I've been focus-stacking recently and really enjoying the resulting clarity. Over and above providing more visual detail, focus-stacked photographs have a completely different emotional tone than photographs in which the background is allowed to go soft.
This difference really jumped out at me in this recent shot of slices of spicy coppa (thank you, Marché Provisions) on butcher paper.
I don't dislike the out-of-focus background--not at all. It just feels like it was shot in a whole different world. A photo that goes soft feels a little sentimental, maybe, while the focus-stacked imaged is arguably more dramatic.
To my surprise, I enjoy shooting wine bottles in a traditional style--butter-smooth lighting, no hot spots, a nice glass next to the bottle that's got just-enough-but-not-too-much wine in it :D .
But I also enjoyed cutting loose a bit and shooting (slightly) unconventionally, trying to capture the spirit of the label.
I shot these for Tonette Marler, my longtime friend who's a wine consultant. She knows all about what wines go with what foods (including chocolate!), and is especially knowledgeable on the subject of organic and healthy wines--it's her niche. What a good friend to have, eh?
The above shot of the Che Fico (pronounced “Kay Fee-Koh) is my favorite, and Tonette’s as well. I’m looking forward to opening this bottle tonight.
Photographers return again and again to places that inspire them: Yosemite, the Chicago waterfront, Mount Fuji.
My Mount Fuji for about a year was this square cinderblock building squatting in a cracked and swollen, nearly-undriveable asphalt lot, just a couple blocks away from my house.
I shot the building while it was between tenants, and during that time it grew that patina of abandonment—weeds and graffiti, a cracked window or two.
After a few visits, the building began to take on a mystical aspect. I imagined I could sense the ghosts of previous occupants, and in its silent emptiness the building seemed to me to be sleeping. Maybe dreaming, even.
I was unimpressed the first time I noticed it. I even took this picture as a joke, smirking at the “BEAUTY SALON & SPA” stenciled on the side.
Now it houses a dog rescue non-profit, a worthy cause. Instead of graffiti, the windows sport paintings of happy cartoon doggies. Maybe I’ll go in there and ask if I can take portraits of the dogs.
My mentor and photography coach extraordinaire Don Giannatti has given his new students the assignment of writing a vision statement for their work.
I'm not in that group--I'm an old student--but I'm playing along anyway.
It's hard. I get trapped between poetic words and their literal meanings.
For example, I started off writing something about distilling a strong liquor of emotions out of an image, a scene, a set, a view. But then I looked up the actual definition of distilling, and it turned out to mean vaporizing and separating.
Not what I had in mind.
I really mean something more like reducing a sauce: If you cook, you know that simmering intensifies and concentrates the flavors of a liquid.
I love that. But saying I'm trying to reduce images to emotions just doesn't have the right poetic ring to it.
Now that I've been working with perfume, I think I might find a good analogy there. A strong image is very much like a well-constructed fragrance: The notes of a perfume elicit memories, desires, and feelings, all by relying on associations and sensual responses--a kind of instinctual code, more powerful than language, even.
I swear, the light is as intoxicating as liquor, especially when it's carrying that melancholy fall color. There's an industrious young man raking a mountain of maple leaves--already!--from our front lawn, and the scrape of the rake says summer is gone.
I have a perfectly vivid memory of looking at my kindergarten teacher’s realistic (ish) crayon drawings of me and my fellow students, and welling with a pungent cocktail of awe, jealousy, and yearning. If only I could do that! And then the sharp pang of humiliation when my childish effort was so abysmally inferior.
After decades of painting, drawing, printmaking, and now, photography, that cocktail of emotions still overwhelms me sometimes. I look at the work of my fellow photographers and wonder if I’ll ever be able to do what they’ve done.
I’ve been learning a new skill: shooting subjects in an aquarium and freezing the splash, or the bubbles, or the waves. It’s intimidating. My fellow Project 52 shooters are advanced photographers, and many are doing high-level commercial work.
And my test shots for this particular shoot—perfume and roses—were okay, but not special. My heart started sinking the day before the due date. I didn’t want to go into the studio.
But as the saying goes, the only way forward is through. You’re afraid of the water, but you jump in and swim anyway. You’re afraid of the violin, but you pick it up and practice, no matter who’s listening. You’re afraid of the camera, but you shoot anyway, and shoot, and shoot.
Until you get it right.
This commercial fuel stop is right at the edge of town; just a half mile north of here, the busy industrial road becomes a rural highway that winds through Oregon's wooded hills and farmlands.
This is the first picture I took at the station, back when I was a shy photographer who didn't know how to sneak around. It's the view of the mill to the east of the station. I stood on far edge of the property, trying to conceal myself in the grassy field between the tarmac and the fence. I was too chicken to walk around the tarmac itself.
I worried about being watched, being asked what I was doing, being told to leave. Now I'm an old hand at getting kicked out of places at night, for reasons I would never have guessed when I was a teenager.
In a previous life I might have been a long distance trucker, or a lonely traveling salesman. Scenes like these, in which (for example) a bare bulb glares into the indifferent night, make me yearn for experiences I don't even want in this life, but which I somehow feel can--must!--connect me to the cosmos, and to the true meaning of everything. Is this what the Germans call Sehnsucht?
The problem isn't finding interesting subjects, it's being alert to interesting light.
Fortunately for photographers, interesting light happens every day, everywhere you go. Even when you're waiting for your order of chicken wings to arrive.
Never hesitate to arrange subjects to capitalize on an interesting light situation in progress. Even if your in-laws look at you funny (they're going to anyway, admit it).