Tuesday, February 23, 2010

365 Day 133

I took this shot last night for my ongoing 365 Project. This isn't the first time I've done a shot with this same kind of setup, and since people have asked in the past how I get shots like this, I thought I'd give a quick lesson on how something like this can be done.

Now, for the more advanced photographers out there this isn't really anything you haven't already done, but since there are plenty of people out there who have never done this kind of thing before, I thought it would be helpful for them to see one of the ways you could go about achieving this type of result. Also, for the art lovers out there who don't have any intention of ever doing this themselves, it's just a nice little glimpse into how some of us work.

This shot may look like it could have been done in a studio with a backdrop and a food stylist, but really it was done in about 5 minutes in my kitchen. Again, for all the strobist readers out there who have seen Mr. Hobby talk about this kind of setup over and over again, I know this is kind of post has been done to death, but this is my turn to put up a quick how-to post.

The truth is, when you're doing a project that can be this demanding, you are sometimes left improvising nothing into something at 2, 3, maybe 4AM. If you don't shoot something for the day then you've failed your own assignment, but you can't just take 365 pictures of your shoes. You start looking around for something, anything, that could be made even remotely interesting.

I've always liked detailed close-ups, especially of everyday things, that make them look more interesting than usual. I could have taken a quick picture of the whole lemon, just sitting there on the kitchen countertop, but how boring would that have been?

Anyway, for something like this you really don't need a lot of stuff. You need a lemon (duh), or any juicy fruit, really. In my case I used 1 light with a diffuser cap, triggered by a Pocket Wizard, but you could also shoot this ETTL if you want to be all Joe McNally about it. I suspended the lemon slice above a bowl (to catch the juice, and to hold water in case I needed to reapply some juicy-ness) using a paper towel holder I got at the dollar store with an A-clamp. In the A-clamp jaw I used a bamboo skewer from the kitchen drawer and speared the lemon sideways. I propped the whole thing up on top of a tissue box to give me some height and to distance the subject from the light source just a bit.

Here is a pull-back view of the setup:

The whole thing took no time at all and gave me a great photo to add to my 365 gallery. The shot could also make it into the portfolio if I ever needed to display food photography, or could be uploaded to my stock gallery since I was able to shoot with a low ISO setting. So I can get 3 potential uses from one shot, how's that for making the most of your efforts?

Oh, and for the record, that drop of lemon juice was right from the lemon itself. Some juice dropped down after spearing it with the skewer and was just enough to make a nice droplet bulb, but not heavy enough to fall, so it stayed there nicely for the few shots I took before I was happy with my settings. The dropper in the bowl got put away unused.

Settings of the final shot: ISO 100; 1/200 @ f/13; 100mm 2.8 Macro lens; Canon 5D Mark II

More soon,

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Concert Photography: Spiral Out, Keep Going

Driving home from work today I had 2 things on my mind: Coming up with a new blog entry and listening to some kick ass music.

I make it a point to regularly mention that I got my start in photography by shooting concerts for my own music magazine. Partially because I want to continue to plug Paragon Music Magazine (www.paragonmag.com) and partially because it's the area of photography that I am still the most passionate about.

I am always reminded of why I do what I do whenever I listen to any of my favorite bands. I got into music journalism because I wanted an "in" with the music industry, and I got into concert photography because I wanted a way to document my favorite bands and whoever we were covering in the next issue. I already wrote a lengthy blog entry about the evolution of all that, so I'll spare you the redundancies.

Instead of going into the "Why" of it all from a historic perspective, I'd rather talk about the "Why" from an artistic perspective. Because, after all, when you strip away the initial goals we set and the highly priced equipment we buy in order to capture the pictures we see in our imagination, there is always the imagination itself, the artistic side of it. This is the side that really makes us click. For every successful artist, photographer or otherwise, there is a person deep down that was once possibly on the edge of starvation and bankruptcy struggling along with their art just for the art's sake. In fact, almost all of the most successful artists got that way by being more dedicated to their art than to their bank account. This is because the life of an artist is one of complete devotion, and above all you need to always remember that there are greater payoffs than money. If to you, money is the ultimate payoff, then you aren't focusing on the right things and will lack the gut and drive it takes to persevere in the face of eating Cheerios 3 meals a day for years.

So what am I getting at here? I got in my truck and headed home after work while listening to one of my all-time favorite bands, TOOL. I love all of their music but I had songs from Lateralus stuck in my head, most importantly the title track. Inspiration comes at funny times, and even with music you sometimes find yourself uncovering a new meaning even after knowing a song inside and out for years. The bridge section of the song completely hit me right between the eyes, as if to scream "Hey dummie! This is what you do, and why you do it!" Here are the lyrics:

"With my feet upon the ground, I move myself between the sounds and open wide to suck it in. 
I feel it move across my skin.
I'm reaching up and reaching out.
I'm reaching for the random or whatever will bewilder me, whatever will bewilder me.
And following our will and wind, we may just go where no one's been.
We'll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one's been."

For anyone out there who has ever been front row at a concert, you sort of know the feeling. You're pressed up against a barricade of some sort and the music is literally pounding through your body like a freight train. That's only part of what we feel as concert shooters, at least those of us who really love, really feel our work. Not every show is glorious, there are nights when there is too small of a photo pit area, and nights when they overbooked the photo staff by about 100 people (That's a joke, those photo pits can barely hold 5 people comfortably, but sometimes you'll be crammed in with 15 people clamoring for "the shot"). But there are those nights when there is a flow, and to me, nothing is more beautiful. As much as I love all aspects of photography, I'd trade in every beautiful sunset ever for a non-stop experience of shooting people who create the very music that runs through my veins.

There is something tangible in music, especially at a live performance when there is a synergy, a real-as-dirt connection between the performer and the audience. The heat from the monitors, the smell of sweat as someone pours their soul into communicating their message, the vibration from the woofers under the stage, and the pulsing back and forth sway of the crowd behind you that you can feel in your bones even though you aren't looking at them and are separated by a barricade. The whole outside world ceases to exist in those moments and it's just you, your camera, and the artist in front of you.

So, like the lyrics I posted, you plant your feet firmly into the ground and you move your body between the sound waves. You open your every sense to the flow of the music, to the actual, physical existence of something that most people only ever perceive as sound, and at times, just noise. The monitors are humming, the stage is being stomped by a lively front-person who is completely in their element and you feel the bass graze over your skin as it makes the hair on your neck and arms stand on end while you are simultaneously calculating photographic equations in your mind that only you and your camera understand, and standing in awe of what is unfolding in front of you. This isn't being starstruck, this is being completely and unquestionably tied to the art of both the performance you are watching and the little split second instances you are trying to capture forever. No matter how many other photographers there are at that show, or on that tour, or that get to work with that band for the rest of their duration as performers, nobody will ever have the shots you have. Not even if they stood in the exact same place as you with the exact same gear. Only you can get or miss the shot that you are seeing, feeling and taking in. These moments are transient and may never exist again, so you have to get it right within your 1/60th of a second. You reach up with your camera, very much reaching out for the completely random result you are about to capture. A million things can go wrong or right during each press of the shutter button. This isn't studio work, there is no science to it, and with the settings you have to use to shoot a concert so much can go wrong it's amazing anyone ever gets it right. But we do, and we do it because we put our heart and soul into learning how to make it all come together. Concert photography should be described as the impossible act of taking an immeasurable amount of variables and mistakes and turning them into gold. It's photographic alchemy. You can keep your Photoshop and all the fancy treatments (read: nonsense) people throw onto a head and shoulders corporate portrait; this is where magic has to be made. You reach up with your camera to your eye, you feel the pulse of the music, you move between the sound waves, you feel the heat of the stage lights that are changing colors and intensity at breakneck speed, and you hope for the best, no time to look at the LCD, you just GO. You embrace the random, and follow the ever unfolding spiral of color, sound, and emotion that is going on all around you. You have to be somewhat of a psychic because at any moment during exposure, the subject can move, and if it's a lively show, they probably are doing a lot of moving already, so you need to plan every shot as if it's the last frame you'll ever shoot. If you're like most of us, this euphoric and hectic (all at once, because that's really what art is: part chaos, part beauty) action is over within about 15 minutes. 15 minutes is about the time it takes to perform 3 songs, which is typically all we're allowed to shoot.

The next time you see a photo of your favorite band or musician performing live, take a better look at that photo. That's not just a photo of a musician, it's a photo glimpse into someone's frantic effort to capture a whole lot of things that rarely ever synch up perfectly.

One day I hope to be the next Neil Zlozower or David Bergman, but for now I'm going to be me and do the best I can and continue to work harder and get better results.

That's all for now. More soon.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

New Look, Book

Well, I had said back in the first blog entry for the year that 2010 would bring some changes to the way I do things, and one of the most important things I needed to work on was the layout of the site and the color scheme.

When I started DIGImmortal Photo, it was geared 99% to bands and the music industry. I pretty much only had photos of musicians in my galleries, so the dark colors fit really well since most of what I shot were Rock and Metal acts. However, over time my work has shifted around to various subjects and styles and the dark, broody black layout just wasn't cutting it. On top of that, by expanding the subject matter of my work the site became a hodgepodge of different galleries which started to look really cluttered. There was no flow to the site anymore. Since I'm using a template setup from my site provider, I couldn't do much with the look of the site. Until they finally released a bunch of new layouts and site tools.

Long story short, I changed the look of the site, from the color scheme/theme of the homepage (other pages will be changed soon, I just did most of this work in one night and needed to take a break of my head would explode). I also changed the layout to a more portfolio-esque setup, allowing me to showcase a slideshow of some of my favorite images right on the homepage. So now, even though there aren't as many galleries available right on the homepage, you can easily see the variety of styles I shoot just by watching a short slideshow. Don't worry, all of the galleries that were on the site are still there, just more coherently organized. There is a new menu bar at the top above the slideshow that can take you to just about every corner of the site painlessly.

With that, I decided it was time to overhaul the blog was well, so the first step was to get the color schemes to match up. I will also be cleaning up those links and ads on the right side shortly so it looks less messy. There will be some more changes added/updated sporadically here and there; the more important ones will be talked about here on the blog so that nobody feels lost.

One last thing: I've been throwing around the idea of putting together a book. Just something small that I would self-publish, perhaps make available on Amazon.com and some other sites. I'm not sure exactly what I want to do yet though, I would really love to put together a book of my favorite concert photos, since that's how this whole mess got started in the first place ;) - However I'm not sure how that would pan out. I have a lot of photos to go through, music related and otherwise, before I really tie any loose ends together, but I just wanted to give the heads up to everyone that there might be a limited edition coffee-table book from me in the future. How near or distant that future is, well, that really depends on a lot of things, but you can be sure you'll hear about it first on here or on my Twitter page, so be sure to head over there and follow me for daily updates on things.

Well, that's all for now. Take a look around the new site layout, feel free to leave feedback here. Should have some more developments to report on soon, if everything goes well.

More soon,

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Day

We're in the middle of a massive snow storm here on the East Coast of the country and a lot of businesses took the day off. Even so, that doesn't mean that you can't get something done, right?

I finally took the opportunity to go through the photos from the trip that I had mentioned a few posts ago. I decided that while I like all of the photos, they don't all need to be shown on my site. I selected just a few that really stood out and threw them up in the Nature gallery. They are for sale as prints and other items, if anyone is interested.

What better day to edit photos from a snow covered mountain, than a day when your house is slowly becoming a snow covered mountain, right?

On my way to work this morning (yes, I went to work despite the blizzard) I stopped on the side of a road that runs alongside the river in my town and snapped a few shots of snow covered trees, fences, and park benches. One of them wound up being my 365 addition for today. Here is that shot:

If I feel motivated enough I may work on some other various photo projects today, but the odds are slim. Should anything actually get done, though, I'll be sure to update my Twitter account with the info. So make sure you head over there and start following me.

That's all for now, check back soon though, you never know what crazy new ideas I might post up on here.

More soon,

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Climbing that Mountain

So I'm gradually getting caught up on the massive backlog of work and different projects that have been keeping me from seeming very productive lately. But I have still managed to stay on schedule with my 365 project. It's really a relief because when I started it I was worried about how long I'd actually be able to see it through. It's hard to be artistic every single day, and I wasn't going to let myself settle for just some snapshots. I wanted to do things that took some degree of thinking, even if only relatively little at times. Some nights I am up into the AM hours trying to find something worth shooting, but I make sure I get it done.

I finally uploaded 7 days worth of backlogged 365 submissions to my website last night after (also finally) finishing the latest issue of Paragon Music Magazine (link goes directly to PDF issue).

The new issue contains some awesome interview with Faith and The Muse, Mark Tremonti of Alter Bridge, Matt Heafy of Trivium, and Toby Knapp. There is also a full page photo I took of Duff McKagan when he passed through NYC a few months ago with his band LOADED, as well as other goodies.

Upcoming tasks in my scope are to finally sort some nature shots for the website from my last trip a few weeks ago, finally finish the HAIL! photos from NYC, updates to Paragon Earth, and some new stock photography that I've been wanting to shoot for a while now.

As I complete these things you will updated, either through here or through my Twitter page, so make sure you head over there and follow me. It's a great way to get quick, short updates, without having to read a whole bunch of stuff. You can get Twitter updates sent to your cell phone even if you don't have one of those fancy iPhoneberrydroid gadgets. So you could think of it as a personal message right from me to your phone. Or not, do as you wish. =)

More soon,