Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Wasatch Window Update

Clearing Storm Over The Ridge - South Weber, Utah
Almost two weeks ago I published Photoessay: Wasatch Window - Capturing Utah Mountains From My Backyard. Then, just one week later, there was an amazing evening with a clearing storm right at sunset, and I captured some more images of the Wasatch Mountains from my backyard. These photographs would have been included in the original post if I had just waited a week to publish it.

I used a Fujifilm X-E1 camera with an X-Fujinon-T f/3.5 135mm EBC DM lens attached to the front of it. They were all captured within five minutes of each other while standing on my back patio. I used Nik Color Efex and Silver Efex to post-process the images.

One great thing about living in Utah is that great views abound. I feel fortunate that I'm greeted daily by a wonderful mountain vista. Enjoy!
Peak Contrast - South Weber, Utah
Wasatch Snow In Monochrome - South Weber, Utah
Clouds & Wasatch - South Weber, Utah
Utah Evening - South Weber, Utah

Monday, March 27, 2017

It Doesn't Matter What Gear I Use

Ilford 35mm Film - South Weber, Utah
When people find out that I'm a photographer, the very first question I always get asked is, "What camera do you use?" An alternative question is, "Do you use a Canon or Nikon?"

I'm not really sure why anyone cares what gear I use. They'll ask me this without seeing even a single picture of mine. Maybe it's just a canned question when you don't know what else to say. Typically (but not always) it's non-photographers who ask.

What gear I use matters not. It's completely unimportant. I'd much rather be asked something about my images. Ask me something about my art! Don't bother me with nonsense about my gear.

My camera is just a tool that I use to make an exposure. I could use any camera. I could use Canon or Nikon or Sony or Sigma or Fuji or Pentax or any other brand under the sun. I could even use my cellphone. I could use film or I could use digital. I could home-make a pinhole camera. Tools are just a means to an end, and any one of them could get the job done.

The differences between gear makes and models isn't huge. In fact, the gap shrinks every year. They are all quite capable nowadays. Nobody is making junk anymore.
The Wonder of Film Photography - South Weber, Utah
I can't tell just by looking at an image what camera brand captured it. A long time ago I could tell if an image was film or digital, but that was many years ago. I could probably spot a photograph from a Holga camera, but, then again, the Holga look can be artificially manufactured with software. If I can't tell the difference--and I look closely at pictures all of the time--then the casual viewer won't know what gear was used.

The only way anyone knows what gear was used to capture an image is if the photographer says. Otherwise, it's a complete mystery. Was it film? Was it digital? Was it Canon or Nikon or some other brand? Was it expensive? Was it cheap? Was it a cellphone? You can't tell just by looking.

If I can't tell and you can't tell, why does it make any sort of difference what gear was used? It doesn't. Gear is much less important than most people think. What is critical is what the photographer does with his or her gear.

Use whatever gear you have available to you. Don't fret over the tiny and completely insignificant differences between camera makes and models. Be happy with what you already own. Use your gear to the best of your ability.

It doesn't matter what gear I use. It doesn't matter what gear that other person uses. It doesn't matter what gear you use. What matters is what you do with what you've got. With whatever gear you have, make great art with it.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Be Different - Photograph What You Find Interesting

Three Cameras With Stripes - South Weber, Utah
Photograph what you find interesting. Whatever is meaningful to you, that's what you should be capturing with your camera.

Society wants to put you into a box. Society wants you to fit in. Society wants everyone to be the same. Follow the crowds. Don't do anything that makes you stand out. Don't be different.

You are a unique individual with a unique history and a unique perspective. Nobody has had the exact same life experiences as you. Nobody sees the world the exact same way that you do.

Because you are a unique person who sees the world from a unique perspective, the things that photographically interest you are uniquely yours. You own what is meaningful to you. Be yourself and be true to yourself.

Whatever it is that interests you photographically, that's what you'll be the most passionate about. The more you are passionate about something, the more you'll pour your heart and soul into capturing it. You'll infuse your photographs with a piece of yourself. You'll create better art.
Coffee & Camera - South Weber, Utah
You are attracted to certain types of images. Deep down you want to create certain photographs. Do it! Follow your heart. Listen to your gut. Set out to capture the images that you want to capture. Create the art that you want to create.

Don't worry if you mess up. Don't worry if you are good enough or not. Don't worry if others will like it. You will make mistakes. You will fail. There will be people who won't get it--there will always be naysayers. That's all a part of the process. Just keep trying, keep moving forward, keep creating what it is that you want to create. Never give up! You will succeed.

Whatever it is that you find interesting, make sure that's what you are photographing. Whatever is meaningful to you is what you should be pointing your camera towards. Whatever you are passionate about is what should be guiding you art.

Don't make photographs that you think others will like. Don't try to make the images that you see others make. Don't capture something because you think it will make you a more successful photographer. Don't follow the crowds.

You are unique, so use that to your advantage. Be yourself. Let your photography be an extension of your individuality. Let your images speak what's within you. Be different. You'll be much happier for it. You'll find so much more satisfaction in your art.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lessons From Christoph Neimann on Netflix Series "Abstract: The Art of Design"

There's a new documentary series on Netflix called Abstract: The Art of Design, and each episode features a different artist. I just watched the very first episode, which features illustrator Christoph Neimann, who is best known for illustrating the cover of about two dozen issues of New Yorker

It's a really great documentary that has a lot of nuggets of wisdom for every artist, including photographers. It's really well produced and edited. The show is highly entertaining. If you have a Netflix account you need to watch it. I'm looking forward to seeing the remaining episodes.

There were three things that stood out to me as obvious lessons that can apply directly to photography. This will sound cliche, but follow Christoph's advice and your art will improve, I have no doubts about that.

One thing that Christoph talked about was finding the right balance between realism and abstract. For example, if you want to communicate the idea of love with a symbol, you could use a heart. For that heart you could go really far abstract and use one red square Lego brick, but that's not going to convey your message well because the audience isn't going to understand your meaning. On the other hand you could go really literal and show an actual bloody human heart, but that's just gross and the audience is still going to miss your point. But in-between the really abstract and really realistic is the heart symbol ♥ that perfectly communicates your message.
I Heart Alley - Ogden, Utah
Besides illustrating a heart shape, I included I Heart Alley in this article because it demonstrates the balance between abstract and realism to speaks something to the viewer. The message is that alleyways--the spaces behind buildings that many people never see, or if they do see they have prejudged as ugly--are actually full of beauty if you keep an open mind. I love to capture these places because there is bound to be something interesting that most people overlooked, if they looked at all.

I could have done a more documentary style composition to show you more generically what an alley looks like. While this might have communicated something to the viewer about alleyways, the message of there being missed beauty that I love to find would have been missed in the realistic approach. I could have also done a more abstract approach and made a double-exposure with an ally photographed inside a heart-shaped bottle. This might have communicated my message, but people might think that it's more commentary on the heart than the scene (or, more specifically, my feelings about the scene). Instead I found an in-between solution that strongly communicated my message without being too real or too abstract.

When you are composing your photographs try to find that just-right balance between realism and abstract that most strongly conveys your message. If you are unsure what exactly it is that you are trying to communicate through your images--well, you've got to figure that out first. If you don't know what your photograph is about your audience will be even less sure. Once you know the message, then you can go about finding the strongest way to say it through your camera.

Another point that Christoph makes is that artists need to practice every day. Athletes practice daily, not only to maintain their skills but to improve on them, and so too should artists.
The Wonder of Film Photography - South Weber, Utah
One way that Christoph practices his art is to take one shape and come up with as many different drawings as he can think of that incorporate that one shape. The photographic equivalent to this might be to take one object and photograph it in as many different ways as you can think of.

I try to use my camera daily. That doesn't always happen because there's only so much time in a day and only so much of myself to go around, and life happens. When a day or two goes by and I haven't had a chance to photograph anything, and today's not looking good either, I force myself to create a photograph. I make it a priority.

If I have really limited time to create a photograph and I'm at home and can't go anywhere, I'll capture a still-life using some faux wood tiles, natural window light and (usually) some photography gear (for example, The Wonder of Film Photography above). It doesn't take much time to get everything set up, and in 10 or 15 minutes I can have a completely finished photograph start-to-finish. This is a good way to get that much-needed photographic exercise in when time is very limited. The more you do the better you will become, so it's important to push yourself to photograph more.

Towards the end of the episode Christoph said, "Be a much more ruthless editor, and a much more careless artist." That really struck me and has been bouncing around inside my head ever since I heard it.
Light Streaming Over Antelope Island - Antelope Island State Park, Utah
Being a careless artist means that you've given yourself permission to experiment, to fail, to approach the subject in an unconventional way, to be dramatic, stupid, whimsical, ignore the rules, etc. You want to allow yourself as much creative freedom as possible. You want your approach to be loose and not rigid. Change things up often. Don't worry about what others might think. Be positive.

Being a ruthless editor means being ultra-critical of your own photographs. Carefully examine your images for flaws and mistakes. Consider what could have made them stronger. Trash all of the ones that aren't good. Only display the ones that are great. Be cold. Be harsh. For example, I've been told that Light Streaming Over Antelope Island should be hanging in an art gallery somewhere, but a close inspection reveals several obvious flaws that I have noticed. I think that there are similar yet better photographs out there.

You have to be a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You have to have a different approach when you are wearing your artist hat than when wearing your editor hat. With one you need to be very personal, and the other very impersonal. In this way you'll infuse your art with yourself, yet not allow your bias towards your own art to blind you. It's easy to think that your own work is better than it actually is because you know what went into creating it. Strangers don't have this bias, so they recognize it as being good or bad more easily. They'll see the flaws that you overlooked or made excuses for. Try to minimize your bias towards your own art as much as you possibly can.

There were plenty of other great tidbits throughout the episode. Even if you have no interest in illustration, there is so much that can be applied across all art genres that I believe you will find it to be valuable. Again, the documentary series is called Abstract: The Art of Design and you can find it on Netflix.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Among The Freaks & Geeks - Salt Lake City Comic-Con

Storm Trooper - Salt Lake City, Utah
This last weekend I attended my very first Comic-Con. When we lived in California my wife wanted to attend the big one in San Diego, but we never made it because it was too far away and too expensive. I never really had a desire to attend myself, but thought it might be a worthwhile photographic experience. Since we now live in Utah, the Salt Lake City Comic-Con was a reasonable distance from our house and the entrance fee was not too high, so we went.

If ever I was among freaks and geeks, it was at the Comic-Con! It's a strange crew that attends. It's like Halloween on steroids. That's an exaggeration, obviously, because the majority of people were actually very normal looking. We met some very nice folks who gave us helpful advice. But there was certainly a lot more odd characters than I'm used to seeing in one place.

The Salt Lake City Comic-Con was at the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown. It's a somewhat interesting structure, as far as architecture goes. Inside was crowded with people going in every which direction. It was almost too crowded.

I had my Fuji X-E1 around my neck. Attached to the front was a Rokinon f/2 12mm lens. With this ultra-wide-angle lens you have to get really close to the subject. I wanted to do photojournal/street type images, which means that I had to get close and remain inconspicuous with this lens. The solution was to zone-focus and shoot from the hip. In my pocket I had an X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm lens for when I needed to go telephoto.

As we were walking around I saw all sorts of people dressed as Star Wars and Star Trek and other space Sci-Fi characters. But I saw nothing from the greatest Sci-Fi comedy ever: Spaceballs. How is Spaceballs not represented by at least one person at Comic-Con? Then, just as we were getting ready to leave, I saw someone dressed as Barf. He was walking away, so I asked if I could take his picture (I couldn't do the candid image that I wanted). That's the only posed shot.

The most entertaining part was the panel discussions. We watched actor Greg Grunberg and a few guys from The Walking Dead. It wasn't the greatest spot for photography (unless, perhaps, you paid extra to get the close seats), but it was interesting to hear their stories and answer questions.

We only stayed for a few hours. That was enough. It was an interesting experience, and I'm glad that I went. But Comic-Cons aren't really my thing. I suppose a camera convention would be more up my alley. Just as long as those attending aren't dressed up like DSLRs or something.
Street Cyclist - Salt Lake City, Utah
Cat Crossing - Salt Lake City, Utah
Power Rangers - Salt Lake City, Utah
The Fox - Salt Lake City, Utah
A Face In The Crowd - Salt Lake City, Utah
Barf - Salt Lake City, Utah
Watching Greg Grunberg Watching You - Salt Lake City, Utah
TWD - Salt Lake City, Utah
I Was There - Salt Lake City, Utah
The End - Salt Lake City, Utah

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Photoessay: Wasatch Window - Capturing Utah Mountains From My Backyard

Mountain Evening - South Weber, Utah
One year ago my wife, three young kids and I flew from California to Salt Lake City, Utah, to look at houses. We were getting ready to relocate from The Golden State to a state that proclaims "Life Elevated." It was the beginning of new adventures.

They say that everyone in Utah has a home with a view. That's not entirely true, although it is largely true. When we looked at houses one thing that was on our wish list was a nice view of the mountains. There were several homes that met that criteria. But one house had a better view than most, with a mostly-unobstructed view of the Wasatch Mountains from the backyard. That's the house that we ended up buying.

Over the last year I have casually photographed the Wasatch Mountains from my backyard. We can see several peaks, including Ogden Mountain, and the mouth of Weber Canyon. The mountains change with the time of day and the time of year. We have now experienced all four seasons.

These are far from the only photographs that I've captured of the Wasatch Mountains. These are just the ones that I photographed while standing in my backyard. Short drives reveal even greater photographic opportunities. But it does go to show that you don't always have to go far to capture interesting images. Sometimes all you have to do is step outside. That's especially the case in Utah.

Monochrome Wasatch - South Weber, Utah
Cloud Behind The Ridge - South Weber, Utah
The Space Between The Peaks - South Weber, Utah
A double-exposure photograph. 
Clouds Around The Mountain - South Weber, Utah
Moving Sky - South Weber, Utah
Wasatch & Sky - South Weber, Utah

Wasatch At Dusk - South Weber, Utah
Last Light On The Wasatch - South Weber, Utah
Mountain White - South Weber, Utah
Nature Preserved - South Weber, Utah
A double-exposure photograph.
Autumn On The Wasatch - South Weber, Utah
Golden Light On The Mountainside - South Weber, Utah
Weber Canyon Sunset - South Weber, Utah
Fire Retardant Drop - South Weber, Utah
Water Drop - South Weber, Utah

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Easy Product Photography Tips - How To Photograph Your Gear

Kodak Transparencies 
Sometimes you may want to photograph your gear. Sometimes you need to do a little product photography. Maybe it's for a blog or publication or Instagram. Maybe you're trying to sell something on eBay. There are many reasons why you might do it.

Product photography might seem difficult, but it's actually pretty simple. I have a few quick tips that should get you on your way to creating some interesting pictures. It won't cost you much money or take much prep work.

1. Light
Three Lenses
Let's talk about light first, which, with any photograph, is the most important part. A lot of people will use studio lights for product pictures. I prefer natural light. An open window on the shade side of a house works really well. It gives a nice diffused directional light that has a timeless quality. I like the light to be somewhere between 45 degrees and 90 degrees to whatever it is that I'm photographing.

You can play around with natural light. The window doesn't have to be the shade side. You can change the angle. Blinds can add interesting light. You can add some artificial light. You can even use a string of Christmas lights to add background and/or foreground bokeh effects. Don't be afraid to experiment.

Remember, a key ingredient to any great photograph is great lighting. Think about light first. Great light can be found all the time, it's just a matter of looking for it. 

2. Setting
35mm Film
You don't need a studio for product photography. A very simple but effective setup is ceramic tiles that look like wood. These can be found at your local hardware or flooring store for a dollar or two per tile. Buy a variety (a minimum of two, but four or more is better), and mix and match. Set one up at a 90 degree angle for the background.

Sometimes I like to use metal for the background. For 35mm Film above I used a cookie sheet. I've also used metal containers. Anything that seems like it could be interesting is something that you might want to experiment with. Even a shelve near a window can be a good makeshift product studio.

Don't be afraid to shoot straight down onto the scene. Shooting from above can give an interesting perspective. Try experimenting with different angles. Shoot straight on, from the side and from above and see what works best for each scene.

3. Setup
Ready For Adventure
One important aspect of product photography that you won't hear often enough is storytelling. Your images should say more than "this is a camera" or anything ridiculously obvious. Think in your mind how things might get the way they are, and then set it up that way. Make it appear as if there is more going on than what's pictured. Tell a story.

Adding elements to the scene can help this. Don't just show a camera, show other photography things with it. Add film to the scene, or a lens or slides. Maps give the impression of travel and adventure. Add things that help tell the story that you made up in your mind. 

I like to use odd numbers when it makes sense (especially three and five). I try to consider color theory, as well. There is a lot that you can consider when you are setting up the shot. You don't have to over-complicate things (and often simple is simply better), but you should think about how everything plays together in the scene, and set it up to be as strong as possible.  

5. Gear
Rokinon f/2 12mm & Fuji X-E1
I left gear for last because it is the least important part of this article. The photograph above shows a camera that I typically will use (I wouldn't typically use an ultra wide angle lens like what's pictured), but what camera did I use to capture that image? I used my cell phone, an LG G4. I even post-processed the image using an app (Snapseed) on the phone. You don't need specialized gear.

Most of my product images are captured with a good quality interchangeable-lens digital camera (a Fujifilm X-E1 for example). I like to use lenses with minimal distortion and that have a fairly close minimum focus distance. A couple of favorites are a Helios 44-2 58mm and an X-Fujinon-T 135mm (which are two of the three lenses pictured in Three Lenses). You don't need an expensive lens or expensive DSLR. Whatever gear you have is most likely sufficient enough.

Helios 44-2 Lens & Zenit-E SLR
I photograph my gear for articles on the Roesch Photography Blog, but also for the fun of it. Sometimes when I'm feeling the urge to capture something but I can't get out of the house, this is a good way to get the picture bug out of my system. I grab a couple of faux wood tiles, a camera, and maybe some film or a map, and begin to capture some studio images of my gear. Pretty soon I've created an interesting image.

Something that I find interesting is that these types of images (pictures of my gear) are often very popular on social media. They seem to get more "likes" than other images. So maybe there is a bigger "need" or "desire" for this genre of photography than you might think. Who knows, maybe some unexpected opportunities might come out of it.

And it didn't cost a whole lot of money. Maybe even less than $10. A product photography studio doesn't need to be expensive. Use what you have and what you can find for cheap.