Monday, April 27, 2009

Kill the critical beast inside you

Kristi and I went to Connecticut last fall to see her Grandparents and work on a couple of projects. She was working on her book ( and I wanted to do some photography work. It was one of the best vacations I've taken in my entire life.

It was the first time I had traveled long-distance to shoot a location. I prepped for weeks and made sure everything was in order. I made a list of the things I wanted to accomplish, researched possible subjects, thought long and hard about the kind of images I wanted to shoot. I checked and double-checked my gear. Once on location I went to work in my single-minded mode. I bracketed, metered, analyzed, and checked the histogram on every shot. I got on my knees, shot from the waist, climbed on boulders, hopped fences and laid flat on the ground. When I didn't like a shot I did it again. And again. And again. Then went back the next day in different lighting conditions. I shot an average of 500 images a day for 6 days straight.

At night I downloaded, stacked, categorized, compared f-stops and shutter speeds, depth of field and focal lengths. I junked the bad ones and kept the good ones. By the end of the trip I was bogged down with a mountain of photos and I found myself choosing between the best of several images that were essentially the same and all quite good. I finally archived them all and didn't take the time to filter them down to a handful of the very best.

On the very fist day of shooting, before I was engulfed in the mechanics of photography, I walked down a set of abandoned railroad tracks in an alley between two red-brick factories in Collinsville, CT. The Connecticut river was a stones throw away, pouring over a low head dam that drove the turbines that powered the now vacant Collinsville Axe factory. The trees were putting on fall colors. It was a photographers dream.

I headed for an old stone tunnel that ran under the factory and opened in a grove of trees next to the river. On the way I passed the old weigh station, now a studio apartment but vacant at the time. A couch, kitchen chair, heater and other signs of life were left on the deck. It caught my attention, so I stopped, I raised my camera, composed and shot a single, spontaneous image and kept walking. I didn't over-think it or ask a bunch of silly questions about the subject or let my techno-critical side kick in. It was a creative moment and I let it be what it was and moved on. I think it was the only time during the trip I did it.

And it's my favorite image from the entire trip.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Changing the Stripes: a new route with an old friend

I recently finished a Maple Canyon project with my long-time friend Virgil Ash. It's been a couple of years since we were on rope together and it was a great beginning to a new climbing season. The route goes at 5.6 and gets easier the higher you get. But it IS HIGH. Three pitches of great views and exposure. I called it Changing the Stripes.

Changing the what?

I've aspired to be a photographer since I was a kid but didn't do much about it until three years ago when I bought a Nikon D70. I shot religiously as serious ameture during those three years and, as Izzy Mandelbaum says, It's time to take it up a notch. I'm ready to admit that I want to be a professional and take stunning images. I want to be an adventure photographer and in order to make it happen I'm Changing the Stripes.

I've lost 17 pounds by changing my eating habits and working out. I lift at the gym three days a week and I ride my Mtn Bike. I'm jazzed about climbing again and I feel better than I have for years. I have energy to go more hours and I have the motivation to do it. What does that have to do with it? If you can't keep up with your subject or be the first one on scene how in the hell are you going to get the shot? The photographer is always ABOVE the climber in those killer images you see in Rock and Ice Magazine. Theres no market for butt shots, lunch breaks or the hike back to the car. My wife has been a huge inspiration in the fitness department. She's been working out and eating right for more than six years. I aspire to keep with something that hard for that long.

I took black and white film photography class from my friend Amy Jorgensen. It was three months of pure enlightenment from one of the most inspiring person I've ever met. I thought I knew a lot about photography until I took that class. I realize not that I'm just scratching the surface. It was the jumping board in my path to being photographer.

I upgraded my camera system to a D700 and 4K in new lenses. It's a more enjoyable toy than all my others put together! And I have a lot of toys.

I'm enrolled in the Rock and Ice Photo Camp in June and I've never been more excited in my life. I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas. Learning for Keith Ladzinski? Are you kidding me? His images are awesome and I love his use of artificial light. And David Clifford? His lifestyle portraits have spurred an interested in photographing people, something I've avoided until now. The prospect of learning from these two masters almost makes me giddy. I have high expectation for the camp and if I do my part It'll be a huge step in getting me where I want to go.

It's all been a bit overwhelming. Thats a lot bit-off and chew all at once. But, how bad do you really want it?

Bleed for your art. Embrace the Suck. Change the Stripes. It's go time.


Night Photography and TOADS

I've been experimenting with night photography and artificial lighting in the tradition of photographer Troy Paiva. Troy is a master of TOADS night photography and I love his subjects and use of colorful lights. Toads is an acronym for Temporary, Obsolete, Abandoned and Derelict spaces.

It's been very rewarding so far. Expect to see more.


So my kids have this game called Monkeyballs.

I know, I had to check twice, too. I assure you it's not a reference to primate anatomy. The players in the game are Monkeys in a ball, like a gerbil on a running wheel. kids were getting crazy playing MonkeyBalls one afternoon and I decided to shoot some images of them from the perspective of the television. I was positioned just below the screen so that they could play and not really see me.

It was hilarious!

Manos arriba!

My climbing days have been limited over the last couple of years. Consequently, I'm stingy with my climbing time and my kids have suffered. They require SO MUCH attention that it's really impossible to climb yourself when they come along. It's all about them.

It's worth it, though. Once your out the focus becomes making sure they have a memorable experience.

I recently took my four year old on her first climbing day and she ate it up. She was squelched by the physical limitations of being four but insisted there must be a way for me to make her "go higher" and demanded that I make it happen. On the same day my son donned a pair of climbing shoes clearly too big for him but blasted to the anchors without so much as a hick-up.

My eleven year old sent her first lead climb the following week. It was obvious the route was easy for her bit she lacks technical ability and experience, made evident when she took BOTH hands off the wall to pull the rope up and clip the draws.

She named the route Manos Arriba!...spanish for "Hands up"!