw a line in the sand and say I would only use shutter speed to control the exposure. Most often I use a combination of shutter speed and aperture, frequently shooting in sunlight at 1/100-1/320 f8-16 on ISO100-200 depending on the light.

What I found was that because I was shooting more open than usual, it forced me to re-think my approach to some of the shots I was taking. Wider aperture means greater depth of field of course, and it led me to frame things totally differently. It also gave me better performance in low light, without having to turn up the ISO.

In a way photography is like golf or any other fun hoppy. Endless tweaking of variables, leading to exploration and experimentation, and always learning along the way.

www.paulsearsphotography.com

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Venice Canals

This past Saturday right before sunset, I walked over to the Venice Canals to shoot a little bit. It's been a while since I walked over there (and a while since I shot), so it was refreshing to get out and see something "new." I've been spending a lot of time on Flickr lately, getting a lot of great inspiration - so I found I was suddenly seeing things differently. It's springtime so a lot of the flowers and trees are coming into bloom, and the canals area was full of all kinds of great flowers to play with. The evening light was great and a lot of the colors were really popping.

It was also really interesting the dichotomy of wealth and poverty. The canals area is about 2 blocks from the beach, so it's all million-dollar homes. But not all are single-family homes with full-time residents. Some are vacant vacation homes, others are rentals, others are just empty waiting for a buyer. So the streets are packed with a variety of cars - anything from Porsche & Mercedes to broken-down 1980 Toyota's. Signs and sides of buildings are all tagged with graffiti, and there is surprisingly a lot of neglect in terms of general upkeep of the properties. Some are beautiful but others are really falling apart.

Long story short it was a great reminder that class plays a huge part in the story of LA. The gulf between the uber-wealthy and the homeless, and those of us at varying degrees of in-between. It makes for some very interesting subject matter.


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Friday, May 16, 2008

Old Shots, New Crops

I've been looking through a couple of hard drives worth of old pictures over the last few days, and suddenly finding gems all over the place. Stuff I took years ago with bad cameras, shots that I had completely discarded.

But what I've been doing is going into photoshop and pulling out a (sometimes very small) crop from the larger image. The resolution is bad, too small to print, but onscreen it looks OK.

The cool thing about it, it's almost like going back to wherever I was at the time and re-shooting the shot - re-living the moment. Interestingly, shooting photography is actually the exact same exercise - looking at the larger image (the world) and selecting a smaller crop (your viewfinder). It's been a cool discovery & a very exciting process.


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Thursday, May 15, 2008

The House On Walgrove

I was driving over to the Belding Awards yesterday (which DDB totally rocked in btw - Call of Duty 4 World Leaders, 5 belding bowls - w00t) and I saw this awesome house on Walgrove - either in Venice or Mar Vista - I don't know which. It was this beautiful dilapidated mess, crumbling blue stucco, warped window frames, and disheveled porch - complete with the added bonus of a twisty tree sans leaves in the backyard.

So classic and creepy, totally my kind of subject. Especially in the evening light with those long shadows and reddish-orangey tones - it was perfect. Little bit of a challenging shot because I know I will need to get it from across the street, and Walgrove is pretty high traffic (well, then again what street in LA isn't?). But I want all house - no cars, so I might need to shoot in speed mode, or go get it right at dawn - something. Either way, one of these days, I'll park the car, get out, and shoot it.

So if you're checking my pages, keep an eye out for the house on Walgrove. You'll know it when you see it.


www.paulsearsphotography.com

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

June Gloom

Well, it's getting to be that time of year again here in LA. June Gloom - that delightful time of year which brings us a sullen gray/white sky for days or even weeks on end.


On the surface this seems like a real bummer, especially for a photographer. But June Gloom can also be a time of reflection, a time to stop and smell the roses. Almost akin to a photographer's version of Lent. Give up the panoramics of beaches and mountains for a few weeks, and instead look down. June Gloom actually provides really nice soft lighting for shooting all the little things - flowers, plants, grafitti, doorways, windows, etc. All the little things a person would normally gloss over when looking at the horizon.


So really, June Gloom doesn't have to be a sad time, it can open the door to a whole new level of exploration with the camera. A little adjustment red-ward on the ol' color balance and you're good to go!


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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

McLean Virginia

Today I was browsing through a great book called simply The Photography Book. It's basically a textbook/encyclopedia containing 500 of the most well known art photographs ever taken.

The one that caught my eye today catches my eye almost every time I open the book - McLean, Virginia (Joel Sternfeld, 1978). This photo has always blown me away - the austerity and the irony of the pumpkin farm in the foreground with a fireman browsing to buy a pumpkin, while the farmhouse burns in the background. Simply amazing. And well, I must say I'm a little partial because it reminds me so much of Iowa where I grew up.

But the thing that this photo continues to remind me is that (for me) photography is (should be) about an idea. It's not about taking a moment anyone can see or shoot and then polishing it to death in post production. But rather, it's about finding a moment or a person or an object that means something. And capturing it, documenting it in a way that means something. Not just setting up wide open, zooming way in and then dialing up the color in photoshop.

I think the line in the book sums it up best: "Sternfeld is drawn to bathos or to subjects in which what we understand as History is offset by everyday incidents."

Honestly though, even the definition of the word bathos inspires me (maybe because it's actually a one-line summary of my everyday life...lol). Bathos: a ludicrous descent from the exalted or lofty to the commonplace; anticlimax.


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Monday, May 12, 2008

Seizing the Opportunity

I think I'm becoming more and more of a photo geek these days, because everywhere I look I see photographs. And I feel like I need to take with my camera with me everywhere so I don't miss anything.

Case in point, today I was driving from my office over to my client for a meeting. On the way there is a park across from a golf course - Rose Ave in Venice for those of you who are familiar with the area. Today there just happened to be a half-torn-down carnival which must have been going on over the weekend.

It was one of those moments that just begged to be captured - the morbidly smiling plastic horses on the carousel, the half-disassembled rusty rides, the greasy soot stained trucks parked awaiting a load, the ticket booths with light bulbs broken out. One of those sad macabre scenes of days gone by that sits there and mocks you for not bringing your camera. So much to play with - the crops, the angles, the lighting - and I missed it all.

So now I think starting tomorrow, my camera will ride with me wherever I go.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Where We Live

I was browsing the photography section at Barnes and Noble the other day, and came across the book from an exhibition I saw in 2006 or 2007 at the Getty Center, called Where We Live. It's a collection brought together by Los Angeles film producer Bruce Berman.

I had forgotten how amazing the work was - steeped in that beautiful rustic americana that I've always loved. Stylistically speaking, the entire collection was heavily produced, with great lighting and richly oversaturated colors. It created a really beautiful irony - a sense of hyper-realism layered on top of what for most people could almost be said to be sub-real subject matter, in the sense that the despair and hardship depicted is not relevant to "most people." It really told a compelling story about the working class and the struggle for a sense of community within a world so much bigger than any one individual. Some of the photographers represented in the collection include: Mitch Epstein, Robert Adams, William Eggleston, Robert Dawson and maybe a dozen others.

The book was really nice - large size, and had pretty much the whole collection. $50, but I think well worth it. The cover page for the exhibition is still up on the Getty Center's website as well - check it out if you have a chance: http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/berman/

--Paul

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Flickr!

Used to be I had 2 main sources of inspiration: 1) things I see out in the world when I'm out shooting or just out and around - or 2) going to a museum like LACMA or MOCA or the Getty Center. But I gotta say Flickr has completely turned that dynamic on its head for me. Used to be I'd have to get in the car, drive out somewhere, park, all of that - but now I can sit and surf awesome pics from all over the world at my desk or my home office.

There is so much amazing photography on Flickr right there at a person's fingertips, it's unbelievable. And even though there is basically no security, people put up shots which could easily sell in a gallery. But what makes it so great in my opinion is that "here, take one" attitude - if you want it, feel free and snag it (albeit low res). That spirit of openness, collaboration and sharing is the lifeblood of an artistic community, and it's just so wonderful to see it alive and well in the virtual/real world.



--Paul
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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

LACMA's New Building Rocks!

If you haven't been to LACMA's new building yet, try and make it down there soon. It's like a whole new LACMA. The new building is a huge 3-story space dedicated entirely to contemporary art (60's-00's). The top floor has an amazing Jeff Koonz exhibit as well as some Warhol, Lichtenstein, Ruscha and others. Then on the second floor there is a great Basquiat section and a Jasper Johns section. All my favorite artists, and it's all part of the permanent collection.

I also really like the way they've done the exterior - it's still work in progress with a little more landscaping left to be done. But I love the clean contemporary lines of the building, the colors, the shapes, and the way the lighting plays on everything throughout the day. Definitely worth a looksee! www.lacma.org

--Paul
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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Tao of Photography by Tom Ang

I just picked up a book called Tao of Photography - it's a really interesting take on shooting differently. It covers everything from technical tips to creative inspiration in a really unique way. Here's a quote:

"In as much as photography consists of a long an irregular line of decisions, it is essentially about harmonizing and finding a balance between the pros and cons of one action as opposed to another...It works through the resolution of pairs of opposing characteristics, the Yin and Yang: large and small, light and darkness, mass and airiness. Thus, Yin and Yang are continually at work in photography - in all its aspects and in all its processes."

As I read more, I'll put up some more cool quotes, tips, etc. Would love to get your questions and comments as well!

Meantime, props to Google Analytics for providing awesome site tracking (for FREE), to FolioSnap for offering a really turnkey website solution for someone not super tech-savvy, and to the Nikon D80 for being a great camera. More to come!

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