Tag Archives: Black and White Photography

PRACTICE

Practice

practice 1practice 2

For millions of years ever since our species first emerged from the darkness of the undeveloped brain and slowly began to think and to imagine and to wonder what was and is, and also what could be, we have been a species of innovation and invention, learning to change things as they are to what they can become to enhance or ease our life of toil and existence.

 

The first ring of stones assembled around the fire, for containment and safety, was seen and valued and copied by others. The first crude scratching of an image in the mud with a pointed stick and there was art for all to marvel at and then employ for the good of the mind, to learn and to discover the great tool of the imagination, which enables us to value and to share and to lend our discoveries and talents to others, and even to pitch in to help our neighbor construct a circle of stones around his campfire.

 

In my time I have been helped by others to learn things that I held important to me. I learned in the fifties from Andy Stoyak how to shrink the stretch out of the twisted metal of a car body with torch, hammer, dolly and a wet rag. In the early seventies I saw the paint jobs of Junior Conway, and from seeing his great skill with sanding block and spray gun I learned what was expected of me as body man and car painter. In my search for photographic meaning and craft I discovered the photographs and words of Henri Cartier-Bresson and knew better what was expected of me and how high the craft of photography could rise.

 

I learned because I was hungry for insight into the things that were important to me. I have advanced slowly up the tall ladder of skill in craft and enlightenment by looking at things and comparing them with mind and wonderment. I enjoy sharing some of what I have learned with others like myself who search for meaning and insight into the creative processes that we use to enrich our lives and the lives of others.

 

I have included here two photographs as examples of my process, or technique, of photographic expression. One photograph shows my friend Richard Thompson practicing. It was made in New Orleans in 1996. I had woken up early and was headed out of the hotel to prowl the streets of the French Quarter with my camera and imagination and when I passed the open door of Richard’s room I came upon this sight of him playing his guitar practicing for a gig that coming evening. Somehow I knew the importance of the scene and quickly made a photograph, which was used later as the cover art for his album called “Small Town Romance.” Just a quick look with my photographic imagination and a snap at 500th of a second and a vision was secured which will last forever, for me and for you and hopefully for all of us to know the importance of practice.

 

The snap I made of one of the finest musicians I have ever heard was done quickly, but with a practiced thought process that I had developed over the years. This process has enabled me to only include the needed elements, factors and details, which were arranged effectively to give the viewer enough visual and aesthetic information to understand the meaning of the scene, my intent in making it and the visual elements I chose to include in the frame of my camera at that instant in time and place.

 

Practice is an important part of my process for making an image which has the power to speak to the viewer and to provide a better and more complete understanding of my intent when making it.

I practice by walking with my camera and with my imagination in full operational mode. It is an intense process that removes me from conscious thought and takes me to a magic place of discovery in my own world of what there is around me and what I can make of it with my camera. My goal is to share my feelings about what I encounter visually by compressing what I see into the narrow confines of the small frame of my camera’s viewfinder. I take all that I visualize and sense and then include what is important for the viewer to see, and what I need to exclude from the frame, that might be a distraction from the other elements in the scene that best describe my feeling and my intention for the image.

 

I learned a long ago that for me there is no “composition” in my photographic process, only facts. Visible facts that when combined effectively in the frame produce a composition automatically. The word composition is a confusing one for me, but visual facts that make up the subject tell me much more about the finished structure of my intended image and the word facts, and the collecting of facts in the viewfinder, help to guide me in the making of an effective composition.

 

I use a Nikon F-3 because the frame in my viewfinder shows me 100% of what I will see in the resulting negative. Nothing more, nothing less. No surprises by something omitted or included that I did not plan on. Very few cameras will show 100% in the viewfinder and that is why I use the F-3 which accurately shows me the subject. I do not crop my photos and that is the reason I need 100% viewfinder coverage. The black lines that surround my photographs are made by enlarging the negative carrier frame in my enlarger to show the clear edge of the negative, which prints black in my resulting photograph. The black lines are always in my mind’s eye when I am framing my photographs.

 

People see me walking and constantly bringing my camera up to my eye and maybe thinking I use a lot of film, but I am only practicing most of the time and not making photographs. Practicing framing and knowing exactly  I hope what the frame sees, as opposed to my eyes. I use very little film, but am always practicing with the framing and focus. Practicing for me is essential. Basketball, Springboard diving, playing music and making photographs means practicing in order to produce a finished product to my best expectations. The image before me is too important to rely on chance to capture with mind and camera. A slow mind and a slow hand mean disaster for me.

 

The second image of the two boys, the dog and the departing figure was made in 1983 in Pasadena California. I use it to demonstrate the accurate framing, focusing and timing that constant practice has allowed me to develop. I have included in the frame what I determined was important for the viewer to see and feel. The figure leaving the frame on the right was an important element for me to include. It gives a mysterious quality to the photograph and is an example of the inclusion of the elements, factors and details that I try to make sure are in all of my photographs because I have always remembered what Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote, “it’s all in the details.”

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MAGIC NIKON

NIKONS

Happy New Year for me marks 45 years and my love affair with photography. I celebrate by toasting photography itself, knowing that it has steered my life to many special places in my heart that I was unaware even existed. Great moments of exhilaration and euphoria. The camera has given me this license to go seek out rare but significant events, subjects or things that should be seen by all, in order to know us all a little better.

The thrill comes, when I am witnessing greatness before me. Greatness in whatever I can find in a subject, with the idea of showing it to you and all. My photographs must make this communication or they are failures. Much of the excitement within me while photographing comes from knowing that my effort to record these events is a noble effort from me to mankind, and knowing that makes me feel better about myself.

I wish to start the New Year with some FREE advice, learned over the past 45 years.This tip, is for all photographers, but especially the younger photographers or those just starting out and also for street photographers who are frustrated at the tedium and loneliness of a solitary search for something you cannot predict, or even know what the subject will be, and then very little time when the subject presents itself. A brief second or two and it’s all over. Either its gone forever or caught in the confines of a camera frame just as the subject sparkles in its intensity. Win or lose. Mostly lose. Even with this frustration I keep doing it, because I consider street photography to be at the very top of the pyramid of skill and visual sophistication and value. The king. The very most difficult thing I have ever done. One image to tell some great story.

For the frustrated and confused street photographer, I will offer this heartfelt advice. Make a photo essay. The photo essay is a series of several photographs and sequence with the idea of revealing the heart of a subject. The essay allows the photographer more time with the subject. Time is something the street photographer does not have. This extra time is what makes all the difference, but doesn’t make it easier. The extra time allows the photographer to get closer and closer to the subject, both physically and mentally.  Over time, the subject will become more used to the photographer’s presence and the subject will relax and become natural and not afraid of the camera.

The photographer who makes several exposures over a period of time is all warmed up and ready to react when the great image presents itself. Click, but wait, there is more. The essay within an essay. You work away at this thing and something happens that you could not have planned by yourself, but came out of the blue to you like some magic genie.

One such thing happened to me and it turned out to be one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, so moving and magical as it was. (Some of the photos I made that day are at the end of this blog).

This happened 40 years ago, while I was photographing on assignment the American long haul truck driver. I was headed home to the L.A. area after having been on the road for a week, covering the western states and had one more stop to make, Ontario, California, the largest truck stop of them all. If you can make the westward pull over the desert, you might be able to make Ontario for rest and repair. Chugging over the interstate, hauling my ass to the golden state.

Acres of asphalt and a hundred trucks in long rows, lined up like a land rush, or the knights at Agincourt. Big trucks from all over come to roost and let go for awhile.

The drivers in boots and large belts stood around in small groups laughing and impressing their friends by picking on me because I stood out like a sore thumb, with my three cameras swinging around and what the hell are you taking pictures of and you better not take any pictures of me or I….but no problem, they are just guys like me and I have learned from the street to be prepared for this kind of thing and I am able to turn it all around to my advantage without any one getting hurt. Go right up to the guy and in front of his friends ask him if he could do that again because we are looking for people to be in a film and we pay big money…etc. Turn the whole thing around having fun and getting close because the guy had to act cool with me in front of his friends, or they would think him uncool.

I was walking around but really working with mind and eye to find subject. Before I even lift the camera to my eye there has to be at least three things that in some way relate; three relationships that will help my essay on the true center of a trucker and his world, truck and road and alone with self.

Looking down the neat rows of tractors, one stood out like me. The truck was an old Peterbilt cab over and it looked out of place with its cab tilted forward which allowed access to the motor and which usually meant trouble. Breakdown. Getting closer I saw her walk around the front of the cab. Beautiful hair, big hoop earrings and perfume mixed with diesel, she was a female trucker when back in ‘75 there were very few female truckers. This was a man’s world and a man’s job. Hell, it takes a man to hold down one of these mothers. She was broke down stranded and had little hope of getting her load to where it was supposed to go. The tow in had cost her all she had. No money for a mechanic that wants cash and no one to turn to.

The men were confused and stayed away. I saw her greatness, when I saw her hands and how she had raised up the cab and started to look around at what might be the problem with her truck, livelihood and home. A real woman. She rose up against adversity with a smile and those hoop earrings, which never seemed to get in the way and which might have kept the men wondering about her. Was she a truckstop hooker, or was that her rig?

Then magic happened. Several men started walking towards us and the truck. One of the men told me later that they had been curious about what I was photographing and that made them come closer. The camera made them come. The magic Nikon brought them in to where they belonged to help this wonderful woman, their sister. The camera and the act of me photographing her implied some kind of importance and the men sensed it.

I told her story to them and each one left to get tools to help. I watched with tears and I managed to make 22 photographs over the three hours of this magnificent event sent from above for me to watch and be a part of the spectacular celebration of stranger coming with strangers to help strangers with their lives which so helps us all and I was there to record the instants that emotionally moved me the most. I made these photos for mankind to share in love and understanding, with the hope that everyone could have a camera and the desire to photograph his neighbor back and forth together with a rhythm of love and a harmony of vision.

There is my story of the magic Nikon and what happened in ’75 when I found an essay within an essay and I was able to be a small part of greatness in mankind.

I never learned her name, but they fixed her up and got her back on the road and everyone went their separate ways, feeling a little better about themselves for what they had done. Maybe her name was Dorothea.

I use the name in dedication to another wonderful woman who is always with me in spirit. Her name is Dorothea Lange and she was a big, big deal in documentary photography. She also photographed the strength and greatness of mankind, those who were broken down by the side of the road, but who were made more human by her photographs.

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MY “FIVE FS” SYSTEM: NUMBER TWO, FIGURING

street photography tips, black and white film, street photography workshopMy “5 Fs” (finding, figuring, framing, focusing and firing) was conceived to help photographers remember the things to consider when photographing a subject in real life situations. If you practice this system it will become your working technique as a street photographer.

The second “F” is FIGURING.

Hooray! You see a situation or subject that you think will make an exciting photograph. Now what?

Throughout a subject area, there are many elements, factors and details that when effectively combined in the photograph, help give the center of interest more strength. The only difference between the average photographer and Henri Cartier-Bresson is that Bresson considered every detail and he only included those that would enhance the center of interest and he excluded those that would detract from it.

To figure this out you must take an instantaneous visual inventory of what you have to work with and then you must consider which to include and what to eliminate. Ideally you will include at least three things to put together with the center of interest that will strengthen the photograph.

For example, when I saw the two boys in this photograph I realized they would be a great subject because of their movements and their excitement about bathing in the Ganges at dawn. I knew that there were other important details, such as the empty boats in the foreground, the crowded boats and the lighting, that I wanted to include. I wanted to emphasize that it was dawn so I wanted to show the light on the water which would give the photograph a mysterious quality. I also knew that moving in close to the boys was the most important thing of all so I eliminated parts of the boats. I also thought it important to include that the boats in the background that were crowded with the people as a contrast with the two boys in the water. I chose the vertical format so all three elements were visible and I positioned myself so that the boys were the center of interest and were between the two boats in the foreground and the crowded boat in the background was still visible.

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MY “FIVE Fs SYSTEM”: NUMBER ONE – FINDING

street photography tips, cartier-bresson, photography workshopsMy “5 Fs” (finding, figuring, framing, focusing and firing) system was conceived to help photographers remember the things to consider when photographing a subject in real life situations. If you practice this system it will become your working technique as a street photographer.

The first “F” is FINDING.

Finding a subject can be a frustrating process for many photographers. Subjects are everywhere. The eyes are not too important when searching for subject. The eyes are just part of the tools we work with. It is the vivid imagination that finds subject by noticing and evaluating various details that are part of the subject area, the photographer frames these various forms to make an effective photograph.

The subject itself is not the most important thing. What the photographer does with the subject is the supreme test.

A walk to the store will never be the same for the sensitive photographer, the mud puddle at the corner will provide a myriad of visual possibilities that can keep a photographer busy for hours. The reflections in the puddle, the passing wheels of cars, the feet walking by, the cop directing traffic all these and much more will facilitate the imagination to construct stimulating photographs.

Combining the smallest insignificant detail with other insignificant details can result in a significant photograph. These details, elements and factors are lying around everywhere for the attentive photographer to collect into an image that has the power to create an emotionally moving photograph. Henri Cartier-Bresson said, when asked how to do it, “It’s all in the details.”

Studying the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Gene Smith will demonstrate that their photographs always had at least three things, or factors, that they considered and then combined to make a wonderful photograph.

For example, in the photograph above the first thing I noticed was the tender scene of the father bringing the bicycle along as the children ran ahead. They ran ahead into their lives and dad was there to give support and guidance. The light and atmosphere at the day’s end was combined with the details that were needed to complete the visual story.  The focus was placed on the bicycle, which to me, was an important aspect of the image. The slanting light was emphasized to show that the day was ending and the people were headed home.

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MY FIVE RULES OF STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

Pershing Square, Los Angeles 2003

In the many years of teaching classes and workshops in street photography I have learned that most photographers face the same obstacles in their search for more effective photographs. Here are five rules, or tips, which I have discovered over the years that have helped my students become better street photographers.

1. No posing or anything contrived.

Follow the straight and narrow road of the great photographers. In my 43 years of study of “Street photography” I have learned that the most basic rule is that there should be no posing or anything artificially contrived. It is this main rule, which gives the genre its highly sophisticated reputation. Yes, it is very difficult to snatch something of value from the ever flowing and constantly changing flow of life, but with a determination to improve, and a lot of practice, you will be able to move about freely and unnoticed in the passing parade of life.

2. Prepare for the moment of truth

Practice operating quickly and effectively when a subject is presented to you. Most unprepared photographers seem to freeze up at the moment of truth because they are unable to follow a well practiced plan of what to look for and what to check when evaluating a possible subject. This must be a conditioned reflex action of great speed, if you to arrive at an accurate rendering of the magical moments that are found in everyday life situations.

3.  Rule of “3”

When evaluating the photographs of the greats becomes it is apparent that the best photographs contain many elements, factors and details that the photographer arranged only by careful evaluation and an awareness of how valuable these many details are when “framing” the subject and only including the details that give the center of interest added strength. I don’t look for one thing, but at least three things to combine so the photograph has the ability to “speak” for itself. Therefore, no caption and no explanation of why the photograph was made will be necessary. The only caption should be the place and date of the photograph. When showing photographs if you remain silent you will not dilute the viewers experience by talking about the photograph, so you will get a natural reaction.

 4.  No cropping.

Henri Cartier-Bresson used a black border to show that he did not need to crop his photos. The black lines are caused by enlarging the negative holder in the enlarger so that it includes the clear edge of the negative and makes it print black, thus proving that the photograph was not “cropped”. These black lines are etched into my mind, so that when photographing the lines are always there to remind me to be very attentive when framing the shot. No cropping.

 5.   Get in close

My favorite photographers, Robert Frank, W. Eugene Smith and Henri Cartier-Bresson, where gentlemen photographers. They didn’t rush up to scare some old women to get a cheap shot of someone up close. They moved smoothly through life, mostly being invisible to those around them so they could get so close to their subjects. They worked with the greatest respect for the subject, for themselves and for photography itself. Be very strict with yourself and know that street photography is a very difficult and requires great speed from the photographer. You need to develop great speed in thought and great speed in the operation of your body and camera.

To be able to do this work is the gift of a lifetime that most people are unaware of until they see great photographs that have the ability to provide a more compassionate understanding of our brothers and sisters all over the world. Visual documents that give the viewer hope, joy and a better sense of self.

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